RE-AWAKENING THE CATHOLIC MEMORY
by Professor John Saward
And I hold in veneration, for the love of Him alone,
Holy Church as His creation and her teachings as His own.
In these words from his poem The Dream of Gerontius, Cardinal Newman sets out the reasons why he and you and I are Catholics. We believe that the Catholic
Church was not invented by man, but instituted by God-made-man, and her teachings are not humanly devised whimsy,
but divinely delivered wisdom. The Church is the Bride and Body of Christ, alive with His life, teaching by His
authority. For this belief, Newman sacrificed nearly everything on earth that was dear to him, and for this belief,
we too must be ready to give our all.
Holy Mother Church has recently given us a wonderful new summary of her Christ-given teachings. In The Catechism of the Catholic Church she expounds the faith she professes
in the Creed, celebrates in the Seven Sacraments, practices in the Ten Commandments, and prays in the Our Father.
The Church has not conjured the Catechism out of thin air. Now as always, she only gives what she has received
from her divine Head: her teachings are 'His own'.
Guided by the Spirit, she draws them from the 'deposit' of Divine Revelation, that treasury of splendid truth with which Christ has entrusted her, the Word
of God in its twofold mode of transmission - written down (Scripture) and handed on (Tradition). As the Holy Father
has said, the new Catechism presents 'faithfully and organically the teaching
of Sacred Scripture, of the living Tradition of the Church, and of the Magisterium, as well as of the spiritual
heritage of the Fathers, of the Church's holy men and women, to facilitate a better knowledge of the Christian
mystery and to revive the faith of the People of God'. In this way, concludes the Pope,
'the catechism brings forth the new and the old, the faith that is always
the same and a source of light that is ever new'.
In this lecture, I want to look at the sources of the Catechism in Scripture and Tradition, at those ancient well-springs
from which flow waters with an undying capacity to renew. I am going to suggest that, in giving us the Catechism,
the Church, in the Holy Spirit, is seeking to reawaken the Catholic memory. Our natural memories are frail. We
cling in vain to the sights and sounds of years gone by. As Tennyson says in In Memoriam, 'year by year our memory fades/ From all the circle of the hills'. But
the Church never forgets. 'In her teaching, life, and worship, the Church
perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.'
In this Catechism she is inviting her sons and daughters to share her remembering, to make their
own the incomparable riches of her Scriptures and Tradition. For a generation. dissent within the Church has sought
to sow doubt by suggesting discontinuity, as if Vatican II had cut itself off from the whole Tradition from Abraham
to Pius XII. In the light of the Catechism, we see the Council's true profile: like all its predecessors, it is
a council of Tradition, faithfully 'following the Fathers'.
The Sources of the Catechism: Scripture
Scripture: the Catechism's Chief Source
There are approximately three times as many references in the Catechism to the Bible as there
are to ecclesiastical writers and Documents of the Magisterium. Almost every book of the Old Testament is cited,
and every single book of the New without exception. Without any doubt, in terms of citations, the compilers have
turned to Scripture as their chief source. In so doing, they show that they have heeded the Holy Father's plea
in Catechesi Tradendae: 'Catechesis
must be impregnated and penetrated by the thought, the spirit; and the outook of the Bible and the Gospels through
assiduous contact with the texts themselves'.
The Inseparability of Scripture from Tradition and Magisterium
For all its reverent reliance on the sacred books, the Catechism never removes them from their
natural environment - the living Tradition of the Church. It re-states the teaching of the Second Vatican Council's
Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum,
that 'the Church does not derive her certainty about everything revealed
from Sacred Scripture alone, which is why both [Scripture and Tradition] must be accepted and revered with an equal
sentiment of devotion and reverence'. In their common source and goal, Tradition and
Scripture are almost like one thing, making up one deposit of the Word of God. The two are inseparable from each
other and from the Church's living Magisterium. Once again, the Catechism is in line with Catechesi Tradendae, which reminds us that, while catechesis must be
imbued with the spirit of the Bible, the sacred texts must be read 'with
the intelligence and the heart of the Church'.
The Catechism's Guidelines for Reading Scripture
Before considering how the Catechism in practice interprets Scripture, I should like first to summarize the principles
it lays down for that interpretation. For the most part, it adheres closely to Dei
Verbum, which in turn recapitulates the teaching of the papal encyclicals on Scripture
from Leo XIII to Pius XII.
First, the Catechism teaches us that the Scriptures are to be read in the light of Christ. Christianity is not
a 'religion of the book', but a religion of
the Word of God, and that Word, as St Bernard tells us, is 'not a word
written and mute, but the Word incarnate and alive'. The divine Logos is a person, the
Second Person of the Trinity, who took flesh from the Blessed Virgin. His is the voice we hear resounding through
the sacred pages. 'Through all the words of Holy Scripture, God is saying
only one Word, His unique Logos, in whom He expresses Himself fully and completely'.
The Catechism quotes a beautiful text from Hugh of St Victor:
'The whole of divine Scripture is a single book, and that single book is Christ,
for the whole of divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and the whole of divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ'.
The Old Testament, which is an 'indispensable part' of Sacred Scripture, prepares for the Saviour's coming, and the New has Him as its 'central object' - 'His
acts, His teachings, His Passion, and His glorification as well as the beginnings of His Church under the action
of the Holy Spirit'. The mighty deeds of God in the Old Testament are to be interpreted
typologically, as a prefiguring of 'what God, in the fullness of time,
fulfilled in the Person of His incarnate Son'. 'Christians,
therefore, read the Old Testament in the light of Christ, dead and risen.' The New Testament
fulfils, does not abolish, the Old Testament, and so, as Our Lord Himself teaches us, the Law and the Prophets
retain a permanent value as revelation.
The exegete must always pay great attention to the unity of the Scriptures in Christ. 'Different though the books which make it up may be, Scripture is one because of the oneness of
God's plan, of which Christ is the centre and heart, which has been open since His passing over [to the Father]'. The Catechism then adds, quoting from St Thomas: 'The heart
of Christ desigates Holy Scripture, which makes known the heart of Christ.'
