Review of Catechesi Tradendae

John Paul II. Catechesi Tradendae. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute, 2014 (ISBN 978-1-62282-238-6) x + 132 pp., Pb. $7.99. Available on Amazon HERE.

This first (Post-Synodal) Apostolic Exhortation of Pope St. John Paul II urges everyone to make the task of catechesis a high priority in the Church to spur a catechetical renewal strengthening the faith of Christians. This exhortation communicates the work of the fourth general assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 1977, during the reign of Pope Paul VI. Though this exhortation was given in 1979, much of its content is still relevant today and it contains important principles every catechist should follow in their work.

The Christocentricity of Catechesis

Chapter one begins by highlighting the importance of christocentricity and its two aspects. The first aspect of christocentric catechesis is the communication of the person of Jesus Christ to the faithful. “What is taught by catechesis?” is not as accurate of a question as “Who is taught?” The late pontiff writes, “Accordingly, the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ.”1 Catechesis is not primarily concerned with providing historical details or factual knowledge about Jesus of Nazareth.2 Rather, christocentric catechesis has the goal of bringing people into a relationship with Jesus Christ so that His disciples may know Him on a personal level. The second aspect of this christocentric dimension is that catechesis is the transmission of Christ’s teachings and not one’s own teachings or opinions.3 All of Jesus’s life was a teaching for His disciples including His parables, prayers, silences, teachings, sufferings, and resurrection.4 In imitation of Jesus, the catechist transmits Jesus’s teaching not only by words in a class setting but also by their deeds and behavior.5

The Nature of Catechesis

After summarizing catechesis in the history of the Church in chapter two, John Paul II provides a broad understanding of catechesis in chapter three. He defines catechesis as the “education of children, young people, and adults in the faith, which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted, generally speaking, in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life.” 6 These two elements of catechesis—education and Christian life—are a leitmotif throughout Catechesi Tradendae and highlight the importance of catechesis to enable Christians to live what has been taught.7 Intellectual study of the mystery of Christ finds fulfillment in following Him in the world today.

John Paul II notes that the Church’s mission to evangelize is a dynamic reality with several moments or stages. Catechesis is one of those stages to help mature the faith of a person who has recently accepted Jesus as Lord by studying Him and His teachings.8 As a stage or aspect of evangelization, catechesis and evangelization share the same teaching content, namely the proclamation of the Gospel.9 The late pope spends the rest of the chapter describing catechesis in relation to other aspects of the Church’s pastoral mission including proclaiming the kerygma, initiating people into a sacramental life, and the responsibility of ecclesial communities to provide environments for fruitful communion.

Sources of Catechesis and Recipients of Catechesis

The pope discusses the content of catechesis in chapter four and he teaches that the source of the content of catechesis is found in “the Word of God transmitted in Tradition and the Scriptures.”10 This content, called the Deposit of Faith, is expressed especially in the creeds and Lord’s Prayer. John Paul II exhorts catechists not to diminish, modify, or add to this Deposit because every disciple has a right to receive Christ’s teaching in its fullness with the challenge it brings to life.11 In chapter five, the pope provides insights into the various situations of the human person including infancy, handicapped persons, and adulthood. Every person needs catechesis and the pope notes that the principal form of catechesis is for adults because they are able to live the faith most fully.12

Ways and Methods of Catechesis

The various ways and methods of catechesis in chapters six and seven provide more concrete advice for catechetical ministry. Communications media provide effective opportunities to deliver catechetical instruction and gatherings of the faithful such as pilgrimages or bible studies are favorable situations for catechesis. Books can make contributions to the Church’s catechetical mission but some of them do not give an adequate presentation of the faith and John Paul II provides helpful criteria for future books and catechisms.13 Catechesis occurs in various contexts and the late pontiff encourages diverse methods as long as they do not adulterate the content of faith. Inculturation allows catechists to take some elements from a culture to communicate the Gospel message but the Gospel should not be altered by any cultural practice.14 Lastly, the pope notes the danger of an over-reliance on memorization for catechesis but this method should not be abandoned.

The Pope’s Exhortation to Catechists

Chapter eight addresses some of the difficulties imparting catechesis today. Finding suitable language can be challenging in today’s world when many words or phrases are loaded with political or sociological undertones. Nevertheless, catechesis must adopt a language intelligible to Christians and avoid language which distorts doctrine.15 The pope also encourages catechists to acknowledge that “faith concerns things not yet in our possession” while maintaining certainty in the promises of the Word of God.16 Chapter nine encourages clergy, religious, and lay catechists to make catechesis a priority and Pope John Paul II even exhorts bishops not allow other concerns diminish catechetical efforts in their dioceses.17 The second half of this chapter addresses different settings for catechesis such as a parish or school and the pope requests that suitable resources for these environments. Pope John Paul II concludes his first exhortation reminding the faithful that catechesis is the work of the Holy Spirit and presents Mary as a model for catechists.18

The Sophia Institute Press Version of Catechesi Tradendae

The text of the exhortation published by Sophia Institute Press is the same as the Vatican website. The book is about as tall and wide as the ecclesial documents published by Paulist Books and Media, the publisher who produces papal and magisterial documents in blue, red, and green pocket-sized books. However, the font size is bigger in the Sophia Institute Press version which makes for easier reading. The foreword by Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange encourages readers of this exhortation to study the text and this is facilitated by the study questions at the end of the book. These questions mostly ask about the content of the exhortation to enable readers to process the major points but some of the questions have the potential to lead a discussion in a group setting.

There are a couple drawbacks from Sophia Institute Press publication. The first is the book is unnecessarily thick. This is the result of thick pages and large margins at the top and bottom of the book. The worst quality of the book is the lack of in text citations. All endnotes for Catechesi Tradendae are found at the end of the book but the citations in the text abruptly end after note 71. If one is interested in where the pope cites something in the exhortation, the reader will need to consult a different version of the text such as the Vatican website.

  1.  John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae (Libreria Vaticana Editrice, 1979), 5. Cf. Ibid., 20. Citations give paragraph numbers, not page numbers. 
  2. Ibid. The pope’s use of the word “communion” in the goal for catechesis implies what is distinct about this type of teaching. An expert on Abraham Lincoln can present accurate information about the 16th president of the United States but teaching about a past president does not put a person in communion with them; dead historical figures cannot be in communion with the living. Only those who are living can be communion with each other. In contrast, catechesis fosters a personal interaction between the person and Jesus Christ. The pope notes that catechesis does not impart abstract truths but the living God. See Catechesi Tradendae, 7. 
  3.  Catechesi Tradendae, 6, 52. There is a “danger and temptation to mix catechetical teaching unduly with overt or masked ideological views, especially political and social ones, or with personal political options. When such views get the better of the – central message to be transmitted, to the point of obscuring it and putting it in second place or even using it to further their own ends, catechesis then becomes radically distorted.”4: Ibid., 7, 9. 
  4. Ibid., 7, 9. 
  5. Ibid., 6. 
  6. Ibid., 18. Cf. Catechesi Tradendae, 20, 25, 26, 29, 33. 
  7. Catechesi Tradendae, 5, 20, 22, 25, 26, 29, 53. 
  8. Ibid., 18, 20. 
  9. Ibid., 26. 
  10. Ibid., 27. 
  11. Ibid., 30. 
  12. Ibid., 43. 
  13. Ibid., 49. 
  14. Ibid., 53. 
  15. Ibid., 17, 31, 49, 59. 
  16. Ibid., 60. 
  17. Ibid., 63. 
  18. Ibid., 72–73. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s