My recent post about Medjugorje let me reflect about the vast amount of ignorance of basic Christian doctrine that might here and there – instead of the willed rejection of Christian teaching – be present. Whilst only the second would get one a first class seat on the Hell Express, it is necessary for every Christian to be informed of the most elementary truths of Christianity. Most of my readers already know this of course, but a couple of messages on my comment box (deleted, as the comment box on the Medjugorje post was closed) have persuaded me that at times it is better to state the obvious, so there we are.
1. There is no possibility of repentance after death.
“There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.” (CCC 393)
2. The judgment after death is immediate.
“The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith” (CCC 1021).
“Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven […] or immediate and everlasting damnation. (CCC 1022)”.
Besides this concept being a clear tenet of Christianity, and being clearly stated by the Catechism in several places, common sense tells us that it must be so. If we were allowed, as the alleged apparition in Medjugorje apparently states, to have a last shot at salvation after death the absurd consequences would be – to mention just the first ones coming to my mind – as follows:
1. confession would be devoid of every meaning or purpose in the economy of salvation: I’d just wait that I am asked after death.
2. the portals of evildoing would be open to everyone who believes in this tale: every wannabe Stalin would feel free to do whatever he pleases, just paying attention that he doesn’t do anything stupid when he is requested where he would like to reside.
3. the references of Jesus to a hell clearly surprising those who end up there would be devoid of every significance.
The idea that only those would merit hell, who would choose eternal suffering after death, willingly and just out of a great desire to be miserable in all eternity, is naive to the utmost. No Stalin or Hitler ever showed any desire to be miserable during life. Actually, they had a huge desire to be happy; it is only that this desire was ego-driven (and ego-gratification the way of their illusory quest for happiness) rather than tending to God.
It must be clear to everyone devoting two minutes to the matter that such fantasies make a mockery of Christianity and are only good to endanger the souls of those who believe in them; if someone tries to make you believe that the Christian God revealed to us is not merciful enough and that we now need to change our mind as to the way he acts, be sure that that person is doing the work of the devil.
Similarly – and also here, referring to a message I have received a propos Medjugorje -:
3.Private revelations can never change the truth of Christianity. In this case, the example made was from St Giovanni Bosco, who would apparently have had a vision of hell in which people are allowed to choose between heaven and hell after death. Firstly, this is not true as the dream (which you can read here; alas, sedevacantist site, but the text seems faithfully rendered) makes it perfectly clear that when one dies, the time is up. Secondly, a private revelation can never modify Christian tenets; on the contrary, it is the adherence to Christian tenets that is the conditio sine qua non of the private revelation’s credibility.
The dream of St Giovanni Bosco makes for a beautiful reading, and might be the subject of a separate post. But for today’s purposes I’ll leave the details aside.
Apologies to all those who don’t need to be told these elementary truths. Once again, I thought that – in consideration of both the stakes and the dismal situation of Catholic and Christian instruction – it would be better to, for once, state the obvious.
Reading here and there, I sometimes have the impression that there is some misconception about what a catechism is.
Particularly the younger generations (those grown up in the doctrinal vacuum of the Paul VI – JP II era) must be under the impression that the one issued under Pope John Paul II is the Catechism, either believing that there was no catechism before it or that this catechism made everything that came before it superfluous.
I would like to point out to a couple of concepts and give the reader some background and reading hints.
1) A catechism is not infallible. Every catechism is nothing more than an attempt at explaining Catholic teaching in a way easily digestible for the non theologically trained laity. Similarly, no catechism is mandatory. There is an official catechism, but every catechism approved by ecclesiastical authority (particularly if in tempi non sospetti, as we say in Italy) can be used with profit.
2) Catechisms are broadly of three types: for small children (that is: coming from the time when people still cared to convey Christianity to children); for boys and girls approaching the age of confirmation or preparing to it and, lastly, for adults and confirmed youth. In some cases, entire sets of catechisms were released at the same time (the Catechisms of St. Pius X and the Baltimore Catechisms are probably the best known examples).
3) As a result, some catechisms can be of better quality than others, and some better suited to the intended readership. Always for this reason, catechisms can be criticised if someone believes that they contain doctrinal errors. As a catechism is never ex cathedra, it is never expression of papal infallibility.
