10 It is therefore no surprise that catechesis in the Church has again attracted attention in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, which Pope Paul VI considered the great catechism of modern times. The General Catechetical Directory (1971), the sessions of the Synod of Bishops devoted to evangelization (1974) and catechesis (1977), the apostolic exhortations Evangelii nuntiandi (1975) and Catechesi tradendae (1979) attest to this. The Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 1985 asked “that a catechism or compendium of all Catholic doctrine regarding both faith and morals be composed.”13 The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, made the Synod’s wish his own, acknowledging that “this desire wholly corresponds to a real need of the universal Church and of the particular Churches.”14 He set in motion everything needed to carry out the Synod Fathers’ wish.
Paragraph 10 is a tiny vestige of a much greater narrative on the implementation of the Council Vatican II, since all of the named documents refer back to and responses to the grand corpus of documents produced by this Ecumenical Council (1962-65). My own desktop paperback copy of this Council’s documents run to 1015 pages. This output is even more remarkable when one considers that the Council only met for three months per year, and much of the first session in 1962 was a titanic struggle of the world’s bishops to wrestle the agenda away from the ultraconservative Cardinal Ottaviani and the forces of the Curia.
There are countless books of commentaries on the Council itself, its documents, and its “reception,” a term I referred to earlier in the week. While the Catechism in para. 10 quotes Paul VI as considering the Council “the great catechism of modern times,” it is also true that when the Council was adjourned for the final time in December 1965, no one had precise mandates as to the implementation of this massive tome of literature. The documents are themselves uneven; splashes of brilliance break through from time to time in what was the mother of all committee work projects. Authors rushed drafts to the floor for committee votes, and like many a predecessor, postponed implementation of specifics for study and implementation in years to come.
(For the record, Vatican II actually had its own “Deep Throat,” a priest participant who wrote surreptitiously under the name of “Xavier Rynne,” for New Yorker Magazine and whose writings have earned him, under his real name, a page on Amazon.)
Difficulties soon emerged in countries like the United States where the thirst for change got ahead of the studied process of implementation. While this was most evident in matters of liturgy, catechetics was not spared. Para. 10 notes the General Catechetical Directory of 1971, the Vatican response to trends and confusions, notably a drift toward a more process development of the Faith in Western countries and away from the older question-and-answer format. I discovered a fine summary of this 1971 era in a University of Maryland Master’s Thesis by Matthew Davison Ingold, written in 2006. I call attention to pp. 81-109 for those with the inclination.
A series of Vatican documents would follow, generally in conjunction with Synods of Bishops, an ancient practice restored by Vatican II. Evangelii nuntiandi (1975) is probably the best of the lot, an excellent missive by Paul VI calling for an energized missionary effort in countries like ours where “other” was already becoming a larger denomination of its own. It was a great honor for me to study for a week as a young pastor under this encyclical’s greatest proponent in the United States, the humble but highly competent Paulist Father Alvin Illig. (Several of us came upon him in a coffee shop in St. Petersburg and plopped ourselves at his table, badgering him to become Catholic, a prank he seemed to enjoy immensely….particularly when we discovered he left us with his bill.)
Catechesi tradendae (1979) of John Paul II marked an ideological and a political sea change in the development of catechetics, and we have seen that CT is a major source for the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If we look at the progression from CT in 1979 to the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 1985, we find a report of growing desire of bishops for a catechism or compendium of all matters of faith and morals that would in fact become the Catechism at hand. Para. 10 is fairly clear that the 1985 Synod is the birth of the contemporary catechism, and that the pope was responding to the clamors of bishops to make this happen.
The truth is somewhat more complicated. Synods, like political conventions, are scripted as a rule. Extraordinary Synods are not attended by all bishops but only those singled out for special invitation. (Pundits as we speak are reading much into Pope Francis’ guest list for the extraordinary Synod on the Family later this year.) I do not have a “Xavier Rynne” to describe the workings of the 1985 Synod, but it is general knowledge that several ranking Churchmen were lobbying hard for a “catechism” and just as importantly, a machinery to enforce its use. It is also public knowledge than one such advocate was Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, the same Cardinal who retired in disgrace with the break of the sex abuse scandal in Boston.
That said, it is still hard to gauge whether in fact a large majority of bishops desired a new catechism in 1985. Para. 10 implies strongly that the pontiff was responding to strong grass roots requests. It is safe to say that John Paul was desirous of a reform of catechetics. His work for clarity in faith formation is entirely consistent with his efforts to harmonize liturgical practices, correct theological dissent and error, and in particular to reverse a trend of secularization in traditionally Catholic nations such as France and Ireland. Para. 10 may have gone a bit overboard in making the Pope a humble servant of the international episcopacy, but it also leaves no doubt that he would do “everything needed” to make this Catechism come about.
