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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Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • Timothy Burdick

    The world tells us laymen to get a piece of paper to gain authority over religious matters. They try to do the same to Jesus- The world is still trying to confine Him in a book filled with pieces of paper. My only hope is that the average Christian life is never boring enough to be limited to pieces of paper.

  • Nicholas Escalona

    This is all true, but we should not push the point too far. We are commanded to instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, and admonish sinners, but these commands are relative to our capacity. We are not all equal in capacity, and it is even possible for someone who has acquired a reputation for these works to be nevertheless not well capable of them. It would not be elitism to recognize that such a one should concentrate on other works.

  • chezami

    On the bright side, your piece is bound to pick up a few signatures for the petition. And I really am curious what exactly is supposed to happen when it hits whatever threshhold it’s supposed to hit that will trigger The Thing That’s Supposed to Happen. Current speculation runs toward a global extinction event.

  • Thomas Collins

    I agree with you generally but Mr Shea seems given to intemperate comments which undermine his otherwise good work as a catechist.
    I don’t think The Register should fire him — but maybe he could lay off blogging and concentrate on writing and speaking?

  • Laramie Stewart

    In any other enterprise, he’d be fired.

  • merC4all-w/repentanc

    Mark is a bully and will gloat and boast about any priest who has fallen or is accused of impropriety as if it is a boost to his own ego. He uses the church as a money maker as he often raffles off his services(Speaking engagements) so he can get into the church and then pass the donation basket. If you ever disagree with him about anything especially if you are female he will use his sharp tongue to denigrate you. Humility is a trait of a true follower of Jesus Christ and the church….Mark is anything but humble.

  • Phil Steinacker

    Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to sign such a petition, but I certainly inderstand its existence. For myslef, I simply don’t bother reading Mark anymore. Like others, I’velong recognized hsi talent fro explaining Church teaching and such, but don’t cross him. Mark simply cannot play with the other children.

    His efforts here should be confined to articles with no possibility of Mark adding to comments, and if comments must be suspended completely then so be it.

    Mark needs to be separated from his readers for their own safety – and his.

  • http://tonylayne.blogspot.com/ Anthony S. Layne

    Whenever I must reference Mark, I call him “The Blogger Who Must Not Be Named”, because I swear there are people who troll for his name just so they can jump into the combox and call him names (present company excepted). Nevertheless, I still quote him because he can be eminently quotable. I usually enjoy his work, but I could occasionally wish he showed a little more charity to his respondents. Then again, I wish I showed a little more charity too ….