A Gift to the Church: The Didache High School Textbook Series
The past forty years have witnessed a serious malaise in the area of catechetics. The root of this crisis can be traced to the doctrinal confusion spurred by theological dissent in the years following the Second Vatican Council and the adoption of secular educational pedagogies that came into vogue in the sixties. Education became not the training of the human person to receive human insights combined with Divine Revelation in the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty, as much as it considered children as natural moral philosophers who, free from the oppression of doctrine and discipline, could discover freely the true meaning of life.
Some of these theories invariably worked their way into the catechetical enterprise. In the years immediately following the Second Vatican Council, salvation history, the story of God’s Providence unfolding through historical circumstances, became the focus of catechetical instruction. According to this model, the role of catechetics was no longer to educate the human person to grasp the meaning of Catholicism through abstract, doctrinal formulas. The emphasis now was upon building community and social relevancy through activism. This shift in the catechetical paradigm prepared the way for ‘process theology’ whereby God, it was said, revealed Himself continually in human affairs as He once did through the prophets of old. The traditional concept of catechesis as a handing-on of a received Deposit of Faith, guarded and preserved by the Catholic Church through the ages, and binding on the Christian faithful, became rendered a dispensable component of the Catholic inheritance. Doctrine was redefined as something no longer ‘static’, but ‘dynamic’ and ‘evolving’ as each day brought forth new revelations based upon the subjective experience of the recipient. “I feel” replaced “I believe” as the opening words for the creed of the new order. The proper object for catechetics was now the realm of the purely subjective experience of religion. Textbooks began to reflect this new think as the doctrinal formulations and the traditional vocabulary of theology that provided cohesion to the Catholic community and linked the present generation to their ancestors in the faith, were supplanted by the ongoing revelatory experiences of the faithful. This experimental method contributed to the rise of ‘cafeteria Catholicism’ which permitted the individual to decide for himself what Jesus Christ or Catholicism meant (in praxis, Catholicism has always been a religion of believers, half-believers, and hangers-on. The difference today, no doubt inspired by modern catechetics, is that the half-believers and hangers-on now claim official status in the Church although their adherence to Church teaching varies by degrees). The freedom of the individual became the final arbiter of what was or what was not in conformity with Catholic belief and practice. An individual could embrace any point of view or engage virtually in any practice, without jeopardizing either their membership in the Church or their eternal salvation. The effects of the new catechetics became readily discernable: a precipitous decline in the Sunday Mass attendance and confession regularity.
As years passed, the experimental method of catechesis became de rigueur in the United States notwithstanding the best efforts of Vatican dicasteries and some American bishops to rectify a lamentable situation. Influenced by theological dissenters in the field of catechesis, producers of contemporary religion materials continued to adopt the experimental method although the effects of the new methodology was perceptibly detrimental. Combining vague theology and stressing self-actualization, religion textbooks and catechesis became less concerned with fostering a living, conscious, and active faith through the light of Christian instruction, but sauntered into the realm of pop-psychology and personality development. (My own high school freshmen religion class was titled “Identity and Personality”). “How do you feel about…?” became the standard opening line for religious classroom instruction, and ‘love’ was the answer to every test question. Students of religion were expected to act as theologians before they were introduced to the sacred mysteries of the faith through sound doctrinal instruction. Sadly, such remained the state of affairs in religious education until the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which initiated the beginnings of a true renewal of catechetics and a return to a more traditional understanding of the true purpose of religious instruction.
Development of textbooks for the primary grades became the initial objective for Catholic publishers, the Faith and Life and Image of God series ranked among the most notable of the early contributions. For many years, however, the development of a textbook series for students of high school level theology remained unfulfilled. Most happily, this situation is about to be rectified.
Identifying the need for solid catechetical texts on the secondary level, the Midwest Theological Forum has produced a stunning new series of books, the Didache High School Textbook Series. Named after the first catechism of the Church, the primary sources for the content of the series are Sacred Scripture, the writings of the Fathers of the Church, the lives of the saints, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, of the Popes (especially that of the Papal Magisterium of John Paul II), and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Traditional terms and definitions, unique to the received Catholic tradition and offering a common language of faith, are utilized and explained. The textbooks feature rich illustrations and are handsomely bound. All books in the series are accompanied by a comprehensive teacher’s guide.
The first two volumes of this projected four-part series, Introduction to Catholicism and Our Moral Life in Christ, have now been published. The final two books of the series, The History of the Church and Understanding the Scriptures will be available in late Fall 2003.
The Didache High School Textbook Series has garnered the enthusiastic support of Cardinal Francis George of Chicago and such notables as theologian Scott Hahn. I received my advance copy of Introduction to Catholicism on May 13, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima. At Fatima, Our Lady predicted a widespread apostasy and a loss of faith. Defective catechesis has been responsible for advancing the fulfillment of this prophecy. A recent study commissioned by the Cardinal Newman Society and published in the March 2003 issue of Catholic World Report reported an alarming loss of faith among graduates of Catholic institutions. Clearly, Catholic youth are receiving an insufficient grounding in the science of divine Catholic faith.
With the publication of the Didache series, however, an effective catechetical tool has been provided to the Church to strengthen the solidity of the faith and of Christian living, offering fresh vigor to catechetical initiatives in hand, and should help to spread among the Catholic community the joy of bringing the mystery of Jesus Christ to the world.
The Didache High School Theology Series ( http://www.didacheseries.com ) may be ordered at Catholic Formation Materials. You can contact Catholic Formation Materials by mail at: 15750 S. Bell Rd., Suite 1C, Homer Glen, IL 60441. By Phone: Toll-Free 866-478-3987, or by Email: [email protected]
Fr. Vierling is an instructor of theology at Lansdale Catholic High School (Archdiocese of Philadelphia) and is Webmaster of Internet Padre ( http://www.internetpadre.com) and Learning the Faith: Catholic High School Theology Online (http://www.learningthefaith.com)
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