THE Second Plenary Council of
The Second Plenary Council of
the Philippines (PCP II) has been a learning experience. In 1990,
I was asked to join the Commission of the Religious which prepared
the PCP II document on religious life. I also became a participant
of the Council. After the Council, I was asked to teach a course
of PCP II for our Adult Theological Education Program (ATEP) at
MST. I also had to give several talks. The article is the abbreviated
text of the talk which I prepared for my CICM confreres. It was
published in Chronica-CICM 61(1991), 189-192
In 1988, the Philippine Bishop's
Conference started a journey towards the revitalization of the
Church and the renewal of the Catholic faith by drawing up the
first plans for PCP II. "Revitalization"
are indeed the key words of PCP II which intended to launch a
new evangelization of the Philippine Church. Preparatory work
consisted in producing seven working papers. The drafts were circulated
and reworked on the basis of the reactions of the people of God.
These seven papers (christian life, religious concerns, social
concerns, Church and society, laity, religious, clergy) became
the agenda of the Council, which lasted from 20 January to 17
February, 1991. Participating were 93 bishops, 226 priests (some
of them religious), 12 religious sisters, 2 religious brothers,
and 156 lay-persons. After the discussion of the seven papers,
the Council decided to rework them and bring them together into
one document. This final document and the different recommendations
were again discussed and voted upon. The document will now be
polished and sent to Rome for approval.
A New Experience About the Philippine
What did I learn during this Council?
Before anything else, the Council has been for me an experience
of being a Church-community on a journey towards a new encounter
with Jesus of Nazareth. Many of us experienced for the first time
in the Filipino Church a free and open discussion between bishops,
priests, religious and laypersons in which everybody was able
to contribute. The life testimony and the humble listening attitude
of many of our brothers bishops certainly left a deep imprint
on the participants and we can only hope that this experience
will be continued in the nest phase of the Council. During the
Council, we somehow had a life experience of what it means to
be a Church-community of disciples in which everybody participates.
This may be more important than the final document which had to
incorporate many compromise formulations and has still to undergo
a Roman scrutiny.
The ideas which this PCP-II experience
produced are now new. The Council basically tried to align the
Philippine Church with the Vatican II and the Post-Vatican II
renewal. The imperatives which we find in the Latin American and
in some Federation of Asian Bishop's
Conference documents became the framework for renewal. First,
we need a Church-community of disciples of Jesus of Nazareth,
in which everybody takes up his/her responsibility. The development
of Basic Ecclesial communities, participation of the laity, and
a new evangelization became the key priorities for the revitalization
of the Church. Secondly, this Church should be in dialogue with
and in service of the Filipino people. The Council reiterated
in the strongest terms its commitment to the building of a just
and peaceful society. Such a commitment will be manifested, among
others, in our preferential option for the poor, in the involvement
of Catholics in the building up of society, in our efforts to
become a truly inculturated Church, in our stewardship of the
gifts of nature.
Tensions in the Journey
These pastoral and missionary
priorities of the Philippine Church have not always been formulated
in a straight-forward fashion. PCP-II also suffered from the tensions
which we witnessed in the Church at large after Vatican II. One
morning during the Council, I was struck by a book which some
bishops carried along during the Council : The New Code
of Cannon Law. I myself was equipped with the Documents
of Vatican II, while a brother layman who was sitting nest
to me brought along his Bible. Codex, Vatican II documents and
Bible. : they may be a symbol of the trajectory we have been traveling
after Vatican II. Many Church leaders are trying to undo the impetus
of Vatican II by imprisoning the Council into a body of laws.
PCP II followed the restrictive interpretation of the Codex in
its voting process which gave only to the bishops a deliberative
vote after "consulting"
the clergy and laity. Vatican II put us on a journey : from a
Church centered on clergy and sacraments to a Church centered
on lay persons and the Word of God. My brother layman with his
Bible symbolizes somehow for me the vision of Vatican II: to have
a Church in which the whole people of God read the signs of the
times in the light of the Bible in order to bring Jesus'
dream of the Kingdom towards our present-day world and society.
A new Church which receives its vitality from an active laity
will hopefully be born. This Church will also produce a new type
of priest : priests servant-leaders of the community. Such a vision,
however, will not be realized without a long struggle for reform.
Ecclesia semper reformanda est(The Church is
constantly in need of reform).
First, we are caught after Vatican
II Council in a tension between two Church models: the Church
as perfect hierarchical society versus the Church as people of
God, community in service. This tension manifested itself during
PCP II, especially in the struggle to get the document on the
clergy accepted by the Council. The final draft proposed a vision
of the priesthood in terms of sevant-leader in the midst of a
community in which everybody shares in the priestly, prophetic
and kingly functions of Christ. Many of our clergy, supported
laypersons, saw their universe of holy mediators, possessing sacred
powers, threatened by such a new perspective. The test of the
final draft which presented a critical analysis of Church and
priesthood in the Philippines was discarded. Society can be critically
analyzed, but our Church is apparently not yet willing to submit
itself to a critical scrutiny. The original document was also
recast in terms which will allow the sacred, hierarchical priest
to continue regning over his flock. The hierarchical Church did
not yet become a ministerial Church.
Secondly, our Church has to serve
the Filipino nation by entering into a creative partnership with
all people of goodwill. Our Church in the Philippines has for
a long time imposed its will on the political community, at least
for certain aspects of human life, while Catholics on the other
hand put themselves "above
politics" and refused
to dirty their hands. PCP II proposed a new attitude in which
the Church would take a clear option for the poor and also translate
this option in an effective presence of Catholics within the socio-political
realm. Many times during the Council, however, we had to hear
this warning: "careful,
brothers and sisters, it should be a non-exclusive option for
the poor, do not forget the rich!"
Indeed, we don't forget anybody.
Our Christian God of justice and love convoked us all, rich and
poor without exclusion, to serve the least of our brothers and
sisters and to help create a kingdom of justice, peace and equality.
Finally, we witnessed during PCP
II the struggle to get away from the idea that as Catholics, we
the total revealed deposit of truths. God is still addressing
us, and in a pluralistic society, God may well speak to us through
the people who do not belong to our mother Church. The struggle
manifested itself clearly when the issue of religious freedom
was debated. Vatican II's
position on religious freedom had to be accepted, yet some bishops
reminded the participants that religious freedom does not mean
that Catholics can now accept whatever they find in harmony
with their personal conscience. "Let
us not forget : there is the magisterium of the bishops, and 'religious
assent' is needed, even for
the non-infallible teaching. The magisterium will take care of
informing our conscience."
The idea that the magisterium of bishops can also function within
"the sense of faith"
of the whole community did apparently not yet dawn on the mind
of some members of the hierarchy.
Hope ... for Implementation
PCP II is finished. Long live
the Council! A group of enthusiastic participants bid one another
farewell during the celebration at the Manila Cathedral on February
17, 1991. It is a pity that this enthusiasm cannot immediately
be transferred to the many Catholics communities all over the
Philippines. The final document needs a Roman blessing. Some bishops
kept reminding us that the document has to be sent to Rome. Is
this not a sign that we are not yet allowed to be a local Church?
The papal blessing will hopefully arrive very soon because a journey
was started in 1988, found a powerful expression during the PCP
II and has now to be continued. In his opening address, we were
told by archbishop Legaspi, the president of PCP II : "it
does not befit us to produce mere cosmetic changes."
The Council formulated a new pastoral Charter for the Filipino
Church. May this Charter lead a renewed Catholic Church, in service
of the Filipino nation, into the Third Millennium.
The Hidden Motives of Pastoral
In teaching ecclesiology, I constantly
wonder why the beautiful ideas of Vatican II Council never got
fully implemented. The same can be said about PCP II. The book
of Juan Luis Segundo, The Hidden Motives of Pastoral Action(Maryknoll
: Orbis, 1978) gave me some answers. I used for many years the
summary of this book which I slightly paraphrased for the Philippine
situation. My students kept asking for the Filipino author of
this book because they recognize in Segundo's
analysis many aspects of our own Philippine situation. This is
the first publication of my paraphrased book review.
