A NEW DEAL IN NATIONAL CATECHISMS ?
By Canon F. H. DRINKWATER
A CATHOLIC CATECHISM: translated from the German. (Herder and Herder: Burns Oates: Cloth, pp. 458. Price 30s.).
CATECHISM KEY (for the Irish Catechism). By Rev. James Abbot (M. H. Gill and Son. Wrapper, pp. 48. Price 7d.). THE impact of the new German Catechism on the rest of the Catholic world has been very great on account of its drastic rearrangement of the doctrine and the approach to it, and its more or less abandoning of the questionand-answer form in favour of regular lesson-chapters for each topic.
There are still a number of questions and answers scattered through the text; these were translated two years ago in a shilling booklet published by "The Sower", and the demand for this, from all over the English-speaking world, has been astonishing.
The new Catechism has at once been translated into French and Spanish, and now we have it in English, along with the original German illustrations, which some find so ugly. though others say they admire them.
Anyone can look at the book for themselves in the shops, so instead of describing it here let us consider its effect and usefulness in this country.
Question and Answer
SOMEHOW one cannot see English Catholics imitating this German revolution. We do have revolutions now and then in England, but usually we like to think of them as a natural growth, keeping outward forms unchanged.
Our English catechism as a whole has long been unserviceable, but however drastically it may get revised we may guess it will keep the question-and-answer form, and begin with " Who made you?" and " Why did God make you?"
It is right that each national catechism should reflect the character of the country that uses it. In England we like things to grow slowly, we are conservative. (Yes, perhaps self-complacent too; that's the other side of the tapestry.)
This German Catechism, though revolutionary, has been 20 years in the making. Its main principles were decided on before the war, under the shadow of Nazi oppression.
ONE decision was about the Catechism's theology: it was to be God-centred, Christcentred, Christ-life-centred.
In practice, this meant a good deal of re-arrangement and reemphasis, with the Commandments no longer in the centre of the stage. "The Good News of Heaven Regained" can now be seen better as an organic whole. one Story, in which each Christian is a fully-aware actor.
It is this feature of the German Catechism for which everybody is so grateful, and which (one hopes) wilt have its full effect on all future catechism-makers and teachers of religion.
Another of the original decisions was that the Catechism would be in chapters of continuous prose, with the " hack-hone" questionsand-answers coming in only as incidental resune6. There may be two opinions about this, but most wide-awake catechists will approve the reduction in the number of such questions: there are only 248 of them: quite enough for practical purposes.
NOTHER far-reaching dcci sion was that the teachingapproach should be much more scriptural than it had been hitherto. Fewer arid statements and definitions, more of the images provided by the Holy Spirit. This too was a move in the right direction; hut to he woodenly scriptural is as bad RS being woodenly academic. There are too many snippety texts from St. Paul and so on, quoted like " proofs "; and the Biblical story heading each chapter has been cut to a mere vestige.
Another decision taken 20 years ago was that the Catechism should be suitable for children. No doubt that seemed to many a forwardlooking policy at the time, but the present reviewer thinks it was a mistake.
A national Catechism should be essentially an instrument for adult education: it should provide (as the Catechism of Trent provided) material for the parish priest's instructions from the altar at Sunday Mass Sunday Mass is the only time when all Catholics come together and the Bread of the Word should be broken to them along with the Bread of the Eucharist.
A Catechism "suitable for children" has resulted actually in a regular school textbook for the eleven-and-twelve-year-olds. This means, rightly or wrongly, that it makes rather dull reading. But worse, it ,means that the tmeching has to be scaled down to the intelligence and experience of that agegroup.
History and Science
IF your approach is going to he I more scriptural, you must be prepared to relate the Bible teaching to what historians and 1 scientists have to say. For instance on p. 41:
Q. How did God create man?
A. God formed man from thi dust of the earth, and thee breathed into him the breath ot life.
Excellently said, but to be fulls educational it needs relating ti scientific theology and biology and all that; in the book it gets the former but not the latter, except for a bare hint on p. 41. And please don't anybody say that this would be apologetics, not doctrine: it is part of the very presentation of the Faith itself that it should seem credible and reasonable; and mysteries too are reasonable enough in their way (since we expect them of God), but they must not be needlessly manufactured.