If the first principle of the Catechism's hermeneutic is Christocentric, its second is more obviously theocentric:
'God is the author of Sacred Scripture'. The
whole Bible, in all its parts, was composed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and as such has been transmitted
to us by the Church. The Catechism quotes the words of Dei Verbum, which were carefully formulated by the revising commission (following the intervention of Pope Paul
VI) to avoid any impression that the Church restricts inspiration and thus inerrancy to the religious and moral
teaching of the Bible. Writing shortly after the Council, Cardinal Bea, who was sent by Pope Paul to guide the
drafting of this section of the Constitution, maintained that it places no limit on the inerrancy of Scripture:
'The thought, which re-occurs in various forms in the recent documents
of the Magisterium of the Church, is here clearly understood in a sense which excludes the possibility of the Scriptures
containing any statement contrary to the reality of the facts'
Thirdly, since in the Bible 'God speaks to man in the manner of men', the interpreter of Scripture must be 'attentive to what the
human authors truly intended to affirm and to what God wanted to reveal to us through their words'. To get at that intention, we must take account of the authors' real human situation: the condition
of their times and culture, the 'literary forms'
they used, their whole way of thinking and speaking. As Pope John Paul II has reminded us recently, speaking to
the Pontifical Biblical Commission, historical study of the Scriptures is a direct requirement of the historicity
of Divine Revelation. God revealed Himself not just by infusing ideas into the minds of the prophets, but by intervening
in Israel's history, and finally by becoming man at a particular time and place and by taking flesh from a specific
human mother, Mary the Virgin of Nazareth.
The fourth principle follows directly from the third. While the scientific and historical study of Scripture is
necessary, it is not sufficient. 'Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted
in the light of the same Spirit in whom it was written.' If the Scriptures are not to
be a dead letter, 'Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, through
the Holy Spirit, must "open the mind to the understanding of the Scriptures" (cf Luke 24. 45)'. Christ is the centre of Scripture, and His Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son, is its chief
Fifthly, the Scriptures must always be read in 'the
living Tradition of the whole Church'. The Spirit is the primary expositor, but He does
His exposition with the co-operation of the Bride of Christ. In the words of Dei Verbum, 'the Bride of the incarnate Word, the Church, is taught by
the Holy Spirit and, day by day, strives to reach a deeper understanding of the sacred Scriptures'. The Bible is the Church's book. She gives it to us in the canon, and only with and in her can we uncover
its true riches. The Fathers and the great medieval Doctors never for one moment read the Scriptures in isolation.
For them, Scripture is always, in St Augustine's words, 'Scripture expounded
in Catholic [i.e. ecclesial] faith'. The Bible, says Origen in a text quoted by the Catechism,
must be interpreted 'according to the spiritual sense that the [Holy]
Spirit gives to the Church'. The Church's faith opens our eyes to the glories of the
written Word. To 'bracket out' her faith when
we read (as some Biblical scholars propose) is like putting on a blindfold.
Most of what the Catechism has to say about scriptural exegesis is found already in Dei
Verbum. However, it does add something new, though it is not really new, but as ancient
as the Church herself. While speaking of the Spirit's role of interpreting Scripture in the Church, the Catechism
makes mention of the classical doctrine of the four senses of Scripture: the literal sense, on which all the other
senses depend, tells us what happened; the allegorical sense opens up the meaning of the text for our faith in
Christ; the moral sense shows us how to live out that faith in charity; and the analogical sense guides us in hope
to our heavenly homeland. This was the way the Fathers and all the great Doctors of the Middle Ages, up to and
including the Schoolmen of the thirteenth century, broke the Biblical bread. They believed, as St Jerome says,
that the Scriptures are a kind of 'boundless forest of senses', a thicket of significance implanted by the Holy Spirit. Father Ignace de la Potterie SJ, doyen of Catholic
Biblical studies, explains the reasons for the insertion of this section:
It seemed ... to the writers of The Catechism of the Catholic Church that
the fundamental principles of scientific exegesis analyzed in the encyclical of 1943 could these days be taken
as read. It was now right to go further, further even than Dei Verbum, by issuing an invitation for deeper investigation of the "senses of Scripture".
The case for historical criticism no longer needs to be made. It is practised throughout the
Catholic world, in every seminary and university, with varying degrees of fruitfulness. What is urgently needed
now is for this important first stage of interpretation to be enriched by an ecciesial 'reading in the Holy Spirit', following the lead of the Fathers of the
Father de la Potterie quotes one of the last articles written by Hans Urs von Balthasar to confirm the timeliness
of the decision to indude this section in the Catechism: in contemporary theology, says the Swiss theologian, nothing
is more necessary than 'a radical reflection on the sense of Scripture'. Summarizing the monumental work of his mentor Henri de Lubac, who wrote the classic history of the
fourfold sense, Balthasar says that this theory is 'not a curiosity of
the history, of theology but an instrument for seeking out the most profound articulations of salvation history'.
The Catechism's Use of Scripture
The Patristic principle - the New Testament is hidden in the Old, the Old is made plain in the New - is applied
consistently throughout the Catechism. For example, each of the Seven Sacraments is considered in the context of
the 'economy of salvation', as 'prefigured' in the Old Covenant. Thus, following the Fathers,
the Catechism finds the Sacrament of Baptism foreshadowed in the primeval waters of creation, the Flood, and the
Crossing of the Red Sea and the Jordan. Similarly, on the Sacrament of Order, we are told that 'all the prefigurations of the priesthood of the Old Covenant find their fulfilment in
Christ Jesus, the one "mediator between God and men"'.
With regard to the Four Gospels, the Catechism first quotes and then faithfully adheres to the forceful declaration
of Dei Verbum: 'Holy
Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy maintained and continues to maintain that the Four Gospels
..., whose historicity she unhesitatingly affirms, faithfully hand on what Jesus, the Son of God, while He lived
among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation'. Of the Resurrection of
Our Lord, the Catechism says that it was a 'real event', 'an event historically attested by the disciples who really
encountered the Risen Lord'. Of course, it was not just one event among many, but the
Event of all human history, a 'mysteriously transcendent' event, because it was 'the entry of Christ's humanity into
the glory of God'.
