What is charitable in the context of Apologetics?


Or, more loosely, theological debate? Or maybe even debate period?

I go on this and other Christian sites where, inevitably, somebody comes by who is stridently opposed to Catholicism or Theism or whatever. In the course of these (sometimes heated) discussions, there is usually a call from the Christian or Catholic side to “be charitable”.

I acknowledge that love is the greatest of things and I desire to be loving in all my actions.

However, does that necessarily mean not pointing out when something is ridiculous or absurd? Is lampooning an idea uncharitable?

Because, when I read Augustine or John Chrysostom or Justin Martyr, it seems to me that they did resort to lampooning the other side sometimes. Was that uncharitable of them?

Come to think of it, I’m not sure Augustine could’ve lasted on this (or most other) board(s) without getting banned.


These discussion forums cannot really be compared to the kind of apologetical writings that the great Fathers of the Church engaged in.

Here, the posts tend to come in very quickly and anger can be easily inflamed by the responses.

It’s also very difficult to separate legitimate ridicule of ideas from ridicule of the person.

Sometimes ridicule and sarcasm are very good tools to use. It’s very difficult to correct a person who is very proud or egotistical, for example – and that’s when it’s sometimes necessary to try to cut through that sense of self-importance.

Our Lord used some harsh words, as we know. He did that only when dealing with people who were so proud that they wouldn’t listen sincerely to what He had to say.

Sometimes we get stuck in that same situation.


There are those who perceive almost any debate or disagreement among believers to be a lack of charity, but I don’t agree.

Now, that said, here are the things that I avoid in order to maintain Christ-like charity.

  1. Ad hominems. Name calling, including “heretic”, “apostate” and “anti-Catholic” as well as using names and terms that will inflame.
  2. Rhetoric not directly related to the topic under discussion.
  3. Personal comments. “You are just blah blah blah…”
  4. Diversion: The tactic of changing the topic when you are out of substantive evidence.

BTW, pointing out that someone’s allegations or assertions are actually anti-Catholic is not the same as labeling the person as one unless they are the original author of them. In most discussions and debates I get into, that is not the case at all and they are merely parroting someone else’s stuff.

There are probably more, but these are the ones that I try to avoid as I don’t think they help a discussion at all.

Telling the other person they are wrong does not qualify, as IMO if you didn’t think they were wrong there wouldn’t be a debate to begin with.


Apolegetics by discussion forum is a horse of a different color. There are things said in forums that would probably never be said in personal conversation. Whereas in conversation you would never ignore someones reply or question their personal experience or motives, in here it happens all the time. Sometimes this is done maliciously (by bullies or the ignorant), sometimes not. In any case, it’s easy for misunderstandings to arise for a variety of other reasons:

  1. Time constraints.
  2. Misunderstanding the tone of the post
  3. Prematurely assigning bad motives to questioners.
  4. Poor communications skills.
  5. Deeply rooted presuppositions.

I’m sure you guys can think of more.

Suffice to say, in any apologetics endeavor, one must have somewhat of a thick skin and possess a certain amount of restraint and patience. Those who don’t (or can’t seem to develop these) have no business engaging in apologetics. “A gentle reply turneth aside wrath.” If we are going to engage in those activites listed above by Church Militant, we are going to do more harm to the cause of Christ than help it. If that’s the case, that person should find another apostolate. While all Catholics should be ready to share their Faith at any time, apologetics (as a specific endeavor) isn’t for everyone.

Here are some helpful articles and a couple of book recommendations:


Jesus said for us to be “as discerning as wolves”.

Can you be that discerning if you don’t question one’s motives?

If you can’t at least be discerning of Satan then you’re going to get into big trouble.




Questioning one’s motives if there is objective reason to do so, and assigning bad motives without objective reason are two different things.

If you can’t at least be discerning of Satan then you’re going to get into big trouble.

We’re talking about apologetics encounters with normal people, not Satan.


*16 Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves. *

I think Jesus wants us to be as wise (or discerning) as serpents AND as simple (or gentle, harmless) as doves, both at the same time!

It takes Christ to do this perfectly, and Saints to follow him well (and to even really undertand what he means) - but we have to try.

What do we have to be discerning of? The first thing we must discern is the evil men do or teach, that is harmful to themselves and to others. If we don’t discern these things (which come from Satan and the evil in men’s hearts), we do get into “big trouble”.

But another thing we need to pray to discern is how to handle those in error and sin - sometimes severely and sometimes as gently as doves. Only Christ can do this perfectly. He condemned the scribes and pharisees, but he knew the evil in their hearts. Some of us might have condemned Mary Magdalen, but He knew better because He knew her love. We can’t read hearts! God has given saints insight into others’ hearts that most of us don’t have. But sometimes (e.g. in fighting evil and correcting our children), we may need to guess at others’ motives - but we have to rember that only God can really see them!

We’re supposed to “hate the sin and love the sinner”. We have to hate the evil they do. What we do know is that what they’ve done or taught is evil in itself. But we don’t really know their motives; we don’t know really know even if they have sinned (sin requires understanding and intention - things we can’t see). We should pray for them (even when they wreck our lives!). We should pray to love all sinners (all our enemies). But loving them doesn’t just mean having a “general policy” to love them. It means trying hard to love them even as we are dealing with them!

Maybe I’m just talking about myself in the rest of this. But it seems so EASY to become angry and frustrated with others who cannot see what we think we see (and often do!), and who either argue endlessly against us, or just walk away. I think usually this isn’t hate, but it can become very unkind and uncharitable; and it sometimes spreads, from one side to the other.

At least for myself, especially outside the forum (in real life), my anger (growing out of control) has exactly the opposite effect of what I intend; it just scares people away.

I think that to teach others about God, the ‘gentleness’ of charity (including calmness and patience) is needed not only because it is good to be kind, but also because unkindness turns away the same people that you are trying to teach.

Of course there are those who clearly will not listen. You need to know when to “not cast your pearls before swine” and when to “shake the dust from your feet”. Leave them to God.

Now, if I could only follow my own preaching.


There’s a great stickie post on Charity right in this Apologetics forum:

Go to: Apologetics/Threads in Forum…/Consolidated Stickies For the Apologetics Forum

Then click on Charity


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