Necessity of Instruction in the Catholic Faith

We speak in this talk about the necessity of a sure and integral knowledge of the Catholic Faith.

The Instruction in the true and full catholic Faith is indispensable in order to live rightly the Christian life. I would present first a synthesis of an important Encyclical on the instruction in the Faith. We are talking about the encyclical called “In Dominico agro”, which Pope Clement XIII wrote in the second half of the eighteenth century, in 1761. It was at a time when the so-called “Enlightenment” reached the peak of the diffusion of its incredulity, extreme rationalism and religious relativism. In fact, there was no enlightenment, but rather an obfuscation. The so-called “Enlightenment” was a product of the inspiration of the Satan, who is the anti-light per se. It was on the eve of the French Revolution. Since then started the triumphant march of the darkness of incredulity, of rationalism, of religious relativism and ultimately of religious ignorance.

In our times there is reigning an astonishing ignorance among the faithful, and even among priests and bishops regarding the full and integral Catholic Faith. The life of the Church is characterized by an enormous ambiguity and a lack of clarity regarding the doctrine of the Catholic Faith.

The Catechism of the Council of Trent, which is also called the Roman Catechism, was for all the Catholic generations of the past four centuries one of the clearest and surest tools for the instruction in the faith both in catechism classes and in preaching. We have to rediscover this proven catechetical treasure and use it with spiritual benefit.

We follow now some of the main affirmations of the Encyclical of Pope Clement XIII: The souls in the Church constitute the Lord’s field, for the tending of which God placed the bishops and the Pope as overseer. There is, indeed, nothing which demands as much vigilant care and unremitting labor in this Lord’s field than guarding the good seed of the Catholic teaching which the Apostles received from Jesus Christ and handed on.

If in laziness bishops and even a pope neglected this care and labor, the devil, the enemy of the human race, will sow weeds while the workers sleep. Saint Paul strongly encourages all the shepherd of the Church to protect the faith that the saints handed on to us (cf. Judas 3), telling Timothy to preserve the sacred trust: “guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Tim. 1: 14), because dangerous times were coming (2 Tim. 3: 1). Saint Paul even says, that evil and deceitful men would exist in the Church of God (cf. 2 Tim. 3: 13).

Now I would affirm: How much these words of Saint Paul apply to our times, where insidious tempters who infiltrated even in high clerical ranks use their sacred office to try to infect the unwary minds of the faithful with errors which are hostile to evangelical truth.

It often happens that certain unworthy ideas come forth in the Church which, although they directly contradict each other, plot together to undermine the purity of the Catholic faith in some way. Errors in faith are ultimately caused by the deceit of the devil. When they have artfully colored their lies, they easily clothe themselves in the likeness of truth while very brief additions or changes corrupt the meaning of expressions, which the Church constantly used.

The faithful–especially those who are simple –should be kept away from dangerous and narrow paths upon which they can hardly set foot without faltering. The sheep should not be led to pasture through trackless places. Nor should peculiar and unsure ideas–even those of Catholic scholars–be proposed to them. Rather, only those ideas should be communicated to the faithful, which are definitely marked as Catholic truth by their universality, antiquity, and unanimity. It is written in the Book of Exodus (19: 12) that the crowd cannot go up to the mountain upon which the glory of the Lord came down, and if whoever crosses the boundaries to see will die. Therefore, the teachers of the people in catechism and preaching should establish boundaries around them so that no word strays beyond that which is necessary or useful for salvation. The faithful should obey the advice of the Apostle Paul not to know more than is necessary, but to know in moderation (cf. Rom. 12: 3).

Over two millennia almost all Roman Pontiffs devoted their efforts to cut short with the sword of anathema the poisonous buds of growing error. The popes did even more: they cut away certain developing ideas which either could prevent the Christian people unnecessarily from bearing a greater fruit of faith or could harm the minds of the faithful by their proximity to error. So the Council of Trent condemned those heresies which tried at that time to dim the light of the Church and which. A General or Ecumenical Council of the Church by its nature has to lead the Catholic truth into a clearer light as if the cloud of errors had been dispersed. Documents of an Ecumenical Council should therefore avoid at maximum ambiguity or unclearness in their affirmations.