9 “The ministry of catechesis draws ever fresh energy from the councils. The Council of Trent is a noteworthy example of this. It gave catechesis priority in its constitutions and decrees. It lies at the origin of the Roman Catechism, which is also known by the name of that council and which is a work of the first rank as a summary of Christian teaching....”12 The Council of Trent initiated a remarkable organization of the Church’s catechesis. Thanks to the work of holy bishops and theologians such as St. Peter Canisius, St. Charles Borromeo, St. Turibius of Mongrovejo, or St. Robert Bellarmine, it occasioned the publication of numerous catechisms.
Most of this paragraph is taken from John Paul II’s Catechesi tradendae of 1979. The final two sentences, which highlight post-Tridentine Church teachers of the era, appears to be original composition for this Catechism.
Paragraph 9 invokes the reform Council of Trent (1545-1563) as a critical juncture in the history of catechesis. This paragraph singles out a number of saints of the time who were renowned for implementing reform, notably their efforts as pastors and teachers of the faith. Paragraph 9'cites with enthusiasm a distinguished product of the Council of Trent, the Roman Catechism.
The Council of Trent, oddly, is not well recorded in English texts. The definitive history of this council for many years is Hubert Jedin's four-volume study of Trent, of which only two volumes have been translated from Jedin's French into English. A new English study by John O'Malley, Trent: What Actually Happened, is a good one-volume overview available on Kindle and hard-copy. (See my review at book's Amazon site.) Trent has suffered negative press in recent times, blamed for establishing a strict and unimaginative Church, long on disciple and conformity at the cost of "freedom of the Spirit." This is a highly inaccurate simplification and ignores the temper of the times.
The Council of Trent was invoked about three decades after Martin Luther's famous posting of his 96 theses of reform on the Cathedral doors at Wittenberg. The city of Trent, in the mountainous region of the Italian-Swiss border, was chosen as a compromise between the pope and the German emperor, then at loggerheads. Trent was a difficult travel destination, and woefully short of lodgings and creature comforts. Only a handful of bishops were present at its formal opening. The first years tackled internal Church reform, but it should be noted that at this stage of the Council serious consideration was given to the terms of inviting Lutheran dissidents for dialogue on reform.
The Council had two major breaks--a second session in Bologna, a concession to creature comforts and accessibility of the city's university libraries, and the Pontificate of Paul IV (1555-1559). Paul suspended the Council, determined to prove that a pontiff was indeed capable of effecting reform without the dangers of Conciliarism. However, his reign proved to be excessive medicine. Paul's radical discipline led no less a loyal son of the Church, St. Peter Canisius himself, to decry the expansion of the Index of Forbidden Books.
By 1562, when the Council finally reassembled, it was no longer possible to address Christian unity in terms of Luther and his issues. By the 1560’s Protestantism had many branches and many faces; multiple Protestant theological methodologies were well developed along different lines from traditional Catholic scholasticism. Regrettable as this might be for the Council Fathers, the expansive challenge of critical doctrinal discussion was now far beyond their purview or even their endurance. Thus, the third session, masterfully directed by Cardinal Morone, moved exclusively to its other task of internal reform and strengthening of the Roman Church. The Council's thinking and deliberation now focused upon the health of dioceses and parishes, particularly the matter of bishops attending to the pastoral care of their own sees. Not surprisingly, improved formulation of traditional Church teaching was generally endorsed but with greater emphasis upon priestly formation, preaching, elimination of superstition, and catechetical method. Emphasis upon greater lay reception of the sacraments, notably the Eucharist and Confession, was well received by the Fathers. In a number of matters, as in the questions regarding the vernacular, priestly celibacy and the communion cup, the Council specifically directed these matters to the Holy See for final deliberation.
The Catechism of Trent was produced quickly after the Council adjourned in 1563. The text was put together by a committee of four clerics, under the direction of the future St. Charles Borromeo. The actual text is available in English on Amazon. Wikipedia’s summary is actually quite good, noting that the text was to be read and taught in the vernacular (not Latin) as much as possible. In addition, an appendix was drawn up to assist priests in preaching the catechism in an organized sequence. It is possible that the text was rather lengthy, as at least two saints and possibly more did produce their own simpler catechisms, St. Peter Canisius mentioned above and later St. John Neumann in the United States, who produced a child’s learning tool in German.
Peter Canisius is one of the early Jesuits, famous for a passionate devotion to Catholic scholarship and the establishment of Jesuit colleges as well as his brilliant defense of the Church against Protestant academic attacks. Canisius College in Buffalo carries his name. Charles Borromeo is remembered for his extraordinary work in Church reform after Trent, particularly in the areas of the education and spiritual reform of priests. Turibius of Mongrovejo was a Tridentine reformer in Peru and built the first seminary in the western hemisphere. Robert Bellarmine is best remembered as the “inquisitor” of Galileo, but his life of service to the Church is well documented in James Brodrick’s biography, which I reviewed for Amazon a few years ago
There was not time today to post on Paragraph 9 of the Catechism, as I was out of the "home office" at the beck and call of my diocese to spend the day in catechetical formation. Today's course was "Prayer and Spirituality" offered to about 25 students, primarily Catholic school teachers. Actually I had three principals in the course. The course was offered at a parish school in South Orlando, on the "Orange Blossom Trail" or U.S. 441. When I moved here in 1978 this southern portion of the Trail was Orlando's Red Light District, as they say. However, the city fathers have labored to spruce things up down there, and I had breakfast at a Dunkin' Donuts with an Orlando City policeman young enough to be my grandson, it appeared.
