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.
Recently, Beneath the Tangles featured a very long and well-written post on the topic of slavery in The Rising of the Shield Hero. It is worth your time to read when you have a good chunk of free time:
Slavery is a very interesting topic in regards to Christianity, because the Bible never condemns it in explicit terms. This has led to epochs where rulers and nobility saw slavery as permissible, especially in the Age of Exploration and when the wars between Christendom and Islam became more advanced. Thus, the papacy had to condemn the practice several times in encyclicals and statements in the years 1462, 1537, 1639, 1741, 1815, and 1839. (See Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life by Stanley M. Elkins.) I might also add the 1435 encyclical commanding that Canary Islanders be freed from the condition of slavery. That slavery could be countenanced is rather odd when one considers that Medieval society had made great strides in eliminating slavery with its borders so that it was virtually non-existent by the 11th century, which coincides with the end of the Viking Age.
My latest article on Beneath the Tangles talks about why Latin became the Franca lingua of the Middle Ages, and about how the Catholic Church preferred–and indeed, still prefers–this language above all the rest. This topic and the last one I wrote about, monastic contributions to European economics, Isuna Hasekura gets very right.
For a while now, reading about the heterodox opinions expressed by high ranking prelates in the German Church has rankled me. Though, the state of Catholicism in Germany has often been problematic throughout history: St. Boniface needed to constantly reconvert Germans who had lapsed back into paganism; of all the particular churches prior to the Protestant Reformation, Germany offered more examples of corruption amidst the clergy; concerning Humanes Vitae (an encyclical stating orthodox teaching concerning married love, responsible parenting, and contraceptives), German bishops stated–before the ink was dry on that document–that people should just follow their consciences irrespective of Catholic teaching; and now, they have espoused new heretical teachings! Well, what should we expect of priests who are so lax that the grand majority only goes to confession once a year–the bare minimum for a practicing Catholic?
At least, I hope they still pray their Divine Office, which is an official program of prayer and spiritual reading priests have vowed to pray each day. After I left seminary, I gave my volumes of the Divine Office to my brother, since I still had to psychologically divorce myself from the seminary. (Besides, he seemed to enjoy praying it with me on occasion.) Recently, my parents returned the volumes to me after visiting my brother, and I could not resist praying at least Morning Prayer and the Office of Readings. Conspicuous in the Office of Readings is that selections from St. Augustine’s “Sermon on Pastors” makes up the second reading from last Sunday until next Friday–probably covering the whole sermon. May the German priests take to heart St. Augustine’s admonition to feed the sheep rather than themselves! What do I mean? The German priests make themselves more popular to their fellow citizens through espousing secular ideas over doctrine. The following have come from various high ranking German prelates: homosexuality should not be taught as a sin (I believe they wish to go much farther than saying only the acts, not the disposition, are sins), sex outside of marriage is fine, and divorced and remarried Catholics may receive the Eucharist.
Initially, I was not too keen on watching Maria the Virgin Witch (aka Junketsu no Maria); but many posts on the show inflamed my desire to do so, and Kaze’s comments in the 8th podcast of Beneath the Tangles proved to be the final impetus. In any event, I gobbled up these twelve episodes in three days. The show obviously derives from a liberal mindset, but it’s not as unfair to the Church as many other liberal takes on the Middle Ages. The reason for this lies in the author having a decided interest in the Middle Ages and Church history; though, one wishes that he had added a double dose of Catholic theology to his studies. But, in this post–presented in the Quick Takes format, I wish to write about how well the show represented the Middle Ages. I’ll talk about its philosophy another time.
-I: Weapons, Armor, and Battles-
The armor, weapons, and battlefield tactics employed at this period in history are all very well researched by the author. Not a single piece of armor or weapon is anachronistic or incorrect. There are problems with the sword and buckler fights and with how well two-handed weapons are sometimes wielded in just one hand. Also, there is an obvious absence of chainmail, but that can be explained by the difficulty of animating a coat of rings.
I like how the anime features primitive examples of the firearms which were first coming into use. The depiction of Britain’s standard defensive tactic relying upon longbow archers protected by men-at-arms was perfect. I also can’t remember the last time in an anime medieval soldiers wore gambesons, the padded coat which most soldiers could afford as armor.
Those of you looking for an enjoyable light novel need look no further than Spice and Wolf by Isuna Hasekura. The translation put out by Yen Press reads quite easily and still manages to have a lot of character. In particular, one of anime’s most beloved characters, Holo, can be read in all her sly wisdom, cunning repartee, archaic usage, culinary enthusiasm, and love of liquor. Besides Holo, the other characters, especially the protagonist, feel compelling. I cannot but love how the medieval setting reminds one of the Baltic Crusades and how Hasekura attempts to create a merchant hero who adheres to the code of contract law. (Very interesting and unusual.) Also, the novels cover more adventures than the anime ever will.