In the Roman Catechism only that teaching is expressed, which is common to the whole Church and which is far removed from every danger of error. This Catechism transmits the Catholic teaching openly and carefully to the faithful according to the precept of Christ the Lord who told the apostles to proclaim in the light what He had said in the dark and to proclaim from the rooftops what they heard in secret (cf. Math. 10: 27).

There can be a situation in the Church, where the light of the truth is not so bright, as it is the case in our days. As a consequence, truth cannot be so clearly known and error can easily be mistaken for truth because of its appearance of truth. In such a situation of darkness error can be distinguished from truth only with difficulty.

The false teachers in the clerical ranks who are wolves in sheep’s clothing attract people by the promise of more abundant pastures of wisdom and knowledge. Many people would come to those pastures because, as Holy Scripture says, “stolen waters are sweeter and hidden bread more delightful” (Song 1: 6). Therefore, the Church always proposed that only what is necessary and very useful for the salvation of souls be clearly and plainly explained in the Catechism.

Pope Clement XIII makes an observation, which is mostly applicable to our time. There are priests – and our days even a growing number of bishops – who because of their love of novelty almost wrested traditional catechisms from the hands of the faithful. They substituted them by new catechisms which were doctrinally unclear and highly ambiguous and even containing errors.

The faithful were scandalized at finding that they were no longer united by the same language and topics. On the other hand, contentions arose from different ways of transmitting Catholic truth and disunity of spirit and great disagreements from rivalry while one declared he was a follower of Apollo, another of Cephas, and another of Paul (cf. 1 Cor. 3: 4). Nothing can eliminate more disastrously the fruits which the faithful should gain from the Christian Faith than doctrinal disagreements and ambiguities.

Thus, in order to remove these evils from the faithful, we must return to that proven and sure content and method of the traditional catechism from which some, setting themselves up in as wiser as the constant Tradition of the Church, have insolently led the faithful away from the true path. Pope Clement XIII affirms: We think that the Roman Catechism should be offered to the priests again so that just as it once strengthened the Catholic faith and strengthened the minds of the faithful in the Church’s teaching which is the pillar of truth (cf. 1 Tim. 3: 15), it may now turn them away from new ideas which neither antiquity nor unanimity recommend.

At this very difficult time for the Church, the bishops, and in first place the pope, must have care and diligence to provide a very suitable aid to remove the deceptions of wicked ideas and to spread and establish true and sound teaching. In the past the Roman Pontiffs wanted that the Roman Catechism should be considered as the norm of Catholic faith and Christian discipline in order that unanimity might exist also in the method of transmitting doctrine.

It is of the utmost importance that priests who have the office of communicating Christian teaching to the faithful be not only men endowed with theological knowledge, but more importantly, men who manifest humility, zeal for sanctifying souls, and charity. The totality of Christian practice does not consist in abundance of words nor in skill of debating nor in the search from praise and glory but in true and voluntary humility. The Apostle James condemns those teachers who disfigure the true doctrine and seek their own advantage with these words: “If you are jealous and have contentions in your hearts, do not boast and be liars against the truth. This kind of wisdom did not come down from on high. Rather, it is earthly, animal, diabolical. Inconstancy and every wicked deed accompany jealousy and contention. The wisdom which comes from on high is first of all chaste. Then it is peaceful, modest, persuasive, agreeable to good things, full of mercy and good fruits.” (James 3: 15-17)

