The New Catechism: An Overviewby Archbishop William J. Levada
Welcome to this symposium on the new Catechism of the Catholic Church. This symposium has been arranged to provide us with an in-depth look at the new catechism, which our Holy Father has called "the best gift that the church can make to its bishops and to the entire people of God" (address at Santa Domingo, Origins 22:19, 325).
The new catechism was published in France in November of 1992 and officially promulgated by Pope John Paul II on Dec. 7 in the Sala Regia at the Vatican. As a member of the editorial committee which prepared the new catechism, I had the privilege of being present for this event as well as for the celebration of the papal Mass at St. Mary Major Basilica on the next day, the solemnity of the immaculate conception, during which our Holy Father joyfully and fervently entrusted the catechism to the patronage of Mary, mother of the church, as an instrument of renewal of the church for the sake of its mission in and to the world.
Even on that occasion we lamented the absence of the English translation of the catechism. I first scheduled this symposium for last August, but postponed it when it became apparent that the Englist text would not be ready. When we surveyed the few remaining dates where space would be available for such a convening this spring, I thought surely we would have the translation by February So much for any lingering claims of episcopal infallibility!
Many of you will have seen a copy of the catechism in one of the drafts of the English translation or in an editior published in one or other of the major languages. For the purposes of our symposium—the root of the word mean. "drinking together"—I suppose our savoring the nectar of the new catechisn will have to be content with yet further anticipation. I am pleased to be able to assure you of this much at least: Cardinal Ratzinger has announced that, as of the end of January, the English translation received its final approval by the Holy See. It is now in the process of being prepared for publication by the various publishers in English-speaking countries around the world. I would expect it to be on the market by late May or early June
The catechism project has been the object of curiosity and even controversy since its inception. It was among the specific recommendations made by the extraordinary Synod of Bishops of 1985, at which bishops representing all the episcopal conferences of the world gathered with the pope to mark the 20th anniversary of the completion of the Second Vatican Council.
The synod fathers made this recommendation: "Very many have expressed the desire that a catechism or compendium of all Catholic doctrine regarding both faith and morals be composed, that it might be, as it were, a point of reference for the catechisms or compendiums that are prepared in various regions. The presentation of doctrine must be biblical and liturgical. It must be sound doctrine suited to the present life of Christians."
In his closing address Pope John Paul indicated that he accepted and would implement the synod's request for a new catechism for the universal church.
When the catechism finally appeared in the bookstores, the initial response of the public was surprisingly strong. The French text sold over 100,000 copies in the first three weeks — a fact which cannot be entirely explained by its appearance just in time for the Christmas shopping rush! Of course the press bannered its appearance by headlining the "new sins" which the catechism contained: things like business fraud, drunken driving, cheating on payment of taxes and the like. The French bishop who served on the editorial committee with me suggested this explanation (with tongue in cheek): "It's not that the French people feel such a need for catechesis," he remarked, "it's rather that when they are told there are new sins, they are afraid they might be missing something!"
This past December the Vatican daily newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, reported that sales in the various languages throughout the world had already exceeded 3 million copies; of course this figure does not allow for any sales in the many English-speaking countries of the world.
But the story about the French illustrates a point: As the pope remarked in his apostolic constitution Fidei Depositum, "The catechism will contain the new and the old, because the faith is always the same yet the source of ever new light; . . . it should help illumine with the light of faith the new situations and problems which had not yet emerged in the past." So,the question naturally arises, Why a new catechism, and why now?
As he presented the new catechism to the world, Pope John Paul gave this succinct indication about the nature of a catechism: "A catechism should faithfully and systematically present the teaching of sacred Scripture, the living tradition of the church and the authentic magisterium as well as the spiritual heritage of the fathers and the church's saints, to allow for a better knowledge of the Christian mystery and for enlivening the faith of the people of God" (apostolic constitution Fidei Depositum). I will address the aspects of a faithful and systematic presentation in my remarks further on about the theological context for the catechism. Here I would only observe that this summary description would more or less be applicable to any catechism in any time or place.
But the pope was very conscious that this new catechism is intimately linked with the purpose of Vatican II. It is a project proposed by the 1985 Synod of Bishops, whose purpose was to celebrate the graces and spiritual fruits of Vatican II, to study its teaching in greater depth in order the better to adhere to it and to promote the knowledge of it and its application in the life and work of the church. The synod itself is a new structure set up in the church at the suggestion of the fathers of the Second Vatican Council in order to provide a means of the continuing exercise of collegial responsibility which had proved to be so powerful a force for renewal at the council itself.
Both the beginning of the catechism project at the 1985 synod, marking the 20th anniversary of the close of the council, and the date chosen for the promulgation of the catechism, Dec. 8, 1992, the 30th anniversary of the end of the first session of the council, demonstrate this conscious link with Vatican II. Furthermore, in the pope's view, "following the renewal of the liturgy and the new codification of the canon law of the Latin church and that of the Oriental Catholic churches, this catechism will make a very important contribution to that work of renewing the whole life of the church, as desired and begun by the Second Vatican Council" (Fidei Depositum).
One need not look further than the great themes of the council to realize the need for this new catechism. The council both called for and was marked by contemporary biblical and liturgical renewal; it developed an extensive and mature ecclesiology; it outlined a vision of the human person in the creative plan of God and addressed various aspects of man's relationship to the modern world. All of these themes speak to a need to review and integrate these new insights into the patrimony of the apostolic tradition of doctrine regarding faith and morals. This was a task for which the bishops, in concert with the Holy Father, as pastors and teachers of the faith, must assume responsibility.
