Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Catechism Project

Derek's recent post, "Catechism Resurrection - What's Needed?" has given me an idea, which I mentioned over there but would like to formally propose here:  let's start a blog that works from "An Outline of the Faith" - the Catechism printed in the back of the 1979 US Prayer Book - and....well, fills in the outline.

I have several beefs with the Catechism, as I've written here before in the now-defunct pre-July 2012 part of the blog (which can still be found in the Google Reader feed. BTW!).   (I really would like to start afresh with another blog, but haven't figured out what to call it yet....)

First beef:  the Catechism starts out assuming the very thing for which it's trying to argue!  Now, perhaps the Catechism isn't actually supposed to be an apologia - but our Catechism really doesn't say much to anybody who hasn't already accepted the basic tenets of the faith.  And this, I think, is because it comes out of Christendom; it assumes that everybody has absorbed the tenets of the faith from childhood onward and already accepts them.  This is absolutely no longer true.

Second, and far more problematically:  the Catechism is just not interesting.  It's a list of rather dry and lifeless "facts."  This is fine, if you want to use it as a defense - but it sure doesn't have what it takes to tell the tale to new people.  Again:  for the most part, you have to understand and accept these ideas already.

So, the Catechism works for people who are already Episcopalians, to remind them about the propositions of the faith that the Episcopal Church teaches.  Of course, it's tucked away in the back of the book next to "historical documents" - and it's a comparative snooze, anyway!  So who's going to read it?

No, I think we need an Anglican-based exposition of those facts - one that can be read and understood devotionally, as well.   Full Homely Divinity is my model here; the people who put that site together do this very, very well.   Right from the start, on the home page, it states its primary purpose: it wants to be "a website for the Anglican at the Altar and especially for the Anglican in the pew."

When I first came to the church, that site was a great gift for me - because there I was able to read colorful, warm, and fascinating articles about the Anglican way of faith.  The liturgical year is discussed from a variety of viewpoints:  feasts, rituals, ideas, customs - and all in a warm, accessible way and with an obvious love for the Anglican approach.

As for a model of how to work when the subject is the Catechism?  I admire the Catholic catechism very much.  It starts out this way:

27 The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for:
The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.1
28 In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behavior: in their prayers, sacrifices, rituals, meditations, and so forth. These forms of religious expression, despite the ambiguities they often bring with them, are so universal that one may well call man a religious being:
From one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him - though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For "in him we live and move and have our being."2
29 But this "intimate and vital bond of man to God" (GS 19 § 1) can be forgotten, overlooked, or even explicitly rejected by man.3 Such attitudes can have different causes: revolt against evil in the world; religious ignorance or indifference; the cares and riches of this world; the scandal of bad example on the part of believers; currents of thought hostile to religion; finally, that attitude of sinful man which makes him hide from God out of fear and flee his call.4
30 "Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice."5 Although man can forget God or reject him, He never ceases to call every man to seek him, so as to find life and happiness. But this search for God demands of man every effort of intellect, a sound will, "an upright heart", as well as the witness of others who teach him to seek God.
You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised: great is your power and your wisdom is without measure. And man, so small a part of your creation, wants to praise you: this man, though clothed with mortality and bearing the evidence of sin and the proof that you withstand the proud. Despite everything, man, though but a small a part of your creation, wants to praise you. You yourself encourage him to delight in your praise, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.6
And then:
50 By natural reason man can know God with certainty, on the basis of his works. But there is another order of knowledge, which man cannot possibly arrive at by his own powers: the order of divine Revelation.1 Through an utterly free decision, God has revealed himself and given himself to man. This he does by revealing the mystery, his plan of loving goodness, formed from all eternity in Christ, for the benefit of all men. God has fully revealed this plan by sending us his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. 

A person can, of course, accept or reject all of that - but at least the argument is offered, and supported.  The Catholic Catechism does not assume that people already accept its claims.  And the way it's written - both expositionally and devotionally, that is - speaks to the human heart and the human mind.

Here is how its section on "The Sacrament of the Eucharist" begins:
1324 The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life."136 "The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch."137
1325 "The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God's action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit."138
1326 Finally, by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all.139
1327 In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: "Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking."140
1328 The inexhaustible richness of this sacrament is expressed in the different names we give it.
Do you see what I mean?  "The source and summit of the Christian life."  "The whole spiritual good of the Church."  "The efficaious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life...."  "The sum and summary of our faith."  "The inexhaustible richness of this sacrament...."

Does this language itself not seem fascinating and appealing?  Does it not provoke in you - at the very least - a bit of curiosity about the Eucharist, and a desire to know more?   Wouldn't it interest you to know exactly why people write and think this way?

We're not Catholics, of course; we're Anglicans.  FHD has done a fantastic job, IMO, of expressing some ways in which that fact affects our faith and practices. But surely there is more to say?  And certainly it's possible to write both devotionally and expositionally (is that a word?  I'm not sure!)  about what's in our Catechism?   

Well, I would like to try, because I think a Catechism is a good thing - explanations are always a good thing - but it's not effective unless it can speak to people.   I was hoping to write my own version, in fact!  But in fact that would take me  many years, because at the moment I don't have most of the training and background necessary.   So I would like to see if I can gather expositional/devotional articles from those who do have the background, with each person taking a question-and-answer from the Catechism and discussing it in more depth, and with an eye towards explaining our faith to people outside the church (or those new to it).   (I will also point to A.A.'s original 1939 book, "Alcoholics Anonymous" as a good example of what it takes to do this - the book was written expressly to let alcoholics know about A.A. and to explain its principles and its workings - although I admit it's really florid in places.  "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions" might be a better bet; that one was written about 20 years later, after some of the original alcoholics had gotten the cobwebs out.  And it does work, more or less, in the expository/devotional style, too.)

This is the perfect project, I think, for a group effort like this. I'll have to go off and ponder a good name for the new blog.  "The Catechism Project" sounds a bit on the dull side, too, I admit - but here's the blog, for now.  We can always change the name later.

If you're interested in submitting something, go ahead and pick out a question and answer, and let me know what you've taken; I'll keep track of who's got what.  Or if you have other ideas, please let me know in comments, or yahoo me (tr.Babs). 

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