5 “Catechesis is an education in the faith of children, young people, and adults which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted, generally speaking, in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life.”8
I noted last week that these opening paragraphs depend heavily upon Pope John Paul II’s 1979 document, Catechesi tradendae. In fact CT will be the only cited source for paragraphs five through ten. Thus, I felt it was necessary to take a look at this 1979 document, given its place of prominence in the opening of the Catechism.
I am grateful to J. Michael Miller’s The Post-Synodal Exhortations of John Paul II, of which a considerable portion of his analysis of CT is available free to the reader at the book’s site. Miller provides a very useful summary of the Church’s situation vis-à-vis catechesis and religious education. Indeed, it is rather intriguing.
Vatican II, given its lofty goals of reorienting the Church’s mission in the modern post-Enlightenment era, did not address the issue of catechetics except in the most general ways. It did, however, commission further study of the issue as it would on numerous other issues of Church life, including Liturgy and Canon Law, to name two. The first Vatican Document after the Council to address religious formation was the General Catechetical Directory of 1971. The GCD (superseded by a 1997 document to follow) was something of a housekeeping document until more substantive attention could be brought to bear on the subject.
Miller points out that during and after Vatican II the field of catechetics was divided in several ideological directions. The technical terms for the different emphases were orthodoxy and orthopraxis. Orthodoxy was and is emphasis upon the doctrinal statements of the Faith. An orthodox approach to religious education would highlight the intellectual experience of the creedal statements of the Church. Orthopraxis, on the other hand, featured emphasis upon deed and action. An orthopractic approach placed high emphasis upon human experience, gained through interactions with other believers and with the culture at large. Liberation theology is a particular brand of orthopraxis.
In 1977 a Synod of Bishops (206) met in Rome under the general heading, “Catechetics in Our Time.” Episcopal synods were still something of a new experience for the twentieth century; in the first millennium, however, they exercised significant teaching authority and issued binding legal determinations. A formal summary of this synod came forth, though in this era a synod’s findings were considered advisory to the pope. Thus, the synod bishops completed their work with the understanding that their deliberations would be promulgated by the pope in his own formal statement. Paul VI intended to issue a papal document on catechetics though he died in 1978. The same fate befell his successor, John Paul I.
Thus the task fell to John Paul II, who issued Catechesi tradendae in 1979 as an Apostolic Exhortation. Miller observes that the document was a significant departure from the usual papal style. CT cites Vatican II documents 20 times and the Sacred Scriptures a whopping 91 times, or two thirds of all footnoted citations. JP II expanded the identity of the catechist, stating that this ministry does not simply identify Jesus for its listeners, but makes possible an intimate relationship. Strong affirmation indeed.
The pope does not identify catechesis as synonymous with evangelization. He makes an interesting distinction, calling catechetics a deeper and more systematic presentation of the meaning of Christ. Put another way, catechetics aims at teaching a Christian to “think like Jesus.” This 1979 teaching finds its way into Para. 5 of the Catechism, where catechetics involves an “organic and systematic” handing on of the doctrinal life of the Church. This is clearly an emphasis upon orthodoxy over orthopraxis.
In CT the pope goes on to say, though, that catechists should never assume that students are in fact evangelized, an early recognition of the problem many parishes face today, the “drive-by” religious ed programs where parents have limited or zero practice of the Faith in the home. He also states the right of every Catholic to receive an excellent faith formation in his or her home parish, the opportunity to enter a full Christian life.
Needless to say, I have only skimmed the surface of Catechesi tradendae here (in fact, I just ordered a copy of the full document). But for study of the Catechism it is critical to understand the thinking the pope who championed the work and who presumably had a major hand in its composition.
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