On the interpretation of Scripture as on so much else, the Catechism offers us healing wisdom. It is encouraging
us to rise calmly and confidently above the theories of the squabbling scholars, who break down without building
up, who make the Bible (especially the Gospels) look like a heap of confusing fragments, a mass of conflicting
messages. No, says the Catechism, the Scriptures have a unity, and that unity is Christ. These books contain no
error, and their first author is God. If we want to read them aright, then we must read them with the help of the
Holy Spirit in the Church.
The Catechism has been accused of being 'fundamentalist', 'uncritical', in its exegesis. In
fact, the Catechism shows itself to be serenely liberated from all fundamentalisms - from the mechanical literalism
of the Protestant sects, who read Scripture without the Church, but also from that more subtle fundamentalism of
the radical critic, who is uncritically attached to theses that are no more than probable. The
Informative Dossier, published by the Catechism's Editorial Commission in June 1992,
assures us that the Catechism 'does not want to be a study of scientific
exegesis, nor does it intend to present any exegetical hypotheses'. It seeks only to
'adhere to the methodology indicated by Dei
Verbum', to read and interpret Scripture, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, 'in the organic unity of Sacred Scripture, whose principal author is God'.
The Sources of the Catechism: Tradition
What is "Tradition"?
Coming from the Latin word tradere, 'to hand on', the noun 'Tradition' can have either an active
or a passive meaning: the thing that is handed on, or the act of handing on.
Following Dei Verbuin, the Catechism uses the word in
both senses. In its passive meaning, the thing handed on, Tradition is nothing other than the Gospel, the Word
of God handed on in the teaching and life of the Church. This is 'what
comes from the Apostles and transmits what they themselves received from the teaching and example of Jesus and
learnt from the Holy Spirit'. Tradition in this sense, the Apostolic Tradition, 'the faith that comes to us from the Apostles', is unchanging,
and is to be distinguished, says the Catechism, from those changeable 'traditions' which are 'particular forms in which the great Tradition expresses
itself in forms adapted to different places and times'; under the guidance of the Magisterium,
these traditions can be modified or even abandoned.
In its active sense, Tradition refers to the means by which the Church hands on, transmits, the Gospel of her Head.
The Apostles themselves did this in two ways: first, by word of mouth in their preaching, and then in written form
- the New Testament. Since the Gospel was to remain for ever and to be preached to all nations, 'the Apostles left the bishops as their successors and entrusted to them their own mission
of teaching'. Now, says the Catechism, it is 'this
living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit' that we call Tradition as distinct from Scripture. It then quotes a beautiful text from Dei Verbum:
by her living Tradition 'the Church, in her teaching, life, and worship,
perpetuates and hands on to every generation all that she is and all that she believes'.
In the new encyclical on the foundations of the Church's moral teaching, the Holy Father also quotes that text
and then gives us this commentary:
In the Holy Spirit, the Church receives and hands down the Scripture as the
witness to the "great things' which God has done in history (cf Luke 1. 49); she professes by the lips of
her Fathers and Doctors the truth of the Word made flesh, puts His precepts and love into practice in the lives
of her Saints and in the sacrifice of her Martyrs, and celebrates her hope in Him in the Liturgy.
The Comprehensiveness of the Catechism's Use of the Tradition
As the Holy Father here makes clear, the Tradition is a rich treasury: the teachings of Popes, the acts and dogmatic
definitions of Councils, the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church of the Middle Ages and later periods,
the liturgy, the canonical and disciplinary tradition, the lives of the saints, and sacred art. The Tradition in
all these aspects is deployed in the Catechism. Its presentation is truly comprehensive. It covers every age from
the sub-apostolic period to the twentieth century. It honours the Christian witness of men and women in every Christian
state of life: bishops, priests, deacons, male and female religious, and married lay people (St Nicholas of Flue,
St Thomas More). Both Christian East and West play their part. This Catechism is powerful proof that 'Catholic' does not just mean 'Latin'. Its compilers have gone out of their way to draw extensively on the theological, spiritual, and liturgical
traditions of the Byzantine and Syrian Churches. Within the West, all the major cultural traditions are represented,
including the English-speaking world (Julian of Norwich, St Thomas More, and John Henry Newman). The voices of
holy women, as well as holy men, are heard (Etheria, Catherine of Siena, Joan of Arc, Teresa of Avila, Thérèse
of Lisieux, Elisabeth of the Trinity). This womanly presence helps to refute the accusation of some feminists that
that the Catholic Church has never acknowledged the charism of women. In fact, the Catechism confirms the judgement
that women, following the Mother of God, have played an almost disproportionately influential role in the history
of Catholic spirituality.
The Fathers of the Church are the Catechism's chief source in the Tradition. They also
provide it with its model of what catechesis is. 'In the great age of
the Fathers of the Church holy bishops dedicated an important part of their ministry to catechesis.' The catechetical instructions of a St Cyril of Jerusalem, St John Chrysostom, St Augustine, and St
Ambrose are a permanent inspiration for all those engaged in religious education, and the Catechism draws on them
It is from the Fathers themselves that the Church learns to 'follow the
Fathers'. The Second Council of Nicaea (787), the seventh ecumenical council, when it
condemns the heresy of Iconoclasm, declares that it is 'following the
royal pathway and the divinely inspired teaching of the holy Fathers and the traditions of the Catholic Church'. According to St Thomas Aquinas, the Doctors of the early centuries have authority second only to Scripture.
Indeed, they provide us with our key to the Scriptures. According to the Council of Trent, 'no one [must] dare to interpret the Scripture in a way contrary to the unanimous consent of the
Fathers'. This was re-affirmed by the First Vatican Council. To read the Scriptures with
the Church means, first of all, reading them with the Fathers, which is one of the reasons why the Church requires
derics daily to read the Fathers in the Divine Office.
Pope John Paul II summarizes the Fathers' authority as follows:
All preaching of the Gospel and thus all subsequent teaching, if it is to
be authentic, must be compared to their preaching and teaching; every charism and every ministry must draw from
the living source of their paternity; every new stone added to the edifice that daily grows and extends (cf Eph.