In the choice of a pastoral approach,
we need to boldly confront the situation and try to evaluate the
reasons for the stagnation in our pastoral activity. Notwithstanding
signs of a dynamic, youthful Church in some dioceses of the Philippines,
we cannot but be struck by a pastoral approach of preservation
which seems to cling to a passive majority Christianity. The Church
often does not appear as a missionary, liberative community, which
keeps going by importing personnel and economic support from abroad.
What a exactly is going on?
In order to understand why it
seems so difficult to make a new start in the missionary outreach
of the Church, we have to consider two facts. First, we have to
analyze the rapid social changes that take place in society. Secondly,
we have to pay attention to the defense mechanisms against such
a change, especially within the Church. The Church's
pastoral approach seems to be trapped in its efforts to protect
and maintain a christian majority which is threatened by social
change. It has still to realize that the social mechanisms of
present-day society have totally undermined the foundations on
which the majority Christianity of old was built.
First, we witness an extremely
rapid social change because of the migration toward the cities
and progressing industrialization in which whole groups of people
suddenly had to make a cultural leap of many centuries. This resulted
in uprootedness, insecurity and total loss of social awareness.
People were living in a rural society in which everything was
ordered by tradition. They are quite suddenly thrown into another
world based on consumerism. A whole culture-complex of tasks,
roles in society, values, is replaced by a world which is for
them a monument of incomprehension. People have to produce and
sign documents they cannot understand. They have to hide their
insecurity because the city promises them good life. Mass media
encourage them to buy consumer goods and relativize all deeper
values and options which were part of their universe. They have
to work for money to buy these goods, which leaves them in constant
economic threat and thus at the mercy of their employers. The
orders of their employer --- this is about all they understand.
A slow process of conscientization could help these people to
come to the realization that society is not an unchangeable order
but a product of human making. Yet a consumer society, set up
by the rich, only allows the silent dream that one day, they too
will be able to enjoy the consumption goods they now produce for
Secondly, it is quite obvious that in such a rapidly changing cultural situation, the pastoral efforts of the Church will be called into question. The Church has functioned for centuries in a closed society in which it did not have to worry about personal conviction. The unanimous milieu provided christian rootedness. These christians are now thrown into a new situation of insecurity, in which most of them try to cling to the few remnants of their old society. This results in a vague and nebulous adherence to Christianity, no longer supported by the former values, creeds and conceptions of life of the milieu that generated or were a substitute for personal conviction. A period of at least two generations gave to the christians of the Western world a key to understand the process of change: secularization. Catholic Third World countries had hardly time to assimilate these changes, and the Church is left with a huge clientele of people who look for a shaman and rites which can help them to escape from the insecurity posed by a threatening universe.
How has the Church responded?
Vatican II Council was an effort to meet the problem of secularization
and to enter into a new dialogue with the world. New approaches
were tired in the Western World but most of them failed. The majority
of our Church hierarchy clung to the former Church structures
while the younger generation walked out. The Churches in Latin
America and the Philippines Church had to struggle with colonial
past and limited personnel. In some local churches, new methods
and approaches were tired. Basic Ecclesial Communities(BECs)became
an alternative for the closed milieus the past. In these communities,
people were challenged to make personal decision about their faith.
In the Philippines, many dioceses started a renewal and tried
to develop BECs. The phenomenon of urbanization, however, and
the changes which took place in society are apparently not fully
taken into account.
In a great number of dioceses,
we still see a Church in which the energy and strength of the
pastoral agents are monopolized by people who search for security
in their threatening universe. the effort of the Church goes to
the protection of the consumer majorities within the fold of the
institution. Social pressure of consumer society works now against
any social incarnation of christian values. Society only know
one value : consumption ; yet people may still need in the private
sphere a set of values and a zone of security It may be useful
to keep a link with Christianity which can create this private
zone of security. Society, in many cases, will support the Catholic
Church by making the consumption of certain necessary items conditional
upon some sort of participation in the life of the institutional
Church. To get a good job you need a baptismal certificate, a
christian education, indissoluble marriage, membership in a christian
organization or union, etc. The Church accepts this role in order
to keep its christian majorities but by the very fact, it is trapped
into unholy alliances. First of all, it has to link up with political
power which will allow, for example, christian education in public
schools, the existence of catholic schools, or will enforce the
indissolubility of marriage. And secondly it will link up with
a capitalistic system because this system alone can give it the
necessary support for its institutions.
We end up in an ambiguous situation. New pastoral approaches are formulated (e.g. Medellin), yet because the central sociological mechanism of our society is over looked, we end up with reforms that ultimately fall by the wayside and produce no results. The Church wants to liberate people of "institutional violence," present in a government which opts for a capitalistic growth pattern and for "national security," yet the concern for the christian majorities often leads to the decision to keep silent.
The Philippine Church expressed
its dream of being the Church of the poor, yet to be the Church
of the poor, it has first to be the Church of the rich. It searches
for rebuilding the Church starting from grassroots communities,
yet these very grassroots become disturbing once a personal faith
conviction expects the Church to show a commitment to social liberation.
The Church needs personal for a new pastoral approach, yet to
keep the powerful elite under the wings of its Catholic education,
a disproportionate number of priests and religious end up in administrative
and other secular tasks. Missionary personnel from foreign countries
are used in haphazard fashion to fill the gaps.
The real problem is not dishonesty.
The ambiguity in the choice of pastoral approaches is not the
result of cowardice but of pastoral evaluation. The need of reform
is seen, yet in the conflict of certain values, the evaluation
does not accord as much value, for example, to grassroot conscientization
and preservation of human rights as it does to the possibility
of showing up and maintaining christian majorities with the help
of the State.
Is the Church in its pastoral
approach trapped in a vicious circle? To a certain extent, we
are not trapped because we see an alternative : "authentic
personal conviction of a heroic sort and authentic social signification
as a community constitute a total pastoral system"(Segundo,
p.59). This alternative is an opportunity, yet we are almost in
a race against doom when we look at the concrete situation : the
colonial past --- poverty in human resources --- rapid pace of
change. The Church has still to learn to function in another say
and it is a slow learner. What shift is needed?
First, we have to move from exerting
pressure to nurturing freedom. The personal conviction
needed in a changed society can only mature in an atmosphere of
liberty. The Church is, however, used to speak in a context where
it exerts pressure. Many examples could be given : the school
and Catholic university, the sacredness of the mass, the sacraments
and other pastoral rites around shrines and the dead, and so on.
We need a "captive
audience." Too often,
we end up with pastoral care of children, mandated organizations,
sick people, and the dying, which is to say, with people whose
ability to freely walk away from the message is seriously diminished.
Secondly, we have to move
from protecting majorities to fashioning heroic minorities.
The general rule of pastoral prudence can be summed up in these
words : "the absolute
minimum in obligations in order to keep the maximum number of
people." The statistics
in such an approach will certainly be impressive, purity in terms
of catechism formulae will be impeccable. But do we not rather
have to count christians by considering those who are willing
to carry the christian message to the rest of society, to tolerate
contact with other ideas and conceptions of life and win out over
them, and to commit themselves personally to a radical transformation
of society in line with Christ's
Thirdly, we have to move
from contracting alliances to relying on the power of the Gospel.
The alliance of the Church with the State does not seem to derive
from any desire for political or financial power. It seems to
be based on the principle of choosing the lesser evil. Since christian
majorities are in great danger of falling away, it seems more
prudent to protect their Christianity with the help of outside
authorities. Such choice is apparently supported by the conviction
that the Gospel message no longer possesses the power it once
had. Two assumptions have to justify such a conviction. The Gospel
values were able to move the masses in early Christianity. This
is impossible today, because many of these values now receive
widespread recognition outside Christianity. We may however understand
by moving the masses "the
adherence to the Church,"
which after all is not the whole and only motivation of preaching
the Gospel. Furthermore, the unattractiveness of the Gospel may
not exactly be caused by the Gospel itself but by the rustiness
of our pastoral technique. Are we really preaching "good
news" for the situation
Why is the Church so slow in making
a transition to a radical new pastoral approach? The answer to
this question is mostly a conspiracy of silence. When one has
solid and respectable reasons, one spells them out. Yet, the main
reason, the hidden motive, seems to be fear, and because fear
is never respectable, we keep silent. A three fold fearfulness
weighs upon us.
First, we are fearful for
ourselves. The priest today is psychologically insecure.