This is my second theology course this month, and I have one more next Monday at today's site on Church History. I continue to marvel at the great interest of our school staff and the parish catechists who attend. Their interest, questions, and general good cheer is very encouraging for our local churches and schools. If I have any of today's students looking in tonight--you were a great class.
Tomorrow we'll be back on regular schedule.
8 Periods of renewal in the Church are also intense moments of catechesis. In the great era of the Fathers of the Church, saintly bishops devoted an important part of their ministry to catechesis. St. Cyril of Jerusalem and St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, and many other Fathers wrote catechetical works that remain models for us.
Paragraph 8 continues the introductory remarks drawn from Pope John Paul’s Catechesi tradendae. In this section the Catechism makes a connection between “intense catechesis” and “periods of renewal in the Church.” It then jumps to what is known as the Christological era, (generally regarded as extending from 325 A.D. to 451 A.D). The several Church Fathers of antiquity mentioned here all fall into this timeframe.
There are two ways to approach this paragraph. The first is to understand it in an exhortatory sense: by joining the act of teaching the Faith to the men who clarified and established by Creed the core of Catholic belief. This would be consistent with the approach of Paragraphs 9 and 10, which connect catechetics to later Church Councils, notably Trent (1545-63) in para. 9 and Vatican II in para. 10.
There are some weaknesses in this interpretation, however, that require deeper analysis. The most notable one is that rarely does one see the era of 325-451 A.D. referred to as a “period of renewal.” In fact, the Church was struggling for the soul of its identity, as its major tenets regarding Jesus’ identity and redemptive act came under great attack. The Emperor Constantine invoked the first Council of Nicaea (Turkey) in 325 to settle a widespread heresy known as Arianism, which held that Jesus was subordinate to God the Father, not a coequal divine being. It is easy to understand how such a tilted belief was able to maintain itself: to pronounce that Jesus is God in the same way that his Father is God is coming awfully close to saying, in effect, there are two Gods. We talked about this at some length in our discussion of Trinity Sunday (May 31).
The second great Council of this era was that of Ephesus in 431. It was called to address a problem known in theological academics as “the transfer of idioms.” Those who accepted the Nicene Creed’s proposition that Jesus was indeed “consubstantial” or of one being with the Father now had another major pastoral problem: does everything we say about Jesus automatically apply to the Father? (That is, can the idiom be transferred?) The Patripassian claim that God the Father suffered on the cross created fuss; from the pastoral life of the Church, however, the more pressing concern was the charge by a new group of Christian thinkers, the Nestorians, that while it was legitimate to call Mary the Mother Of Jesus, it was blasphemous to refer to her as the Mother of the timeless Father God.
Devotion to Mary under the title “Bringer Forth of God” or Theotokos was intense, but particularly in Ephesus, where legend had it that Mary, under the care of the Apostle John, had died. The key figure of this Council was Cyril, the Patriarch (bishop) of Alexandria, one of the Fathers mentioned in para. 8. He defended the doctrine of Theotokos, but the Council itself was a rough and tumble affair that is not remembered for its erudition as much as its passion. The third great Council of the era, Chalcedon in 451, arrived at the two natures/one person formula to describe the persona of Jesus. This Council indeed depended upon a theological/catechetical intervention, the “Tome of Leo” (St. Leo the Great, then bishop of Rome). Whether by intent or accident, the councils ending in 451 are the only Councils recognized by the Orthodox Church.
The other Church Fathers mentioned in paragraph 8 were themselves embroiled in crisis management. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan and baptizer of Augustine in 378, was simultaneously defending the rights of the Church against a Christian Emperor Theodosius. Augustine labored mightily from North Africa through his famous work City of God in 410 to reassure Christians that the fall of Rome, sacked by the Visigoth Alaric, did not mean the end of Christianity.
When looked at in this history, para. 8’s understanding of catechetics is certainly more substantive than the rapid fire conveyance of “Catholic facts.” In the first place, the use of the phrase “intense catechesis” strongly suggests that the art of teaching the faith serves to clarify and to correct the tradition of belief when it is under profound challenge. And secondly, the art of catechetics itself is conferred with a power to interpret and address the challenges of the times with literary and theological imagination. If para. 8 intends for the Tome of Leo and the City of God, to cite two examples, as models of catechetical excellence, then the bar has been raised, considerably.