Catechesis, III (Reformation)

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The classical Renaissance stirred new interest in educational methods and gave rise to schools for the upper classes. Among the prominent educators at the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th centuries, men like John Colet in England, Erasmus and Juan Luis Vives on the continent, were mindful of the place of religious formation in the humanistic education they proposed.

On the popular level, the 15th and 16th centuries saw a proliferation of devotional works, many containing a kind of catechesis. A 16th-century Austrian work, Road to Heaven, exhorted the head of the family to attend the sermon and recall it after dinner with his family. He was also supposed to question them on the Ten Commandments, the seven deadly sins, the Our Father, and the Creed. Finally, he should have a little drink brought in for the group and lead them in singing a hymn referring to God, Our Lady, or the Saints [P. Janelle, The Catholic Reformation (Milwaukee 1949) 23].

A decree of the Fifth Lateran Council (1514) recognized a general need for better religious instruction. Schoolmasters were to teach religious truths: the divine precepts, the articles of faith, sacred hymns and psalms, and the lives of the saints (J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 32:881).

Luther's Catechism. Preaching and formal catechesis were not enough to stem the abuses that prepared the way for the Lutheran movement. Martin luther's teachings captured the popular mind in large areas of Germany through the medium of a highly effective catechesis. Luther's catechism first appeared in 1528 in the old medieval form of tabulae, or wall charts. This was followed within a year by a printed version. The arrangement of Luther's 1529 catechismcommandments first, then the Creed, followed by prayer and the Sacramentsthrew the doctrine of grace out of context, thereby destroying the vital synthesis of the divine message of salvation. The organization of the work revealed Luther's own religious and spiritual problems, and marked the beginning of a long history of catechisms that used the threefold division of creed, code, and cult, with a major emphasis on code. This arrangement was logical in the light of Lutheran theology, but it ill suited a Catholic catechesis.

It was only with Luther that the term catechism came to refer to a book, both to the manual used by the catechist and to the simpler text placed in the hands of a child. Until this time, the term catechism referred only to the content of the catechesis. The period of the reformation coincided, therefore, with the significant transition to that period in which the catechism manual began to play a dominant part in forming both the theory and practice of catechesis. Luther left detailed directions for the use of his catechisms, insisting on rote memorization of the exact text as a means of preserving his teaching intact. Memorization was to precede an analysis of the material.

Catholic Reaction. Of necessity, in the face of heresy, Catholic catechesis reacted to protestantism by becoming greatly concerned with theological accuracy, as this was necessary to keep clear the essential differences in doctrine that separated the Church from the new sects. The Catholics in their reaction to the propagation of lutheranism did not immediately recognize the implications and consequences of Luther's innovations in catechesis. Catholic catechisms countered by an imitation of Luther's short question and answer method, satisfied for the most part that so long as orthodoxy was guaranteed a satisfactory solution to the problem posed by Luther's catechism had been found.

The first Catholic catechism written as a reaction to Luther's was published in Augsburg in 1530, and was followed by a series in German and Latin. The first efforts were not very successful because they lacked clarity and conciseness. Many were too long and learned for popular use. They differed in wording of essential matters, a decided weakness in the face of the lucid and uniform presentation provided by Luther's rapidly spreading catechism.

St. Peter Canisius. St. Peter canisius (152197) produced three catechisms that remedied many of the weaknesses of the earlier Catholic efforts. In 1555 his large catechism, Summa doctrinae christianae appeared. He had been asked to gloss it with references to Holy Scripture, the Fathers and Doctors, and Canon Law, as an aid to preachers and school masters. Realizing the impossibility of satisfying the needs of theologians, parish priests, and youthful students with a single work, Canisius published the Catechismus minimus (1556), which first appeared as the appendix to a Latin grammar. This small work contains only 59 questions divided into six short chapters, treating in order: (1) faith and the Creed, (2) hope and the Lord's Prayer, (3) charity and the decalogue, (4) the Sacraments, (5) the avoidance of sin, (6) good works. A few months later a German version of the little catechism appeared. Canisius added to this book a series of prayers for all occasions: morning and evening, before and after meals, and a daily prayer for all the needs of Christendom. Almost 40 years later he prepared an edition of the Catechismus minimus with the words divided into syllables to make mastery of the text easier for small children.