From a sacred being, beyond competition, he is suddenly challenged
in his professional competence and personal abilities by adult
christians who dare to contest his teaching and decisions. Neither
the way of functioning of the past, nor his seminary training
have prepared him for such an ordeal! This anxiety is strengthened
by a second factor : his material means of support. The priest
made his living by "repeating
" ritual formulas he
learned before his ordination. In a new pastoral approach, his
living may depend on "creative
" functions: sermons,
animation, counseling, and so on. Neither the people nor the priest
himself are prepared to accept this other function as a base of
Secondly, we are fearful
for the salvation of the masses. The reason for this
fear may be lofty. We should not leave the majority of people
without the protection of a minimal level of Christianity. This
reason may at least appear ambiguous when we start analyzing what
is meant by the majority. Special care should be given to the
elite, this means then the rich and those with special training.
The masses are at this stage "the
poor and lowly." We should
not however neglect the masses. Masses then suddenly become the
including both the poor and the rich. As a result, the salvation
of the masses means in fact a special treatment for the rich,
the first time as the "elite,"
the second time as passive members of the Church who because of
egotistical reasons of security, look for an artificial environment,
created by the Church's pastoral
agents. Nest to this verbal terrorism around the term "masses,"
we have to consider the theological underpinining. Does not this
unconditional commitment to the passive majority betray a vision
of the Church as the sole agent of salvation? And does the Church
first of all have to render service to its adherents?
Thirdly, we are fearful
of the Gospel. We want to rely on the Gospel, but at
the same time we want to rely on prudence which tells us not to
incur the displeasure of government and big businesses. Once again,
discussion of the issue is avoided, which makes it more difficult
to discern issues which are often complicated. In the past, we
have seen how the Church in the Philippines got often paralyzed
because of its alliance with the Morcos regime. The president
knew how to discipline the Church by using the big stick of family
planning, divorce, communist scare, taxation of Church properties,
and soon. Some of these issues keep cropping up and lead to a
deal between Church and State in which the Church has to keep
silent about the more fundamental issues of justice, human rights,
peace, equality, agrarian reform, and so on. In return, the State
does not impose its own policies, for example, on the issue of
family planning or divorce.
Gospel values are sacrificed because
of the defense of some interests or doctrines of the Church's
institution. The same may happen in the Church's
protection of its educational institutions and works of charity.
Educational and charitable involvement has been justified by
pointing at the role of the Church as a replacement or substitute
for other institutions which are not present or do not do their
job. The Church may eventually profit from its educational or
charitable programs in terms of attracting people to become members,
yet it is said that in these programs there is no question of
self-interest but of substitution. This may be true if we dare
to ask the right questions. Are we really substituting? What if
these programs were handed over to the representatives of the
recipient communities? Could not lay people take charge of human
development tasks which are now in the hands of bishops and priests
(the government may like priests to handle certain institutions,
for example universities, as a means to avoid politicization)?
Would the Church continue to lend its support to development projects
if they were taken over by non-christian leaders?
These and other questions are
often not asked because of unconfessed fears. Psychologically,
we fear for ourselves in the face of others people's
freedom. Theologically we fear for the salvation of the masses
if they are deprived of protective institutions. Pastorally we
fear for the Gospel message, suspecting that it does not have
the power it once had to attract people on its own. These are
the hidden but decisive motives underlying our pastoral activities.
The alternative pastoral approach
is based on personal conviction and the growth of grassroot communities
which are liberative sign in present-day society. The criticism
of the classical approach already suggests the outline of this
new approach. We would like to spell out the basic focus
on this approach, the basic work to be done, and this is nothing
else than evangelization : the bringing of the Gospel, of the
as a challenge to freedom, a challenge to reshape our personal
and societal life. In order to safeguard the authenticity of this
task of evangelization, we have to consider three characteristics.
First, communicating only
the essentials of the christian message. The "captive
audience" of the past
could be spoon-fed until a whole body of catholic truths became
an obvious part of their belonging to Mother Church. That situation
is past. We have to approach free people and cannot exert pressure.
We are in a time of mass media. The news about consumer goods
gets across our TV screen in thirty seconds. People do not have
the patience any longer to sort out what Christianity is all about
by studying the 2865 questions of our Roman Catechism. "If
the Church cannot formulate the essential message of Christianity
in the course of a typical conversation running no more than a
half-hour, then there simply will e no evangelization."
Both the priest and the community must rediscover the essential
ingredients of the Gospel message. An obvious question, so difficult
to answer with a traditional catechism and the formulae of the
creed, has to be at the center : "what
is the essential message of the Christian faith?"
Secondly, communicating these
essentials as good news.
People have bee taught prefabricated formulae. These formulae
will have to be translated if we want to make them good news here
and now. True evangelization will start with listening --- listening
to the expectations of people by sharing their life. Within this
dialogue of life, we may expect that new expressions of faith
will be capable again of meeting the concrete search for salvation
and liberation of contemporary people. Needless to say, these
new words will have to find expression in a praxis if we want
to be credible.
Thirdly, adding nothing further
except at a pace that will allow the essential element to remain
precisely that. An
evangelizer is always tempted to add more items to an initial
confession of faith to correct or even prevent any error or deviation.
We may expect that people, in making the christian message their
own, will have to experiment with it, to apply it to their real
life, even if in an erroneous say. This is the only way to develop
a real personal conviction. To avoid these errors, or to anticipate
errors, the evangelizer often injects some additional items of
faith, some "truths"(e.g.
on Mary), but by the very fact, he/she may destroy the essential
core as such. Taking hold of truths which we can repeat in parrot
fashion does not create a personal conviction. We have to respect
the proper hierarchy of truths by adopting a proper pace or rhythm.
The same thing may be true for our praxis. "If
we prefer a project with a Christian label over one with greater
liberative content that bears a different label, then we are submerging
the essential in the secondary. If we prefer the undifferentiated
unity of christians bereft of liberation impact over commitments
to liberation that are shared by some christians and non-christians,
then once again we are letting secondary elements drown out the
essential core of the christian message."
This description of the basic
focus of a pastoral approach in terms of evangelization may sound
superfluous. A critical look, however, at the Philippine Church
shows that such an evangelization does not yet take place in many
situations. Did PCP II not place evangelization at the center
of its pastoral strategy? Why this need of the Gospel? Many facts
show that our situation is not yet evangelized. Let us sum up
a few examples: no adult evangelization, no "good
a body of truths), apostolate is only directed to Catholics, no
dialogue between theologians / pastors/ laity, sloganeering about
socio-political issues, no inculturation, and so on. It does not
seem that we need a special justification to enter into a new
process of evangelization. If we dare our fears, we cannot but
opt for the power of the Gospel.
The Philippine Church declared
itself ready at the time of PCP II to venture into a new evangelization.
Church leaders, however, will have to abandon a last trench which
so often keeps them in a pastoral approach of preservation of
the silent majorities. What will happen with the salvation of
the masses? It is a fear which is connected with the exlusivistic
vision of Church and salvation which the Catholic Church has stubbornly
held for so many centuries. Vatican II overcame this narrow-minded
vision. We believe, however, that it did not yet find its way
into a pastoral praxis.
First, classical ecclesiology
defined Church in terms of a "supernatural
society" of the saved.
People stepped as it were outside human history in order to be
take up into a supernatural one. In such a vision, those who belong
to the Church are in a privileged status with respect to salvation
and should get special treatment. Vatican II Council, especially
in Gaudium et Spes, speaks of one history in
which God addresses the whole of humanity. The Church is in this
vision not a privileged zone, but should rather be a sign, a sacrament,
a leaven for human society. The task of the Church is not to protect
members, asking from them only minimum demands and obligations,
but the Church into a leaven for human society can justify the
existence of the Church.
Secondly, in the classical view
in which salvation was linked up with Church membership, the universality
of the Church had to be seen in numbers. It was a question of
getting as many people as possible within our Church, which implies
that it cannot impose demands beyond the strength of many. But
universality should rather be seen in terms of quality. The Church
has to be a sign, a leaven. This will be realized only when we
take the high-level demands of the Gospel seriously. We are a
universal Church if we dare to propose and to live the universal
Gospel demands of justice, peace, equality, sharing of good, and
Lastly, Vatican II Council tells us that membership in the Church will help us before the judgment seat of God only if it is rooted in love. (G.S.no.14,93). The Church is not always the best place for salvation. It is the best place if the Gospel is practiced in an effective love for neighbor. Too often, not Church has substituted rites and formulas for authentic love.