Pope Paul VI used to call the teachings of the council the "catechism of our times." But in the years after the council, the need for a comprehensive, integrated presentation of the faith which was faithful and systematic became ever more apparent. I believe the new catechism fulfils this need in a way that allows it truly to be called the catechism of the Second Vatican Council. But it was not easily achieved, both for what I will call intrinsic as well as extrinsic reasons. I will review some of the inherent difficulties surrounding the accomplishment of this task in my review of the process of its composition. But other external factors, affecting catechesis and theology in the church after Vatican II, point out the problematic as well.
It is interesting to note that Vatican II itself did not call for a catechism for the universal church. Unlike Vatican I in 1870, which had prepared a schema for such a catechism, the bishops at Vatican II, in the rather minimal attention given to the area of catechetics, asked for a directory which would set forth the critelia for national, regional and diocesan catechisms. In this way the council sought to take into account the diversity of the particular churches throughout the world. Indeed, the problem about how to draft a catechism for the universal church which could be useful for so many different cultures was one of the first to face the commission assembled to draft the new catechism.
Even though the council did not call for a catechism, the idea of catechisms had by no means disappeared. Just a year after the council the Dutch Catechism appeared. While it was lauded for its originality of approach, it was nevertheless ultimately found deficient and needed to be corrected in some of its doctrinal expositions. And in the past decade several European episcopal conferences have produced catechisms, some for adults, some for children of different age levels: Italy (1981), Germany (1985), Spain (1986), Belgium (1987), France (1991).
In his reflection on the situation after the council, when even a national catechism such as the Dutch Catechism would be judged to require clarification and correction, Cardinal Ratzinger comments:
"It was natural to ask whether the best way of handling the matters at issue was not to produce a catechism for the whole church. At the time I said that the moment had not yet come for such a project, and I am still convinced that my assessment of the situation was correct. Apparently Jean Guitton has said that our catechism is 25 years late, and in a sense he is right, but equally it has to be admitted that in 1966 it was still very difficult to size up the situation. We were just entering a period of ferment that would be very slow to subside in order to make possible the clarity of vision requisite for a new expression of our common belief" ("The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Optimism of the Redeemed," in Communio XX/3 (Fall 1993), 470).
To be sure, the General Catechetical Directory of 1971, and in our country the subsequent National Catechetical Directory "Sharing the Light of Faith" for which it had called, pointed out the importance of a sound doctrinal basis for a renewed catechetics. But the immense shift in theological vocabulary and emphasis and the voices of dissent over church doctrines in morality and even in the meaning of the creed tended to undermine both clarity and conviction in the presentation of the teachings of the faith.
In 1977 the Synod of Bishops addressed the subject of catechesis, and in 1979 Catechesi Tradendae, the apostolic exhortation in preparation under three popes, was promulgated by Pope John Paul II; it provided a charter for the ongoing renewal of the church's catechetical ministry. Still, there was no suggestion in it calling for a universal catechism.
Need for a New Catechism
By 1985 it seems the time had come. The suggestion of a new catechism had been made by at least three episcopal - conferences in the preparatory phase of the extraordinary synod of 1985. Cardinal Law introduced the concept at the opening session of the synod: "I propose a commission of cardinals to prepare a draft of a conciliar catechism to be promulgated by the Holy Father after consulting the bishops of the world. In a shrinking world—a global village—national catechisms will not fill the current need for clear articulation of the church's faith" (Origins, 15:27, 443-5). In his observations on the 1985 synod, Father Avery Dulles, SJ, identified four major agenda items of the synod—a new Code of Canon Law, a study of the nature of episcopal conferences, a study of the proper application of subsidiarily and a new catechism — which represented a sort of "unfinished agenda" of Vatican II itself. For example, he said:
"It was assumed [a decade ago] that in the brave new church then emerging there would no longer be any need for a universal 'Roman catechism.' . . . Today, however, the problems are seen to be more complex. . . . The tensions of our time have made it increasingly evident that for Catholicism to endure in the 'global village' visible structures of unity are essential. A vibrant sense of Catholic unity seems to require not only an inner union of spirit but a measure of common catechesis, common legislation, common customs, common symbols and common ministerial oversight" (The Reshaping of Catholicism, 1988, p. 205).
Even though a widespread conviction has developed that the content of the message in all its splendor needs to be put back at the center of things, we still need to present the doctrine of the faith with effective methods if we are to accomplish the goals of good catechesis. Both Catechesi Tradendae and the new catechism remind us that effective catechesis is not just about communicating abstract truths. It is Christ who is at the center ol the mystery we communicate and whom we must encounter personally. It is Christ the teacher who acts in and through the catechist and the homilist. But Christ is not an empty canvas on which we pain an image that we imagine or a reflection we see in the mirror. The Revelation of God in Christ is a multifaceted saving truth which enlightens and informs as it evokes a response of faith and love.
The new catechism begins witt these words of Christ the teacher: "Father, ... this is etemal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (in. 17:3) And it follows them immediately with these words of St. Paul to Timothy: "God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tm. 2:3-4). This is the purpose of the catechism: to provide a sure point of reference for all of us in the church and especially for those of us engaged in the ministry of catechesis, about this Jesus Christ whom we must know in order to have etemal life; it gives us the firm basis to come to the knowledge of the truth, which is our salvation.
Our acceptance of this saving truth must involve both the intellect and the heart. Here is the fundamental role of "experience" in catechesis—we must experience the mystery of Christ in the depths of our heart, above all in our prayer. In the lovely words of Newman cor ad cor loquitur — "the heart speak to the heart."