The third catechism of Canisius, the Parvus catechismus catholicorum (1558), was intended for youths of about 14 years. This book set the tone of catechesis in Germany for the next 200 years. By 1597, 134 editions of the work had been published. It underwent many revisions and additions at the hands of the author himself, who enriched it with prayers and meditations on the life of Christ. Some of the editions were richly illustrated.

The catechisms of Canisius were written to defend the faith against heresy, and therefore they necessarily had a strong intellectual quality. They were admirably devoid of polemics, however, and although they are written in question and answer form, they retained much of the spirit and even the language of Scripture and the Fathers.

Other Efforts. In France, Edmund auger, SJ, produced catechisms in 1563 and 1568, similar in approach to the works of Canisius. During the same period, Gaspar Astete and Juan Mart'nez de ripalda, Jesuits, wrote catechisms which were still in use in the 20th century in Spain. In England, Dr. Laurence Vaux's A Catechisme of Christian Doctrine necessarie for children and ignorante people (1562) also showed the influence of Canisius.

The Roman Catechism. During the Council of trent there was an effort to provide for the drafting of two catechisms: one in Latin for the learned, and one to be translated into vernaculars for the unlettered and children. Only the first was attempted and completed by a postconciliar commission in 1566. Using the catechetical works of Canisius as a model, the Catechismus ex decretis Concilii Tridentini ad Parochos, or Catechismus Romanus, was intended as a reference book for pastors and a norm on which subsequent texts were to be based.

The preface of the work notes that catechesis is not the same as theology, but treats only those things "that belong peculiarly to the pastoral office and are accommodated to the capacity of the faithful." The pastor is urged to keep before his mind the general plan of the catechesis that is summed up in three points: (1) all Christian knowledge and eternal life is to know Jesus Christ; (2) but to know Christ is to keep His Commandments; (3) and charity is the end of the Commandments and the fulfillment of the law. The pastor is also reminded of the importance of the manner of imparting the truths of faith. He should adapt his instruction to the age, capacity, and condition of those being instructed. Further, since all the doctrines of Christianity are derived from the word of God, the pastor should devote himself to the study of the font of catechesis. Pastors are expected to correlate their instructions with the homily on the Sunday Gospel, and for this purpose the catechism provides a supplement giving references to the sections in the catechism which could be related to the Gospel for each Sunday of the liturgical year.

The Roman Catechism was approved by Pius V in 1566, and by Gregory XIII in 1583. It has since enjoyed continual recommendation. Leo XIII, Pius X, and Pius XI recommended its use by the clergy in more recent times.

The Catechismus Romanus was translated immediately into Italian by order of Pius V, and within the next three years into German, French, and Polish. A Spanish translation was resisted by some influential Spaniards who were opposed to the publication of religious books in the vernacular, and also because some theologians objected to the catechism's interpretation of a passage in St. Matthew regarding Baptism (Mt 28.1819).

The Council of Trent also promoted the progress of catechesis by decreeing that the people, and especially the children, be carefully instructed. "The bishops shall also see to it that at least on Sundays and other festival days, the children in every parish be carefully taught the rudiments of the faith and obedience toward God and their parents by those whose duty it is, and who shall be compelled thereto, if need be, even by ecclesiastical censures" [H. J. Schroeder, Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (St. Louis 1941) 196].

Local Legislation. Diocesan statutes further specified the Tridentine decrees. The Synod of Besanèon (1571) directed that the prayers that every Christian should know were to be recited at the Sunday sermon. In rural areas the pastors were obliged to gather the children one day a week in order to have them recite their prayers in Latin and in French (Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, 2:2.1919).

