Now here’s a book I didn’t expect.
I’m talking about Hostile Witnesses: How The Historic Enemies of the Church Prove Christianity, Gary Michuta’s newest book from Catholic Answers Press. A few pages into the Introduction I laughed to myself with delight as I began to fully grasp just what sort of book this was. “What a great idea!” I thought to myself (I might have even said it aloud). But I certainly thought it. This was something new and exciting. As Steve Ray affirms in his endorsement:
“It’s rare to find a book that explores new territories in apologetics, but Hostile Witnesses does just that.”
An author of several other books including The Case For The Deuterocanon and Making Sense of Mary, Gary Michuta has become widely respected by today’s Catholic apologists. As an author, researcher, and debater, Michuta has not only proven his erudition but his smooth communication style which exudes both charity and a depth of knowledge. This book will further bolster his reputation among Catholic thinkers and readers alike.
What’s so genius about Hostile Witnesses? Well usually when we weave together historical arguments for the faith we appeal to the words or actions of biblical authors, apostles and disciples of Christ, early Church fathers, and ecclesiastical writers for evidence. We do this to show the congruency between doctrinal assertions, historical events, and other details of apologetical significance. But we rarely look at how the enemies of Christianity can help us make our case. It is counter-intuitive to do this, yes—but it is effective; and in Hostile Witnesses, Gary Michuta shows us how it’s done.
There is much to praise about this work, and I’ll share three things that I gained from Michuta’s latest book.
First, new historical evidence to stand on when asserting the claims of Catholic Christianity.When doing historical research there are certain key elements that a historian will try to establish in order to validate his conclusions. Among those things that he should try to establish are multiple, early, independent sources that corroborate with one another. He should also look for reliable testimony; and often the most reliable testimony is that of an enemy, or someone who has no interest in affirming the truth of a given event. Two boxers may want to tear each other to shreds—but if Boxer A is still willing to call Boxer B “a skilled fighter” then such an unbiased remark may be presumed more powerful than Boxer B’s coach saying the same thing.
So here in Hostile Witnesses the reader is presented with a number of “enemy” (or at least non-Christian) sources, inside and outside of the Scriptures, which unwittingly testify in favor of Christian doctrine and against anti-Christian allegations faced by the Church. As Michuta writes:
“These historic foes of Christianity also make wonderful allies when it comes to combating historic anti-Catholic and anti-Christian myths that have taken root in our time”.
Second, this book is an education in history—an area that I am personally trying to grow in. Admittedly, my knowledge in the area of ancient, medieval, and modern history is not what I wish it was, but Hostile Witnesses has been an important help.
What you get here is a fine introduction to a diverse roster of key players throughout Christian history that have, in one way or another, acknowledged and perhaps interacted with Christians in a significant (though not necessarily edifying) way. There are many characters in this volume that I had known nothing about—Alexamenos Graffito, Rabbi Efraim Ben Jacob, Henry Charles Lea, Émile Zola, and others—who, by getting to know them, have helped me to gain a more well-rounded view of Christian history. And they have also helped me to further bolster my reasons for not agreeing with them.
Third, this book sets the stage for further study and continuous learning. Throughout the book Michuta provides “Further Reading” recommendations. This is fitting because each chapter is just enough of an intellectual snapshot to establish the witness’s identity, role in history, and particular contribution to the Christian argument, while still leaving room for further reflection and research. Michuta provides the necessary resources for the apologist who wants to dive deeper, but all in all, the chapters leave “beginning historians” like me both pleased and satisfied.
The Catholic Church has faced much adversity through the ages—and just as God can tolerate evil in order to bring about a greater good, so can the Church establish proofs for the faith from the works of her opposition. By reading Hostile Witnesses you will encounter key figures from pagan Rome, the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Protestant Reformation. You will encounter Muslims, Protestants, heretics, the Nazis, and an atheist novelist compelled to admit the miraculous. And in varying ways, they all help to prove Christianity.
In this book you will discover a unique case for Catholic Christianity written by an apologist who masterfully weaves philosophy, history, and Scripture in a highly readable, intellectually pleasing style. Gary Michuta has powerfully exposed just how compatible with reason and history the Catholic faith indeed is—and in a very unexpected way.
Indeed, in Hostile Witnesses: How The Historic Enemies of the Church Prove Christianity we are given one more reason to love our enemies.