However much fun these novels are, they never fail to needle me a little. The tales are written from an atheist’s perspective, which varies from disdain to curiosity in regards to monotheism as practiced by the Church. This Church is reminiscent of the medieval Catholic Church, but their theologies don’t square perfectly. One of my favorite pot shots has to be Holo’s “The universe is too big for it to have been created by a single god.” How limiting the word kami must be on the Japanese theological imagination!
Having read five chapters of commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, I would like to recommend St. Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea to my dear readers. This work was perhaps the best present I received around Christmas, especially since Scripture somehow seems less enlightening of late. (The fault lies with my own pride.) The Catena Aurea parses passages of the Gospels with passages from the Church Fathers on the Gospels and doctrine. The doctors St. Thomas Aquinas draws from most frequently are St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom, St. Hilary of Poitiers, St. Remigius, and St. Leo the Great–my Confirmation patron.
I mentioned that my perusing of Scripture has not been as penetrating as formerly, which reminds me of how the Bible has been called God’s “Closed Book” while nature is God’s “Open Book.” This derives from the fact that the meaning of the Scriptures must be revealed by the Holy Spirit. One might believe that they can gain a literal understanding of the Scriptures without the Holy Spirit; but how often does one hear things like “I stopped believing when I saw that Scripture passages contradicted themselves” or that someone takes a literalistic view of scriptures and does something that Scripture did not intend–such as when Origen castrated himself so that he might enter the kingdom maimed rather than tossed whole into everlasting flames. The best thing that a Christian can do in order to perceive the true meaning of the Scriptures is to follow the pronouncements of established authority.
The Christian faith, unlike philosophy, relies on authority. The great difficulty of Protestantism is that it acknowledges an authoritative work–the Bible, but has no authoritative interpreters. Once when I boasted to a Lutheran friend of mine that I should have no trouble passing myself off as a Lutheran by merely agreeing with Luther, he countered that I would be discovered right away: a good Lutheran holds points of contention with the founder, and my friend thought the very name “Lutheran” actually misleading. But, even among Protestants, there are recognized authorities, even if they might be cast off should they conflict with one’s personal interpretation.
Catholics have it easy: the Church councils, the pope speaking ex cathedra, and the bishops acting in concert and in communion with the Pope have infallible interpretative authority. They are guided by the Holy Spirit in such a way that they cannot err. In order of authority, the Doctors of the Church come after this. These men strove to uphold the truth of Christian doctrine and remain loyal to the Church. By adhering to authority, they tended to be on the side of the right, though they were occasionally wrong when the Church had not clarified doctrine completely or needed to confess ignorance on certain questions. Most famously, St. Augustine was unsure whether original sin was placed on newly created souls by God, passed on by the souls of the parents, or derived from the taint of lust during conception. Now, we know that the first view is correct, but this remained an unsettled question during the time of St. Augustine. Next in authority come other saints, clergy, theologians, religious teachers, and lastly us ordinary lay people.
That’s right. If you’re reading this, you’re probably with me on the bottom of the totem pole as the least reliable interpreters of Scripture and doctrine. For example, I imprecisely held that baptism removed original sin from the soul. Rather, it removes original guilt from the soul, i.e. we still suffer from the effects of original sin (concupiscence), but are no longer denied entrance into heaven. Of course, I knew that concupiscence existed, but I thought that this derived from the fact that we have physical bodies in an imperfect state. Live and learn! Unless we subscribe to an authority, especially the most perfect authority of the Church, we ought to always keep in mind that our understanding of Scripture and doctrine might be incorrect. Humility is God’s favorite virtue, and we should quickly become proud should we believe in our own infallibility.
People joke that Catholics do not read the Bible, but Catholics do read works written by people adept at Scripture and have a pastor interpret the readings of the Mass every Sunday. This priest himself relies on the Office of Readings, other theological works, and a period of education and training typically lasting from 6 to 12 years. (Priests called “lifers” go to high school seminary, college seminary, and then theological seminary.) Even more than Newton, Christian teachers must stand on the shoulders of giants, especially the colossal figures of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.
Then again, there is a second kind of authority important for the ordinary Christian: the lives of the saints and servants of God. By looking at how they applied Scripture and doctrine to their lives, we can apply the precepts of Scripture more accurately to our own. The Golden Legends stands as my favorite collection of saints’ lives, but Butler’s Lives of the Saints probably has a wider following and contains fewer passages requiring one to take a grain of salt. For more modern examples, the lives of Padre Pio, Mother Theresa, St. Guiseppe Moscati, and Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati are remarkably edifying.
Feeling the weight of my own ignorance upon me, I shall probably decline from writing spiritual articles for a while. However, I shall work on expanding my understanding through the clear vision of the Fathers and might write an article with stuff I
steal borrow from them. My the Holy Spirit enlighten the minds of us all!