Why Do Longhorns Study Apologetics? – Part 2 of 3

September 13th, 2013
The Main Building, aka the UT Tower

The central tower at the University of Texas at Austin—just called the UT Tower by properly catechized Texans—is quite an imposing sight. In addition to the Rice Owl Conspiracy Theory jokes it provokes, the fits of post-Freudian pontification it readily elicits from UT Austin’s respected feminist theorists like my English professors of years past, and the fact that to Augustine (an intellectual tower who has himself attracted the critical attention of feminist scholarship) it would seem an exemplary protrusion of superbia, “pride,” and that not in any positive sense—in addition to all this, the UT Tower has a massive inscription at its base.

The inscription reads, “Ye shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free.”

If one were to judge the meaning of this phrase by observing many of my former peers who were Philosophy majors from 1999-2002, as they congregated outside Waggener Hall between classes, one might surmise that Truth had freed them to wear black, smoke disaffectedly, and have awesome taste in music. I should note that I, as an English major, found #s 1 and 3 on that list quite inspiring, though #2 seemed to have more to do with expiring.

There is a building at my current Jesuit Catholic institution of higher learning, Boston College, that has the same inscription as that on the UT Tower. With something of a post-critical naiveté I think the inscription might here be more self-consciously grounded in its original Biblical context (John 8:32), though I have no illusions that being a Christian school makes your undergrads automatically party less; only perhaps, and in individual cases, a bit less disaffectedly, and with more healthful norming joy.  

In any case, in our first post in this series, we looked at the first way (of three) that the medieval French scholastic theologian William of Auxerre says natural arguments strengthen Christian faith. Namely, they increase and stir up Christians’ own love for the God who is Truth. This week we tackle William’s second way.

Without further ado, William: “The second way in which natural arguments help faith is that they allow a defense of the faith against heretics.”

Now, some recontextualization of William’s point is necessary with regard to his word “heretics.” William of Auxerre (died 1231 AD) lived in a very Christian world (hence the anno domini): his experience was formed by, and his intellectual attention in this comment given towards, those who improperly believed the Christian faith; our world in which adherents of other religions (or no religion) are commonplace compatriots, coworkers, and interlocutors in the business of the everyday would seem utterly foreign to him; the Starbucks in Brookline, MA, in which I write these words, and the predawn bustle and gently rising pre-bustle dawning of the street outside, would seem quite marvelous to William’s experience, save for the overcast drizzle. Yet his essential point remains: Christians encounter many who do not share their faith, and many times, often probably without any unkind spirit, those others have objections to Christian beliefs which seem sensible to them, and which they offer. Naturally, Christians use their reason to defend the faith they are convinced is supernatural, and there is something edifying and strengthening to the faithful in the knowing of these arguments and even the having of these conversations. Such is the purview of what is alternately in the tradition called declarative theology or defensive theology, and is in our day usually called apologetics.

It is worth noting that that this activity to which William alludes—using reasoned arguments to defend the faith against those who do not share it—quite genuinely strengthens the faith of the Christians who engage in it, most especially one hopes the faith of those who engage in it with some humility. In thinking, in pondering, in contemplating the nature of reality and the interlacing pathways one may at length see woven around faith’s norming image of Jesus Christ crucified and risen, and in particular when engagingly pushed to do this by those who introduce arguments which might not otherwise come into one’s field of vision, one’s ability to wield reasoned arguments is increased, and one’s capacity to see the depth and coherence of the Christian faith grows, even as one’s apprehension of the interrelating harmony of the delightful phenomena and challenging arguments in the created world stretches its wings more widely to fly, at last, with a stronger elegance.

In short, reasoning and patient arguing can increase the depth of one’s faith in Jesus Christ even as they increase the breadth of one’s mind.

In exactly the same ways that such an enterprise is edifying for individual Christians—and, one hopes, those they argue with, whether or not they eventually convert—so many such encounters across the decades and centuries have been deepening for the Christian tradition, the Church, as a whole. Our ablest hearts and sharpest minds across the centuries increase our ability to grasp and articulate the interrelatedness of the things Christians confess as those things in turn interrelate  with all else that humans know. In all of this activity one is reminded of St. Anselm’s good dictum, fides quaerens intellectum, “faith seeking understanding.”

Thus, William’s second and first points harmonize well together: in defending the faith using reason, our own vision of the truth grows, and we are ourselves (individually and corporately) stirred and inspired to love God with deeper affections. Such has been my experience, even as I continually become aware of blind spots in my vision of things, and of weaknesses in arguments I have used. May we argue with humility, with patient deepening love for the Truth, and gentle love for our neighbors.

Next Friday I’ll be back with William of Auxerre’s third point about how natural arguments strengthen faith.

Also, I’ll have some book recommendations for Christians who want to grow in their ability to think and argue in a gentle spirit for the truth of their faith.

And lest I forget, I asked for possible joke-answers to the title of these posts, “Why do Longhorns Study Apologetics?” The best answers I’ve got so far are, “It’s one more thing Longhorns must do because Aggies can’t”; “If you don’t apologize for your actions you might as well study apologetics”; and, “Primarily, to apologize for the behavior of Sooners.” I’ll try to think up something nice to do for anyone who sends in an answer that beats all those.

Until next week, may the Truth free us with a freedom that this truly worthy of the name, a freedom which exceeds having one’s choice of 25 brands of toothpaste at the grocery store, a freedom which frees us to love out of the free excess of divine Love, and so frees us to be.

Peace be with you!

Related Post: Why Do Longhorns Study Apologetics? - Part 1

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