This aspect of a catechism-book (correlating with "secular knowledge" which is God's truth, too) becomes difficult if it must be addressed specially to boys of the football-worshipping-age. However we must be glad that at any rate the Germans have not addressed their catechism to primary schoolchildren, and hope that other countries will take note of that.
12,000 more Suggestions
ANOTHER decision that they 1-1 made was that the Catechism should be the work of one author, not of a committee. Unfortunately this plan has not really been adhered to. Instead of one committee, dozens of committees have had a hand it it.
The Catechism has been drafted and redrafted and criticised and tried out over and over again. No authors are named on the titlepage, but several have certainly been engaged on it When they thouAt their work was finished, it was circulated once more to the diocesan committees, and 12.000 fresh suggestions come in. In several matters of structure or emphasis, the Catechism differs from what its authors bad wished.
Communal authorship of this kind makes for wide acceptability and perhaps for full coverage, but not for interest and the artistic touch. Everything individual and vivid, every touch of imagination, would tend to get ironed out in such a process, and that is what seems to have happened to the German Catechism.
It certainly gives us the Faith, the whole Faith, and nothing but the Faith: hut it is all very impersonal, very austere, very full not of abstractions exactly hut of generalities, rather ponderous; yes, let us say it. rather boring.
You might wish to go further, and say you feel even a kind of oppressiveness. The "News" does not appear as "Good" as one knows it to be.
One small thing struck the present reviewer. Several times the book speaks of the sinner at death being " cast off by God." Somehow one can't envisage such an expression in an English Catechism. We all believe in hell of course, and no doubt in something the theeIoeieris call " reprobation" (" conditional ", one seems to remember). But in our preaching and teaching we like to represent the sinner as turning away from God, damning himself, eternally choosing the outer darkness rather than love his Creator,
Full of God's Love . . .
PLEASE don't misunderstand. The German Catechism is full of God's love for us. Perhaps what we have called "oppressiveness" is some quality native to the German style of religion, which a German catechism therefore has to have, even if you and I are allergic to it.
It may sound an awful thing to say, hut perhaps for the English mind it is not enough that God should be loving; we want to think of Him as reasonable too: meaning perhaps His attributes of wisdom, entices mercy, all infinite, all one with His love. And yet, again, you will find more about these attributes in the German Catechism (pages 11-38) than in any other catechism ever written. So perhaps the root of the matter may still be eluding us.
The Irish Catechism
dd DRINKING too much leads to rows, stealing. beggary. and bachelorhood." Now there's a sentence that would never have survived into the finel draft of the German Catechism: some diocesan committee would surely have condemned it for dangerous levity.
It comes from the second book at the head of this article, right at the other end of the catechismal price-range: sevenpence for 48 crowded pages in which the author translates the complete Irish catechism into simpler everyday language.
In this he is often successful. e.g. angels are " spirits only" instead of " pure spirits"; " what God has told us about himself ' instead of " divine revelation ".
Some expressions are less happy: e.g. " alive" for "in existence": "clever", constantly applied to God: a mystery is "a kind of puzzle"; Christ's tomb is " a stone grave"; or "sin vexes the Good Gael, it upsets His plans." Simple language is not everything, but it is a point. and it is the whole point of this Catechism-Key which can hardly he called "Christ-centred ". certainly not " Bible-centred" (one fears the author would class this scriptural approach as part of the " upholstery " which he leases to the teacher). but rather perhaps " precept-centred," especially when it gets to the sacraments.
That is one of the good points of the German Catechism: that it teaches the seven sacraments, not as machinery instituted by Christ to give us grace, but as Christ Himself still active on earth in His redeeming work,