Reading through the Catechism

The Institute of Catholic Culture has asked me to teach a course for their Magdala Apostolate, which provides formation for nuns. I’ll take the sisters straight through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, commenting on it section by section and fielding their questions.

The idea for an updated universal catechism came from Bernard Cardinal Law in a gathering of bishops in 1985. He argued:

Iuvenes Bostoniensis, Leningradiensis et Sancti Jacobi in Chile induti sunt ‘Blue Jeans’ et audiunt et saltant eandem musicam.

That is to say, young people of Boston, Leningrad, and Santiago in Chile all wear blue jeans and listen and dance to the same music—so why can’t they share a common explanation of the faith? Why should catechesis be strictly local when everything else in their lives has been overtaken by the global village?

Law’s statement interests me not only because it is a good point but also because he made it in Latin. While the idea of a catechism took off, those in charge of the project soon found that it was impossible to write it in Latin: the scholars working on it didn’t understand each other well in the Church’s language, so they switched to French, which turns out to be not only the language of love but also the language of serious theology.

The process was complex. A committee was put in charge, and they established a separate editorial committee of bishops, who then consulted with various experts. Cardinal Ratzinger admits that

the thought that a team of authors who were so widely scattered across the globe, and who as bishops already had their hands quite full, could work together to produce a single book seemed fantastic to me. … [I]t is still a sort of wonder to me that a readable, for the most part intrinsically unified and, in my opinion, beautiful book arose out of such a complex editorial process.

The idea of a universal catechism had been floated as early as 1966, but at that point Ratzinger thought the time was not yet ripe. People had not yet fully grasped the post-Vatican II situation. In hindsight, I would argue that the late 80s and early 90s, when the Catechism was actually written, was a unique window that opened and then shut. If the Catechism had not been written then, it could not have been written later. Certainly, today’s Church could not produce such a coherent and beautiful expression of the Church’s universal faith. Ever since it was published it has served as a kind of life preserver for the inundated and overwhelmed laity.

Ratzinger’s comment on the authority of the Catechism is helpful:

The individual doctrines which the Catechism presents receive no other weight than that which they already possess. The weight of the Catechism itself lies in the whole. Since it transmits what the Church teaches, whoever rejects it as a whole separates himself beyond question from the faith and teaching of the Church.

This threads the needle nicely. On the one hand, there is no mistaking that the publication of a catechism introduces something new into the field of Catholic doctrine. On the other hand, a catechism by nature is not trying to settle disputed points. So it makes sense that the “something new” is the Catechism itself, as a whole, while particular points that may touch on some controversy or other leave those controversies where they were.

Since I am going to walk through the Catechism with the sisters anyway, I hope to blog my way along as well. We’ll see how that works: I was recently named Academic Dean here at Wyoming Catholic College, so my schedule will be full every week! But at the same time, I am committed to teaching this course and writing will help me gather my thoughts.

Want to join me? You’ll have to read about six pages per day to keep up. Here is the assignment schedule, with dates and Catechism paragraph numbers:

Sept. 11, CCC 1-141
Sept. 18, CCC 142-267
Sept. 25, CCC 268-421
Oct. 2, CCC 422-570
Oct. 9, CCC 571-682
Oct. 16, CCC 683-810
Oct. 23, CCC 811-945
Oct. 30, CCC 945-1065
Nov. 6, CCC 1066-1178
Nov. 13, CCC 1179-1321
Nov. 20, CCC 1322-1419
Nov. 27, CCC 1420-1532
Dec. 4, CCC 1533-1600
Dec. 11, CCC 1601-1690

NOTE: All the quotations in this blog post were taken from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Christoph Schönborn, Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994).

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Final episodes on the Ten Minute Bible Hour

Over a year ago I sat down with Matt Whitman at the Lander Bar and we filmed a conversation. He’s a protestant, recently a pastor, and I’m a Catholic theologian, and I just let him grill me about Catholicism. I have intense conversations pretty much every day, so I had that one and then went on with the week. Didn’t give it much more thought.

But I keep seeing nice comments from people who say how helpful the series has been to them. I am honestly surprised! I didn’t prepare or pre-think the interview, I didn’t see the questions ahead of time, and I got tired as the afternoon went on, so it must be the Holy Spirit bringing a treasure out of an earthen vessel.

Matt finally dropped the last two episodes just recently, so here is the whole series:

  1. A Protestant Talks with a Catholic Theologian.
  2. Are Protestants Christian According to Catholics?
  3. A Protestant Asks a Catholic Theologian About Mary.
  4. Praying to the Saints? A Catholic and a Protestant Talk.
  5. Is Violence in the Name of the Church Now Forbidden in Catholicism?
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What is Hell?

