Catechism Analysis: Paragraph 9
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
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