It was particularly Pope Saint Pius X who stressed very much the importance of a sound and integral formation in Catholic doctrine. In one of his encyclicals he says: “The enemy has, indeed, long been prowling about the fold and attacking it with such subtle cunning that now, more than ever before, the prediction of the Apostle to the elders of the Church of Ephesus seems to be verified: “I know that . . . fierce wolves will get in among you, and will not spare the flock.” (Acts 20:29) Those who still are zealous for the glory of God are seeking the causes and reasons for this decline in religion. Coming to a different explanation, each points out, according to his own view, a different plan for the protection and restoration of the kingdom of God on earth. But it seems to Vs, Venerable Brethren, that while we should not overlook other considerations, We are forced to agree with those who hold that the chief cause of the present indifference and, as it were, infirmity of soul, and the serious evils that result from it, is to be found above all in ignorance of things divine. This is fully in accord with what God Himself declared through the Prophet Osee: “And there is no knowledge of God in the land. Cursing and lying and killing and theft and adultery have overflowed.” (Osee 4:1-2) It is a common complaint, unfortunately too well founded, that there are large numbers of Christians in our own time who are entirely ignorant of those truths necessary for salvation. And when we mention Christians, We refer not only to the masses or to those in the lower walks of life, but We refer to those especially who do not lack culture or talents and, indeed, are possessed of abundant knowledge regarding things of the world but live rashly and imprudently with regard to religion. It is hard to find words to describe how profound is the darkness in which they are engulfed and, what is most deplorable of all, how tranquilly they repose there. They rarely give thought to God, the Supreme Author and Ruler of all things, or to the teachings of the faith of Christ. They know nothing of the Incarnation of the Word of God, nothing of the perfect restoration of the human race which He accomplished. Grace, the greatest of the helps for attaining eternal things, the Holy Sacrifice of Mass and the Sacraments by which we obtain grace, are entirely unknown to them. They have no conception of the malice and baseness of sin; hence they show no anxiety to avoid sin or to renounce it. And so they arrive at life’s end in such a condition that, lest all hope of salvation be lost, the priest is obliged to give in the last few moments of life a summary teaching of religion, a time which should be devoted to stimulating the soul to greater love for God.  And so Our Predecessor, Benedict XIV, had just cause to write: “We declare that a great number of those who are condemned to eternal punishment suffer that everlasting calamity because of ignorance of those mysteries of faith which must be known and believed in order to be numbered among the elect.” (Instit., 27:18)

No reason for wonder that the corruption of morals and depravity of life is already so great, and ever increasingly greater, not only among uncivilized peoples but even in those very nations that are called Christian. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Ephesians, repeatedly admonished them in these words: “But immorality and every uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as become saints; or obscenity or foolish talk.” (Eph. 5:34) He also places the foundation of holiness and sound morals upon a knowledge of divine things – which holds in check evil desires: “See to it therefore, brethren, that you walk with care: not as unwise but as wise. . . Therefore, do not become foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Eph. 5:15-16) And rightly so. For the will of man retains but little of that divinely implanted love of virtue and righteousness by which it was, as it were, attracted strongly toward the real and not merely apparent good. Disordered by the stain of the first sin, and almost forgetful of God, its Author, it improperly turns every affection to a love of vanity and deceit. This erring will, blinded by its own evil desires, has need therefore of a guide to lead it back to the paths of justice whence it has so unfortunately strayed. The intellect itself is this guide, which need not be sought elsewhere, but is provided by nature itself. It is a guide, though, that, if it lacks its companion light, the knowledge of divine things, will be only an instance of the blind leading the blind so that both will fall into the pit. The holy king David, praising God for the light of truth with which He had illumined the intellect, exclaimed: “The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us.” (Ps. 4:7) Then he described the effect of this light by adding: “Thou hast given gladness in my heart,” gladness, that is, which enlarges our heart so that it runs in the way of God’s Commandments.” (Encyclical Acerbo nimis, 1-3, from 15 of April, 1905)

The authors of the Roman catechism explain the need of an authoritative Catholic Catechism, saying:

“While the preaching of the divine Word should never be interrupted in the Church, surely in these, our days, it becomes necessary to labour with more than ordinary zeal and piety to nourish and strengthen the faithful with sound and wholesome doctrine, as with the food of life. For false prophets have gone forth into the world, to corrupt the minds of the faithful with various and strange doctrines, of whom the Lord has said: “I did not send prophets, yet they ran; I spoke not to them, yet they prophesied.” (Jer. 23: 21) In this work of the false prophets, to such extremes has their impiety, practiced in all the arts of Satan, been carried, that it would seem almost impossible to confine it within any bounds; and did we not rely on the splendid promises of the Saviour, who declared that He had built His Church on so solid a foundation that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (cf. Math. 16: 18), we should have good reason to fear lest, beset on every side by such a host of enemies and assailed and attacked by so many machinations, it would, in these days, fall to the ground.