A question from a man up late one night wondering:

It seems that if one can know something he can also from that, arrive at its opposite – what it is not. If we can not know Heaven, can we know Hell? Divine Revelation gives a nice lot of imagery: Fire, darkness, etc. and if the greatest joy of Heaven is of the soul in the Beatific Vision, the primary suffering in Hell would be the deprivation of It. But we don’t know what ‘It’ is.

Why I am wondering what Hell is like, I do not know. It is known that if I knew the smallest bit, I would wish that I didn’t, and also I am left confused about the fact that people do indeed choose to be there.

On a somewhat smaller scale, I have chosen against good sense, to be up far past a relatively decent hour. Similar problem, smaller matter?

My response:

Continue reading “What is Hell?”
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Eyes to See

Once upon a time, long, long ago, in a country not far from here, there lived a sculptor.  By making statues, he supported himself and his wife comfortably.  He had very few problems with his neighbors, a small community of people whose grandfathers and great-grandfathers had eaten at the same tables; and the town was nice, located in the deepest part of a valley with large, noble mountains on all sides.

Continue reading “Eyes to See”
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Conversations with a Protestant, Part II

A while back I posted my conversation with Matt Whitman of the “10-Minute Bible Hour”. Matt has put up the second part of that conversation, arguably more intense than the first:

The strength of the video is its limitation: it’s a real conversation between people who actually care what the other guy thinks. Matt raised questions faster than I could possibly handle them, so I was constantly choosing which angle would actually be interesting and helpful to Matt and leaving everything else behind. On the one hand, that meant some really good questions left in the dust. On the other hand, it made for all the energy and direction of a good give-and-take.

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Three Theologians Talk Annunciation

On the Feast of the Annunciation, Kyle Washut, Kent Lasnoski, and I had a round-table talk about the most famous treatment of the Annuncation, namely Bernard of Clairvaux’s Missus Est. Although we mostly stayed with the themes Bernard raises, we went on some fruitful tangents as well. All in all, I thought it was a great way to celebrate the day!

Here’s the video:

You can download an audio-only file by clicking here, or you can listen via this embedded player:

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Two theologians talk Newman on Mary

As Wyoming Catholic College has shifted temporarily to online classes, a lot of us are recording conversations to share with the students. Happily, that makes it easier to share with you! Recently Kyle Washut and I discussed John Henry Newman’s Letter to Pusey, of the best treatments anywhere if Catholic doctrine and devotion concerning Mary. Wyoming Catholic College posted the video as well as an audio-only version, and I’ve snagged the links.

Here is the video:

You can download the audio-only from this link, or listen to it here:

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Conversations with a Protestant

Some time back, an evangelical pastor asked me if I would sit down with him to talk about the things that unite and divide Catholics and Protestants. He filmed the whole thing, and the first segment is now up on his Youtube channel, the 10-Minute Bible Hour.

The conversation came out fine. I didn’t prepare for at all: there was no script, and I was in the car on my way to the filming location five minutes away before I started trying to remember the usual topics and whether I have a response to them. So, I could have expressed some points more clearly, and often my interlocutor raised so many questions at once that I had to ignore this or that disagreement to address just one of them. And I don’t exactly have a Hollywood face. But all in all I think the video shows a Catholic mind at work, for people who may not have seen it before.

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What a metaphor really means

A high school textbook taught me the standard line: similes are comparisons, and metaphors are similes without the word “like” or “as”. So when I say, “Achilles was a lion,” I mean that Achilles was like a lion. I just don’t say “like”.

The absurdity bothered me to no end. How could anyone with ears think that “Achilles was a lion” sounds like “Achilles was like a lion”? Is the one sentence that much stronger just because it is one word shorter? On the other hand, how could I hope that anyone else heard the same difference that screamed at me? When you’re in high school, there are certain feelings you just don’t share, like your ambition for glory, or your romantic daydreams, or your ceaseless frustration over the textbook definition of “metaphor”.

Continue reading “What a metaphor really means”
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Friendship with God

Everyone knows that love is central to Christianity, but homilies and devotionals on love are typically cliche and hard to distinguish from secular exhortations to humanitarian justice. This summer I was given the challenge to talking about charity in an original way, a way that would somehow make the distinctions Catholics almost never make between themselves and the world at large.

So, of course, I just rehearsed St. Thomas Aquinas’s 700-year-old account. What is charity? In a nutshell, charity is friendship with God. You can find my lecture here.

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