Defense of the Faith

2020 Annual Defense of the Faith Presentation

Speaker: Bishop Robert Barron, "Ideas Have Consequences: Four Philosophers Who Shaped 2020"


The Defense of Faith Committee was pleased to welcome Bishop Robert Barron as speaker at the Defense of Faith Program at the virtual Annual Meeting on September 18, 2020. Bishop Barron is perhaps best known as the host of Catholicism, a groundbreaking, award-winning documentary about the Catholic Faith, which aired on PBS. He is Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles. Bishop Barron has a Master’s Degree in Philosophy from the Catholic University of America and a doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Institut Catholique de Paris.

Bishop Barron’s talk was aimed at helping us to understand the roots of this convulsive time in our national history, demonstrated by the global pandemic, unstable politics, and outbursts of violence. His focus was on four modern philosophers: Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Michel Foucault, who created the basis for the culture that has produced the current crisis the U.S. is experiencing. Bishop Barron noted that all four were atheists.

In discussing the thought of Karl Marx (1818-83), Bishop Barron began his discussion with Marx’s notion there is an economic substructure to any society and a superstructure which protects it. The superstructure includes politics, the military, art and religion, for example. In the capitalist system, the superstructure hides the exploitation of the worker and provides illusory relief (such as religion) to alleviate their alienation. Thus, Marx’s famous remark: “Religion is the opium of the people.” The goal of the Marxist revolutionary is to destroy the oppressive superstructure and replace it with communism. Marx’s atheism is not merely respect for individual choice not to believe; instead, Marxists must destroy religion as part the superstructure.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is famous for his proclamation of the death of God. But God has been the ground of objective truth and moral value for Western civilization from ancient times. Bishop Barron pointed out that in the absence of objective truth and moral value, we are left with just a clash of wills, as Nietzsche recognized. His hero was a type of superior human being, who, in this clash of wills, was able to assert his will and triumph. This primacy of will over reason, Bishop Barron observes, is being played out on our streets today. Nietzsche decried Christian morality with its emphasis on pity, compassion, love, and nonviolence, calling it a “slave morality,” practiced by those who cannot effectively assert their wills.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-80) formulated a philosophy called “existentialism.” The hallmark of existentialism is that existence precedes essence. Bishop Barron explained that “essence” means those forms, patterns, values that indicate what it is to live a good life. “Existence” means one’s individuality, especially one’s freedom. Traditionally, people have tried to conform their wills to essence. Sartre exhorts us to live our lives as we see fit. We determine the meaning of our lives. Thus, Sartre follows Nietzsche in the denial of objective truth and moral value. Bishop Barron notes that these ideas, once the subject of discussion in Paris cafes are now the default position of young people today. Sarte’s atheism follows from his philosophy. To paraphrase a famous statement of Sartre’s: “If God exists, I can’t really be free.”

For Bishop Barron, Michel Foucault (1926-84) sums up the other three philosophers. He believes that Foucault more directly bears on the conversation and praxis of today than the others, despite being less well-known. He is famous for his “archeology of history.” Foucault addressed various subjects, such as sexuality and incarceration, and concluded that our sexual mores and our punishments for various crimes varied considerably overtime. These variations are a function of power according to Foucault, which may be exercised unconsciously as well as consciously. The powerful will arrange society—and even language—to maintain their power. Through the modes of discourse that we use, we inherit and unconsciously absorb the values of the power structure.

Bishop Barron noted that these ideas have made their way into the academies of the West and through the academies have now influenced several generations of people. What we see today are many of these ideas incarnating themselves.

Next, Bishop Barron summarized the four philosophies and related them to the trends we experience today.

Bishop Barron characterizes Marxism as a social theory of antagonism. Violence for the Marxist is not a regrettable side effect. Given the need to foment revolution of the oppressed against the oppressors, it is in many ways the point. What we see in our streets today is an attempt to smash the superstructure.

Nietzsche’s ideas are manifestly at work in the modern rejection of God and of objective truth and values. As a result, what we see is just a clash of wills.

According to Bishop Barron we can see the influence of Sartre in the culture of self-invention, which is rampant today. Because there is no objective truth, then sexuality, gender, human nature, and moral systems are just societal constructs that can be overturned by the heroic, self-assertive freedom of the individual.

For Foucault, language bears the weight (mostly unconsciously) of the influence of the powerful. Thus, Bishop Barron notes the fascination of people today on how words are used.

