On Catechisms

In this post, I want to discuss what I think are the three Catholic catechisms most easily accessible to Americans. A catechism is a summary of principles or doctrines often in a question and answer format. Catechisms usually concern Christian doctrine, but books like A Confederate Catechism and The New Conservative Catechism also exist.  Of the three catechisms covered in this post, only The Baltimore Catechism has a question and answer format.  This format is handy for memorization, but being able to answer in one’s own words, as The Roman Catechism or Pope St. John Paul II’s The Catechism of the Catholic Church would require, is also useful and more in line with modern notions of education.

At any rate, JPII’s catechism is the one which I have first used and learned from, while I only read from The Baltimore Catechism and The Roman Catechism or The Catechism of the Council of Trent more recently.  Each work has its strengths and weaknesses.  If you look at the tables of contents, The Roman Catechism and The Catechism of the Catholic Church share a very similar format.  While covering the same topics, The Baltimore Catechism was meant to teach students the faith from around 3rd until 8th grade (say, from ages 7-14).  So, this catechism is divided into lesson plans and focuses more on Christian morals and practice.  While JPII’s catechism appears to be written so that lay people of high school age and older can understand it, it has the purpose of being a reference book for clergy so that bishops may better develop their own catechisms if they so desire.  (For example, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops developed its own catechism, United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, but I don’t know a single person who uses or prefers it to JPII’s catechism.)  On the other hand, The Roman Catechism has parish priests as its target audience. 

John Carroll of Baltimore, the first bishop and archbishop of the United States. The Baltimore Catechism would come 70 years after his death.

That The Baltimore Catechism targets grammar school children for its audience should not stop an adult from reading it.  I found plenty of useful information in there, and many American Catholics have not had the good fortune of having as complete a religious education as mine.  The only serious flaw in any of the three catechisms has to be Pope Francis’ revision of the passage on capital punishment, which quotes Pope Francis saying something not in line with prior Catholic teaching.  (See my post on the topic here.)  So, I would not buy an edition of The Catechism of the Catholic Church published after 2017.

St. Charles Borromeo

Also, the fact that The Roman Catechism targets those who have undergone theological training should not stop a devout Catholic from picking up this book.  Portions of it were taken from the catechism of St. Peter Canisius, and the project had the backing of St. Charles Borromeo.  The fervor with which this work was written is palpable.  You might want to become better versed in theology before picking up this work, but I highly recommend it.  The Catechism of the Council of Trent is my favorite of the three.

Benedict XVI, one of the greatest clerical theologians of our time, was highly involved in the creation of The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

This is not to say that the other two do not have good points.  Despite the error I see in the current paragraph 2267, JPII’s catechism has many useful footnotes.  These point to passages in the Bible useful for defending doctrine and references works by the Church Fathers and other ecclesiastical documents.  In terms of Catholic life and practice, nothing seems better than The Baltimore Catechism.  The other bonus in regard to all three catechisms is that they can all be downloaded and read for free!  See the following links:

The Baltimore Catechism

The Roman Catechism

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Link does not contain Pope Francis’ revision 🙂 )

Do my dear readers have a favorite catechism?  Any good or bad points about the ones above which you’d like to mention?

11 comments on “On Catechisms

  1. Foxfier says:

    I don’t have a favorite version, I just think it’s cool that they do not have any inherent authority– each aspect has only the authority of the specific thing it’s based off of.

    Relevantly, the Pope Francis quote has the authority of the pope talking in contradiction to existing teaching; quoting Jesus to say love your neighbor is the authority of Jesus, those conclusions drawn from it have the authority of the document where they lay out the logic.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Very true, the Vatican can change whatever part of the catechism they want but it needs to be based off of the doctrine established by the Magisterium to bind a Catholic’s conscience. The part about capital punishment, to be fair to Pope Francis, was troubling even in the original version of that catechism. Just as Pope Francis quotes himself, the original passage uses a quote by Pope John Paul II to discourage the use of capital punishment. This just goes to show that the Catholic movement to abolish capital punishment is very, very new. The Vatican States even employed an executioner as late as the mid-19th century.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. On the alleged “error”:

    We’ve been here before. lol But I love throwing my .02 in.

