Part One: The profession of faith
14 Those who belong to Christ through faith and Baptism must confess their baptismal faith before men.16 First therefore the Catechism expounds revelation, by which God addresses and gives himself to man, and the faith by which man responds to God (Section One). The profession of faith summarizes the gifts that God gives man: as the Author of all that is good; as Redeemer; and as Sanctifier. It develops these in the three chapters on our baptismal faith in the one God: the almighty Father, the Creator; his Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior; and the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, in the Holy Church (Section Two).
Paragraph 14 introduces a wider view of the internal organization of the Catechism, introducing “the Profession of Faith” segment as the logical or foundational basis for all that would follow. The other three parts are titled “The Sacraments of Faith;” “The Life of Faith;” and “Prayer in the Life of Faith.” The first section described in para. 14 will embrace the three portions of the Nicene Creed proclaimed at Mass, faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and their respective roles in the unfolding of creation and redemption. The Church, mentioned at some length in the Creed, will have its own section following, given that the Church is animated by the Holy Spirit.
This paragraph begins with the strong assertion that those who belong to Christ by faith and Baptism have an obligation to profess faith in Him before mankind. The two sources of para. 14 are Matthew 10:32 and Romans 10:9, but each has a slightly different nuance: Matthew states that only those who have proclaimed faith in Jesus before men will have the privilege of Jesus acknowledging the individual before the Father. Matthew’s terminology may reflect the times in which he wrote, when Jewish converts to Christianity were abandoning the new faith in the face of Roman persecution. Paul’s citation from Romans is more a statement of promise: those who are professing Jesus with their lips will participate in everlasting life. Read together, both citations make the point that faith is of its nature evangelical, a gift for the marketplace, so to speak. The message here is that one must know the faith in order to share it.
In sentence two the process of learning this saving faith begins development, stating that the Catechism “expounds revelation.” The use of this word “expound” is a technical stretch. While it may be true that the Catechism will put forward the critical issues of Scripture and Tradition, it is not true that the Catechism is the sole source of this material or that it is the primary organ by which Revelation and Church teaching is developed. In earlier paragraphs we saw the mission of the Catechism described in an ancillary sort of way—a guide to teaching, preaching, and even text book publishers. The Catechism does not supersede the sacred texts nor the people commissioned to actually preach and teach, including catechists. I have read enough Catholic blogs in recent years to make me think that there are many in the Catholic Church who view the Catechism as a sort of final day compendium of all preaching, teaching, and scholarship. One need only return to the Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent to be reminded that official Catechisms serve a pastoral need at a particular time in the Church’s history. Our present day Catechism was in part an effort to consolidate and solidify the explosion of teaching methods and theological development immediately after Vatican II.
The second sentence passes over the mystery of God’s impulse to create, a matter of great interest to theologians even in high medieval times, and proceeds immediately to God addressing himself and giving himself to man. Another issue left uncovered is the matter of creation itself, and even more critically, the fact that man is composed in such a way as to be able to hear Revelation and to act upon it. In fact, in para. 1 this fact of a “totally other God” creating and conversing with man is highlighted as probably the building block doctrine of the entire Christian venture. My own opinion is that the Catechism is deficient in its failure to integrate post-Enlightenment theological thinking into this compendium aside from Vatican II documents it could not possibly ignore. I suspect that if the Catechism was a product of the reign of Benedict XVI, who as Joseph Ratzinger made significant theological contribution to the conciliar debates of Vatican II, there would have been more attention to the catechetical needs of thoughtful and learned Catholics in today’s significant dialogues with secular society.
Para. 14 goes on to distinguish what we would recognize today as the three works of God: the creator, the redeemer, the sanctifier. Again, there is a silence regarding one of the most pressing issues in Christian thought, the problem of evil. Describing God as the author or creator of “all that is good,” the text never suggests that one of the truly significant (and ecumenical, for that matter) questions of our time is the Holocaust, regrettably followed by wars, human trafficking, genocide, and a host of other evils that create unspeakable suffering. It will not do to blame all such evils on outside forces such as the devil; the writer of the second creation account goes out of his way to comment on the garden scene with Eve that “the serpent was the most cunning of all the creatures God had made.” It is sad, for one of the compelling reasons individuals seek out catechetics and religious formation is answers to the question of “why God lets bad things happen.”
Para. 14 underscores one of the shortcomings of the Catechism itself: a tendency to retrench to previous answers and schemas of religious thought that were already under siege when composed; the Roman Catechism of the sixteenth century was battling Protestant reform theologians, for example. The catechists of today will need to spend as much time translating the Catechism as teaching it.