The Holy Father too insisted on this point in his first address to the newly appointed catechism commission in 1986:
"Certainly the catechism is not catechesis, but only a means or an instrument of it. In fact, while the catechism is a compendium of the doctrine of the church, catechesis . . . transmits this doctrine—with methods adapted to the age —so that the Christian truth may become, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, the life of the believers. Yet the importance of the catechism in catechesis is great, as is amply demonstrated in the church's experience of many centuries In effect, even if the thing we call a catechism, as we understand it today, came into common use only in the time of the Reformation, its essence as a fundamental structure for the transmission of the faith is as old as the catechumenate, one could even say as old as the church and in its substance, it is unrenounceable" (Origins, 16:26, 487).
The Holy Father appointed an international commission of 12 cardinals and residential bishops to produce the catechism called for by the Synod of Bishops, and named Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregatior for the Doctrine of the Faith, as its president. Among the members were the American Cardinals Baum and Law.
The commission gave the task of preparing a draft of the catechism to an editorial committee composed of seven bishops—from France, Spain, England Chile, Italy, Argentina and the United States; while it was a lot of work, I feel very privileged to have served on the committee. Soon after work got under way, the Dominican theologian Father, Christoph Schonborn—now auxiliary bishop of Vienna—was appointed general editor of the catechism in order to provide a unifying hand for the project and to be able to follow this immense task full time. As the successive draft were prepared—there were 10 in all— few theologians were associated with the project in areas of their particular expertise; Father Jean Corbon, for example made a wonderful contribution in drafting the fourth part on prayer from embattled Beirut.
The synod had called for a "catechism or compendium of all Catholic doctrine regarding faith and morals"; and it suggested that it be a "point of reference" for national and regional catechisms. The first task before the catechism commission was thus to identify just what was being called for: a catechism or a compendium? Are they the same thing?
Idea of a Catechism
A brief look at the various forms of catechesis in the history of the church illustrates the considerable variety of the forms which the instruction about Christian doctrine has taken. Biblical research shows evidence of catechetical formulas already present in the New Testament. The fathers of the early church provide many examples, particularly baptismal catecheses and mystagogical catecheses in the form of sermons and instructions. St. Augustine wrote a methodology and compendium for catechizing the unlearned.
In medieval times catechesis was developed using various terms: instructions, Christian doctrine, compendium of faith and the summa of doctrine and theology. The word catechism itself is found as far back as Carolingian times; in English one of the first indications is the 14th-century Lay Folks' Catechism of Archbishop John Thoresby of York in England.
The structure of these catechetical approaches is also quite varied. In the Middle Ages, the use of the "sevens" provided a teaching device that became popular: Catechesis would be structured around the seven capital sins, the seven petitions of the Our Father, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven virtues, the seven beatitudes, and again the seven sacraments.
After the invention of printing, the popularity of small catechisms grew quickly. Luther's Small Catechism has an enduring place in Protestant church history; Calvin too wrote his own catechism. Around this same time the Council of Trent, the moving force of the counter- Reformation, called for a catechism. Produced in 1566 by a commission presided over by St. Charles Borromeo, the Catechism of the Council of Trent—also called the Roman Catechism—became the basis for local catechisms throughout the world, including the Baltimore Catechism, which was so prominent in this country for over 100 years.
The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent and the many catechisms which were based on it provided a model for the decision about how to proceed with the task assigned to our committee to develop a new catechism for today. The Roman Catechism is known as a "major" catechism, prepared with a view to serving the entire church, and it had as its primary "audience" the pastors of parishes, who had the primary responsibility for catechesis in the 16th-century church. It immediately became the basis for catechetical texts adapted for various cultures and audiences in the various regions and particular churches. These catechisms are known as "minor" catechisms, in the sense that they are destined for various audiences or groups: indigenous peoples, children, parents, etc.
One of the classic examples of such a "minor" catechism—in no way "minor" in its impact — was the early American Lima Catechism of St. Turibio de Mongrevejo, third archbishop of Lima. A simple presentation of the basics of Catholic doctrine taken from the Roman Catechism, it was presented in three languages in parallel columns—Spanish, Aymara and Quechua—and became the standard catechetical work throughout much of South America for over two centuries, and an extremely useful tool for generations of missionary efforts. I have already referred to the well- known American Baltimore Catechism, which is another example of the "inculturation" of the faith: a "minor" catechism adapted for use in a particular region.
The model of the Roman Catechism provided a suitable precedent for proceeding with the development of a new "major" catechism after Vatican II, which would be the basis for a variety of "inculturated" minor catechisms in the various countries, regions or dioceses, for various groups and age levels such as first communicants, adolescents, RCIA groups, persons with special developmental needs, etc.
A Catechism for Bishops
This new catechism was written in the first place for bishops, who have the overall responsibility for the teaching of the faith in their respective local churches. Of course the bishops share this responsibility with pastors, teachers, catechists and also with writers, editors and publishers of catechetical materials. There is a certain risk in saying that this is a catechism for bishops, of course, not that we might not feel at times the need to take a refresher course in the basics. But I can honestly say that in my own use of this catechism for preaching, for teaching, for writing, I am continually surprised to learn new things about my faith and to see the inner logic and harmony of the mystery of Christ as that unfolds in a comprehensive manner in the teaching of the church's doctrinal patrimony.