What is the ecclesial response to these ideas? Bishop Barron admited that this must be the subject of another talk in order to cover it adequately. Generally speaking, Bishop Barron stated, the Church stands athwart almost all of these ideas because it speaks most clearly of God and asserts the objectivity of truth. Thus, the Church is the supreme representative of “essence.” The Church’s social justice teaching is cooperative, not antagonistic; violence is not the means of effecting social change. This is why, Bishop Barron observes, that the forces behind these ideas “don’t like us.”  In the end, the best way to stand against these philosophies is for the Church to claim its own great tradition.

Please access the LiveStream presentation that aired on Friday, September 18th for the Federal Association’s Annual Defense of Faith Presentation below.


Defense of the Faith in the Contemporary World: A Reflection

The two great charisms of the Order are Defense of the Faith and Service to the Sick and the Poor—tuitio fidei and obsequium pauperum. Daily, we are reminded of these ideals in the Prayer of the Order: “Be it mine to practice and defend the catholic, the apostolic, the Roman faith against sacrilege” and “Be it mine to practice charity toward my neighbor, especially the poor and the sick.”

The word “sacrilege,” like all words, has connotations beyond its usual meaning. As Fra’ James-Michael von Stroebel observes: “[T]he normal ‘everyday’ meaning of that word appears inadequate to convey the deep and full intention of the Latin form of the prayer.” An Explanation of the Revisions of the Daily Prayer of the Order, June 2019. The Latin version of the defense of faith part of the Prayer is: Religionem catholicam, apostolicam, Romanam firmiter colam ac adversus impietatem strenue defendam. In his Explanation, Fra’ James-Michael notes that this sentence “could be translated in a wide variety of ways,” and he provides examples. Another translation could be: I shall devote myself completely to the Catholic, apostolic, Roman religion and defend it vigorously against all harm. In any event, as Fra’ James-Michael points out, the true meaning of “sacrilege” is “very serious and very encompassing. It covers any violation or harm or intended violation or harm by act or withholding of act or by word toward anyone or anything sacred or held sacred.”

In addition to the Daily Prayer of the Order, each knight and dame at his or her investiture promises to “always bear witness to the Catholic faith, to defend the Church, and to lead my life in accordance with the teachings of Holy Mother Church.”

Although they are different, there is a radical unity between the two charisms. The Regulations and Commentary of the Order (RCO) declare: “The witness and protection of the faith remain incomplete without devotion to “God’s poor.” (p. 37) Furthermore, both charisms presuppose a grounding in the spiritual life.

Yet, the “witness” of defense of faith is different from cultivating the spiritual life and the witness of serving the sick and the poor. According to the RCO, the defense of faith is an “outward-going service,” while spirituality is inward-looking, focused on building the spiritual foundation without which the practice of the charisms would not be authentically Christian. (p. 35)

Our service to the sick and the poor is one kind of witness. The witness of tuitio fidei is another kind of witness. It is a declaration of faith and a “call to arms,” although (in modern times) not literally. The charism of defense of the faith relates more closely to the military aspect of our vocation than the charism of obsequium pauperum.  The Order is “military” as well as “hospitaller.” A “military” organization is formed with a view to combat. But a Christian military organization is aimed at protection, not aggression. We have “the duty of practical and spiritual battle-readiness.” (RCO, p. 29) This duty is “practical” because it is carried out publicly as well as privately, and in deeds as well as in words. It is “spiritual” because we fight against base inclinations in ourselves as well as those in our surroundings. (RCO, p. 30) Our practical and spiritual combat is against impietatem, which may be translated as “evil.” In its broadest form, the battle against impietatem obliges us to “recognize the image of God in every single individual” and to become involved “whenever the God-given dignity of human life is endangered.” (RCO, p. 29) In the words of Pope St. John Paul II, the Order has to fight the “noble battle for the defense and development of the human person.” (RCO, p. 29)

Our activities in devoting ourselves to the faith and defending it must be nonviolent and must be characterized by fidelity to the teachings of the Church, in obedience to the leadership of the Order, and, in keeping with the traditions of the Order, they must be characterized by nobility and chivalry. Our witness must be strong and clear, unselfish and dignified. We are to take our duty seriously and fulfill it joyfully. We must always recall that we are fighting for the weak, the voiceless and the suffering. The defense of the faith must be a force for evangelization.

