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.
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.
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.
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 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?