With the bishop exercising his role of oversight over the ministry of catechesis in the church, the new catechism will serve as a unifying basis and a rich resource for all those who collaborate with him in catechetical work: pastors of parishes, Catholic schoolteachers, directors of religious education and catechists, diocesan staffs as well as those responsible for RCIA, youth ministry, adult education, campus ministry and the like.
The new catechism is a "bishop's" catechism for other reasons as well. When they considered the pastoral purpose of the catechism in providing assistance to the teaching ministry of the bishop, the commission decided to assign the task of drafting the catechism to an editorial committee of bishops to highlight this aspect of the catechism's purpose.
Second, the commission insisted that all the bishops of the world be in to consult and offer suggestions and recommendations at the appropriate point in the process of developing the text of the catechism. This consultation took place on the basis of the fourth draft, which was sent to all bishops individually and to each episcopal conference (as well as to several institutes specializing in catechetics) in December of 1989.
In the summer of 1990, the editorial committee met with Cardinal Ratzinger in Frascati for two weeks to review the responses received from the world's bishops, which contained more than 24,000 individual observations about the text. All the responses had been cross-referenced on a computer program designed specifically for the purpose, and all were evaluated. Many important and helpful suggestions were incorporated into subsequent drafts; criticisms were studied and taken into account.
The overwhelming response of the bishops to the catechism project was favorable. The bishops in resource-poor countries just emerging from behind the Iron Curtain even asked that they be allowed to publish and use the draft text as they had received it. This consultation of the bishops, useful as it was, was especially significant as a means of ensuring the collegial collaboration of the episcopate of the entire world in the development of this new catechism of the Second Vatican Council.
For Experts or for All?
If the bishops (and their collaborators in catechetical ministry) are the primary "audience" for the catechism, what about the Christifideles—the Catholic laity? Are they too the audience for the new catechism?
Under the heading "this catechism's aim and intended readership," Paragraph 12 of the catechism says:
"This work is intended primarily for those responsible for catechesis: first of all the bishops, as teachers of the faith and pastors of the church. It is offered to them as an instrument in fulfilling their responsibility of teaching the people of God. Through the bishops, it is addressed to editors of catechisms, to priests and to catechists. It will also be useful reading for all other Christian faithful."
It would be unfortunate to think of the audience for this new catechism in a restrictive manner. It should be clear that this work cannot appropriately be placed in the hands of children in Catholic schools and religious education classes around the world as a textbook; it was not designed for that purpose. It is not intended to be a substitute for the necessary development of catechisms adapted to the needs of particular groups.
But it is intended to be a catechism, a tool for communicating and learning the doctrine of the faith. And it will undoubtedly be useful to our Catholic laity in assisting them to acquire a deeper grounding in the knowledge of God's saving truth.
No doubt the catechism will be a great blessing for parents, who are the primary educators of their children in the faith. But all our Catholic laity need to be well-grounded in their faith if they are to successfully apply the principles of Christian faith in shaping a society based on the recognition of the fundamental dignity of the human person. This is the task and the vocation of the Christian laity — through their families, their work, their social activity.
In a world which rightly prizes education, it is imperative that Catholics' education in the knowledge of their faith keep pace with their secular education. But an educated Christian needs a clear and coherent belief system, able to be articulated in keeping with his or her stage of personal development. This necessarily implies attention to the cognitive, intellectual nature of the human person. The Christian faith seen and understood in its sweeping panorama of God's purpose and our partnership with him has an enormous potential not only to sustain our practice of the faith, but to make us able confidently to reach out to others in the church's perennial mission of evangelization.
It is this full and confident Christian adulthood which should be the aim of our efforts of catechesis, and the catechism provides a splendid tool for all our people to achieve it. Without an organic and comprehensive knowledge of the faith, our people will be "retarded" in comparison with the rest of their development. Without genuine conviction which they can articulate, they will necessarily be handicapped by uncertainty and timidity in responding to the call to be apostles in the personal and social task of evangelization, which is linked with and depends so much upon effective catechesis.
Over a century ago Cardinal Newman spoke to this vision:
"I want a laity . . . who know their faith, who enter into It, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it and who know enough of history to defend it. I want an intelligent well-instructed laity. . . . And one immediate effect of your being able to do all this will be your gaining that proper confidence in self that is so necessary for you (cited in E. D'Arcy, "The New Catechisn and Cardinal Newman," Communio X) 43 Fall 1993, 49-7).
This is clearly the aim of the catechism too. In Paragraph 23 it says: "The catechism emphasizes the exposition of doctrine. It seeks to help deepen understanding of faith. In this way it is oriented toward the maturing of that faith, its taking root in personal life and its manifestation in personal conduct."
A fundamentalist street preacher can speak with conviction because he has reduced the message he preaches to one simple phrase which hardly needs and often rejects the engagement of intellect "Believe in Jesus Christ as your personal savior." But a Catholic needs to know the faith in the richness and beauty of God's gracious plan to be able to speak with similar conviction. The catechism can be a valuable resource for ensuring the security and conviction about their faith which will enable our Catholic people to put that faith into action, and to explain with charity and persuasion their reason for doing so.
It is in this spirit that I interpret our Holy Father's remarks to the U.S. bishops on their ad limina visit when he said "Indeed, I pray that the church in the United States will recognize in the catechism an authoritative guide to sound and vibrant preaching, an invaluable resource for parish adult formation programs, a basic text for the upper grades of Catholic high schools, colleges and universities" (Origins 23:8, 127). While am happy to receive this catechism as bishops' catechism, I do not intend to keep it just for myself. I firmly believe that every Catholic home should have and use its copy of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Questions and Answers
The catechetical tradition already in medieval times developed a dialogue style of presentation between teacher and students in the form of questions and an swers—a style which has almost become synonymous with the notion of catechism itself. The committee working on the new Catechism of the Catholic Church decided not to follow this style which is especially popular in the small or minor catechisms, in favor of an expository presentation of Catholic doctrines—a compendium—which still retains its catechetical focus in a number of ways:
----Appropriately for a catechism, there is a certain economy of words in treating each point in a different paragraph, which range on the average from three to 10 lines each, which provide the catechism with a "popular" rather than "scholarly style."
