Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Things to do for the Year of Faith/2: Read the (Compendium of the) Catechism

In my post a few days back on what to do for the Year of Faith, I suggested reading the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

It really is important, I think, for us all to refresh our knowledge of the content of the faith at regular intervals. 

It is all very well to repeat ad nauseam Karl Rahner's mantra that we should all be mystics now (!).  Even if you accept that extremely dubious proposition, as the redoubtable first Abbess of Solesmes, Cecile Bruyere pointed out in her book on the Spiritual Life, a sound foundation in dogmatic theology is a necessary foundation for a good spiritual life.  Moreover, she points out:

"It is absolute presumption to expect to obtain, by immediate light from God, that knowledge which we can and ought to acquire for ourselves as part of our work in this world." (pp9-10)

Reading the Compendium

The Conpendium of the Catechism is a good way to approach this task, not least because it is a lot shorter and pithier than the full text!
The Compendium of the Catechism is divided into four parts, so a reasonable plan would be to tackle one part each quarter.  It also provides links to the full text of the Catechism so you can easily track back to the longer version if you wish.

Accordingly today I wanted to suggest a couple of supplementary resources to help you in this endeavour, and offer an opportunity to ask questions you'd like to see answered on this blog!

The Catechism in a hermeneutic of continuity

One useful way of approaching the Catechism is to compare and contrast what it says with past Catechisms.  And a great resource for this purpose is the Nazareth Master Catechism, which allows you to read the treatment of the same issues in the Catechisms of St Thomas Aquinas, Trent, Baltimore and Pius X.

Another excellent resource (though you will have to buy it, it is not online) is the Companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  It provides all of the Scriptural, Patristic and Magisterial documents referred to in the Catechism, making it easy to follow up all those footnotes and get the context for a particular paragraph.

What the Catechism does and doesn't say

Even with those resources, though, one of the key challenges in reading the Catechism (or its compendium) from a traditionalist perspective  is putting it into context. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (just like that of Trent) doesn't attempt to give an in depth treatment of every issue going, but rather focuses particularly on those issues dealt  with by the Council.

Looking at it now, twenty years on, there are more than a few issues which you wish it had rather more to say about.

Tradition and traditions

A classic example from a traditionalist point of view is the rather distinction between big T 'Tradition' (or Apostolic Tradition), and small t traditions, which the Catechism notes can be "retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church's magisterium" (CCC 83).

That throwaway line entirely encapsulates the mentality of the last forty years or more that has often viewed longstanding traditions, even ones stretching back to the apostolic era, as of little more than 'passing worth', as The Teaching of Christ A Catholic Catechism for Adults by Bishop Wuerl and others (2005:pp190) put it.

The older theological tradition took a rather more nuanced view of this topic, employing a whole range of categories that distinguished between Divine, Apostolic and Ecclesial Traditions, and then sub-divided each of these categories in turn.  These are helpful distinctions to make I think, because they help explain why the prescriptions about not eating blood (Acts 15) or covering women's heads in Church, though clearly apostolic in origin, are not 'Divine Apostolic' injunctions valid for all time.  Yet at the same time, the very fact that something is a tradition dating back to the apostles should surely make us think hard before discarding it!

The pre-Vatican II theological tradition, reflected in texts such as the excellent Tradition and the Church by Msgr Agius, emphasized the principle lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of praying is the law of believing).  That's a concept we need to recover.

Aids to reading....

Accordingly, as a progress on my own rereading, I'll try and highlight some of the issues I see (or don't see) in the text, and point to some of the resources on topics I know of (and inviting others to share any particularly good ones they know of).

Please do feel free to suggest particular topics you'd be interested in seeing covered.

And in the meantime, get ready to start reading and studying!

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