Can You Trust YOUR Catechism?

Most who read at this board likely know what a catechism is. Certainly our Catholics readers were taught from a catechism as they prepared for the various sacraments. For those few to whom the term is foreign, I offer this definition:

catechism: A manual for moral and religious instruction which is a summary of Catholic doctrine… -- Albert M. Nevins, Ed., The Maryknoll Catholic Dictionary, Dimension Books (1965), p. 106 – has Nihil Obstat & Imprimatur)

Actually, it would be more correct to have defined the word as a summary of religious doctrine, given that the RCC is not the only church that produces catrechisms. As an example of such non-Catholic catechism, I mention a lovely little edition of a catechism published in Philadelphia in 1902. Its full title is: The Heidelberg Catechism of the Reformed Church in United States. Should anyone contend this is just another Catholic catechism, I add that it was printed by the Publication Board of the Reformed Church in the United States.

Hmmm. Does this mean that the Maryknoll Catholic Dictionary, which a censor of books has declared to contain nothing against faith and morals and which a bishop has determined may be read without damage to faith and morals, is untrustworthy? Not at all, for the definition of the word catechism, whether accurate or flawed, has no impact on faith and morals. On the other hand, that such an inaccuracy was included points to the need to read such documents carefully so as not to be deceived by error, whether inadvertent or intentional. Luke praised the Jews of Berea because, after listening to Paul and Silas teach, they went home and checked the Scriptures to verify what he had said (Acts 17:10,11).

What about the Catechism itself? Surely this is a different matter and one would expect ecclesiastical authorities to go to great lengths to ensure that no error creeps into the books the essentials of which the RCC requires catechumens to understand. One aid to understanding the Catholic Catechism informs that:

The teachings of the one true religion are contained in summary form in the catechism.

The catechism is a most valuable book…The doctrine contained in the catechism must be taught to all. In teaching it, method must be employed, for all sciences require a systematic presentation in order to be learned well.

Religion offers a solution to the problems that life presents, and like life itself, religious truths are not isolated doctrines; they are teachings intimately related with one another, such as the Holy Trinity, the incarnation, and original sin. The catechism is a profound and coherent exposition of revealed truths. It is the great handbook of the love and fear of God, of Christian wisdom, and of eternal life. -- Francis Spirago, revised and updated by Bishop Anthony N. Fuerst, The Catechism Explained, Benziger Brothers, Inc (1961), p. 4 – has Nihil Obstat & Imprimatur)

Not too long ago, while reading in one of the volumes in my collection of Catholic catechisms, I came across something that caught my eye. This book, which has all the proper stamps and approvals, is the fourth and last in a series. These claims may be found in the Preface:

When it teaches a tenet of Faith, it also points out and refutes the errors that oppose the doctrine. When it describes truth, it reveals the falsehood that surrounds it. It deals with particulars, not generalities. It uses the language and idiom of present-day usage. It aims at fitting out the minds and hearts of our people with such power of knowledge that they may go forth to struggle bravely and victoriously against the false theories that beset them on all sides...There is, indeed, no power that can confound the man who possesses a thorough and fundamental knowedge of his Faith. Such a one alone is trustworthy in time of trial; he alone can be counted on to suffer and sacrifice for his Faith; he alone is always proud of his Faith, whether he be in the midst of scoffers or admirers. -- Roderick MacEachen, Complete Catechism of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Book Company (1911), Preface – has Nihil Obstat, Imprimatur & Cum Permissu

What was it that caught my eye? It was an error. Granted, it was a small error, but one that I believe should not have escaped the attention of the Deputy Censor, the Bishop of Wheeling or the Bishop of Columbus – all of whom supposedly read the book before affixing their seals of approval. As one who spends a great deal of time researching and writing, I can understand how the error might have slipped past the author. After spending many hours or days writing and re-writing something, it is easy to overlook things when proofreading. I can understand how an editor or proofreader in a publishing house could miss the error. After all, such people are trained to find and correct mistakes in spelling or grammar, not references to passages in the Bible. I cannot understand how a churchman, among whose labors is teaching the doctrines of his faith to laymen could overlook a wrong reference to a passage of Scripture.

So what was this error?

"Q. What does St. Paul say of seeing God in Heaven?

A. St. Paul says: We see (God) now through a glass in a dark manner, but then face to face – 1 Cor, xiv, 32." -- MacEachen, Op. cit., p. 20

I checked the Douay-Rheims translation, which, we are told, is faithful to the Vulgate. In that book, 1 Corinthians 14:32 reads: "And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets." The quoted words are to be found in Chapter 13 of Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church, where verse 12 reads as follows in the Douay-Rheims: "We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known." I checked the Latin Vulgate, the King James Version and even my 21st Edition of Eberhard Nestle's Novum Testamentum Graece. None of these corroborated MacEachen's citation.

As I said, it was a small error, and one easily enough resolved. It occurs to me, however, that if one error can make it through the screenings such a book must survive, then perhaps there are others as well, If there are, might not some of them be major?

How about it? Can YOU trust YOUR catechism?

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