----The inclusion of a series of brief summary points at the end of each section—titled "in brief" statements—is designed to assist the development of shorter catechetical materials at the local level, even to provide suggestions for basic catechetical material which might be learned by memory.
----The catechism contains frequent explanatory material to assist in the undestanding of the content. Such points of a historical, apologetic or perhaps explanatory nature often follow the presentation of doctrine in paragraphs in smaller print.
----Another feature which enriches the presentation of church doctrine are the frequent citations from the fathers of early centuries of church life, whose writings still today have a freshness which demonstrates the abiding character and fidelity of the apostolic tradition throughout the centuries. The catechism contains numerous passages from the saints of the church and from the patrimony of conciliar and papal documents, which further serve to illustrate and confirm the doctrines presented. These provide a rich treasury for all who use the catechism in their own teaching and writing.
----Among the other features of the catechism which make it especially valuable as a resource tool are the index of quotations and the analytical index. All references from the Scriptures, the councils and ecclesiastical documents, canon law, the liturgy, the church fathers, spiritual and theological writers, and the saints are listed as are all the themes and subjects.
The commission had also called for a glossary of terms. Since the compilation of a glossary in the various languages could not be done until after the final text was complete, however, it was decided not to hold up the publication of the text in the various languages to provide this additional tool and to await future editions for its inclusion.
Structure and Content
When you look at the table of contents of the catechism provided in your packets, I doubt it will occur to you to ask why the arrangement of the contents has been made in this particular way, or whether other things might have been included, or even why this or that was left out. As a "major catechism," intended to be a "compendium of all Catholic doctrine regarding faith and morals," this catechism necessarily had to be comprehensive; it could leave nothing pertaining to Catholic faith out. But with regard to content, it also had to observe another criterion: Only the doctrine of the church, not theological opinion or speculation about the revealed truth, would be able to be presented; it could include only the received doctrine which the church presents to the faithful for belief and practice.
While there is a body of doctrine to be organized for a systematic presentation in the catechism, the development of a structure consistently provoked much discussion and led to the development of several different proposals. Should the catechism be "Christocentric" or "theocentric"? Should there be a single theme such as the kingdom of God? What should come first, God who reveals or man who is capable of receiving God's word? In the end, it was decided to follow the four-part structure of the Roman Catechism not only because it offered an important precedent, but because our reflections indicated to us the solid catechetical basis for this arrangement.
In the words of Fidei Depositum, "The Catechism of the Catholic Church on the one hand repeats the 'old' traditional order, ... arranging the material in four parts: the creed, the sacred liturgy, with pride of place given to the sacraments, the Christian way of life explained, beginning with the Ten Commandments, and finally Christian prayer. At the same time, . . . the contents are often expressed in a 'new' way in order to respond to the questions of our age."
The catechumenate in the early church assembled the fundamental elements which identify us as Christians: faith, the sacraments, the commandments, the Our Father and used them as the framework for Christian initiation. Thus the four "pillars" of the catechism emerge almost naturally as the necessary organization of our Catholic faith and its organic presentation of the Christian mystery: The creed presents the Christian mystery as the object of our faith (what the church believes); it is celebrated and communicated in the liturgy and sacraments (what the church celebrates); it is present to enlighten and sustain us as God's children in our actions (what the church lives); and it is the basis for our prayer, the privileged expression of which is the Our Father (what the church prays in hope).
In the brief presentation of the structure of the catechism taken from its opening paragraphs (Nos. 13-17), which you have in your packets, you will see how each of the four parts of the catechism is divided into two sections. Thus in Part 1, first the themes of revelation and faith are presented, then the articles of the creed. In Part 2, the mysteries of salvation which are continued in the liturgy are first treated, then the specific actions of Christ in the seven sacraments. In Part 3, the first section treats of man's happiness, human freedom and sin, law and grace; then the great commandment of love of God and neighbor as the framework for the Ten Commandments. In Part 4, the theme of prayer is presented, with the second section presenting a catechesis on the petitions of the Our Father.
While my remarks on the structure of the catechism have served to provide a basic orientation to the organization of the catechism's presentation of the faith, it is important to add at this point that this presentation should always be seen as an organic whole. The mystery of Christ, set forth for our belief and life, is one. Our faith in response to God revealing himself in Christ is also one. It is this faith in Christ which provides a kind of "golden thread" knitting the whole presentation of the catechism together.
All of the elements of our faith are interrelated, and it is particularly important that all who are involved in the catechetical ministry appreciate this in order to help others realize the intrinsic beauty of the Christian faith as it explains the true meaning of human existence and offers the answer to the fundamental questions of the human mind and heart. This point is a key insight for our catechetical ministry as well as for the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Cardinal Ratzinger emphasized it in his remarks presenting the catechism to the press:
"The catechism must be read as a whole. It would be an erroneous reading of the pages on morality if they were to be separated from their context, namely, from the profession of faith and the teaching on the sacraments and prayer" (Origins 22:31, 530).