2. 21) must insert itself into the structure they erected and be cemented and united to it.
But who are the Fathers of the Church? Traditionally, a Catholic divine has to fulfil four criteria
before he can be called a Father of the Church: antiquity, orthodoxy, approval by the Church, and sanctity.
Antiquity is usually taken to mean the period
of the first eight centuries, that is to say, the period of the first Seven Ecumenical Councils. Orthodoxy does
not mean the complete absence of error from their writings - no individual Father is inerrant - but simply faithful,
morally consistent adherence to the teaching of the Church. By tradition, St Gregory Nazianzen, the Greek Father
of the fourth century, also known as 'the theologian',
is the only Father to have been preserved from all error in his writings. Approval by the Church may be explicit
(when, for example, the Council of Chalcedon solemnly approves the letters of St Cyril of Alexandria and St Leo
the Great) or implicit (when, for example, the First Council of Constantinople in 381 confirms the Cappadocian
Fathers' defence of the divinity of the Holy Spirit). The Fathers are those whom Holy Mother Church recognizes
as authentic exponents of her faith. They are to be distinguished from those other 'ecclesiastical
writers' of the early Church, whose writings contain much that is sound and useful, but
who have not received the Church's approval and indeed may have incurred her censure (for example, Tertullian and
Origen). The most important expression of the Church's approval of the Fathers is her recognition of their sanctity.
These men taught what they lived and lived what they taught. The faith of the Fathers is living faith, faith formed
by charity and perfected by the Holy Spirit's Gifts of Wisdom and Understanding.
Hans Urs von Balthasar has pointed out with sadness the fact that, up to and including the age of the great Scholastics,
the Church's great theologians were all saints, whereas in the last seven hundred years Holy Mother Church has
discerned very few saints among the ranks of her scholars St John of the Cross, St Robert Bellarmine, and St Aiphonsus
Liguori are the only ones who spring to mind. Balthasar argues that one of the Church's most urgent tasks is to
heal the divorce between theology and holiness, between doctrine and life, between the dogmatic and the mystical.
I shall return to this important point later.
When we turn to the Catechism's actual use of the Fathers, we find that there is an almost equal number of Eastern
and Western Fathers. However, the Father most invoked is Latin - St Augustine of Hippo. This comes as no surprise.
As Pope Pius XI said, in words that have been quoted by our present Holy Father, 'of
those who have flourished from the beginnings of the human race down to our own days, none - or, at the most, very
few - could rank with Augustine for the very great acuteness of his genius, for the richness and sublimity of his
teachings, and finally for his holiness of life and defence of Catholic truth'.
The Catechism draws on St Augustine in all its parts. Its opening pages have an Augustinian phrase and concept
at their centre: man, we are told, is 'capable'
of God, made for God and restless till he rests in God. In the moral Third Part, 'Life
in Christ', when discussing the supernatural happiness to which God calls man, the Catechism
quotes the beautiful closing words of The City of God:
There we shall rest and we shall see. We shall see, and we shall love. We
shall love, and we shall praise. Behold what shall be in the end and shall not end.
The Catechism chose wisely. Augustine has few rivals in awakening the heart's longing for the
happy sight of the Trinity in Heaven.
Augustine is above all the Doctor of Grace, emphasizing both the necessity of grace and free human co-operation
with it. The Catechism reminds us that man's very 'preparation to receive
grace is already a work of grace'. The Hound of Heaven always has the initiative, calling,
inviting, stirring, moving. '[Grace] is necessary',
says the Catechism, 'to arouse and sustain our co-operation with justification
through faith, and with sanctification through charity'. It then goes on to quote St Augustine's work On Nature
and Grace: 'We ourselves truly operate, but we operate by co-operating
With God, who operates by going before us with His mercy'.
One of the Greek Fathers most quoted by the Catechism is St Irenacus. Once again, the Catechism's choice is not
St Irenaeus (c. 130 - c. 200) has been described by Hans Urs von Balthasar as the 'founding
father' of Catholic theology, the theological genius of the second century, relating
to St Justin Martyr as Mozart does to J. C. Bach. The Second Vatican Council appealed to his authority on a number
of occasions, especially in Dei Verbum on the transmission
of Divine Revelation. In 1986, while visiting the city of Lyon in France, where Irenaeus ministered as priest and
bishop and died as a martyr, the Holy Father praised his writings: in them, he said, we see 'a faith of youthful vitality expressing itself in sparkling words, arousing both our admiration
and our adherence'. Irenaeus, said the Pope, is 'the
theologian of God and man, the God who puts His glory in the living man, of man whose life consists in the vision
of God'. He is theologian of God and man because he is the great theologian of God-made-man,
the champion of 'God in flesh and blood' against
the Docetism of the Gnostics.
St Irenaeus is cited frequently throughout the Catechism on Revelation and Faith, on Creation, on the Incarnation
of the Word in the womb and through the faith of the Blessed Virgin, on the Holy Spirit, on the Church and her
Sacraments, especially Baptism and the Eucharist, on man's vocation to beatitude and on the resurrection of the
body. I should like to mention three places where I believe St Irenaeus' influence is particularly striking. First,
at the very beginning, when the Catechism is discussing the ecciesial nature of the act of faith (my little 'I believe' is sustained and carried by the mighty 'I believe' of the whole Church), it quotes St Irenaeus on the
unity of the faith amidst the diversity of nations and cultures from which the Church's members are drawn.
If the languages of the world are many, the content of the Tradition is one and the same. The Churches in Germany,
in Spain, those in the countries of the Celts, those in the East, in Egypt, in Libya, those at the centre of the
world do not differ in faith or in the Tradition.
Irenaeus could vouch for this unity with personal authority, for he was a Greek from Asia Minor who ended his days
as priest and bishop in the far West - in Gaul . Everywhere he travelled in the Catholic world, he found the same
rule of faith, the same Catholic truth.