The pastoral reflection of
Segundo has been criticized for its "elitism,"
an accusation which most of the time is not backed up with discussion
and honest debate. His opposition between a majority and minority
approach may perhaps maybe too radical. Recent pastoral theologians
have pointed to the potential of folk-religiosity and searched
to link up in a new way the culture of people and the christian
tradition. It may result in a pastoral approach which is able
to combine its focus on minorities with a loving concern for the
religiosity of the masses. Our Philippine pastoral reflection
at the time of PCP II certainly adopted the same focus of Segundo
by stressing the need of evangelization and the birthing of BECs
as its main tool. The issue of inculturation, the need of dialogue
with the world religions, the care for our environment, and other
particular pastoral issues can all be placed within this perspective
of a renewed evangelization. The challenge remains the implementation
of this vision.
The National Pastoral Plan which
was published two years after PCP II is certainly not an example
of clarity. It also fails to formulate a well-focused and gradual
pastoral strategy. We run the danger of ending up in a renewed
fence-sitting exercise. The first years after Vatican II Council,
Rome led the way in the implementation of the Council's
decrees, mainly on the liturgy. It did not take long. The watchdogs
of our old-age institution were able to be in control again and
we have been sitting on the fence, being afraid to enter into
the territory of a renewed evangelization of our modern world.
Today, we seem to be drawing back and jumping off the fence at
the wrong side: in the safe territory where mother Church again
possesses truth and salvation. In such a situation, we can and
should reiterate the invitation of PCP II to go beyond the crossroads
and to take the unknown road of evangelization. "We
go forth from this Council which deepened knowledge and understanding
of ourselves as the church of and not merely in the Philippines;
with a clearer self-definition too of ourselves as a community
of disciples." We are
want to witness to Christ's
unifying love in a fragmented society(Eph 1:10). "It
requires that we begin, simply begin, to be more responsive to
the demands of the wider and greater good of all.(..) We propose
to begin being a community of authentic solidarity."
The Catechism of the Catholic
Church and Vatican II Council.
the eulogy of the Catechism of the catholic Church(CCC) in
Docete and some other periodicals was a challenge for me
to have a critical look at the CCC. What produces such eulogies?
Concern to follow the renewal of Vatican II Council ? Should the
CCC really become the reference book for present-day catechesis?
I elaborated on these questions in a seminar and an ATEP-course
which I taught in MST. The article summarizes my reading of some
critical sources and my own reaction to the CCC. It is published
for the first time in this Reader.
Some people may wonder why I brought the Catechism of the Catholic
Church (CCC) and Vatican II Council together in this title. Is
it not obvious that a catechism which was ordered by the Synod
of 1985 and worked upon by a team of bishops and counsultors would
be the implementation of Vatican II's renewal? Did the pope himself
not encourage and endorse the project, referring to the Council?
And yet, a reading of some of the reactions to the CCC should
make us aware that not all Catholics welcomed it. Let me briefly
look at some of these reactions.
Docete, the review of the Philippine Episcopal Commission on Catechesis, presents a eulogy of the CCC. The article of its editor starts with a drawing in which a crowd of bishops, priests, sisters and laity welcome the CCC with handclapping and placards: "hail CCC, CCC very timely, CCC is tops." Two lonely theologians ("some theologians") are shown at the other side of the drawing, shooting some arrows at the CCC. Seeing the drawing, I was reminded of the many pictures we saw of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in which the red booklet of Mao Tsetung was also welcomed by a cheering crowd. The fate of the lonely protestors has not been pleasant. The highly respected Nouvelle Revue Theologique published a series of articles which do basically the same thing in a more sophisticated way. They paraphrase the different parts of the CCC, insisting that the preparation of the CCC was done in such a thoroughgoing way that hardly any criticism is possible or necessary. The study of the Woodstock Theological Center, partly financed by the American bishops is classified as "going beyond the boundaries of intellectual decency and healthy polemics..."
With the Woodstock study, we are at the other pole. The fifteen
American experts in theology and religious education which studied
the final draft in 1990 formed an efficient demolition squad.
Their suggestion to redraft and rewrite the text completely was
not honored and many of their criticisms still apply to the final
test. Some other studies are not less critical. A lot of authors
follow the safe middle way, and come up with a mixed genre. The
CCC is praised yet the suggestions made to improve the text are
often so radical that we have to come to the conclusion that redrafting
is indeed needed?
An expression of Vatican II's renewal? Theologians and experts
of catechesis are indeed divided. In the first part of my study,
I try to find some explanation for this polarization by looking
in a more general way at their pre-understanding. I believe that
all of us have somehow a basic pre-understanding about theology
and Church. The contrary evaluations of the CCC have a lot to
do with this "bias." It has been the contention of the
academic theological world that we can produce a theology which
is beyond partiality. This contention is, no doubt, a first and
fundamental bias. In theologizing, everybody is somehow situated
and reflects within a particular framework. "Let him/her
who is without an ideology, without a bias, cast the first stone."
A short reflection on two opposite theological approaches will
allow me to explicate my own pre-understanding. It is with this
"bias" that I develop a more detailed critique of the
CCC in the second part. I am afraid that I have to join the two
lonely theologians of Docete who shoot some arrows ) a euphemism?)
in the direction of the CCC. I hope to be able to justify my criticism.
It is difficult to write something meaningful about theological
methodology in a few pages. My short presentation has to be a
black-and-white picture which simplifies and draws up something
which is almost a caricature of particular theological approaches.
The reader will hopefully be aware of the often sophisticated
hermeneutical principles which were elaborated in modern philosophy,
giving rise to a plurality of theologies. I briefly try to answer
three questions : "what -where-who" of the process of
First, what is theology? The CCC does not directly
answer this question, yet a definition can be drawn up after reading
the Prologue and Part One, Section One. Although revelation is
described in historical terms, "in deeds and words"(51-64),
it came to an end in Christ, the "perfect and unsurpassable
Word" in whom God "has said everything." There
will be no other word than this ones"(65).This revelation
is now available in the "Sacred deposit," contained
in Scripture and Tradition, and entrusted to the Church(84). What
"the Church " stands for is made clear by adding that
"the magisterium alone" is in charge of an authentic
interpretation(85,95). How does this revelation reach us? We need
"the obedience"(144) of faith, faith which is "a
gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by Him "(153).
This faith is taught to us by our mother, the Church who is our
teacher(169). "The Church, 'the pillar and bluwark of truth,'
faithfully guards 'the faith which was once for all delivered
to the saints'"(...) and even "teaches us the language
of faith"(171). "For though languages differ throughout
the world, the content of the Tradition is one and the same"(174).
These quotations of the CCC illustrate a theological approach
which is usually labeled as "neo-scholastic," "classical,"
handbook theology. It has the following methodology. In a first
step, the content of faith, the "deposit," which is
already possessed by the Church, is briefly summarized in a thesis,
or for the CCC in a paragraph. This thesis is then further explained
by quoting proof texts or illustrations from Scripture and Tradition.
The CCC mostly abstains from developing the third step, the speculative
elaborations which can be found in the seminary handbooks developed
during the last century. we are given, however, a few Patristic
and Thomistic speculative treats in which we are told, e.g. that
after Jesus' death, "the divine person of the Son of God
necessarily continued to possess his human soul and body, separated
from each other by death"(626). "The decomposition of
nature produced by death was arrested" in this way(625).
The CCC makes it clear who is in charge of this deposit. Its
guardians, the bishops, are responsible (12) and they took up
their responsibility by "presenting an organic synthesis
of the essentials and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine,
as regards both faith and morals,"(11) by producing the Catechism.
It took a very long struggle within the Catholic Church to
develop an alternative for this neo-scholastic approach. The Pius-popes
did not want to hear anything about a theology which would dialogue
with the contemporary faith experiences of people in their struggle
answer God's call (or ongoing revelation!) in their own historical
and cultural situations. The labels "liberalism modernism,
new theology, marxist liberation theology, etc." came down
(and are still coming down) on the heads of theologians who believed
that they had to dialogue with the modern world. Some of the great
Catholic minds of our century received, almost posthumously, a
cardinal's hat, among them H.DE Lubac and Y. Congar. The two had
been persecuted by Rome for half a century. Others, such as E.
