End Notes: Deposit of the Faith

Catholics who have been confused, bemused, or disenchanted by the strange goings-on during the past quarter-of-a-century or so should be pleased to learn that help has arrived.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in standard as opposed to ideological English, is at last yours for the asking. You will find elsewhere in this issue an announcement of how to order it through Crisis. It is in better bookstores everywhere. It has been available in other languages for nearly two years, but only now in the United States. Why?

Faithful subscribers will know the answer. A fuller account is available in D.O.A.: The Ambush of the Universal Catechism, a Crisis book (available for $13.95 + $2 s&h from Crisis Books, Box 1006, Notre Dame, IN 46556). The ambush failed, the battle is won, the Catechism is here.

The CCC provides us with clear statements of the essential elements of the faith. It is a post-conciliar document, profiting from Vatican II and all that is good in the years since the Council’s close in 1965. It is authoritative. Prompted by a suggestion of Cardinal Law’s in the Second Extraordinary Synod of 1985, carefully put together by 12 cardinals headed by Cardinal Ratzinger, who consulted bishops throughout the world and sought their comments on drafts, it was issued with an Apostolic Constitution called Depositum fidei by Pope John Paul II. It is without question or quibble an authoritative document of the teaching Church.

The Apostolic Constitution takes its title from a phrase of Saint Paul writing to Timothy. The Apostles were to keep intact and pass on to others the faith that had been given them, the deposit of faith which, while it gains interest over the centuries, remains the fundamental capital of the pilgrim Church on earth. The Catechism is an instrument of preservation and passing on of the faith we have received.

The Catechism makes it clear that what the Church teaches in the wake of Vatican II is at one with the faith of the Apostles. There was no break in the early 1960s with the historical Church. It is false to suggest that with Vatican II the Church’s understanding of herself changed radically. There are even those who regard the “hierarchical Church” as surpassed, having given way to a “People of God Church” where Catholic beliefs are simply what Catholics believe.

If the Catholic faith is simply what Catholics believe, there seems to be no way to distinguish between Catholics and non-Catholics. Those who dissent from Church teaching often appeal beyond the Pope to themselves: “I am a Catholic. I don’t accept X. Therefore, accepting X is not essential to being a Catholic.” Thus, there are pro-choice Catholics, homophilic Catholics, pro-death Catholics, and so on. No more.

Anyone who wants to be a .Catholic in the sense of the universal Christian faith that has come to us from the Apostles, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will take his cue from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In contrast to Catholics who are not Catholic in that sense — let us call them non-Catholics — he will be delighted to take as the measure of his faith this marvelous Catechism.

No need now to fret about those who reject the Magisterium. No need to allow for various kinds of Catholic. We have in the Catechism a clear criterion of being Catholic. A Catholic is one who accepts the contents of the Catechism, all of it, without reservation, as what God has revealed. One who fails to do that is not a Catholic of a certain kind; he is quite simply not a Catholic, that is, a non-Catholic.

This is of course merely a minor bonus of the Catechism. God did not become man in order that men might become theologians, in the sense of those who quarrel about whether God has become man. The Prologue (25) recalls the pastoral principle from the Roman Catechism:

The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love.

Most of us will be delighted with the new catechism, not because it enables us to win arguments with dissenters, but because it is an effective instrument to pass on the faith to our children and grandchildren. Home schooling in religious education has been a necessity for decades. Parents have reassumed the principal role in passing on the faith to their children. The Catechism has considerably eased their task.

Put an 800-page book in a child’s hands? Of course not. But it should be in the hands of parents. Soon there will be versions of the content of the Catechism tailored to various ages. Publications of Ignatius Press and the Daughters of Saint Paul will enable parents more easily to instruct their children in the faith as it is summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The nature of faith is clarified. The articles of the Creed are explained one by one, and then the sacraments, after which the incorporation of the faith into our lives, its moral expression and the Commandments which guide conduct, are discussed. The final section, on prayer, culminates in a thorough analysis of the Our Father, the prayer given us by Our Lord Himself.

It’s all there. Each section is followed by “In Brief,” a summary of what has been taught.

Aggiornamento, the slogan of Vatican II, means updating, renewal. It also means adjournment or postponement. Nearly thirty years after the close of the Council we have this wonderful catechetical summary of the faith. Let the renewal at last begin.


  • Ralph McInerny

    Ralph McInerny was a popular writer, philosopher, and teacher, as well as the co-founder of Crisis Magazine. He passed away on January 29, 2010.

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