Irenaeus' second major contribution to the Catechism is in the section on the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
The Catechism has restored 'the mysteries of the life of Jesus' to their proper place in Christology. In addition to presenting the dogma of the Hypostatic Union and
the meaning of the major 'titles' of Christ in the New
Testament, the Catechism unfolds the earthly life of the God-Man from His Virginal Conception to His Ascension.
It shows us that in the various stages of His life Our Lord is more than simply moral example - the model of childlike
obedience, of the Christian worker, and so on - though He is most certainly that. St Irenaeus' doctrine of 'recapitulation' is used to show how, in making His own the whole
human journey from the womb to the tomb, the Son of God has objectively renewed all human life, raised it up to
a dignity beyond compare.
The whole life of Christ is a mystery of 'recapitulation'. Whatever Jesus did, said or suffered, was aimed at restoring fallen man to his original vocation ...
'It was precisely for this that Christ passed through ages of life, thereby
restoring communion with God to all men'.
Bishop Christoph Schoenborn, who played such key role in the writing and revising of the Catechism, informs us
that the 'mysteries of the life of Jesus' section,
inspired as it is by the Fathers, indicates that we are called not only to imitation of Christ, but also to communion
of life with Him. It is, in fact, the Sacraments which 'prolong the mysteries
of His life and make us share in it'.
The third reference to St Irenaeus I should like to discuss is to be found in the Third Part on Morality, where
the Catechism reminds us that, while the Ten Commandments are part of Divine Revelation, they also teach us about
human nature, truths that, at least in principle, the natural reason of any man should be able to apprehend. In
other words, 'the Decalogue contains a privileged expression of the "Natural
Law"'. This is the text from Irenaeus that the Catechism quotes in support: 'From the beginning, God had rooted in the hearts of men the precepts of the natural law.
Then He recalled them to men's minds. This is the Decalogue.'
From the later Byzantine tradition, we should mention St Maximus the Confessor. Thanks to Balthasar's pioneering
work, Cosmic Liturgy, first published in 1941, Maximus
is now widely regarded as the towering giant of the seventh century, the author of the crowning synthesis of Greek
Patristic theology and spirituality, the defender of Christ's two natural wills and operations against the heresies
of his day. Many scholars believe that he can play an important part in the reunion of the Orthodox with the Catholic
Church. There are two reasons for that belief. First, Maximus offered a sympathetic explanation of the Filioque to a Cypriot monk who was puzzled by it: at the Council of Florence
and again today, that commentary can be most useful in the theological dialogue with the Orthodox. Secondly, Maximus,
who was a Greek through and through, was also a loyal servant of the Pope of the elder Rome. One of his energetic
testimonies to Roman primacy is quoted by the Catechism:
Ever since the Word came down to us and was made flesh, all the Christian
Churches scattered throughout the world have maintained, and continue to maintain, that the great Church in that
place [Rome] is the unique base and foundation, bacause, as the Saviour promised, the gates of Hell have never
prevailed over her.
Some of the most forthright defenders of the unique claims of the Roman Church and her Bishop
in the Patristic age are Greeks - St Cyril of Alexandria, St Maximus, St Theodore the Studite, to mention only
the best-known. The lives of these last two have a great contemporary relevance. They suffered at the hands of
Byzantine emperors who claimed an absolute power over the Church, even in spiritual matters. These 'Caesaropapist'
monarchs wanted to re-shape the Catholic faith in line with their culture and the political needs of the time.
Maximus and Theodore refused to conform in this way to 'the present age' (cf Born. 12. 2). They believed that the Bishop of Rome had a Christ-given power to support them in
their world-defying struggle. That power was, of course, the power of Gospel truth, the truth that sets us free.
By contrast, the 'Caesars who made themselves Popes'
sought to chain the minds of the faithful to worldly wisdom. In the seventh and eighth centuries, as in the twentieth,
the 'anti-Roman complex' meant enslavement to
The Middle Ages
The Fathers have a special authority for the Church. She has always felt that 'there
is something in the Fathers which is unique, irreplaceable and perennially valid'. They
came first in the post-apostolic history of the Church, and so there is a kind of undying spiritual youthfulness
about their writings; as Balthasar has said, they are like the diary that the Church wrote when she was still young.
The Fathers enjoy an undoubted primacy among the resources of her Tradition, and yet, for all that, they do not
constitute the sole content of Tradition. In his encyclical Mediator Dei, Pope Pius XII warned against romanticizing the liturgy of the early centuries, as if all other developments
- for example, in the Middle Ages and the post-Tridentine era - were corruptions. We should apply this warning
to theology. One of the relics of Jansenism is an arrogant and ignorant playing off of the Fathers against the
Middle Ages. The giants of Catholic theology in modern times - Petavius and Thomassinus in the seventeenth century,
Scheeben and Newman in the nineteenth, de Lubac and Balthasar in the twentieth - have never resorted to such false
oppositions and have done much to demonstrate the golden line of Catholic continuity between the Patristic and
medieval chapters of the Church's history. Catholicity is wholeness, the very opposite of selectivity. We cannot
pick and choose among the jewels of the Tradition. The Fathers shine with a special brilliance, but the theology
of the Middle Ages, monastic and Scholastic, also has a splendour that the Church does not want to lose.
The new Catechism applies this principle and draws on the works of among others, St Bernard of Claivaux, St Bonaventure,
St Catherine of Siena, and St Thomas Aquinas. St Thomas is, of course, cited more than any other medieval author,
but that is only fitting for the one who is the Church's 'Common Doctor'. Pope John Paul II has several times repeated the teaching of his predecessors, especially Leo XIII,
about St Thomas' unique place in the study and teaching of philosophy and theology. He is the 'Heavenly Patron of the Highest Studies'.
The Catechism draws on St Thomas on the senses of Scripture and on the virtue and act of faith, and in the third
part on law. However, he is also cited on the subject of prayer, which is fitting when we remember that the contemporary
accounts of St Thomas' life spend more time on the manner of his praying than on the content of his writing.