    Um, it’s nice to think Catholic doctrine has been the same for 2000 years, but it hasn’t. I’m sure you’re familiar with the fact that Christ’s divinity wasn’t formalized as doctrine until hundreds of years after He had ascended. How do you think the Arians felt? Or what about John Eugenikos and the Orthodox Church? Same *foundational* truths; new or different understanding. And actually, the stance on the death penalty falls into the category of “virtual revealed truth”. See “dogma” on newadvent, section “The three classes of revealed truth”: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05089a.htm

    So yes, doctrine does “change”, but what is said to change is our understanding, not the foundational truths that are said to compose it. Technically, the authoritative, foundational truths have never changed. For example, human life is sacred and of the utmost value in this world. Hopefully, our understanding of that improves, but when it comes to practical implementation of doctrine, there may be discrepancies.

    Yes, it might feel like we can’t trust the church if it’s “wrong” or reversed it’s stance on such a critical point as this, but we have to step back and realize we’re working with a complex framework, not a couple of stone tablets.

    Putting it on a more personal level: It’s easy to find logic that supports your stance when you feel convinced about an idea. Or to phrase it as I usually do: Whatever you look for, you will find, even if it isn’t there. You personally believe capital punishment is just, whereas I’m inclined to go the other way. We could discuss Catholic doctrine all day, but – as is the case with most human arguments – there is some more fundamental and personal reason being hidden. Perhaps it’s our understanding of other church teachings, perhaps its personal experiences, perhaps its merely reasoning for what is most efficient/effective, perhaps all of the above. In any case, in order to purify one’s viewpoint so that one can have a correct analysis, the first step is identifying those *actual* underlying reasons for why one believes what one does. Then we can question the “why” for why we came to believe in each reason we did. And then we can question the validity of each of those “why”s. Otherwise, debate always stays on the surface level and ends with both people being more convinced of themselves.


    The JPII version (or rather, Cardinal Ratzinger since he organized it) is nicely done and very succinct. I heard from Fr Corapi many Catholics gave their input. As nicely organized as the book is, it’s something the Eastern Orthodox Church ought to be jealous of since the only “catechism” of theirs I could find was a silly question-and-answer format with really lame answers, written by one guy and approved of by the patriarchs.


    • Foxfier says:

      For the divinity of Christ, I don’t think you understand how the Church’s theology works– there wasn’t any formalization of teachings until after someone introduced an opposing claim. The teaching goes all the way back to the start.

      Feelings don’t matter. The teachings do.

      No amount of development will change “there are instances where capital punishment is licit” into “capital punishment is never licit.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Your first sentence is both insulting… and doesn’t make sense to me. You said there wasn’t any formalization but that the teaching goes back to the start… Aren’t you confirming my point? I said doctrine “changes”. Note the quotation marks. Let me express my morality point alittle more clearly: The underlying principles are: Love God, Love Neighbor, Human Life is made in God’s image and is thus sacred. Those laws are expounded on in the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law, however, is only an expression that suits the time period. Jesus said “Not the smallest letter nor the least stroke of a pen will by any means disappear from the law until all has been completed” (translations vary) preceded by “I have not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it”. We often say this means we can now eat pork. Hurray! But then Christians often use Leviticus as a means of saying, “Gay is wrong” and “We can execute by the Death Penalty”. Wait a second. How is it that pork eating was forbidden and now ok, but homosexuality isn’t? Looking at it from a modern medical perspective, we see that homosexuality is unhealthy… and so is eating unprocessed pork. The fact is, eating pork is still bad for you, but modern processing has made it possible to safely eat pork. Doctrine changed. If we were to go back to living like the ancient Hebrews, eating pork would be a very, very bad idea. But was eating pork ever a true sin? Technically, eating pork, sleeping on the moon, and burying one’s head in the sand are among the many human actions that – when interpreted from a objective, non-metaphysical perspective – are meaningless motion of atoms. In fact, all motion of atoms is meaningless. Now you think: Hey, wait, I can write a letter or email and that has meaning! Sure, but it only has meaning in as far as you, the human being, are able to interpret it. That letter is meaningless to a cow or squirrel. Likewise, human action has meaning to humans and God, and results according to physics and biology and the laws of nature as having certain outcomes. For example, suppose I eat lots of fatty foods. I get fat. It’s not against the Law, by name, by it isn’t loving of God or neighbor. By becoming fat, I become less capable of serving others, increase the health risks to my body (and therefore tax society by requiring medical help), and dishonor the temple of God (my body). But God allows it! Sure. God has allowed many, many things. But these things are still sin. “Sin” means “miss of the mark”. It’s an archery term. When we fail to live perfectly, we miss the mark.

