Leo XIII on the Role of “Amateurs” in Defending the Faith

Every now and then I come across a complaint, like this one urging the Register to fire Mark Shea, about lay Catholics who speak and write about the faith.

The idea that this role should be left to the “professionals” is rooted in either clericalism or elitism. It has no roots whatsoever in the life of the Church or in the scripture. St. Peter tells us to always be ready to give the reason for our hope, and we are all commissioned to spread the gospel, with or without “training” or ordination.

In Providentissimus Deus, Leo XIII tackles the errors of modern reductionist Biblical scholarship with his usual Thomistic clarity and skill, but he also urges us all to engage and defend the faith.

But to undertake fully and perfectly, and with all the weapons of the best science, the defence of the Holy Bible is far more than can be looked for from the exertions of commentators and theologians alone. It is an enterprise in which we have a right to expect the co-operation of all those Catholics who have acquired reputation in any branch of learning whatever. As in the past, so at the present time, the Church is never without the graceful support of her accomplished children; may their services to the Faith grow and increase! For there is nothing which We believe to be more needful than that truth should find defenders more powerful and more numerous than the enemies it has to face; nor is there anything which is better calculated to impress the masses with respect for truth than to see it boldly proclaimed by learned and distinguished men.

Moreover, the bitter tongues of objectors will be silenced, or at least they will not dare to insist so shamelessly that faith is the enemy of science, when they see that scientific men of eminence in their profession show towards faith the most marked honour and respect. Seeing, then, that those can do so much for the advantage of religion on whom the goodness of Almighty God has bestowed, together with the grace of the faith, great natural talent, let such men, in this bitter conflict of which the Holy Scripture is the object, select each of them the branch of study most suitable to his circumstances, and endeavour to excel therein, and thus be prepared to repulse with credit and distinction the assaults on the Word of God.

I actually do have the “formal education in theology” to which that first link alludes, and I think Mark Shea’s a far better apologist than I. Credentialing and even ordination do not magically create effective preachers, exegetes, evangelists, or defenders of the faith. We’re all called to that role. We are to preach and defend the gospel from where we are in the world. We don’t need scolds and Pharisees to shoo us back into the pews so the priests and theologians can do all the work of spreading the faith. That’s our baptismal duty.

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