Even when not explicitly cited, St Thomas is presupposed throughout the Catechism, especially on morality and the
Eucharist. Following St Thomas, the Catechism demonstrates that Judaeo-Christian morality is above all one of happiness,
beatitude: the Triune God has placed in man's heart a desire for happiness, a yearning for truth and goodness,
that He alone can fulfil. 'God alone satisfies',
says the Catechism, quoting St Thomas on the Apostles' Creed. Sin is the sure way to unhappiness. 'Mortal sin destroys charity in man's heart through a grave violation of the law of God.
It turns many away from God, who is his final end and happiness, preferring to Him an inferior good'. In fact, the structure of the first chapter of the first section of the third part of the Catechism
bears a close resemblance to the Prima Secundae of the
Summa Theologiae: the same subjects are treated in more
or less the same order - our vocation to happiness, the freedom of man, man's acts and passions, the virtues, sin.
Similarly, on Our Lord's Real Presence in the Eucharist, like the Council of Trent before it, the Catechism, without
always citing him, follows Sr Thomas closely:
The Eucharistic Presence of Christ begins at the moment of consecration and
continues as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present, whole and entire, under each species and
under each part of the species, and so the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ.
I was delighted to see that the Catechism supports the traditional ascription of the hymn Adoro te devote, latens Deitas to St Thomas. This is quoted in the section
on the Real Presence.
Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.
Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived;
How says trusty hearing? That shall be believed;
What God's Son hath told me, take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly, or there's nothing true.
The whole Catechism is built on the principle lex orandi, lex credendi. The faith that the Church professes in her Creeds she celebrates and expresses in the liturgy. And so
the Catechism draws on the liturgical books not only of the Roman tradition but also of the Byzantine and Syriac.
The eastern Christian traditions are as much part of the Church's heritage as the western. The customs may be different,
but the faith is one.
For example, when it is encouraging us to come to Holy Communion with dispositions of 'humility and ardent faith', the Catechism quotes both the Roman Mass
and the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom:
Domine, non sum dignus ... Lord,
I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.
When expounding the Seven Sacraments, the Catechism gives a doctrinal commentary on the liturgical rite, again
drawing on both western and eastern sources. However, it is not only in the sacramental section that liturgical
texts are invoked. In presenting the Church's Christology, the Catechism explains how the Son of God is made man
without ceasing to be God and quotes to this effect both the Latin Liturgy of the Hours and the beautiful prayer
of the Emperor Justianian from the Greek Eucharistic liturgy.
Id quod fuit remansit et quod non fuit assumpsit ... He remained what He was and what he was not.
Throughout his pontificate, Pope John Paul II has made dear his great longing for the reunion of the separated
Eastern Churches with the Catholic Church. He prays constantly that the Church will once again breathe with her
two lungs, the East and the West, in full unison. He gave this theme particular emphasis during the Marian Year
(1987-1988), because, as he put it in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater, he wished 'to emphasize how profoundly the Catholic Church,
the Orthodox Church and the ancient Churches of the East feel united by love and praise of the Theotokos'. And so we fmd the Catechism quoting this Troparion from the Byzantine feast of the Assumption of Our Lady:
In giving birth, O Mother of God, thou hast retained thy virginity, and in
falling asleep thou hast not forsaken the world. Thou who art the Mother of Life hast passed over into life, and
by thy prayers thou dost deliver our souls from death.
In its fourth part, the Catechism shows that in the rich Marian prayers of the East and the western
Rosary, 'the tradition of prayer remains fundamentally the same'. 'Hail, O Mother of God and Maiden,'
so runs the Byzantine Ave Maria, 'Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit
of thy womb, for thou hast given birth to the Saviour of our souls.'
An important part of the Church's Tradition is her sacred art. The Catechism not only gives us teaching on the
dogmatic foundation of the making and venerating of sacred images, it also reproduces several works of Christian
art to illustrate its main sections. These are an essential, and not merely accidental, feature of the Catechism.
Furthermore, the compilers refer to the classical forms of the Byzantine icon to illustrate points of doctrine.
It is while discussing the liturgy in its second part that the Catechism repeats the teaching
of the Second Council of Nicaea (787) that what makes possible religious art is the Incarnation. It is 'the Incarnation of the Son of God which has inaugurated a new "economy" of images'. As St John Damascene wrote against the Iconoclasts of the eighth century:
In the past it was absolutely impossible for God, who has neither body nor
figure to be represented by an image. But now that He has made Himself visible in the flesh and has lived with
men, I can make an image of what I have seen of God.
Christian iconography has a twofold purpose. First, it teaches the faith by 'transcribing through image the Gospel message that Sacred Scripture transmits by word'. In the traditional phrase, it is 'the Gospel of the Poor', translating the history of salvation into visual form for the unlettered, confirming and enlightening
the faith of all. Secondly, the sacred images of Christ, His Blessed Mother, and the angels and saints deepen the
sense of the faithful on earth that when they gather for worship, especially for the Sacrifice of the Mass, they
are surrounded by a 'cloud of witnesses', caught
up into intimate communion with the Church Triumphant in Heaven. Images of the saints confirm and express our faith
that the blessed 'continue to participate in the salvation of the world'. Thirdly, as St John Damascene says, 'the beauty and the colour
of the images stimulate my prayer'.
In its third section, on the Ten Commandments, the Catechism explains that the making and venerating of images
of Christ and the saints does not contravene the divine prohibition of idols and quotes a famous text of St Basil
the Great - 'the honour rendered to an image goes back to the original
model' - and the teaching of the Second Council of Nicaea: 'Whoever venerates an image venerates in it the person therein depicted'. 'The honour given to holy images is "a respectful veneration",
not the adoration due to God alone'.
This is not the Catechism's last word on sacred art. When expounding the eighth commandment, 'Thou shalt not bear false witness', it teaches us that we must live in
the truth, and that truth is inseparable from beauty. The Divine Wisdom, through whom all things were made, is
the source of the beauty of the natural world, and man, made in God's image, 'expresses
the truth of his relationship to God the Creator by the beauty of his artistic works'.