        Jesus in His sermon on the mount doesn’t diminish the Law. Rather, He reinterprets it in a way that harkens back to its TRUE roots. He says, “You have heard it said… But I say to you…” In fact, He raises the bar! If you want to take Jesus literally and argue He supports the death penalty, are you going to cut out your eye that sins? I don’t think so. It’s a hyperbole, but it does emphasize His point, which is too often belittled: “Make EVERY effort to enter by the narrow way”. Jesus wants us to have a higher standard, and that means it’s going to be much more strict than what we were originally accustomed to.

        Development DOES change “there are instances where capital punishment is licit” into “capital punishment is never licit”. There are two ways this can happen. 1) As John Paul noted, the advancement of society (and technology, I note) has made it possible such that the cases in which the death penalty is necessary are rare if ever. Compare the Middle Ages and the inability to hose many prisoners to today where buildings can be built almost at-whim, among other measures we can do to combat crime. 2) Doctrine traces itself closer to the roots of God’s original intentions. As I’m learning about God’s-way-vs-my-way, I’ve come to realize that much of what I originally accepted as “not sin” is actually sin that God has tolerated for awhile and will not any longer come soon. More articles on that to come.

        The basic underlying law is Love God, and we discover more and more what that means.

        Morality is like a fractal. Think of a black Mandelbrot on a white background. It is composed of a single formula and a termination rule. At basic zoom level, it looks like it has some big humps that define the general areas that are off limits and we can’t find its edges, so we call them “grey areas” (but, as we will see, there are no grey areas in either the mandelbrot or morality). So we think we can describe it by general laws. And that works for a time. Then as we progress in contemplation and wondering about all this, we start to get specific, and those general laws start having exception cases. And these days, such thought has progressed so much, it becomes abstract, so now we have “situational ethics”. But situational ethics scenarios are based on this primitive view of generalized laws. Such scenarios beat the crap out of general laws because general laws were never the underlying law to begin with. For example, general law “Thou shalt not steal” gets beat by situational ethics scenario “What if I took something that I didn’t know belonged to someone else?” The underlying laws of morality, however, are Love God and Love Neighbor, and by these laws “hang all the Law and the prophets” Jesus said. And by these two laws, we can actually begin to answer the question posed by the situational ethics scenario. The answer works just like a real fractal: In order to know the precise value of good or bad (or for a black mandelbrot on white: whether the pixel is black or white), you have to pick very, very specific details (or for a fractal, a specific x,y-coordinate pair).

        So is the Death Penalty valid? At a certain zoom level, it seems to be. Historically, it was. But we’ve advanced in society, and the general rule of “Eye for an Eye” has been replaced by a more specific implementation of “But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, and do good to those who spitefully use you”. We’re getting more to the heart of what God wants, and those temporal laws are passing way. “Moses let you give you wives a certificate of divorce BECAUSE YOUR HEARTS WERE HARD, BUT FROM THE BEGINNING (Genesis) IT WAS NOT SO.” Jesus is calling us BACK TO EDEN, a time of perfection. We are going in reverse history, to when even God protected Cain, the murderer, from being slain.