How then do members of the Order defend the faith in contemporary times in a practical way? First, we defend it through public witness. Each member of the Order must be ready at all times and in all places to publicly, unhesitatingly, and unapologetically live every facet of life consistent with the principles and doctrines of the Roman Catholic faith. Second, we defend the faith through intellectual engagement. Intellectual engagement helps us to recognize the challenges to the faith in contemporary society. It helps us to analyze them and to formulate responses, both intellectual and practical, that are consistent with our vocation. In order to do this, members of the Order must have knowledge of the faith and the traditions of the Order. Knowledge of the faith begins with knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, and it extends to knowledge of the teachings of the Church. But we must not only know the faith, we must also understand its scriptural and rational underpinnings. In addition, we must be aware of contemporary trends, and, armed with knowledge and understanding (as well as spiritual grounding), we must discern those that pose threats to the Church and to the inherent dignity of every human person. Finally, exercising the virtue of prudence, we must identify the best way to combat trends that are evil. Sometimes it may be more effective to educate and persuade; sometimes action may be required, including exercising our rights as citizens. But, again, all action must be consistent with our vocation as members of the Order.

In order to inform and equip our members, the Federal Association has established a national Defense of Faith Committee (DOF Committee), and it encourages the formation of regional ones. The purpose of the DOF Committee is to identify contemporary threats to the faith, to explain why they should be regarded as such, to provide members with the intellectual weapons to combat them, and to suggest countermeasures. In the last few years, speakers at the Defense of Faith Program at the Annual Meeting have addressed: religious liberty, the formation of conscience and culture, science and faith, end-of-life issues and the philosophical underpinnings of secular humanism. The DOF Committee has published articles on the persecution of Christians and other groups in the Middle East and on physician-assisted suicide. It has produced a series of learning modules on end-of-life issues and on the teachings of the Church regarding racial justice. In order to facilitate regional defense of faith activities, it has provided a guide to effective programs and has recommended grants for such programs. The DOF Committee has composed a reading list of materials to educate and prepare members for their individual roles in defending the faith.

In general, the DOF Committee perceives internal and external threats to the faith. Within the Church, there is active and public dissent from its teachings. There is widespread ignorance and outright disbelief of core Church doctrines, such as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Catholic educational institutions and programs such as RCIA and CCD are often weak on doctrine. The clergy sex abuse scandal has seriously undermined the faith. The Church’s call to holiness has also been diminished by two more abstract trends: (1) the belief that one defines one own moral code and (2) the belief that the Church’s role is confined to improving earthly society.

Outside the Catholic community, the Church’s liberty of belief and practice is challenged. In the United States, certain Church teachings are condemned as discriminatory and Catholic nominees for government posts are belittled for their beliefs. Government regulation is being used to put pressure on Catholic social service organizations to deviate from Catholic moral teaching. Hospitals are under pressure to dispense contraceptives and abortifacients; Catholic adoption and foster-care agencies are threatened when they refuse to place children in homosexual households. Even non-Catholic Christian believers are being forced to act against their consciences in the provision of products and services. These include bakers and florists. The Little Sisters of the Poor had to sue to be exempted from the requirements of the Affordable Care Act requiring insurance coverage of contraceptives and abortifacients. Our secularist, materialist and consumerist society has fostered a culture of death: abortion and euthanasia are but two examples. A contraceptive mentality is leading to demographic suicide in many countries.

There is also failure to accomplish the goal of social justice. The RCO states: “All Members should know the social teachings of the Church and in their public and professional life [they] have to promote a just order in accordance with their position and opportunities.” (RCO, p. 39)

Finally, the arts relentlessly and practically uniformly promote a secularist, materialist and consumerist vision of the good society. The coarsening of our culture directly parallels the abandonment of decency in film, television, literature, popular music, and in digital media in general. For centuries the Church has fostered painting and sculpture and literature. Indeed, it may be said that the Church helped create many of the arts that make up Western Civilization.

Yes, there are many challenges to the Gospel as embodied in the teachings of the Church. Indeed, there are more than have been identified here. Our defense of faith charism obliges us “to fight the good fight,” (2 Tim. 4:7) and in doing so, we must not become discouraged or despair for “behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” (Matt. 28:20)

An Excerpt from the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Faith and understanding

156 What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe "because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived".28 So "that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit."29 Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church's growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability "are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all"; they are "motives of credibility" (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is "by no means a blind impulse of the mind".30

28 Dei Filius 3: DS 3008.

29 Dei Filius 3: DS 3009.

30 Dei Filius 3: DS 3008-10; cf. Mk 16:20; Heb 2:4.


Excerpts from the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for use in the United States of America Copyright © 1994, United States Catholic Conference, Inc.—Libreria Editrice Vaticana.  Used with Permission. English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Modifications from the Editio Typica copyright © 1997, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops—Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Defense of the Faith Programs: A Guide

The dual charisms of the Order are defense of the faith and care of the sick and poor.  The regions of the Federal Association are well-known for their activities in service to the sick and the poor, but regional programs for the defense of the faith are less numerous and less well-known, according to a survey conducted by the Defense of Faith Committee.  In order to encourage regional defense of faith programs, the Committee has prepared the below guide. It provides a very detailed template for regions to follow in order to mount a successful program.  The Committee hopes that the regional Hospitallers especially will find this step-by-step program to be helpful, although the guide is written for any member of the Order or group to propose defense of faith programs.  Regional Hospitallers should feel free to disseminate the guide widely.