As for sacred art, the vocation to practice it is a Chnstian vocation of the utmost nobility:
...to evoke and glorify, in faith and adoration, the transcendent mystery
of God, the supreme and invisible beauty of truth and love, which has been manifested in Christ, "the radiance
of His Father's splendour and the full expression of His being" (Heb. 1. 3, Knox), in whom "the whole
plenitude of the Godhead dwells bodily" (Col. 2. 9), the spiritual beauty that is refracted in the Most Holy
Virgin Mother of God, in the angels and in the saints. Authentic sacred art leads man to adoration, to prayer and
to the love of God, Creator and Saviour, Holy and Hallowing.
The Catechism concludes by reminding bishops of their duties in the sphere of liturgical beauty,
using the words of the Council:
The bishops ... must vigilantly promote sacred art,
ancient and modern, in all its forms, and, with the same religious care, keep from the liturgy and places of worship
everything that is not in conformity to the truth of the faith and the authentic beauty of sacred art.
The Lives of the Saints
Cardinal Ratzinger has said that the Church's two most powerful forms of apologetic are sacred art and the saints:
in the one case, beauty in stone and wood and paint; in the other, the beauty of holiness in human lives. In both,
we see reflections of the splendour of Christ's truth - enlightening, appealing, attracting.
The Catechism makes the lives - the words and the actions - of the saints one of its major sources. I have already
mentioned the extracts from the great scholars (the Augustines and the Thomases), but alongside these are moving
testimonies to the wisdom of those saints whose mission was not carried out chiefly with the pen: Joan of Arc,
Rose of Lima, John Vianney. Of the last of these, the Curé of Ars, under whose patronage this lecture was
given, the Catechism quotes this beautiful act of charity: 'I love you,
O my God, and my only desire is to love you to my last breath. I love you, O my infinitely lovable God, and I should
prefer to die loving you than to live without loving you.'
The Second Vatican Council describes the saints as 'friends and coheirs
of Jesus Christ, who are also our brothers and outstanding benefactors'. The Catechism
reveals to us the vast extent of this benefaction. The saints support us with their heavenly intercession, they
inspire us by their lives and example, and they deepen our faith and devotion by the writings they have left us.
In the Catechism, the saints appear as our teachers, leading us, through Christ and in the Holy Spirit, to a deeper
understanding of the Creed, the Sacraments, the Ten Commandments, and Prayer. As Balthasar says, the saints are
'the commentary on the Gospel written by the Holy Spirit Himself.
They are intercessors and instructors.
The Catechism proves to us that all the saints, in a certain way, are theologians - yes, even an unlettered peasant
girl like Joan of Arc. For what is theology if not the knowledge of God, and who knows God better than those who
have lived in intimate friendship with Him? We only love what we know, but once we love, our knowledge becomes
deeper: 'He who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love
does not know God, for God is love' (1 John 4. 7j).
No one affirmed more strongly than St Thomas the superiority and priority of the intellect over the will, and yet
he is equally adamant that in this life our knowledge of God is inferior to the love of God. The reason is simple:
in knowing God, we so to speak draw Him to ourselves and the ideas of our mind, but when we love God, we are drawn
up to Him as He is in Himself as Trinity. The fellowship of charity that the saint enjoys with Jesus and the Father
in the Holy Spirit helps to re-order his mind as well as his heart. He does not simply know 'about' the Lord; he
knows Him as friend. The science of the saints is the science of charity, and it is found on every page of the
By including references to such a wide variety of the Church's saints, the Catechism reminds us that all the baptized,
whatever their state of life, have a vocation to holiness, are called to be saints. As St Bernard of Clairvaux
said, 'the first wish ... which the memory of the saints inspires in us
and urges us to achieve is that we should enjoy their hoped-for company, striving to be fellow-citizens with, and
members of the household of the blessed'.
The Documents of the Magisterium
Scripture and Magisterium, by God's wise arrangement, are inseparable from each other, but also from the Magisterium,
the living Teaching Office of the Pope and the Bishops in the Church. This Office has received from Christ the
authority to interpret the Word of God in Tradition and Scripture.
The Catechism cites documents of the Magisterium both past and present - the professions of faith and definitions
of councils, both ecumenical and provincial, documents of the Popes, the Roman Catechism, and dedarations of Roman congregations. As the Roman Catechism was the Catechism of the Council of Trent, so this Catechism is the Catechism of the Second Vatican Council.
It is therefore that council which is quoted more abundantly than any other, just as the present Holy Father's
teaching receives more citations than that of any other Pope. However, the Catechism manifests at every stage the
profound continuity of Vatican II with all the Councils, from Nicaea I to Vatican I, that preceded it. In 1985
the Final Report of the Extraordinary Synod convoked on the twentieth anniversary of the close of the Council stated
this axiom: 'The Council must be understood in continuity with the great
Tradithm of the Church, and at the same time we must receive light from the Council's own doctrine for today's
Church and the men of our time. The Church is one and the same throughout all the Councils'.
Cardinal Ratzinger made the same point at about the same time in his famous 'Report'. We must avoid, he said, a
'before and after' mentality where Vatican II
is concerned. You cannot be 'for' Vatican II and against Trent and Vatican I, nor, for that matter, can you be
for Trent and Vatican I and 'against' Vatican II. Sadly, though, there have been many who have thought in these
terms. The late Cardinal de Lubac suggested that round about 1968 a sinister 'meta-Council' first made its appearance, though it had been in the shadows since 1962, with the express intention
of suppressing Trent and Vatican I.
Like all their predecessors at earlier councils, the Fathers of Vatican II made repeated, vigorous declarations
of continuity with the Tradition. The preface to Dei Verbum
explicitly affirms the continuity of its teaching on Divine Revelation with that of Trent and Vatican I. Lumen Gentium explains in its first paragraph that its exposition of the
mystery of the Church is based on 'the tradition laid down by earlier
Councils', and at the beginning of its chapter on the hierarchical constitution of the
Church we are told that the sacred synod intends to 'follow in the steps
of the First Vatican Council'.