The pope too took pains to ensure that we do not compartmentalize our understanding (and living) of the Christian faith. In commenting on the relation of the various parts of the catechism, he noted that "the liturgy itself is prayer; the confession of faith finds its proper place in the celebration of worship. Grace, the fruit of the sacraments, is the irreplaceable condition for Christian living just as participation in the church's liturgy requires faith. If faith is not expressed in works, it is dead and cannot bear fruit unto eternal life."
"In reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church we can perceive the wondrous unity of the mystery of God, his saving will, as well as the central place of Jesus Christ. . . . Having died and risen, Christ is always present in his church, especially in the sacraments; he is the source of our faith, the model of Christian conduct and the teacher of our prayer" (Fidei Depositum).
And in his address to the American bishops from the Midwest during their ad limina visit last March, Pope John Paul again stated that "it is necessary to recover a sense of the wholeness and interior logic —the 'symphony' of the faith."
The fact of a catechism which professes to set forth "all the doctrine that the church must teach" (Pope John Paul II, Santo Domingo address) is already a theological statement: about a revelation made incarnate and accessible, about a humanity whose common vocation transcends any diversity or difference, about a salvation whose universality favors democracy over elitism. Faith in a God incarnate means recognition of the incredible dignity God has bestowed on us human beings and of the value of who we are and what we do, a God who offers us a meeting of minds and hearts. It says that such a God can be known and loved; it is a remarkable vote of confidence in the gifts and abilities of the human person.
The unity of faith which such a catechism is designed to serve is not insistence upon uniformity, but a statement about the unique oneness of God and about our unity as a human family. If we did not have more in common than separates us by culture and language and condition, we could not aspire to unity in faith. In his first address to the new catechism commission, Pope John Paul alluded to this:
"The catechism you are called upon to draft follows in the wake of the church's tradition, not for the purpose of replacing diocesan or national catechisms, but to serve as a point of reference for them. It is not intended therefore as an instrument of dull uniformity, but as an important help to guarantee the unity of faith, which is an essential dimension of that unity of the church which flows from the 'unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."'
At the end of this century of wars, when tribalism makes mankind's quest for a peaceful world order seem ever farther away, the affimmation that Christ is the way of true humanity, and that this and not some other is Christ's way of love, is a much-needed statement of optimism and hope. The inculturation of faith in Jesus Christ will always be marked by diversity; the many liturgical and spiritual traditions of the church are witness to this. But for Christian faith the diversity and pluralism which we celebrate must always find their ultimate model and pattern in the unity of the Trinity, three persons in one God.
The unity of faith about which we speak is not just a compilation of chapters and verses randomly juxtaposed, but an organic whole to which each part is related—the metaphor of a symphony in four movements is apt. Since in the catechetical ministry we will necessarily examine now one aspect, now another, it is particularly important for us to recognize the organic unity of the faith and how it links the various parts together in order to communicate it successfully.
If the interrelatedness of all of the doctrines regarding both faith and morals is not perceived, one can be left with the impression that it would be possible to accept one or other doctrine, and leave the rest aside. But such a "cafeteria" approach to the faith has no basis in Scripture or the church's tradition. Indeed, it has always been the case that rejection of even one of the doctrines of our faith implies a rupture with the visible communion of one faith and one church.
To understand our faith as an organic whole, we should appreciate the idea of a "hierarchy" of the truths of the faith. This concept is mentioned in the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism (No. 11): "In ecumenical dialogue, Catholic theologians, . . . when comparing doctrines with one another, should remember that in Catholic doctrine there exists an order or 'hierarchy' of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith." One of the criticisms of the draft of the catechism provided to the bishops of the world was that it did not respect such a hierarchy of truths.
The notion of a "hierarchy" of truths has not been well understood by some, and criticism of the catechism for failing to follow this principle largely derives from such a misunderstanding. The "hierarchy" of truths is really a principle of organic structure of the faith. As Cardinal Ratzinger has indicated more than once in this regard, the "hierarchy of truths" is not a "principle of subtraction as if faith could be reduced to a few essentials, leaving the rest of church teaching as optional or even able to be dismissed as unimportant. Nor should it be confused with degrees of certainty. It simply means that the different truths faith are organized around a center."
How does the catechism respond to this principle of the hierarchy of truths? In his address to the U.S. bishops at our spring meeting last June, Bishop Schonborn gave this explanation: "It approaches the principle mainly via three criteria for the organization of the whole work: 1) the mystery of the blessed Trinity as the center of the hierarchy of truths, 2) the Christocentric approach; 3) and finally the fourfold plan of the catechism, intrinsically expressing a principle of organic structure" ("Major Themes and Underlying Principles of the Catechism of the Catholic Church," The Living Light, fall 1993, 57)
Like the Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council, the catechism begins its exposition with the mystery of the Trinity. Since "the whole history of salvation is really identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—reveals himself to man and reconciles and unites himself with those who turn away from sin" (General Catechetical Directory, 47), the catechism presents the Trinity as the overall perspective of the Christian faith. In the creed we profess our belief in God the Father, creator; in God the Son, incarnate, risen, savior; in God the Holy Spirit, sanctifier of the holy church and its sacraments. The liturgy is present above all as the work of the blessed Trinity; our prayer is in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit the grace by which we receive the indwelling of the Holy Trinity makes the moral life possible.