        Sorry for being really, really wordy. I’ll eventually write this sort of thing out in a more formalized post (pardon the pun), so this was good practice.


      • Foxfier says:

        Your first sentence is both insulting… and doesn’t make sense to me.

        That’s because it is accurate. You responded emotionally, and got just enough information to support that response, then stopped.

        You don’t even recognize that there is a difference between formalizing an existing teaching, and creating it– and you can’t be bothered to so much as click through once you’ve got your emotions set. Heck, you don’t even have to accept it, but it’s not that hard to recognize, which is needed to be able to answer it.


        As you will not engage with the answers that you’re given when you ask for them, I’m not going to keep trying to force you to take them.

        I gave you an answer, I can’t give you an understanding.


      • So you meant to insult me? I guess I should learn to stop feeding trolls.


      • Foxfier says:

        So you meant to insult me?

        No. I aim to speak accurately, even while recognizing that it was very unlikely you would be willing to listen, much less accept or respond reasonably.

        That you expect people to be controlled by your choice to take insult to an honest and relevant response does not speak well of your judgment, so your name-calling greatly lacks in sting. I already knew that I wasn’t saying what you wanted to hear.


      • Oh yeah, and this link was a nice unbiased discussion on the topic: https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/catholicism–capital-punishment-2637

        Liked by 1 person

    • I think that it’s essentially doctrine that the state may resort to capital punishment to protect society from serious offenders who have done heinous crimes. There are two equal and opposite heresies in regard to the death penalty–one cruel and one permissive. The cruel heresy would be that everyone who commits particular crimes must be put to death with no room for mercy. The permissive heresy would call capital punishment malum in se–evil in itself. Pope Francis’ words essentially calls capital punishment malum in se: “The death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” You could replace “death penalty” with “abortion” or “murder” because both are “attacks on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” Both murder and abortion are malum in se, and Pope Francis seems to elevate the death penalty to the same level.

      However, it’s impossible for God to command something malum in se. The Old Testament laws were revealed by God for the Hebrews to follow, and they prescribe capital punishment for certain offenses. It is perfectly possible for a state to use a lesser punishment for those crimes, but the possibility that the government can act more mercifully does not mean that capital punishment was not just in regard to those crimes. In regard to things which are malum in se, they cannot be okay at one point in history and malum in se at another. God is eternal.

      The dietary laws of the Jews are another thing. There is nothing malum in se about eating pork or shrimp. There is something malum in se, on the other hand, about cannibalism. And, God would never command for people to become cannibals. On the other hand, God could prohibit the Jews from eating pork and call it an abomination for a Jew to eat pork and then reverse that decision in the Acts of the Apostles, which He does in Acts chapter 10.

      Concerning the Arians, they taught something novel. One can cite the works of St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 110 AD), St. Aristides of Athens (140), Tatian the Syrian (170), St. Melito of Sardis (170), St. Irenaeus of Lyons (189), St. Clement of Alexandria (195), Origen (225), St. Hippolytus of Rome (227) and St. Cyprian of Carthage (255) for evidence that the Catholic Church believed that Jesus Christ was true God and true man. This was all before the heretic Arius was born in 256 AD and before Arius’s ignominious death in a privy in 336.

      I agree that our understanding of doctrine can change while the foundations stay the same–as happened in the case of usury. But, we need to keep a “hermeneutic of continuity,” as Benedict XVI put it. Doctrine can develop, but it can’t change. It’s perfectly licit to say that it’s better not to resort to capital punishment, but making something malum in se which is not malum in se is a change rather than a development.


      • I see what you’re saying, though I’d say development is a change, but it’s a change of the surface interpretation. I think our views differ on what is considered “fundamental” and therein lies our disagreement. *sigh*

        Liked by 1 person

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