To the ‘enlightened’ of recent centuries, the Catholic Church was the great enemy of reason, progress, liberty – wrapped in her dark robes of medieval superstition, she sought to enslave men with her dogmas and decrees, despising the goodness of raw nature (!)
From our vantage in the twenty-first century, when for the first time large numbers of people seem incapable of recognizing, much less assenting to, the ironclad results of a valid syllogism or the normalcy of heterosexual love, it is sweetly ironic that the Catholic Tradition is increasingly the only bastion and defender even of nature’s integrity and of the luminosity of reason properly employed. Even while I recognize that rational argument is a dying art with a steadily diminishing potential audience and that the appeal to reason can never be an exclusive means of approach or the last word because, as Pascal observed, ‘the heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing’, still, I have often thought that our day and age is exactly the right time for a major revival of intelligent apologetics. And, it seems to me, we need to hit the books and begin studying anew the great theological apologists of our incomparable Tradition, both for the deepening of our own Faith and for the missionary work the Church rightly calls each of us to undertake.
The stakes are higher than ever: not Faith alone, but reason too is besieged. Christian Faith is ridiculed as utterly irrational, when in reality, as the best minds have seen for the past 2,000 years, it is supreme and sovereign Reason – God’s Reason. Our own minds can begin to discern this beautiful reasonableness if only we will make the effort. We owe it to our Lord and to ourselves to prize and nurture the gift of reason as we do the gift of Faith, so that we can be sane within and talk sanity to a world hell-bent on going mad.
So, where to start? I would like to introduce (or, for some, re-introduce) two towering figures in the history of Catholic Theology and apologetics: Saint Anselm and Blaise Pascal – one medieval, one modern – both committed to explaining and defending the mysteries of our Holy Religion through a judicious use of the God-given gift of reason. Unlike St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas, each of whom wrote so much that the official editions of their works run to dozens and dozens of volumes, Anselm and Pascal wrote relatively little – their major religious writings amount to about one modest volume apiece. Since we moderns, surrounded by the constant distraction of emails, cell phones, Twitter, and who knows what else yet to come, simply do not read as much as our forebears (a tragic decline on which the Antichrist is heavily relying in his endgame strategy), this relative brevity is a mercy and an incentive to buy those single volumes and set about reading them. Even so, their works are tough going at times and perseverance is called for. Those seven demons mentioned by Our Lord would, of course, prefer to see the room of our minds ‘empty, swept, and garnished’ with the latest fads and fictions, but we know better than to yield to their desires.
In reading Anselm and Pascal (and, needless to say, Augustine, Aquinas, Leo XIII, Benedict XVI, or any Catholic master worth reading), you will furnish your mind with solid truth that no demons, or their unwitting human captives, can gainsay.