Schillebeeckx, G. Gutierrez, L. Boff, B. Hring, H. Kung lost their
theological driver's license or were kept on the sidelines. In
many ways, these theologians tried to develop alternative approaches
to the process of theologizing.
Dialogue is perhaps the best word to characterize these alternatives.
Theology, faith seeking understanding, is not a one-way process,
in which a believer explains a deposit of truth already possessed.
We have instead a two way dialectical process in which we move
back and forth between two faith experiences: our present-day
christian experience in a particular situation is made to dialogue
with the many faith experiences of the past Judaeo-Christian Tradition.
This constant dialogue, this spiral movement between the present
and the past, results in the expression of christian truth, a
truth which has to be don. Truth is seen as historical and paradoxical:
it is something we have received and which makes us participate
in the Truth, and yet we are constantly on pilgrimage, never possessing,
but being possessed by and drawn towards the Truth which is always
ahead of us.
These few lines may be enough to point to the chasm between
the present-day understanding of theology and the neo-scholastic
approach of the CCC. Neo-scholasticism finishes theologizing where
contemporary theology has yet to start. The "deposit"
belongs to only one pole of theology, the Judaeo-Christian Tradition,
and even within this pole, theologians will not treat Scripture
and Tradition as a deposit, but as a human and historical expression
of the faith of a community in a particular situation. Only a
laborious process of hermeneutics in dialogue with this situation
will allow a present-day reader to understand what is said in
this other life and community experience.
We briefly elaborate on this process of hermeneutics by considering
the second question: where do we theologize? After Vatican
I, in the neo-scholastic approach, this question became irrelevant
because "infallible" theological language apparently
belonged to another realm : eternal and supernatural truths could
be expressed by the magisterium in unchangeable and perennial
statements. Hans Kung questioned such an approach. The document,
Mysterium Ecclesiae was written against his Infallible?
An Inquiry, and yet Kung welcomed the text as a revolutionary
statement. An official church text indeed recognized that there
is a problem with our dogmatic language. It is affected by "historical
conditions" and hence by "the vocabulary, presuppositions,
concerns and thought categories of a particular age." CCC
does not mention this document produced by the Congregation of
the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) in 1973. Cardinal Ratzinger, the present-day
prefect of the CDF and the main promotor of the CCC, makes in
appear as if the Catechism succeeded to stay on neutral ground,
"avoiding theological opinions."
The effort to remain independent of any particular theological
school leads to patch work. The CCC inundates us with a galaxy
of quotations from Councils, Papal Documents, Church Fathers,
Thomas, Saints, etc. no theologian of the 20th century
is mentioned. The result is an anthology which is as neutral as
the author it uses: in the first part, we are in fact discussing
with the fideists and rationalists of the 19th century(e.g.
31,156), faith and grace are defined in Thomistic terms (153,2000),
monogenism leads us to Pius XII(360), original sin to Augustine(385),
The CCC makes us believe that it works with a sort of "common
language of faith normative for all and uniting all in the same
confession of faith"(185). It forgets that the Creeds are
also determined by the theological debates of a particular age.
The reading of the paragraphs on christology is sufficient to
convince a Filipino who did not receive a professional theological
training in a Western university, that the Catechism is certainly
not written for him/her. Only specialists can find their way through
the patristic christological debates, summarized in paragraphs
464-477. The debates which shaped the Nicene Creed serve as the
reference text for the CCC(194-6).
We already stated that all theology is "biased" because we theologize standing upon a plot of ground. The problem is not being biased, but not being aware of it. The CCC apparently considers its own plot of ground as the only sacred place from which we can theologize. It declares that it has produced "an organic presentation of the Catholic faith in its entirety"(18) which is "a sure norm for teaching the faith." Local churches are invited to write "adaptations" (24). We believe that this organic presentation is rather a thoroughly Western theological anthology, a very mixed bag of all kinds of quotations, which is hard to read by non-experts.
One of the acquisitions of present-day theology is its acceptance
that all theology is culturally situated, because it is a reflection
process starting from our present-day experiences, starting from
our own questions concerning meaning and salvation. All theology
is conditioned by its own historical situation, whether we like
or not. The refusal to recognize this historical conditioning
can only produce bad theology. When the Church Fathers coined
their christological formulas they were very much determined by
the questions concerning salvation in their time. Greeks were
searching for divinization in their despair about the corrupt
world in which they were living. The christian authors were offering
them a better way towards salvation in their famous exchange theory
: "God became man so that man could become God"(460).
The authors of the CCC are confronted with atheism in the western
world and hence start their catechism with "the ways of coming
to the knowledge of God"(31-43), followed by a full-blown
doctrine of God in Section Two, Chapter One (198-421).
This starting point of the CCC is hardly needed in the Philippines and "an adaptation" of the text will not be very helpful either. God is well taken care of in the faith of Philippine christians but we may have to reflect on "the kind of God" we believe in. Can we honor God without also honoring his/her image? In a country in which so many people are devastated by poverty, hunger, oppression and injustices, our Good News may need a different focus. The Greeks looked forward to divinization, to flight from the world. We may have to search for the opposite and commit ourselves to stay around in our world in search for humanization, for becoming - human - together. This concern may lead to a very different theological elaboration, starting, for example, with the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth as the christian paradigm in our search for humanness. The CCC with its patristic christology-from-above will be useless in developing this Good News for the Philippine situation.
-The failure to consider the many places in which people have
to theologize is related to a third pre-under-standing: who
should do theology? The answer of the CCC is clear: the pope
and bishops who are the teachers and guardians of the truth(12,89-95).
Theologians apparently are not important for the Catechism. The
word does not appear in the Subject Index. The faithful have a
role in "understanding and handing on revealed truth"(91),
yet by inverting the order of the text of Dei Verbum and Lumen
Gentium, their role becomes secondary. In both documents, "the
contemplation, study"(D.V.8) and "supernatural sense
of faith"(L.G.12) of all the faithful is discussed before
mentioning the role of the magisterium, as "authoritative
interpreters"(D.V.10) and "teachers"(D.V.25). In
the CCC, the magisterium comes first and gets the lion's share.
The many passages about the magisterium reduce the creative participation
of the faithful passive obedience. They have "the right to
be instructed ...the duty of observing the constitutions and decrees
conveyed by the legitimate authority of the Church...(and listen
to the )call for docility in charity"(2037).
It is my own pre-understanding that this way of handling the
magisterium in the CCC is only one manifestation of a broader
movement which started during the papacy of John Paul II. The
leading figures of the Roman Curia are convinced that the renewal
of Vatican II went wild and we need, in the words of Cardinal
Ratzinger, "a restoration of pre-Vatican II values."
We are told that "the CCC is the third major step in the
post-Vatican II renewal, since it comes after the renewal in liturgy
and in the legislation of the Church (the New Code of Cannon Law.)"
John Paul II presents it as "the most mature and complete
fruit of the Council's teaching." I rather share the opinion
of those authors who consider the liturgical renewal as a step
forward, followed by two steps backward.
Commentators of Vatican II point out that the Council made
an enormous mistake by not appointing a body of bishops to watch
over the implementation of its decisions. Bishops went home and
the Roman Curia regained control. Pope Paul VI was fully committed
to the implementation but it looks as if this process has stopped
after his death. We witness a process of centralization of our
"Roman" Catholic Church in which the whole life of the
Church gets again concentrated in one person, the pope. The spector
of "papolatry" which invaded the 19th century church
seems to re-appear. The renewal process of Vatican II is temporally
brought to a halt. The Roman Curia did not yet succeed, however,
in stopping time, history, and the world's "aspiration to
bring about greater equality and participation, two forms of man's
dignity and freedom."
Equality and participation, these two words of Paul VI's Octogesima
Adveniens express the concern of Vatican II Council which
developed a participatory image of the Church as people of God,
on pilgrimage in history and in the service of the world. The
New Testament images of the Church as people of God, temple of
the Spirit, body of Christ became the framework of the Church's
renewal. The Church is the body of Christ, a charismatic community
with a plurality of tasks and responsibilities. This model became
flesh and blood in Christians who are rebirthing the Church within
BECs in dialogue with the concrete challenges of their society
The CCC still repeats the main texts of Lumen Gentium
but everything gets somehow covered by the cloak of "mystery"
which finds its primary (and repetitious) expression in those
who were set up by Christ with "sacred power" as "ministers
of grace" to act "in persona Christi Capitis"(874-5).
