The Roman Catechism and its timeliness

The Roman Catechism, called also the Catechism of the Council of Trent, 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.

The Instruction in the true and full catholic Faith is indispensable in order to live rightly the Christian life. 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.

In our times insidious tempters infiltrated even in high clerical ranks, who are using 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 erroneous ideas come forth in the Church which 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.

Only those ideas should be communicated to the faithful, which are definitely marked as Catholic truth by their universality, antiquity, and unanimity. 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. Today there is a situation in the Church, where the light of the truth is not so bright. 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.

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. Therefore, the Roman Catechism should be offered to the priests and faithful 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.

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 Us, 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 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)

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, April 15, 1905)

The authors of the Roman Catechism explain the timeliness of a sound Catholic catechetical instruction, saying: “While the preaching of the divine Word should never be interrupted in the Church, surely in these, our days, it becomes necessary to labor 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 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 during 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.

Each faithful Catholic must be able to repeat with all his heart the words of Saint Paul: “I know Whom I have believed” (2 Tim 2: 12). A true Catholic has to know therefore his faith. An essential characteristic of a Catholic consists in keeping the truths of the faith faithfully and purely according to the Apostolic admonition: “Continue in the things which you have learned and have been assured of, knowing of whom you have learned them” (2 Tim 3: 14). Paraphrasing the words of Saint Paul in the Letter to the Romans 10: 14, one could say: How then shall the faithful know Christ when they have not been taught? And how shall they be taught without a good catechism?

The integral truth of the Catholic faith will set people free (cf. John 8: 32), because it is not a human, but a Divine truth. In deed, each human person has been created in order “to know, serve and love God, to offer all of creation in this world in thanksgiving back to him and to be raised up to life with him in heaven” (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 67).

February 22, 2019

+ Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Mary in Astana