This same period saw a council in Lima, Peru, approve a catechism authorized by Philip II of Spain. This catechism was translated into the Quechua and Aymara languages. The Council of Mexico in 1585 called for a short and simple catechism containing the lord'sprayer, the hail mary, apostles' creed, salve regina, 12 articles of the faith, the Ten Commandments of God and five precepts of the Church, the seven Sacraments, and the seven capital sins. A translation was to be made for the native peoples of each diocese, and the text was to be explained on the Sundays of Advent and during Lent. Before receiving Baptism, adults were to know the Our Father, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments in their language.

The confraternity of christian doctrine, approved by Pius V in 1571, was a significant agency of catechesis. A cooperative work of clergy and laity from the beginning, the confraternity, founded in Milan and fostered by St. Charles borromeo, was especially widespread in Italy and spread to France and Germany. Members of the confraternity undertook the responsibility of furthering the work of religious instruction among the members of their own families.

Bellarmine's Catechisms. St. Robert bellar-mine's catechisms, written at the order of Clement VIII for use in the papal states, were the most influential of the catechisms written shortly after the Council of Trent. The Dottrina cristiana breve is a short summary of Christian doctrine for pupils (1597). The following year Bellarmine produced a teacher's manual in catechetics, Dichiarazione piu copiosa della dottrina cristiana (1598). These books do not present so synthesized a catechesis as do those of Peter Canisius, but they are of great doctrinal clarity and rich in psychological insights. In the short catechism the questions avoid abstractions and are placed in a context a child can understand. In the larger catechism the usual question and answer pattern is reversed and the questions are put in the mouth of the pupil, while it is the teacher who answers. Here, Bellarmine had in view a method of helping the inexperienced catechist anticipate his pupil's questions, and a guide for clear, complete, and adequate explanations. The catechesis was to be built around the theological virtues: faith centered in the Creed, hope expressed in the Our Father, and charity in the Commandments of God and of the Church. The Sacraments are treated as sources and means of the Christian life.

In a brief of 1598 Clement VIII exhorted bishops throughout the world to "use their utmost endeavors to have this catechism, written at Our command, adopted and followed in their respective churches, dioceses, and parishes" [J. Brodrick, The Life and Work of Blessed Robert Bellarmine (New York 1928) 395]. The catechism was translated eventually into more than 60 different tongues and dialects, including editions in Arabic, Hindustani, Chinese, Congolese, Ethiopian, Hebrew, and Peruvian. It was the only catechism St. Francis de Sales allowed in his diocese. Urban VIII in 1633 recommended its use in the missions; a century later Benedict XIV, in a special constitution to all the bishops of the Church, advised its adoption as the official manual of every diocese. When at Vatican Council I a uniform and universal catechism was proposed, it was Bellarmine's catechism that was recommended as a model.

The catechisms engendered as part of the Catholic reformation provided excellent summaries of doctrine in relatively simple language. Thus, they satisfied a critical need, and were a major factor in checking the spread of heresy and preserving the purity of doctrine. Today, writers active in the catechetical renewal hold that these catechisms also had the less desirable effect of fostering a catechesis that ran counter to the inherent dynamism of the Biblical narrative approach in teaching Christian doctrine. According to these writers, in the post-Reformation catechisms the relation between the parts of Christian doctrine was not established, and thus the message was not presented as an integrated whole, the good news of salvation centered in Christ (see Hofinger, Jungmann, Sloyan).

Important advances were made in school catechesis, though this remained subordinate to the teaching of religion in the Church and in the home. Charles Borromeo's work in fostering schools was imitated by other dioceses throughout Italy. Besides the Jesuits, other religious congregations that made notable contributions to the theory and practice of school catechesis were the Ursulines, Somaschi, Barnabites, and the Clerks Regular of the Christian Schools.