Church history shows us that the many charisms of the early churches
got gradually swallowed up by the figure of the episkopos
who became the sole center of Church life in the Constantinian
era. Recent developments, with their apotheosis in the CCC, seem
to repeat this history.
Bishops who are the teachers, prophets and kings do not leave
too much space for the laity who had better seek the kingdom by
engaging in temporal affairs (896) and who are kings, not by governing
the Church but "by governing their evil passions"(a
patriarchal quotation of St. Ambrose in 908). In the CCC, bishops
also appropriate the Church's apostolicity (the Church is apostolic)
since she remains "through the successors of St. Peter and
the other apostles in communion of faith and life with her origin"(863).
Theologians were already knocked out in 1990 by The Instruction
on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian and The Oath
of Fidelity. In a church, in which "one cannot speak
of a 'right of dissent'" it may be safer to stay within the
"mystery of communion organized according to the will of
its founder around a hierarchy"(cf. the Instruction).
And to add insult to injury, bishops now even appropriate the
charism of catechesis and become the catechists of the Church,
something which was put into practice during the World Youth day
in Manila in January 1995. The image which comes to my mind is
a garage in which the manager dismisses his mechanics and takes
over in the pit. It may be useful experience for the manager but
I don't know whether I should entrust my car to this new technician.
Do Vatican authorities really think that things will improve in
the Church by concentrating its whole life in a few leaders-bishops
who are already overburndened by their responsibilities in the
complex administration of today's World Church.?
Some points of ecclesiology will be further discussed in a
more detailed criticism of the use of the Vatican II texts in
the CCC. Let me sum up the study of my own and the Catechism's
pre-understanding of the "what - where - who" of doing
theology. I believe that the CCC can hardly be called a theological
study and still much less a work of catechetics. Moreover, by
harboring the notion of being able to theologize on "neutral
ground, " it gets trapped in the Western clerical, pre-Vatican
II theological enterprise. The final product is an anthology of
very uneven and disparate materials.
In all fairness to the CCC, we have to point to the introduction
by John Paul II who indeed calls the CCC a "reference text"
which is "not intended to replace the local catechisms."
Please, beware catechists! The pope does not recommend the CCC
as a book of catechetics, but only as reference text "to
encourage and assist in the writing of new local catechisms, which
take into account various situations and cultures..." The
enthusiastic recommendations in catechetical publications concerning
the use of CCC are totally misplaced. The CCC does not present
the last word about catechetics but a sort of compendium or resource
book. We found its theological methodology wanting. We will now
further examine its usefulness for today's catechetical enterprise
by looking in a more detailed way into certain aspects of the
"This Catechism will thus contain both the new and the
old (...) The contents are often represented in a 'new' way in
order to respond to the questions of our age." These words
of John Paul II in the introduction of the CCC are puzzling. Are
things really presented in a new way? And how "often"
do they have to be presented in a new way in order to respond
to the questions of our age? My own laborious reading of the CCC
and of some critical voices leads to the conclusion that we have
a lot of old wine, poured in old wineskins. Some of this old wine
is still worthwhile serving, but a lot has become vinegar. On
the other hand, the few gallons of new wine can hardly be accommodated
within the old skins which were not designed to contain this kind
of nectar. I selected six items from the long list of criticisms,
focusing my study on Part One. The Profession of Faith. I can
not fully discuss this first Part within a short article. For
each item, I only give a few examples.
First, let me consider the wineskins: the structure of the
CCC. The Catechism tells us that it was inspired by the great
tradition of the catechisms which built catechesis on four pillars:
the Creed --- the sacraments --- the commandments --- the Lord's
prayer(13). The four-part division is in fact taken from the
Catechism of Trent or Roman Catechism, published in 1566.
Specialists of present-day catechetics question such an approach
because it divides doctrine, praxis and spirituality.
Recent handbooks of catechetics, including our Philippine
Catholic Faith Catechism (1994), have stressed the value of
a holistic approach in which faith and life are into dialogue
with salvation history which as Good News does not only have to
be studied, but needs to be celebrated and lived. Head, heart
and hands should act in concert with one another. With the CCC,
we are back in the scholastic method which divided the theological
material into different disciplines and treatises. We already
pointed out that experience is a bad word in neo-scholastic theology
(cf. 2005). Is the scholastic alternative not a subtle rationalism
which makes faith dependent on reason and clear concepts? The
importance of reason and a uniform language for faith are clearly
stated in the CCC (cf. 31,156,171,174).
Faith should have a clear content. This content is presented
in the first part which adopts the structure of the Nicene Creed.
We already pointed out that the choice of such a structure is
not a neutral act. The language of the Nicene Creed was shaped
by the christological controversies of the fourth century. At
the time of Nicea, the Greek-Christian soteriology (search for
divinization) was threatened by Arius who questioned Jesus' divinity.
The answer has been a Christology-form-above which stressed the
homo-ousios, the consubstantiality of Jesus with God. This approach
may not be the best way to answer the soteriological questions
of our time. People in search for greater humanness may need the
human, historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth who, as we will
develop later, gets very poorly treated in the Creed in the CCC.
In the same say, the material of moral theology in the third part
is pushed into another traditional framework: the Decalogue. It
may not lend itself for discussing the moral issues of our times.
Some words have to be added about another structural feature:
"the condensed formulae." The CCC tells us that they
are "brief summary formulae that could be memorized"(22).
It suggests that catechesis is a matter of teaching orthodox formulae
to be learned by heart, something which may indeed have been useful
for our illiterate foreparents but is certainly not considered
to be an acceptable approach in our computer age. Moreover, the
formulae themselves need a critical examination because they greatly
vary in style and orientation. Some are purely cognitive, others
biblical and prayerful. Many of these "summaries" are
incomplete and selective. Some contain new material. The danger
is that these formulae, which for the greatest part are not memorable
at all, will be used to gauge the orthodoxy of present-day theological
and catechetical works. The next items of our criticism which
consider the content of the CCC will make it clear that this would
The word disaster is hardly strong enough to point to the second
item of our critique: the use of Scripture. The CCC repeats
the principles for interpreting the Bible given in Dei Verbum
(110). It rightly tells us that the text can be read in a spiritual
sense as long as we do not overlook the literal one(116). It points
to the permanent value of the Old Testament(121) and the need
to distinguish the three stages in the formation of the Gospels(126).
All these right things are said at the start, yet almost systematically
forgotten in the rest of the CCC. The Hebrew Bible becomes the
victim of typology and somehow everything which happened in the
"Old" Testament was done to reveal the H. Trinity and
to prepare for the coming of Christ. This supersessionist view
of Jewish Scriptures does not serve too well the efforts of the
CCC to treat the Jewish people in a more sensitive way after so
many centuries of persecution by Church authorities.
The typological approach of the Hebrew Bible is most of the
time replaced for the New Testament by a simplistic literal reading,
refusing to consider the difference between historical remembrances
and faith reflection(cf. 126). This fundamentalist approach is
especially irritating in Christology and Ecclesiology. The faith
reflections of John become literal words of Jesus in which he
already teaches the conciliar christological doctrines of the
fourth and fifth centuries. In the same say, Jesus must also have
been very busy designing the blueprint of the Church by instituting
the hierarchy(Peter-pope, apostles-bishops) and the sacraments.
Peter and the apostles are the only recipients of "the office
of binding and loosing." The change of the subject of a sentence
in Mt. 18:17-18 is needed to make that become true (cf. 1444,
etc.) Mary Boys called the draft of the catechism "as a commentary
on the Scripture ...an unreliable guide. The CCC, unable to integrate
the salient insights of historical-critical scholarship, will
only confuse and mislead the very people for whom it is intended
as a point of reference." The final text receives the same
judgment by another commentator, Sloya, who presents it as an
"episcopal-conciliar-theological reading of the Bible...It
is a serious flaw in an age when Catholic commitment to the Book
of the Church is everywhere called in question."