The Christocentric approach of the catechism is intimately connected with the Trinitarian principle: It is through Christ, the incarnate word and eternal Son of God, through his life, death and resurrection, that the Father is revealed and the Spirit is given. Throughout the catechism it is Christ who is the focus of the church's attention: For example, No. 1698 introducing the third part of morality, we read:
"The first and last point of reference for this catechesis will always be Jesus Christ himself, who is 'the way, and the truth, and the life' (Jn. 14:6). It is by looking to him in faith that Christ's faithful can hope that he is fulfilling hi promises in them, and that, by loving him with the same love as his love for then they may perform works in keeping with their dignity."
Finally, as we have already seen in looking at the structure of the catechism, the four main components — creed, sacraments, commandments and prayer—are themselves based in the earliest catechetical tradition of the church. They relate naturally and necessarily to what the Christian believes in faith (the creed), prays in hope (the Our Father), does in love (the commandments), all within the rhythms and signs of life's holy space and time (liturgy and sacraments). This structure itself ensures our respect for the principle of the hierarchy of truths and the organic unity of the faith.
The unity of the Christian faith is also witnessed by the way in the which the catechism allows the fathers of the great patristic age, and the saints of all ages, to give testimony to the apostolic faith which the church has proclaimed from the beginning. For these writers the Scriptures were the primary source for knowing God and his revelation; they remain so for us today. Therefore the catechism's use of Scripture is of special importance. It was criticized by some at the time of the circulation of the draft for the consultation of the world's bishops, and the catechism committee paid careful attention to the criticisms, with the assistance of a team of biblical experts.
But the problem is not so much with the catechism's approach to the Scriptures, but with a proper understanding of the Catholic way of interpreting Scripture itself. Far from the suggestion of "proof texting" made by some, I see the catechism's use of Scripture entirely consistent with the use made of it by the church fathers and by its liturgy. The church uses Scripture as its own book, with a familiarity that lets her read it as God's word from start to finish. The whole dogmatic and spiritual tradition of the church, while paying careful attention to the data of biblical exegesis and enlightened by the insights of modern historical-critical methods, probes the Scriptures under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to discern the true meaning of the whole of God's revelation.
The problem is illustrated in simple terms in the dichotomy proposed in recent biblical research between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. The false separation between historical and doctrinal interpretation of the Scriptures, which are written testimonies of faith, is fundamentally alien to the Catholic tradition. The catechism takes a firm stand for the church's tradition in its approach to using the "fuller sense" of the Scriptures as God's word, recognized as such by the gift of the Spirit in and to the church.
While Scripture must be at the heart of catechesis as well as theology (cf. Dei Verbum, 21), can one say that Scripture is by itself a sufficient catechism for the presentation of the Catholic faith? I pose the question because of the recent popularity of "lectionary-based" catechesis, both for children and adults. Let me say at the outset that, as far as I know, the new catechism says nothing explicitly about this methodology.
I will note by way of premise that the lectionary is not simply the Bible, but a selection of passages organized in a cycle of readings for the church's Sunday and daily worship. Second, I note as well that, in regard to the catechesis of children, lectionary-based catechesis is not the same thing as a children's Liturgy of the Word. I understand the latter to be a simplified version of the Liturgy of the Word at Sunday eucharist, separate but simultaneous.
Lectionary-based catechesis would characterize those programs, whether for children or adults, whose "text" or focus is the word of God proclaimed in the Sunday liturgy, which serves as the basis for learning the faith by drawing out a theme or resonating with one's own personal or community experience. It is particularly popular as a program for catechumens, who are dismissed after the Liturgy of the Word during their period of preparation for Christian initiation.
In her analysis of the use of lectionary-based catechesis for children, Sister Catherine Dooley, a professor at The Catholic University of America, examines several reasons why it must be judged generally unsatisfactory and unsuitable, at least as anything other than a supplementary program. These reasons are set forth in her article in The Living Light (Spring 1991), and cannot be restated here for want of time. Among these difficulties, she mentions the purpose of the lectionary itself, which does not envision providing a syllabus of catechetical themes. The major themes of salvation history—the Genesis account of creation, the covenant with Abraham, the Exodus—and their links with the mystery of Christ are not presented in the lectionary at times suited to the catechesis of children. Exodus, for example, is always read at the Easter Vigil—not a time when many children are present. She also finds that such catechesis generally requires the imposition of themes and subjects on the readings of the day in order to achieve a comprehensive catechesis.
I believe Sister's critique of lectionary-based catechesis as an alternative model for educating children in the faith is correct, and 1 would extend it to adults as well. Note I have said as an alternative or substitute, since it seems clear that reflection on the Sunday readings, even for catechetical purposes, can be a useful supplementary form of education in the faith and can greatly assist our people by opening up for them more adequately the riches of the Bible.
My own reservations about this methodology are more theological in character. As I consider the church's own history of reflection on the Scriptures, I find a certain dynamic at work. In her interpretation of the Scriptures, the church necessarily had to answer the questions raised about their meaning. She did this at the early councils in reference to the nature of Christ and of God which produced the creeds; she did this in her teaching about the nature and purpose of the sacraments at councils in the late Middle Ages and Trent; and she has done this at various points in history about the nature and effects of sin and grace in us who are called to live as disciples of Christ.
It seems to me that the movement from the quoad nos approach of the Scriptures (written with the reader in mind) to the quoad se definitions of the councils (written to judge the truth of some question), which theologians like John Courtney Murray and Bernard Lonergan show was an intellectually necessary development, require the church to be faithful in her catechesis to the doctrines which she has elaborated on the basis of Scripture and through human reason. I think it is fair to say that church has developed a catechesis which is systematic and organized because such teaching, simpler or more sophisticated depending upon its audience, is necessary in order to meet the questions posed by the human intellect about what is to be believed.
