Ancient Apologetics and the New Evangelization

An interview with Rev. Nicholas L. Gregoris, managing editor of The Catholic Response magazine, about his new book "Faith of the Early Church"

Reverand Nicholas L. Gregoris is a member of the Priestly Society of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman and the managing editor of The Catholic Response magazine. He holds theological degrees from both the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Pontifical Faculty Marianum, he has been a guest on EWTN and other Catholic stations, and has covered various events at the Vatican. His new book Faith of the Early Church, published by New Hope Publications, is subtitled “An Ancient Apologetic for the New Evangelization”. He recently answered some questions about the book and the challenge of defending and explanation the Catholic Faith.

CWR: How would you define or describe the new evangelization? Why is the study of early Church history and Church Fathers so important to the new evangelization?

Fr. Gregoris: The “New Evangelization” is a term that was coined by St. John Paul II, especially as he looked forward to the Jubilee Year 2000, the beginning of the Third Christian Millennium. It consists in being able to share the timeless teachings of the Church with our contemporaries, with individual persons of good will who may or may not be Catholic or even Christian.

Fallen-away Catholics, disenfranchised youth, secularists, individuals who are ignorant of religious matters, or perhaps indifferent to religion, atheists, agnostics, are all groups for whom the “new evangelization” is paramount. As St. Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, once stated emphatically: “Woe to me! If I do not preach the Gospel!”

CWR: In particular, how might a deeper understanding of early heresies and doctrinal controversies help Catholics today to defend and live the Faith?

Fr. Gregoris: We discover, as the French saying goes that “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” There are not really many “new ideas” or original thinkers out there. Old heresies, those vehemently combated by the Fathers of the Church, rear their ugly heads from time to time and place to place. Gnosticism, for example, was a major obstacle to Christian unity in the early Church, but we have forms of “Neo-Gnosticism” floating about in our society today — various “New Age” movements and thousands who identify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious.” Arianism, the belief that Jesus was a created being, lower than the Father, was not merely a heresy in the fourth century A.D. On the contrary, one of the primary tenets of belief for Jehovah’s Witnesses is a form of Semi-Arianism. The New World Translation of the Bible, used by most Jehovah’s Witnesses, has deliberately distorted the teaching of St. John on the Divinity of Christ in its Prologue, so that it reads: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”

CWR: What is the book’s intended readership?

Fr. Gregoris: The book had its origins in a long-term series in The Catholic Response, the periodical I serve as managing editor. The intended readership for the series was adult Catholics, students in Catholic universities and high schools, seminarians and priests, and any lover of early Church history. The popularity of the series prompted assembling the original articles into book form, however, significantly enhanced with footnotes and expanded text material.

CWR: In the light of Church history, what are the constant challenges faced by Catholics in defending the Faith? What unique challenges do Catholics face today?

Fr. Gregoris: The Fathers of the Church had to deal with internal and external assaults on the Faith: threats to Church unity from within and a hostile and hedonistic culture from without. The situation for the contemporary Church is not much different, especially in the so-called “developed” world. The Fathers engaged the problems and provided very convincing arguments.

We are also confronted today with abysmal religious illiteracy. The Church Fathers provide a thorough catechesis, which is intensely biblical and rational at one and the same time. Going to the sources of Catholic doctrine is an appealing way to present the perennial truths, being heard for the first time by all too many contemporary Catholics.

Some of the unique challenges facing Catholics today are: How to engage in evangelization that does not become proselytism; how to use technological advancements and social media appropriately in order to convey the unadulterated Gospel message; making sure that, like the Fathers of the Church, we remain faithful to the Magisterium and not substitute it with our own made-up religion, conveniently tailored to our likes and dislikes.

The Church is presently experiencing much persecution and also much growth in many parts of the world. Jesus, of course, predicted both of these realities. It behooves us to turn frequently to the writings, example and intercessory power of the Fathers of the Church, recognizing them as models to follow in order to overcome the easy temptation of “political correctness” and ” moral relativism.”

CWR: What are some of the special features of the book?

Fr. Gregoris: The book includes: copious footnotes; suggestions for further reading and study; Scriptural and apologetical indices; map of the Mediterranean world of the early Christians; numerous beautiful prints (color, black and white) of places, peoples and things associated with the world of the Fathers.

CWR: What has been the response so far? How can readers find out more about it?

It’s too early to tell how sales are going, but I am gratified that it has received endorsements from three high-ranking American prelates: Sean Cardinal O’Malley of Boston; Donald Cardinal Wuerl of Washington; and J. Francis Cardinal Stafford, former Archbishop of Denver and former President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

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About Carl E. Olson 1190 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.