Thirdly, CCC has been praised for its broad view
of Tradition. Following Dei Verbum, it describes Tradition
as the transmission of the word of God in the total life of the
Church, with its doctrine, life and worship. By quoting a wide
variety of sources, including the witness of saints, the Catechism
indeed honors our great Tradition. Some very essential points,
however, are overlooked. The many traditions within the stream
of the Church's life are historically situated, are the result
of a development, and they can be "retained, modified or
even abandoned under the guidance of the Church's Magisterium"(83).
TO put it in another way, we need "exegesis" in the
understanding and evaluating of the different aspects of our tradition.
This sense for history and historical conditioning hardly appears
in the CCC.
One example may be sufficient. We already pointed out that
the uncritical use of New testament texts leads to a presentation
of Jesus as a teacher explaining the christological doctrines
pertaining to his person. "The figure of Jesus comes across
as a cold fish, knowing everything, in complete control, at the
same time totally submissive, moving through his paces, not very
inspiring." This picture is made worse by the uncritical
use of the Tradition. I believe that the CCC would never have
passed the scrutiny of the participants at the Council of Chalcedon.
It would have been accused of docetism.
By making "the divine person as the proper subject of
Jesus' nature"(468,470), Jesus ends up as a creature who
apparently cannot be called a human person. Such a Jesus finally
must appear as a cheater because "what he admitted to not
knowing in this area(the eternal plans of the Father), he elsewhere
declared himself not sent to reveal"(474), although "he
knew"(473). A better grasp of the historical development
of Christology would not have mixed up the concepts of "hypostasis"
of the Greeks with the concept of "person" which already
during the Middle Ages got an ontological / psychological sense.
The authors should also have been aware that the doctrine that
Jesus knew everything clearly and knew it from the first moment
of his existence is a disputed theological opinion which most
theologians today would classify as crypto-docetism.
This brings us to an additional observation concerning the
CCC's use of the Tradition. It suffers from an overload of information
without making any distinction between doctrines which are essential
and theological views which are secondary and often questionable
and disputed. Examples abound. Most of us would be happy if we
had been saved from the very questionable presentation of angels
(325-354), with the consideration that some fell and became devils
because of "the irrevocable character of their choice, and
not a defect in the infinite divine mercy"(393).
The CCC mentions "the hierarchy of truths"(Unitatis
redintegratio, 11) yet destroys the idea in the very same
paragraph by pointing to the organic unity of everything, "the
mutual connections between dogmas and their coherence"(90).
The result of reporting this coherent whole is a long story of
2865 paragraphs in which it is hard to find a focus. The focus
is supposed to be "the Most Holy Trinity...which is the most
fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of truth of
faith"(234). This focus is lost in a crowded book, full of
doctrines which are all treated on equal footing. The authors
of the CCC will certainly answer that they intended to produce
a reference work, but in the words of a catechist, it could have
been made "more user-friendly." Instead of burying the
reader in a massive text, why could the Vatican, in a time of
media communication in which a message gets across in a few flashes,
not have produced a more vital, lively and readable version of
the Church's teaching? A lot of trees could have saved --- and
so maybe could some more souls."
In a fourth point, I would like to express my concern, not about the souls which may get lost, but about a dream of a prophetic pope, John XXIII, which is tamed and almost lost in the CCC because of its selective reading of Vatican II texts. This selective reading starts in the very introduction by John Paul II, who is referred to 137 times in the remaining text while John does very poorly with only five mentions. John Paul quotes the discourse at the opening of the Vatican II Council but makes a remarkable selection. John XXIII only seems to have told us to "guard and present better the precious deposit of Christian doctrine," something which was done in the CCC by presenting "an authoritative statement of the Church's faith and of Catholic doctrine."
It sounds so different from uh convocation of the Council,
in which John expressed " a demonstration of the Church,
always living and always young, which feels the rhythm of the
times... and achieves new conquests." A year later, he opened
the Council with the words quoted by John Paul II but added: "the
salient point of this council is not a discussion of one article
or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church which has
repeatedly been taught... For this a Council was not necessary.
(...) The christian, catholic, and apostolic spirit of the whole
world expects a step forward. The substance of the ancient doctrine
of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it
is presented is another."
The bishops must have understood that message by refusing to
produce a Vatican II Catechism. Their sensitivity for pluralism,
for the many churches and cultures, for the signs of the times
made them see the futility of trying to repeat a project which
may have made sense only in the pastoral situation of the Western
Church after Protestant upheaval. They decided in favor of a General
Catechetical Directory which was published in 1971. This document
is very much a document of the council in spirit and content.
It points to the changes in the world, the crisis of traditional
faith, the problem of inculturation, and presents pastoral guidelines
to renew catechesis and make it more effective. Catechesis is
"not a matter of repeating traditional formulae"(34).
Suggestions are given concerning the order in expounding the material
(46), the inductive and deductive methods(72), experience and
creativity '74,75), plans for pastoral action (98), etc. many
local churches worked on their catechism in the light of this
Directory. Only the restorationist mood at the time of the Synod
of 1985 can explain the reversal of this decision of Vatican II.
The product, the CCC, gives us a wealth of quotations of the Council,
but its spirit seems to have disappeared. The issue of aggiornamento
which was so central at the time of Vatican II makes place for
the "guarding of the deposit" and Council texts are
made to serve as proof texts to who that indeed nothing changes
under the Roman sun.
It is very precious task to illustrate this point because I
may fall into the same trap and also start quoting proof texts.
The Council documents are to a large extent compromise texts because
2400 bishops had to arrive at a consensus which could only be
reached by making sure that the ideas of a minority were also
represented in the final draft. As a result of these compromises,
an "exegete" of the Council will be able to show that
the documents contain two ecclesiologies, two mariologies, two
theologies of revelation, of the priesthood, and so on. Who or
what will decide about the correct interpretation? The answer
to this question is a matter of searching for the Spirit of the
Council. The bishops were not invited by John XXIII to come to
Rome to repeat what they already knew. Their task was to bring
the Church in step with the changing world. An interpreter who
accepts this principle will look for what is new in a text. In
a few examples I examined some of the CCC's quotations of the
Council in the light of possible alternative ideas which stress
the need of renewal.
I already mentioned how the CCC manipulates Dei Verbum back
in the direction of the pre-Vatican II hierarchical model by treating
the magisterium before mentioning the people of God(84-95). It
also affirms that "Jesus perfected revelation by fulfilling
it" and hence revelation is closed(65-66; cf. D.V.4). By
studying Gaudium et Spes and Nostra Aetate, the CCC could have
said instead that revelation was disclosed in a particular direction.
God was and is still revealing him/herself in the signs of the
times and the great religious traditions of our world.
In its ecclesiology, the Catechism faithfully follows the text
of Lumen Gentium but a close scrutiny will show that some key
issues of the Council are hardly mentioned: aggiornamento, the
reformability of the Church, plurality of ministries, local churches,
ecumenism, and so on. A faithful interpreter would link up Lumen
Gentium and Gaudium et Spes and point to the models of the Church
as servant, in dialogue with the world. This dialogical structure
of Gaudium et Spes in which the Church teaches but also learns
is replaced by a monologue. The Church is very much teacher and
guardian, and by Church, we had better understand the magisterium.
Even Avery Dulles got impatient and "wishes that the questions
of papacy, episcopacy, collegiality, and magisterium could have
been discussed more thoroughly and less frequently"
The abundant quotation, with John Paul II as record holder,
dry up when we reach present-day theology. The fifth critical
issue of the CCC which flabberagasts many commentators is the
total absence of the insights of the renewal of theology.
In the Index of citations of "Ecclesiastical Writers,"
after the Church Fathers (Augustine, 88quotations) and St.Thomas
(63), we got to John Henry Newman (4) and Therese of Lisieux (6).
She must have been the latest figure in modern theology. H.Kung
laments that "thirty years of contemporary Catholic theology(...)
are simply ignored." William C. Spohn has another explanation.
"It appears that its author has slept through the last thirty
years of development in the field of christian ethics."
Some of the examples to illustrate the simplistic use of Scripture
and Tradition are at the same time good examples of a theological
enterprise which wants to keep the old dogmatic positions intact.
Let me add the examples of creation and original sin which are
treated by the CCC by totally overlooking the changes which have
taken place in our modern world view. Monogenism is taken for
granted (360). Pius XII must have said the final world on this
issue. The idea that God can be at work within the process of
evolution and the procreative activity of parents never enters
into the mind of the authors of the CCC. Neo-Platonism remains
the rule by stating "that every spiritual soul is created
immediately by God --- it is not 'produced' by the parents ---
and also it is immortal"(366).
