Part Three: The life of faith
16 The third part of the Catechism deals with the final end of man created in the image of God: beatitude, and the ways of reaching it—through right conduct freely chosen, with the help of God’s law and grace (Section One), and through conduct that fulfills the twofold commandment of charity, specified in God’s Ten Commandments (Section Two).
Paragraphs 14-17 indicate the four divisions of the teaching content of the Catechism. The first (14) spoke of the works of God through the Trinity: creation, redemption, sanctification. The second (15) outlined briefly the work of the Church in its sacramental nature, visible and effective. Today (16) we see the nature of man and his destiny to holiness, grace and free will, and the living of purpose through charity, specified in the text as The Ten Commandments. Next week (17) will discuss the life of prayer, arranged around The Our Father.
Paragraph 16 has no footnote, nor does it (or the other three headings, for that matter) make direct reference to any previous catechism in terms of its organization. Father Bernard Marthaler, author of The Nature, Task and Scope of the Catechetical ministry: A Digest of Recent Church Documents (2008), opens with a fine review of papal teaching on the subject of religious education and catechism (1ff) and notes a repetitive theme dating back to the end of the Council of Trent. The most significant papal pronouncements come from Benedict XIV in 1742 and Clement XIII in 1761. In both cases the popes believed that the poor state of religious instruction was due to deviation from the official catechism produced after the reform Council of Trent (1545-1563), the Roman Catechism.
Reading Marthaler, I was motivated to look at the text of the Roman Catechism. I found it on-line here, and the opening outline is intriguing. Edited by St. Charles Borromeo shortly after Trent, perhaps around 1570, this is a document of considerable length—340 computer pages—and in many respects resembles the modern day Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994). The Roman document is divided into four sections: the Creed, the Sacraments, the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) and The Our Father. In other words, our present day Catechism, in terms of its organic structure, is nearly identical to the Roman Catechism. I did mention in a previous blog that the Roman Catechism was intended for priests in teaching and preaching ministries; we have noted that the present day Catechism has a similar intent, extending it to all catechists and particularly to Church publishers. The era after Trent saw the compilation of many simpler “peoples’ catechisms,” by such noted sources as St. Peter Canisius, St. John Neumann, the United States bishops (the “Baltimore Catechism” series begun in the 1880’s, and even Pope Pius X around the turn of the twentieth century. Popes like Benedict XIV and Clement XIII saw this proliferation as troubling even in their own time, but the Roman Catechism in truth was hardly a layman’s teaching tool.
The present day Catechism, of course, has benefited from several centuries of advanced scholarship. In no way can it be said to be a repetition of the earlier Roman text. I came across a rather extensive discussion in the Roman book on why Catholics should not drink from the cup at Mass, but it did not mention the actual “agenda” of the explanation—that an outspoken advocate of the shared cup was the Czechoslovakian reformer\heretic Jan Hus, burned at the stake during the Church Council of Constance in 1415. Today’s Catechism has the benefits of the teachings of Vatican II to enrich and broaden its discussions.
For such a brief text, para. 16 contains a number of complicated and disputed questions both within and outside the Church. The term “final end of man” is virtually synonymous with “the nature of man” or Christian anthropology, a branch of theology as well as modern philosophy we will revisit in discussions ahead. The definitions of the meaning of man as put forward by St. Thomas Aquinas was developed considerably in the twentieth century, by Father Karl Rahner among others. The term “beatitude—and the ways of reaching it”—is the gateway to the theological conundrum of God’s efficacious or powerful saving grace and man’s freedom to sin and, in effect, “damn himself.” This controversy has raged under numerous names: in St. Augustine’s day in the fifth century the priest Pelagius held that man could be saved by his own good works; a millennium later John Calvin would hold that God “pre-destines” some to be saved, the principle of predestination.
Para. 16 speaks of the conduct necessary to remain true to our created end, as specified in the Ten Commandments. For those undertaking Hebrew Scripture study for the first time, it is often a shock to look at the Pentateuch (Biblical books of the Law) and discover that for all the simplicity of the Ten Commandments, there are over three Biblical books (notably Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) that explicate the Decalogue. “Thou shalt not kill,” for example, actually meant that one was forbidden to kill another freeborn Hebrew male. Subsequent laws permit stoning of adulteresses (see Jesus’ response to this in John 8: 1-11) and others guilty of a variety of legal and moral infractions. As to the Sixth Commandment, we find a peculiar directive that the wife of an enemy soldier may be carried off by a victorious Hebrew warrior, but he must give her thirty days to grieve before bedding her.
The term “Ten Commandments” has a theological usefulness in that it reveals God’s intent that we live a moral life consistent with our destiny. The Bible in its entirety makes it clear that the ten precepts underwent a gradual understanding curve—actually, in a healthier and more intensive observance of spirit, truth be told. We know in our present day that the discernment of moral issues continues, and often with controversy. Para. 16 does not mention this fact here, but have no doubt that later discussion of the moral life will not always be so tranquil.