By Canon F. H. Drinkwater
ALL this January and February I was Acting Deputy Heavenly Father to a dozen sparrows who live in the hedge a few yards from my window. At least there were a dozen or so at the beginning, but only four or five to greet the final thaw.
The others died of pneumonia or something I suppose; I swear it wasn't from starvation. They don't seem to have the sense to avoid the east winds. Animal sufferings are not easily explicable, and sparrows make things much worse for themselves by quarrelling such a lot, althost as if they were reasoning beings.
Presumably, with all due adjustments made for the analogy of proportionality, if you know what 1 mean, God feels about us somewhat as I feel about these sparrows. In spite of their quarrelling i don't feel like blaming them too much, and I should blame them even less if I had made them myself. They need punishing, if you like or would except for their entirely diminished responsibility; but it didn't occur to me to cut down their
rations they make their own punishment enough.
All this turns one's mind, seasonably enough in Lent, to the problem of evil and its various aspects. It is one of the sampling points I always turn to in a new catechism, so what does the new Australian catechism have to say about it?
The new Catechism for Australia
The Australian Catechism Book One (for say ten-year-olds-plus) is an imitation of the German Catechism but an improvement on it. The German Catechism was a "break-through" in as much as it got away from Counter-Reformation controversy; it was also determinedly scriptural, it aimed at a large and generous theology. Against it was the fact that it was a school-book. a doughy, heavy, rather formidable school-book. Somewhat depressing, as the young von Hegel said about Newman; he found himself wondering how anybody so good and so wise could possibly be "so depressing" — he must have caught 'the great man on one of his off-days, with another cold coming on.
The Australian Catechism is still a school-book. but a much better one, it seems to me. To
begin with, it is a two-year course instead of three, and its arrangement is more straightforward (it follows the plan of the Catechism of Trent, that is of our present catechism except that Sacraments follow straight on the Creed). It is more fresh and crisp somehow: compare the two catechisms for instance in their lessons on Pentecost.
All the same, it is a schoolbook (which was presumably the assignment given to its authors) and one could wish it wasn't, but for better or worse this seems to be the present trend. All my life I have lived under a cloud (well, a nice little pleasant, shady, wispy sort of cloud, you know what I mean) because people who wouldn't read my books would have it that I wanted to abolish the catechism; whereas it really looks as if I shall soon be the last surviving defender of catechisms in their traditional format, used as a doctrine summary for the clergy instructing at Mass. Personally, I have never seen much wrong with the question-and-answer way of stating things; it makes for brevity and clarity and positively invites amplifications end recourse to
Does God really . punish'?
However, even if this Australian Catechism is a school-book, it is a good one of its kind. The problem of evil is a bit of a mystery, and the best any catechism can do with the Fall is to represent it as a "felix culpa", necessary in a way to bring us so mighty a Redeemer.
T h e Australian catechismmaker does his best to make Adam and Eve's "No" to God seem understandable: "they gave way to pride; they thought so much of themselves that they thought more of themselves than of God: they turned away from Him in hatred". "Hatred" may seem a strong word, and yet (one reflects) there must surely be some truth in it.
When we turn to the Teacher's Book, page 39, we get some more light. It insists that Adam's sin must be represented as really serious, not just comparable with the disobedience of a child taking secretly a piece of fruit at home. (And indeed. one might imagine some children feeling unduly guilty about feelings of "hatred" towards their parents). "Everything we can do to convince children that sin is a free choice of the will acting under knowledge, not the mere exterior act, is valuable. Many children, and many adults, do not appreciate this point. Make them see what Adam lost was the result of his own act, and not an arbitrary infliction of punishment from without, just as blindness would be the result if a man deliberately destroyed his own eyes."
Yes, our Australian friend has something there. God's "punishments" (personally I would always prefer to call them God's "judgments") are always like that, aren't they, what you might call consequential: as far as possible remedial in intention, never mere retribution. When the Lord says Vengeance is mine, I will repay, 1 guess He is not merely asserting His prerogatives, bus telling us that His idea of vengeance is quite different from ours.
Those 6th and 9th Commandments
The Teacher's Book continues, on the results of original sin: "Too many adults, do not appreciate unruliness of impulse only in terms of sex. We can show our pupils how it affects them in other ways without mentioning sex".
Later on, under the Sixth Commandment, the Teacher's Book has further comment on this point :
"When we do give a lesson on purity we will make sure not to put on a special manner of portentous importance, not to use a special voice, not to isolate purity from the rest of the Christian life.
"We will make sure, also, that we know what we are talking about, and be careful not to be stricter than God. Children can get a false conscience. with unfortunate effects when they reach puberty and afterwards, even in marriage." It is all too possible to give the impression "that the body and sex are, if not wrong. at least of little worth, and that it is best for us to try to act, as far as possible, as if we were disembodied spirits. Such an attitude is quite contrary to Christian truth. God made us men and women, and whether the vow of chastity, or marriage, or single life in the world, is our vocation, we shall reach heaven as men and women."
See what I mean? Behind this Australian Catechism and its Teacher's Guide, one feels there is a mind, not just a hundred committees.