By CANON F. H. DRINKWATER
Basic Teachings for Catholic Religious Education, by the United States National Conference of Catholic Bishops. (Publications Office, 1312 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington.) This 36-page booklet, though not apparently on sale in the ordinary way, is nevertheless something to be attended to. It may be described as an official effort at first-aid in the catechetical crisis which has followed on the confusions among the theological and scriptural experts during the last ten years or so. Anyhow it all explainsthe appearance of this official booklet of Basic Teachings.
The interested reader will remember that in 1971 the Holy See produced a well-considered remedy for the crisis in the shape of a General Catechetical Directory which among lesser matters laid down pretty clearly the essential doctrine that should be taught.
This document (available from CTS Doc 443, 25p) was "chiefly intended for bishops" and suchlike, 'and the idea was that in due course each Bishops' Conference would produce a similar directory, adapting methodology and presentation (but certainly not the Doctrine itself) to their own region and culture. All this was simply carrying out a directive of Vatican II (Decree on Pastoral Office of Bishops, No 44). So large a plan has hardly got off the ground yet. In England and Wales, for instance, Fr Kevin F. Nichols has been com missioned to draw up our National Catechetical Directory, has set up an office at 41 ,Cromwell Road, London, SW7, and has described his approach in The Sower for October, 1974 (of which he is now the Editor). The preliminaries are conceived in terms of years rather than months.
In the United States also a national planning "supremo" has been appointed. Assisted by large financial resources and a Parkinson's-law proliferation of offices and personnel, he has embarked on a vast coast-tocoast series of drafts and consultations, recalling those preceding the German Catechism 20 years ago. One begins to think almost in decades rather than years.
Meanwhile the catechetical confusion in America has been far worse than here; from this distance it looks like anarchy, but no doubt the average priest or teacher just soldiers on in his place regardlees of the barrage scleaming overhead.
It is just an interim attempt to hold the doctrinal line until such time as the real National Catechetical Directory gets born. No author or authors of it are named, but presumably responsibility would be taken by Bishop Rausch, present Secretary to the Conference. The résumé of basic doctrine follows closely that in the General Catechetical Directory of 1971, and constant references are given to this, also to Scripture and to Vatican II. (If there is mention of the Baltimore Catechism, it has escaped my notice).
Trinity, Creation, Incarnation, Church, Sacraments, Christian Moral Teaching (with the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes as basiS), the need of Prayer, the Scriptures, the Virgin Mary, and the Last Things, are all described, not too baldly, but with a certain undercurrent of feeling which could communicate itself to a catechist.
And about the Resurrection the writer says "risen truly and literally." Amen to that! One odd little discrepancy is a variation in the translating of Pope Paul's Credo, on original sin. Let me set out the two versions, for comparison: English CTS (Doc 410) "Consequently, fallen human nature is deprived of the economy of grace which it formerly enjoyed. It is wounded in its natural powers and subjected to the dominion of death which is transmitted to all men. It is in this sense that every man is born in sin."
US Bishops (P17) "It is human nature so fallen, stripped of the grace that clothed it, injured in its own natural powers and subjected to the dominion of death, that is tran • smitted to all men — and it is in this sense that every man is born in sin."
Which translation is the more correct I must leave to Vaticanologists. The transatlantic one seems more favourable to the newer theories on this topic, as well as making better sense in itself.
Will the Basic Teachings succeed in bringing "conservatives" and "progressives" closer together? Alas, it seems unlikely. The "progressives" apparently gave it a cool welcome, and have now countered it (so to speak) by producing their own readinglist for use with it: "A Study for Basic Teachings for Catholic Religious Education."
This was issued • from the Religious Education — CCD Division of the National Conference itself, and (according to retired Archbishop Robert J. Dwyer, a muchquoted writer in ultraconservative journals, but no mere foaming fanatic) includes some books which "betray an ultra-liberal and modernist
b n"e book named is Bishop JohnA, T. Robinson's "Honest i as.o
to God." I suppose I must be about the only cleric in the North Atlantic countries who has never read this book, so I must be careful what I say; doubtless it has many merits, but if recommended to our average catechist would it not merely pass on its perplexities to our pupils and catechumens? And would not most ot us say the same about another of the recommended books, Fr Raymond Brown's intrepid tightrope-walking act about the Virginal Conception and the Resurrection?
But whatever may be the outcome of the seeming disharmony within the conference organisation itself, (and indeed the organisation itself seems to be now in the throes of reorganisation) one has to congratulate the American hierarchy on having got off to a flying start in the Catechetical Directory Stakes. If only it were just a sport! Or even a scholarly academic diversion !