­There is no region, however remote, no place, however securely guarded, no corner of Christendom, into which this pestilence of false teaching has not sought secretly to insinuate itself.” How up to the date are these words, written more than four hundred years ago!

The text of the authors of the Catechism continues saying, “For those who intended to corrupt the minds of the faithful, knowing that they could not hold immediate personal intercourse with all, and thus pour into their ears their poisoned doctrines, adopted another plan which enabled them to disseminate error and impiety more easily and extensively. Besides those voluminous works by which they sought the subversion of the Catholic faith ­ to guard against which (volumes) required perhaps little labour or circumspection, since their contents were clearly heretical ­ they also composed innumerable smaller books, which, veiling their errors under the semblance of piety, deceived with incredible facility the unsuspecting minds of simple folk.” Again, how apt are these words in applying them to our time and to the situation of the crisis of faith in the life of the Church in the past decades. How many texts and words from priests and bishops are veiling their errors under the semblance of piety or under the expressions like the “hermeneutic of continuity” or the “paradigm swift” or the “development of doctrine” and so on.

The authors of the Roman catechism speak then about the ends and the aims of the religious instruction.

The first end is the knowledge of Christ: “The first thing is ever to recollect that all Christian knowledge is reduced to one single head, or rather, to use the words of the Apostle, this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. A teacher in the Church should, therefore, use his best endeavours that the faithful earnestly desire to know Jesus Christ, and him crucified, that they be firmly convinced, and with the most heartfelt piety and devotion believe, as says Saint Peter “that there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4: 12), for “He is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2: 3), as says Saint John in his First Letter.

The second aim of religious instruction is the observance of the Commandments. Saint John says: “By this we know that we have known him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2: 3). From this follows the next consideration, intimately connected with the preceding. That is to say, the important truth that we must not waste our lives in ease and indolently, but that we are to walk as Christ walked, and pursue with all earnestness, justice, godliness, faith, charity, patience, mildness. For, as the Apostle Paul says, “Christ gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and might cleanse to himself a people acceptable, a pursuer of good works.” (Tit. 2: 14-15)

The third aim of religious instruction is the love of God. Our Lord and Saviour has not only declared, but has also proved by His own example, that the Law and the Prophets depend on love (cf. Math. 22: 40), and, according to the Apostle Paul, charity is the end of the commandment, and the fulfilment of the law (cf. Rom. 13: 8.10).

Therefore, we have to recognize the love of the infinite goodness of God towards us. Burning with a sort of divine ardour, we may be powerfully attracted to the supreme and all­perfect good. To adhere to God, the supreme good, is true and solid happiness, as is fully experienced by him who can say with the Prophet in the Psalm: “What have I in heaven? and besides thee what do I desire upon earth?” (Ps. 72: 25)

This, assuredly, is that more excellent way pointed out by the Apostle Paul when he sums up all his doctrines and instructions in charity, which never falleth away (cf. 1 Cor. 12: 31). For whatever is proposed by the religious instruction, whether it be the exercise of faith, of hope, or of some moral virtue, the love of our Lord should at the same time be so strongly insisted upon as to show clearly that all the works of perfect Christian virtue can have no other origin, no other end than divine love.” (Roman catechism, Prologue).

The entire Instruction in the Catholic Faith consists of the following themes, which are at the same time are necessary and which build up the sum of the Catholic Faith. The authors of the Roman catechism say: “All the doctrines of salvation can be reduced to these four heads: The Apostles’ Creed, the Sacraments, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. The part on the Creed contains all that is to be held according to Christian faith, whether it regard the knowledge of God, the creation and government of the world, or the redemption of man, the rewards of the good and the punishments of the wicked. The part devoted to the Seven Sacraments teaches us what are the signs, and, as it were, the instruments of grace. In the part on the Decalogue is described whatever has reference to the law, whose end is charity. Finally, the Lord’s Prayer contains whatever can be the object of the Christian’s desires, or hopes, or prayers. The exposition, therefore, of these four parts, which are, as it were, the general heads of Sacred Scripture, includes almost everything that a Christian should learn.” (Roman catechism, Prologue)