Vatican II was a council of tradition. Its debt to the Church's living past can be seen in the copious footnotes
of its documents. In Lumen Gentium there are over one
hundred and thirty references to the Church Fathers. Then there is its use of the ordinary teaching of the Popes
of the twentieth century. Over the last twenty years, we have constantly heard superficial contrasts made between
the teaching of Pius XII and that of the Council. In fact, of course, as Pope John Paul II has pointed out, the
pontificate of Pius XII - in Biblical studies, liturgy, and much else - was a preparation for the Council. This
is reflected in the remarkable statistic that Pope Pius XII is quoted more frequently in the conciliar texts than
any other single source apart from Sacred Scripture. Time and again, it is the great encyclicals of his pontificate
that lie behind and illuminate the teaching of Vatican II.
There is one final case of continuity I should like to mention, and that is the new Catechism's dependence on the
Roman Catechism, usually known as the Catechism of the Council of Trent. This can be seen, first of all, in their
structure. Both have four parts - the Creed, the Sacraments, the Commandments, the Our Father. There is this difference,
though: whereas the Roman Catechism makes the Sacraments
its longest part, the new Catechism gives most attention (39% of the total document) to the Creed. Within the first
part, the new Catechism follows the old in pointing out that the Creed has three sections, corresponding to the
Three Divine Persons. The faith that we profess is faith in the Trinity, just as the life of grace that we live
is nothing other than a share in the very life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
4. Conclusion: A Second Spring
I began with Cardinal Newman, and with him I shall end. This is appropriate for several reasons. First, because
he is one of the Catechism's sources, and by that I do not just mean that he is quoted by it. The Catechism is
in an important sense the Catechism of Vatican II, but the Council was in a way the Council of Newman. In its use
of Scripture and the Fathers, in its teaching on the threefold office of the Church (magisterial, sacerdotal, and
pastoral), in its emphasis on the laity's secular mission and call to holiness, Vatican II fulfilled much for which
Newman in his lifetime had worked and prayed. My second reason for closing this lecture with Newman is that he
was the herald of the 'Second Spring'. This
is the title of the sermon he preached at the first synod of the newly restored English hierarchy on July 13, 1852.
In an era which worshipped progress -'The past is out of date; the past
is dead' - the seemingly impossible had taken place: 'The
past has returned, the dead lives'. After centuries of 'dungeon,
fire, and sword', when priests, were butchered just for being priests, after the long
cold years when Catholics were shunned and despised, the full hierarchical structure of the Church had once again
become visibly present and active in England's green and pleasant land. 'The
world grows old', said Newman, 'but the Church
is ever young'. God has given his Church a Second Spring.
I believe that, through the ministry of Pope John Paul II, God is giving His Church the beginnings
of a new springtime, and the Catechism (together with the recent encyclical Veritatis
Splendor) are the tangible buds, the first promise, of happier and warmer days to
come. For a generation now we have been suffering a spiritual winter of dissent and destruction. I do not have
to enumerate the errors, abuses, and aberrations - in doctrine, in morals, and in worship - that pain our Redeemer's
Sacred Heart and obscure the true beauty of His Bride. Those problems are still with us. Like Newman, in speaking
of Pope John Paul's 'Second Spring', I do not
want to encourage a naive optimism. The winter of discontent is not over. Newman reminded his audience in 1852
that the Church's 'Second Spring' would probably
be more like an English Spring than an Italian one: 'an uncertain, anxious
time of hope and fear, of joy and suffering, of bright promise and budding hopes, yet withal of keen blasts and
cold showers and sudden storms'.
Through his present Vicar, through this Catechism, the risen Christ is renewing the youth of Church, leading her
out of the frozen valleys and into the uplands of green. But He requires the co-operation of her members. The spiritual
battle goes on; our adversary, the devil, has not abandoned his attacks, and we cannot cease to be vigilant. But
we do have good reason for hope. Christus vincit ...
The Catholic memory is being stirred. The sense of continuity in our Tradition is re-awakening. The Catechism is
a magnificent demonstration of the splendour of the Catholic faith - its inexhaustible richness, its unfathomable
depth. The hollowness of the Neo-Modernist theologies stands exposed for all to see. We must now seize the day,
this Spring day, and make the Catechism our own, share it with our children, build our religious education programmes
upon it, study it, discuss it, use it for our prayer and meditation. Finally, may I suggest, taking my lead from
Newman, that we commend the Catechism in a special way to the One who is the very embodiment of the Catholic memory
- Our Blessed Lady, who never ceased treasuring the things of Jesus in her heart. She is the Church's supreme model
in faith and charity and union with Christ, and, one might add, in catechesis. Her whole mission is to bring Christ
to men and men to Christ. In her great appearances this century and last, she calls her children back to deeper
faith, to devout use of the Sacraments, to conversion of life, and to unceasing prayer - the full programme of
the Catechism. The compilers of our new text have taken special pains to make Mary present throughout the Catechism
as our Mother and model. At the very beginning, she appears as the most perfect realization of Christian believing,
and at the end she teaches us the secret of Christian prayer. We are called not only to pray like and with her,
but also to her 'now and at the hour of our death'.
'The prayer of the Church is, as it were, sustained fry the prayer of
Mary, to which it is united in hope.'
Let me therefore conclude with Newman's words and dedicate to Mary our efforts to bring a new Spring to the Church
through the Catechism.
Shine on us, dear Lady, with thy bright countenance, like the sun in his strength,
O stella matutina, O harbinger
of peace, till our year is one perpetual May. From thy sweet eyes, from thy pure smile, from thy majestic brow,
let ten thousand influences rain down, not to confound or overwhelm, but to persuade, to win over thine enemies.
O Mary, my hope, O Mother undefiled, fulfil to us the promise of this Spring.
Our Lady of the Catechism, pray for us.
Copyright © John Saward, 1994 and 2001
This article comprises a slightly edited version of a lecture given to Catholic
audiences in the United States of America in preparation for the appearance of the English language edition of
the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The author, John Saward, taught at Ushaw, England for several years and was then Professor of Dogmatic Theology
at the Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Pennsylvania, U.S.A. Since 1998 he has been Professor of Dogmatic Theology
at the International Theological Institute (a Papal institute of graduate theology in Gaming, Austria). The above
article originally appeared as a booklet published by CRUX Publications Limited and is reproduced with permission.
This Version: 7th February 2003