Adam must have been created as a sort of superman because he
had a few supernatural gifts and he did not have to suffer and
die (374-378). "This entire harmony of original justice,
foreseen for man in God's plan, will be lost by the sin of our
first parents"(379). The CCC quotes Rom 5:12 in the right
way: "death spread to all because have sinned (instead of
: in one man..."in whom all have sinned"). This new
critical translation does not stop the CCC form quoting the Augustinian
and Tiridentine view of original sin. Everything got lost indeed
and we ended up in a fallen state inherited from our first parents(396-409).
This stain of sin is removed by baptism although certain consequences
of sin such as concupiscence remain (1257-1264). We become partakers
of divine nature(1265) and members of the Church which means that
we are called to be subject to others(...) and 'to obey and submit'
to the Church's leaders, holding them in respect and affection"(1269).
The non-baptized will have to use the backdoor to enter our Church:
through the baptism of blood or desire(1258-60). Children who
have died without baptism are not sent to limbo by this new Catechism,
although it does not dare to affirm that they will be saved ---we
can only "hope"(1261). The reader of these passages
on creation and original sin will hopefully come to the conclusion
that we do not need the CCC. We already got this doctrinal information
in the Baltimore Catechism.
My sixth and last point only draws the conclusion from
this failure of the CCC to integrate the insights of the new theology.
The Catechism is completely out of touch with the present-day
world. I mention a few glaring examples. Only a male, celibate
bunch of clerics, enclosed in the patriarchal ecclesiastical world,
could produce a "Universal" Catechism in sexist language.
The American bishops tried to tell the. An American priest, Douglas
Clark, made an official translation using inclusive language which
was approved by the bishops of the English-speaking countries.
It was of no avail. Rome insisted that an Australian Archbishop,
Joseph E. D'Arcy, produce a revised deliberately sexist text which
was finally printed in 1994 after a delay of more than one year.
It is hard to laugh when confronted with a calamity, yet I
managed a few smiles while reading some passages of the Catechism's
patriarchal spirituality which tells us "to be perfect as
our Father in heaven"(2013). I already mentioned the text
of Ambrose instigating humankind to become "king, governing
himself with suitable rigor, refusing to let his passions breed
rebellion in his soul"(908). We get more of this patriarchal
literature in parts three and four. "The divine fatherhood
is the source of human fatherhood,"(2214) mothers are apparently
not included. Indeed "filial respect is shown by true docility
and obedience. My son, keep your father's commandments..."(2216)
Woman get a consolation because Mary is the paradigm of such obedience.
"God choose those who are considered powerless and weak to
show forth his faithfulness to his promises." Follows a list
of women of the Hebrew Bible, among them Judith who showed "her
powerlessness and weakness" by beheading poor Holofernes,
the Assyrian general besieged by the many "isms" of
our modern times. A regrettable consequence has been the Church's
culture-blindness which made her fail in the outreach towards
the great cultural and religious tradition of Asia. Vatican II
with its ideas of local church, inculturation, dialogue with world
religions, and so on is a turning point. This was followed up
in some great documents, among them Evangeli Nuntiandi of
Paul VI and Catechesi Tradendae of John Paul II. The pope
also established the Pontifical Council of Culture. I really wonder
what this whole evolution means when we suddenly have to read
in a Catechism, presented as "a sure norm for teaching the
faith" that inculturation is only an "adaptation"(24).
Did the authors not read the statements of John Paul II who sees
an "organic and constructive link" between Christianity
and culture? "The synthesis between culture and faith is
not just a demand of culture, but also of faith. A faith which
does not become culture is a faith which has not been fully received,
not thoroughly thought through, not fully live out."
I take the issue of faith and science as a final example. We
are informed by the CCC that "although faith is above reason,
there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and
reason."(...) Consequently, methodological research in all
branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in truly scientific
manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with
the faith..."(159). The CCC must have forgotten that it took
only four centuries to clear the name of Galileo.
In the third part on ethics, some issues are treated with sensitivity
for what is happening in the field of medicine and psychology.
The way the issue of euthanasia is handled is a good example (2276-2283).
The CCC also integrates the main insights of the Church's social
In most cases, however, the CCC totally overlooks modern science.
The deposit of faith is above reason and hence can overrule scientific
insights. How can there be conflicts when our faith possesses
the answer? The question remains whether the readers will "buy"
some of the simplistic solutions of the CCC, for example, in its
creation theology and sexual ethics. With Gaudium et Spes,
we deplore that those who wrote the Catechism did not "try
to collaborate with men and women well-versed in the other sciences.
Theological inquiry should seek a profound understanding of revealed
truth without neglecting close contact with its own times"(G.S.62)
The Reese commentary of 1990 ends its study with how
"Practitioners look at the Catechism." The three articles
are almost a cry of despair. William O'Mally, a specialist of
catechesis for adolescents, points to the poor treatment of christology
and concludes that "if the overall turn out many loyal conformists
but not a single apostle. The Catechism thus can be read as a
call not to shepherds but to sheep." Should catechists struggle
through the Catechism? "I find it not just unhelpful for
its ultimately intended audience, but a positive obstacle."
This leads us back to my initial question.
Conclusion: The CCC and Vatican II Council
The conclusion of my "biased" reading of the CCC
is quite obvious. I do not consider the Catechism to be a handbook
of theology, and much less of catechetics. Does this mean that
it cannot be of some help as a reference tool? In reading the
Catechism, I found useful information in some parts, yet I would
not recommend it as a reference book because too many things are
misleading for a non-professionally trained theologian. With Francis
J. Buckley, professor of religious education, I sum up my own
list of criticisms which I developed in part II: the structure
is constricting --- the use of Scripture misleading --- the use
of Tradition ahistorical --- the reading of Vatican II selective---
the theology outdated --- and finally, it is totally out of touch
with the present-day world. "It is a plant grown in a hothouse,
(...) too fragile to survive the chilly winds of modernity. It
cannot bear the fruit needed to nourish and strengthen the Church
to meet the demands of our times."
As a reference book, I do not recommend it for a non-specialist, but does this mean that it cannot be useful? For the moment, it is indeed just a reference work and too boot, even a bestseller. "The Holy Father has called the Catechism 'a gift for the Church,' not a straitjacket for the Church." And yet, I am afraid that it can become a straitjacket if it will be used by the "authorities" to discipline theologians and catechists. Theologians are trying to survive during the lean years of the reign of Cardinal Ratzinger. Most of them better retire if fidelity to the CCC will be imposed. Catechists have also been exposed to present-day theology. They too will end up in a very unhealthy situation if they suddenly will have to unlearn in order to teach the wrong things to their students.
"We foster within the Church herself mutual esteem, reverence,
and harmony, through the full recognition of lawful diversity.
(...) Hence, let there be unity in what is necessary, freedom
in what is unsettled, and charity in any case"(Gaudium et
Spes, 92). A powerful institution, in the process of strengthening
its control over people, needs a unified ideology which is imposed
on them. People who think are not welcome; the leadership will
do the thinking for them Leonardo Boff was not exactly rewarded
by Rome for applying this insight to our supernatural mother Church.
In the same vein, H. Kung believes that "the universal catechism
comes in the wake of a whole series of curial documents which
show that in Rome what is wanted is not freedom in diversity but
rather merely subjection to a single party line. (...) What in
contrast we urgently need is truthfully to make present the cause
of Jesus Christ in and through the various peoples and cultures
of this planet, and to translate the original christian message
convincingly for our contemporary world."
Why are we afraid? Pope John Paul II, in his bestseller Crossing
the Threshold of Hope, tells christians: "Be not afraid!"
an institution which is afraid of the modern world disciplines
its followers and brings them within the safe haven of a strongly
centralized and unified fortress with one leader, on liturgy,
one body of law, one theological ideology. The Catechism is a
book written by people who are afraid. Its message is stale. It
misses the daring of the prophet of Nazareth. Christians will
hopefully not be caught again in the constrictive view of Church
hierarchs. Our master set us free. Why should we "be afraid
of the truth about ourselves, be afraid of fellow human beings,
be afraid of earthly powers and oppressive systems, afraid of