By means of the below guide, the Committee hopes and prays that regional defense of faith programs will grow in number and become more widespread.

Please click here to access: "Defense of the Faith Programs: A Guide".

Articles Commissioned by the Defense of the Faith Committee

Physician-Assisted Suicide? Why Not

by John Keown, MA, DPhil, PhD, DCL

The campaign to legalize physician-assisted suicide (PAS) and voluntary active euthanasia (VAE) is one of the greatest threats to human life in developed countries.

In the US, PAS is now legal in six states (Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, Colorado, Montana) and the District of Columbia. In 2015 the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a right to PAS and to VAE, and in 2016 the Canadian Parliament enacted legislation to accommodate that ruling. In November 2017 the State of Victoria, Australia, enacted legislation permitting both. The Netherlands has permitted both since 1984, Belgium since 2002, and Luxembourg since 2009.

The campaign is particularly strong in the US. Bills to permit PAS are repeatedly introduced in state legislatures. Attempts have also been made to persuade state supreme courts that state statutes or constitutions permit PAS. It is only a matter of time until another attempt is launched in the federal courts to establish a right to PAS under the US Constitution; previous attempts were rejected by the US Supreme Court in 1997.

The need to resist this campaign could hardly be more important or urgent.

The Defense of Faith Committee commissioned this article by renowned scholar John Keown, MA, DPhil, PhD, DCL, who is the Rose Kennedy Professor at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University, to alert the members of the Order about this trend and to provide two key arguments against PAS and VAE.  The Committee urges each member to read this article and to combat the spread of the legalization of PAS and VAE.

Please click here to read the article by Dr. John Keown titled "Physician-Assisted Suicide? Why Not". 

Defense of Faith Speakers at the Annual Meeting

2019: Prof. John Keown, Georgetown University


The Defense of the Faith Forum at Investiture weekend featured Professor John Keown of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University, addressing the topic of physician-assisted suicide. Speaking to a crowd of more than 200 knights and dames, Keown offered an engaging overview of the issue in defense of the inviolability of human life, emphasizing the importance of defining terms to avoid muddying the conversation. 

Keown discussed the scope of legalization and how the Netherlands and in the U.S., the state of Oregon, have descended a slippery slope toward an alarming expansion of physician-assisted suicide. Ultimately, arguments based on bodily autonomy, public opinion, and beneficence all fall short of justifying legalization, he said, arguing that legalization is not a foregone conclusion. By appealing to people’s innate goodness, it is possible to turn the tide.

2018: Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J.


The Defense of Faith Committee was pleased to host Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., as its speaker at the 2018 Annual Meeting. Fr. Spitzer spoke in general about science and faith. In particular, he spoke about the Big Bang, near-death experiences and the Shroud of Turin. Many do not know that a priest, Georges Lemaitre, first proposed the Big Bang theory and the theoretical grounds for the expanding universe. Aside from anecdotes, there are scientific studies of near-death experiences that testify to the immortality of the soul. Fr. Spitzer explained the basis for the belief that the Shroud is authentic and how it is tangible proof of the Resurrection.

Fr. Spitzer has a Doctorate in Philosophy from Catholic University and a Master of Theology degree from the Weston School, now the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. He has been on the philosophy faculties of Georgetown University and Seattle University. He served as President of Gonzaga University from 1998-2009. Fr. Spitzer founded and heads up the Magis Institute, located at the Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, which produces books, articles, documentaries, videos, and new media materials on the complementarity of science, philosophy, and faith—particularly physics, cosmology, philosophy of science, and metaphysics.

You can’t miss his riveting and inspiring presentation.

Please click here to listen his speech.

2017: His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, DC


The Defense of the Faith program, now very much a part of Investiture Weekend, was first added to the agenda in 2010, with Cardinal Wuerl was the first presenter. He returned to speak in 2017, about the role of clergy and laity in the formation of conscience in today’s culture and society. 

Please click here to read his speech.

2016: Paul Clement

Current Challenges to Religious Liberty

The Defense of Faith Committee of the Federal Association was pleased and honored to have Mr. Paul Clement speak on current challenges to religious liberty at the DOF Program at the Annual Meeting, October 14, 2016.  This article identifies some of the themes touched upon by Mr. Clement; the expansion of these themes, however, is completely the work of this author and should not be attributed to Mr. Clement.

Please click here to read the full article.