I noted with interest this recent post from Fr. Bryan Owen which refers to another post from Fr. Tony Clavier on lifting up the prayer book catechism. I’m personally a fan of the prayer book catechism and have used it a fair amount in my writing and teaching including this piece on its view of the sacraments.
So—what would be helpful here? What kind of resources would help resurrect the catechism as a useful tool for reference and instruction?
I’m a former Lutheran; I have at least a cubit of space on one of my shelves dedicated to “catechetical helps” that assist in the teaching of Luther’s Small Catechism to bored and distracted middle-schoolers. I haven’t reviewed them all in some time but a standard feature of this genre is Scripture citations. I’d think something that connected Scripture to our catechism would be helpful. Some of the Lutheran materials offer a list of proof-texts—while some might be helpful, I’m thinking that a more clear connection with narratives or certain biblical arguments might work better than a simple listing of verses.
Furthermore, we aren’t and don’t pretend to be a sola scriptura church; we acknowledge the place of Tradition. Does this suggest that links to patristic writings and syntheses of the Scriptural witness would be helpful as well?
I also noticed that when I was writing the piece linked to above, I jumped around a certain amount , then provided my own discursive connection-of-the-dots. To what degree is this helpful—to what degree does it represent my own impositions onto the catechism?
Thoughts? Ramblings? Whatever…?
Derek, as I was reading your post I began to wonder about a catechetical commentary; something that would offer a context and grounding based on scripture, the patristics, and Tradition. A “so what” section would also be helpful in addressing why the catechism matters to daily life. The challenge, I think, with the catechism (and perhaps formation in general) is to move from information and beliefs to transformation and a way of living. I do not see those as mutually exclusive but as mutually dependent.
Well, I’ll only say this once, and quietly: we need to open the Episcopal Catechism and the Catholic one side-by-side and note the differences.
I think you already know my feelings on this (and I do think a comparison would help, BTW!). But, since a rewrite is probably not in the offing, and since you’re asking for realistic suggestions here: I’d say we need to write (perhaps “Full Homely Divinity“-style) meditations/devotions on almost every line in the Catechism. We could, in fact, create a blog to start doing exactly that – and take contributions from Episcopal bloggers who’d like to contribute, both ordained and not. (And we, as the editors, get to control the content!).
Because when I was new to the church, I read Full Homely Divinity, and was thrilled to have something like that to turn to – a resource whose aim was not novelty or “being daring” or “making a name and reputation” – but to teach the faith, because the authors thought the faith was worth teaching. In fact I think I learned more at that blog (and on this blog, too, and also at STMV) than anywhere else. And it delighted me to have some colorful, warm, devotional in-depth exposition of the yearly feasts and the other things FHD addressed.
The Catechism, IMO, should be used to explain the faith to people who aren’t already in the church – not (only) as a defense against people who are already in the church but don’t actually care for things as they are. But that is how it’s being used now, because – again – the bar is very, very low at this point. Let me point out that Clavier, in the comments, explains his post this way: “I would merely add that the intent of the blog was to assert that TEC has a Catechism which is authorized and should be in wide use.” Well, who wouldn’t agree with that? Sure, “it exists” and “is authorized”; and then?
I will add that when I was in my Confirmation class, one of the (lay!) leaders asked the group “Who has read the Catechsim in the back of the Prayer Book”? I was the only one who raised my hand, and I did that on my own; it had never been suggested by the clergy. So I think your real target(s) here are the seminaries and the clergy – and I agree, they are fair targets.
But the Catechism is supposed to be a teaching document for those who don’t know the faith – and this one is only that on the barest level, IMO. YMMV….
It’s going to be hard to put scriptural or patristics evidence in support of the semi-pelagianism of that vainly-imagined catechism.
The Rev’d Chris Larimer Rector, Holy Apostles Anglican Church Elizabethtown, KY
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Interesting—which specific lines strike you as being semi-pelagian in a way that falls outside the orthodox faith?
We are perhaps more a prima Scriptura Church. I think any resource that is largely apologetic or defensive in nature will fail God’s mission in our contextual realities…I read a lot of these genres on the web from folks who are concerned about the present state of TEC, but we do not move people to wonder with vinegar or constantly responding to those with whom we disagree, and wonder is what is most lacking in our society. The Catechism (as with the Creed) is about assent to a relationship, a way of life lived as praise and prayer, and that requires awe and wonder in my experience…I read some of the defensive posts on both of these and cringe…I hear none of the power and amazement that comes with professing “maker of heaven and earth,” “through him all things were made,” “for us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven,” etc, what power there is in these worlds given alternative rejected formulations, and what vision and relationships this praise and prayer, our formularies, inspires Christians to live in our social worlds and within creation. In other words sharing Who is the hope that is in us using our formularies would serve us far better.
I think citations of both scripture and the fathers would be massively helpful–but in the case of the latter, I don’t think it would be a bad idea to cherry pick folks who had a profound influence on the development of English spirituality along the lines Fr. Thornton discussed in, well…English Spirituality. I would also hope that there’d be liberal references to the great Anglican reformers and divines.
I think the lion’s share of the work, though, will be in contextualizing the catechism within a specifically Anglican paradigm. Currently, it seems like it’s easy to miss and therefore easy to dismiss. The alternative would be to make it into something strictly magisterial or imperative (Believe this or suffer!), but that’s not quite how we, as Anglican’s, tend to do theology (though the absolutism of the imperative approach seems to be on the rise these days–everyone desperately wants to be “right,” and it’s comforting to be able to point to something and say, “I believe what that says. That means I’m right. And you’re wrong”). I think an approach which sees the catechism and what’s in it as a loving invitation given by God through his church to live a new kind of life of faith would be most useful–not a list of propositions requiring some kind of de facto intellectual assent, but a series of challenging provocations meant to unsettle us and requiring from us a passionate engagement; not something we’ll be tested on later, but something that should inform our relationships and how we understand the world and our responsibilities in it and to it now, providing (at least in part) a pattern which shows us how to love by showing us who love is; not a list of rules, but a rule.
From what I can tell the source of this trope is a book by (are we at all surprised?) Peter Toon. In Proclaiming the Gospel Through the Liturgy there is an appendix attacking the 1979 catechism. Personally, it strikes me as having all of Toon’s characteristic faults: guilt by association on the part of the BCP authors, borderline ranting about heresy which doesn’t have much connection to the text at hand, and the assumption that every difference in wording is intended to repudiate the old text in order to endorse some heresy.
In this case he accused the text of modalism and Pelagianism. It seems to me that he was totally off-base about the former. The latter case is not so clear-cut. It is true that the 1979 responses step away from laying out a Calvinist-approved doctrine of total depravity. But it also seems to me that there’s nothing said that is in contradiction to such a position either: the 1979 abjures theories as to the cause of sin, and simply reports its ubiquity. I remember enough of my high school sacred studies to recall that in those days original sin as a doctrinal position was not looked upon with favor, remembering too that OS was typically then interpreted as signifying the Thomist formulation.
Let’s just say I attempted to refer to it last week and found it is even more useless than I remembered. I’m with bls as far as the Catholic Catechism. I refer to it often.