17th-Century Efforts. Diocesan catechisms, special children's catechisms, and treatises on catechetics multiplied during the 17th century. francis de sales personally instructed children of his diocese. In 1602 in Toulouse, a 14th-century work of Jean gerson was reprinted as part of a teacher's manual. Adrien Bourdoise opened a school in Paris in 1622 especially for the purpose of bringing religious influence into families through teaching young children. He also produced an original book on catechetical pedagogy, Les rudiments de la foi en faveur des simples fidèles. Among the contributions of Bourdoise was the division of the pupils into age groups, with particular adaptations for each group. This practice became customary in the large cities of Europe, where lay catechists sometimes assisted as instructors. It was widely taken for granted that catechesis meant an explanation of the text of a catechism followed by recitation of questions and answers.

St. vincent de paul (15811660) incorporated a catechesis as an integral part of the missions preached by his priests in rural areas. During their missions his priests were to teach catechism twice a day. In the afternoon they were to catechize the children for an hour in a simple manner. In the evening the same material was to be taught to adults. The catechesis was never to be replaced by a sermon. Guided by Vincent de Paul, St. Louise de Marillac provided a special manual for teaching catechism to the poor in their homes.

The Sulpician Method. In the Sulpician method, inaugurated by Jean Jacques olier (160857), seminarians were the principal catechists. Distinctive features included the care to adjust the catechesis to the age level of the child, and a concern for helping children live in accord with the doctrine taught. In promulgating the method, great emphasis was given to the qualifications of teachers, who were supposed to reflect a strong love of God and of children. Sulpician techniques did not shun an appeal to a spirit of competition. Teachers made use of a point system for correct answers, gave places of honor in class, and awarded prizes for outstanding recitations. Hymn singing in the course of a catechism lesson was intended to keep a happy atmosphere. There was a conscious effort to supplement the analytical approach, though there was still much stress on memorization. Children were to memorize the Sunday Gospel as preparation for the catechism lesson. The class, regularly held on Sunday afternoon, included a homily on the Gospel by the catechist and an attempt to make an application of the day's lesson to the everyday life of the child. Much of the catechetical practice since the 17th century bears the mark of the influence of the Sulpician method.

St. John Baptist de la Salle. The method of St. John baptist de la salle (16511719) brought a renewed appreciation of the use of narrative in catechesis, although one of his chief catechetical works, Duties of a Christian, makes little or no advance over the customary arrangement of the text, which proceeded from Creed to Commandments, Sacraments, and prayer. De la Salle's method was unusual at his time in holding that memorization should follow the explanation of the text, not precede it. Formulas were to be memorized as summaries only after a careful development of the lesson. Though a biblical-liturgical approach was lacking, the method did emphasize the value of teaching the life of Christ and the lives of the saints. Passages from Scripture were used, but chiefly as illustrations of a point of dogma.

Other Influences. Among the other figures who contributed significantly to the theory and practice of catechesis in the 17th century were St. John eudes, bossuet, Charles Thuet, and Claude fleury. Thuet produced a manual showing three distinct methods for effectively using the Roman Catechism: in sermons, dialogues, and meditations. Claude Fleury published a catechism containing an abridgement of sacred history, one of a growing number of catechisms seeking to make a closer correlation between Holy Scripture and the question and answer treatment of dogma by this time considered standard.

All the methodological weaknesses of the 16th and 17th centuries were countered by the fact that catechesis was still given in a Christian environment. Formal catechesis was enforced and supported by the religious orientation of family and society well into the 18th century. It was only then that secular values began to set the tone of European culture.

Bibliography: c. hezard, Histoire du catéchisme depuis la naissance de l'église jusqu'à nos jours (Paris 1900). g. s. sloyan, ed.. Shaping the Christian Message (New York 1958). a. e. cruz, Historia de la Catequesis (Santiago de Chile 1962). j. h. westerhoff and o. c. edwards, ed.. A Faithful Church. Issues in the History of Catechesis (Wilton, CT 1981). j. brodrick, Saint Peter Canisius (Baltimore 1950). The Life and Work of Blessed Robert Bellarmine (London 1928) j-c. dhotel, Les Origines du Catechisme Moderne (Paris 1966). b.l. marthaler, The Catechism Yesterday and Today (Collegeville, MN 1995).

[m. e. jegen]