Adult education in theology
By Bernard Tucker
IT is gradually becoming accepted in this country that we need an informed laity since the Church cannot function efficiently if she is lopsided.
The layman's part is being defined and he must he prepared to accept his full share in the life of the Church. An informed laity means a body of "educated Catholics".
These are Catholics who have tried to rationalise their beliefs, to think, to read. to discuss and to act. A Catholic university teacher with the religious outlook of a fifteen-year-old is not an "educated Catholic'.
Being an educated Catholic does not, of course, assure us of salvation, our does it make one of necessity a more spiritual person than an uneducated Catholic.
In the huedreds of Catholics who are keying universities and colleges each year we have the nucleus of our educated laity. It does not follow by any means that only those can become educated Catholics, but Since they have been taught to think and to rationalise they are at a distinct advantage.
But one does not become an educated Catholic simply by enjoying the benefits of higher education. One needs to continue "studying" (for want of a better word) one's Faith and to try to bring this study into line with one's study of secular subjects.
Here the difficulty starts. Most Catholics receive some sort of religious education up to school leaving age. After they leave school they are on their own. Occasionally they may receive some help from the pulpit and if they take the initiative they can read books and meet other Catholics for discussion.
If we assume — and I think correctly — that very little help will come from the pulpit and assume that very few Catholics can afford most of the few worthwhile books which arc on sale. or have the time to read them, then we are still faced with the difficulty.
The Catholic in his early twenties, starting his career. perhaps newly married, has little time, money or inclination to continue his religious education. Yet the paradox remains that we must have educated Catholics.
There is a large minority of laymen who are already on the right road as far as this goes. Those who have received part of the training for the priesthood or the religious life have often been able to equip themselves with much of the intellectual impedimenta required.
They have a respotssiblity to put this knowledge at the disposal of
their fellow laymen and the Church in general. Conversely, the clergy have a duty to make good use of these men and not to look on them (as some priests do — to their eternal shame) as "failed priests" and nothing more.
I am tempted here to ask whether our clergy can be classed as educated Catholics. It is often one's misfortune to meet priests. whose pastoral dedication and personal holiness are undoubted, but who have even less idea than many of the laity of what is going on around them in the Church.
One has even heard priests dismissing the Council as "irrelevant" and learned liturgical scholars as "liturgical cranks.' These remarks. it is true, often fall on deaf ears since many Catholics have little idea of what is meant by either "Council" or "liturgy".
However, any layman who is both educated and who has done some reading will know that neither of the two attitudes expressed above is true.
To return to the problem. The first suggestion would tackle the difficulty at its fundamental stages —while young Catholics arc undergoing higher education. In this way they could assimilate a more adult approach to Christianity while their minds are being trained in neuter subjects.
This would in part Obviate the
need for the hard task of tackling higher religious education on graduatirg or leaving college. In case this snands like compulsory "R.I." for the post-eighteens let me quickly point out that I am thinking in terms of those who want to avail themselves of these opportunities.
Many Catholics are only too glad to stop thinking about their Faith when they leave school and to tick over spiritually without thinking too much. I am not condemning these people. However, experience of our universities arid colleges haeshown me that a good percentage of young Catholics are unhappy with the Catechism and a few prayers and want to keep au fait with what is going on iii the Church by reading: listening, discussing and acting.
How many Catholics have more than the slightest idea what lies behind the various debates in the Council? How many are content to have anything more than the Catechism spelt out for them simply by the Catholic press? Many want to see as much as possible made available to them so that they can truly sentire rum ecelesia, so that they can think with the Church and move with the Church.
But what is being done at present? Th.: situation in our uni
yersities is far from cheerful. Without elaborating, one does not really see the university Catholic societies and chaplaincies providing this advanced training.
I may add, somewhat euphemistically, that this state of affairs cannot be blamed on the many excellent Catholic societies and chaplaincies at work in our universities.
Apart from a change of policy at the tap, what is needed is money and fresh thinking about what is supposed to happen in our chaplaincies and university Catholic societies.
Competence Even on a purely material basis we must not forget that it is 1,05s i ble for a man or woman to go through university straight into teaching in a Catholic school (and to teaching Religion there) having done nothing in the three years at university to progress beyond what he or she learned (or slept through) during school Religion lessons.
Nor is everything perfect in our all-Catholic colleges. A look at these will show that there is not the manpower nor the man hours to ensure that everyone leaving to teach Religion in our schools is fully equipped with the self
knowledge or the know how.
In our schools and colleges it is not unknown for Catholics of often mature years and often with ample secular academic qualifications and teaching experience to demur when asked to teach Religion on the grounds that they don't "feet competent". If they don't "feel competent" then who should. My Second suggestion concerns the work one can do for oneself. Not every layman can become a Frank Sliced, but many of us graduate or non-graduate — given the desire, could read for ourselves and find out what our Faith is really about.
For reasons which any publisher will disclose, Catholic books arc often astronomically priced and more than two or three carefully chosen books are beyond the reach of most of us.
Es it too much to ask that every parish or group of parishes should have a lending library stocked with up-to-date and worthwhile books?
Libraries Immediately one must eschew the idea of the usual parish library of dusty manuals of devotion, lives of the saints and worse, near saints. Cut what of a library stocked with the basic books on Theology, Scripture, Liturgy. Church History and so on: a library where the layman could inform himself about Vatican Councils, new approaches to Theology, the latest Scriptural scholarship or the beliefs of other Christians?
One is not asking for a learned library but for a few basic texts. One is tempted to wish that the average parish priest already had such books on his own shelves instead of, perhaps, books on Cricket. Anyone who hae lived in or visited a seminary or religious institution must miss the ready contact with lively Catholic books and especially periodicals. It is sometimes possible to order books through public lending libraries, but many of the booka one wants to read are too esoteric even for the regional lending Systems.
Naturally, it is only a small percentage of Catholics who would avail themselves of this higher education but no harm would come from the experiment. At the moment it is useless to talk of the part the laity should play if the opportunities are not readily available for the laity to read. discuss and understand what is going on in the Church.
At the moment most of us are groping in the dark eagerly accepting any titbits of information tossed to us. Whose fault is it if some of these titbits are i gFeas Failing an improvement in the opportunities offered in our universities and cblleges then some effort might be made at parish or organisation level to provide opportunities for Catholic higher education.
Discussion groups and lectures would he needed to supplement parish libraries. We might perhaps think in terms of evening classes or Follow the lines of our secular adult education. Every effort must be made to ensure that we produce a large spearhead of educated and informed laymen and laywomen.
Lest.' be accused of theorising, it must be pointed out that all this must end in action — in an interchange with other Christians, in properly orientated social action. in enlarging the confines of the Christian life so that all our outward Christian activity is both grounded on a full realisation of Christianity and follows on from mental activity.
One can only hope that an educated spearhead might lead to a general awakening of a majority of those laymen who are dormant at present so that whatever comes from the Council would not have to be explained to us or kept frqm US. We would be following these exciting days within the Church and trying to understand what is going on so that we could once more be a living and vocal part of the Church instead of a silent, almost ignorant majority as we are at present.