The church has drawn out of the Scriptures, as they are lived out in the experience of her members, a logical synthesis of the meaning of God's revealed word for our human existence. While the immediacy of the Bible's dialogue, story, narrative history, poetry— with all its appeal to the heart to elicit a response of faith—must never be absent from our catechetical efforts, the necessity of an organized presentation of the faith requires the use of a catechism (by whatever name) to accomplish the tasks of catechesis effectively. In my view, the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church again demonstrates the church's preference for a catechesis which is both systematic and comprehensive.
The promulgation of the catechism by Pope John Paul with his apostolic constitution Fidei Depositum clearly situates this document within the ordinary papal magisterium. The apostolic constitution is the most solemn form for official acts of the pope; it is the form by which the new rituals for Mass and the sacraments and the new Code of Canon Law were promulgated in their turn.
In Fidei Depositum the pope says:
"The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved last June 25 and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my apostolic authority, is a statement of the church's faith and of Catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by sacred Scripture, apostolic tradition and the church's magisterium. I declare it to be a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith. May it serve the renewal to which the Holy Spirit ceaselessly calls the church of God, the body of Christ, on her pilgrimage to the undiminished light of the kingdom!"
As a compendium of Catholic doctrine, moreover, the individual doctrines which are present in the catechism have the weight and authority which they bear in the dogmatic tradition of the church. As Cardinal Ratzinger remarked, "The individual doctrines that the catechism affirms have no other authority than that which they already possess. What is important is the catechism in its totality: It reflects the church's teaching; anyone who rejects it overall separates himself unequivocally from the faith and teaching of the church" ("The Catechism and the Optimism of the Redeemed," 479).
The question of what authority the individual doctrines of the church possess in themselves is a complex theological issue. For centuries theologians assigned theological "notes" to the formulation of church doctrines, by which they indicated whether a particular teaching was "of divine faith," "defined infallibly," "theologically certain," "Catholic doctrine," "near to the faith" and the like. But it is not part of the church's catechetical tradition to assign such complex theological notes to the teachings of the faith she presents to the faithful as Catholic doctrine. There are doctrines divinely revealed which have never been defined by the church's solemn magisterium, and there are many newer teachings which apply traditional church doctrines to new developments.
In the catechism the church intends to make a presentation of all and only that which she regards as the patrimony of Catholic doctrine about faith and morals which the Christian faithful need to believe and practice as Catholics. The catechism is not the appropriate place to pursue the distinction of material into "infallible" and "non-infallible"— indeed, much of the church's doctrinal tradition has never been formally defined as such, but is infallibly taught. Theological distinctions between "divine" faith and "ecclesiastical" faith are the work of theology, not catechesis, and would not be appropriate for the catechism.
Even more inappropriate would be the suggestion that some teachings of the church are "changeable" because they have not been infallibly proclaimed. Whether a teaching may change in the future is not a necessary, but only an accidental quality of a teaching which may be called "non-fallible"; in the work of catechesis and evangelization, the suggestion that something may "change" could be understood as a teaching which is unreliable to believe or put into practice. But this is exactly the opposite of what the church intends to propose. The affirmation of the pope that the catechism provides a "sure norm for the teaching of the faith," is intended to indicate that catechists and the catechized may confidently rely upon this sure norm for that "saving truth" which the Spirit-guided church proposes for our belief and practice.
It seems to me that an appropriate way to conclude this keynote on the new catechism is to reflect with you on the logo which has been adopted—under copyright, I might add—as the "official" indication that the edition of the catechism which bears it is presented in conformity with the text approved by our Holy Father. The logo as you see it on the banner before you is based on a Christian tombstone in the catacombs of St. Domitilla in Rome, dating from the end of the third century. It is a bucolic image of pagan origin; it was used by the Christians to symbolize the rest and the happiness which the souls of the dead find in eternal life.
This image was chosen as the logo because it suggests as well certain aspects which characterize the catechism: Christ as the good shepherd who guides and protects his flock, the faithful. He does this by his authority, represented by his staff. He draws his flock to him by the melody—the symphony—of the truth, represented by the flute he holds. He leads his flock to rest under the "tree of life," his cross by which he has redeemed us and opened for us the gates of paradise.
In this image of the good shepherd, we are presented with a synthesis of contrasting aspects— authority and love. The shepherd must be strong to defend his flock but also able to love them tenderly. The images of Jesus which Scripture offers are focused in the person of the shepherd who guards and pastures his flock and in the lamb who represents the sacrifice of love for the sake of our salvation.
Moreover, the shepherd is seated, as a sign of authority; the staff indicates that he is a nomad, a pilgrim with his church, his disciples and friends. Just as the catechism presents us the teaching of Christ with authority; it does so more over to assist us on our pilgrim joumey to eternal life. The melody of the flute indicates the beauty of the teaching of Christ; the place of rest suggests the importance of the contemplative spirit which allows us to savor the teaching of the Master The tree which frames the good shepherd is the tree of life, placed at the center of the garden in God's creative design, and the tree on which the crucified One has gained salvation for us.
My dear friends, as we gather at thc symposium on the Catechism of thc Catholic Church, let us keep the image of the good shepherd in mind. We are called to exercise the role of the Christ the teacher like our good shepherd, with tenderness and authority. At the end of the Prologue the catechism recalls these beautiful words of the Roman Catechism:
"The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed toward the love that never ends. Whether some thing is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that any one can see that the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love" (No. 25).
May our reflection here on the new catechism help us to persevere as apostles of that love.
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