4) Typically, a catechism was written in question/answer format, a remnant of a time when important things had to learned by heart (and as a result, remained impressed in the faithful’s memory) and the question/answer method made it easier both to learn the subject matter and to control the level of preparation of the pupil. I don’t need to comment about the consequences of abandoning this method.
5) There are many catechisms and every good catechism can be used by you with profit. With the recovery of Catholic tradition and the advent of the internet, the access to catechisms is nowadays certainly better than at any other time in the history of Christianity. Therefore you can easily pick a catechism that suits you and start working seriously on it. Catechisms are also more and more available as applications for smartphones, which means that you can have your favourite catechism always with you and read from it on the train, in a queue, etc.
Following, I will give some information about the catechisms I know myself. I am grateful for every indication of further catechisms available in English.
This is, if you ask me, the worst catechism of them all. I mention it first so that you are not tempted to waste money by buying a paper copy of it. This catechism is written for a more mature audience (priests themselves, and well-instructed laity). It is not truly fit for summarily instructed Catholics (that is: most of them). Furthermore, it is burdened by an obsessive need to justify almost every concept with V II documents, which besides being grating in itself gives the not properly instructed Catholic (that is: most of them) the impression that Catholic doctrine is obsolete if not confirmed by the Council; furthermore, it makes the printed work bulky and unpractical to carry. This catechism is also notable for the huge effort of political correctness and attempt at making people digest uncomfortable concepts (say: doctrine of war, or capital punishment) by formulating them in the most clouded way as possible. This is clearly wrong as Truth must be given straight, not diluted according to the readers’ dalai-lama-cum-ghandi prejudices.
This catechism is also notorious for having been heavily attacked by a noted theologian of the XX century, simply known as the Abbé de Nantes, who accused it of being heretical on a dozen of counts. Whilst the Abbe de Nantes was a man not noted for mincing words and prone to extreme criticism, on this occasion he must have found attentive ears in the Vatican, as you will read below.
If you need to improve your Catholic instruction – let alone if you need to begin with it – the best thing that you can do with this catechism is to stay away from it.
This is a serious catechism. It is commonly called the catechism of Benedict XVI because published during his pontificate and probably with his massive intervention. The date of publication is so near to Pope Benedict’s accession that it is widely thought that this catechism was ready and – so to speak – waiting for the end of JP II’s pontificate to be published. This beautiful catechism is notable for the following elements:
1) It recovers the traditional question/answer form.
2) It is easy to read and to carry and it does what a catechism is supposed to do: provide a short but effective and orthodox instruction for everyone.
3) It reacts to the criticisms of the Abbe’ de Nantes – to the full, widely published satisfaction of the latter – on all accounts.
This practical, beautiful, unimpeachable work should find a place on the shelves of every Catholic.
This catechism, now available online, is a masterpiece of Catholic writing. The extreme elegance and beauty of the language is the more astonishing, because still very clear and easy to understand even for a foreigner. This work is kept short and to the point, and its question and answer system is extremely effective. This is a diamond of a catechism. You compare this and JP II’s work and can’t avoid thinking that the ability to write properly is not what it used to be.
This is another little pearl of a catechism. It was issued In Pennsylvania but being very little and cheap to buy probably owes its name to the penny it cost to purchase it. It has accompanied the formation of countless young Catholics. Its English is not as elegant as the Douay’s, but this is a highly effective instrument to learn the basics quickly and seriously. The 370 answers/questions were meant to be memorised and digested one a day for around a year. This little book will easily bring every Catholic to a level of orthodoxy and knowledge of Catholic doctrine far surpassing that of most Catholic politicians, and of the totality of “liberal” Catholic bishops. At the same time, such catechisms give one the entire measure of the massacre of basic Catholic instruction coldly perpetrated and ruthlessly executed after V II.
This is also a product of the US clergy of the XIX century. Three catechisms of increased levels of difficulty were issued, plus a fourth one that is the No.3 with an added commentary. As you can expect, the quality of the work is very high and the availability of different versions allows one to pick the catechism most suitable to his needs. We can note from this catechism that a seven-to-eight-years-old child was fitter in his Catholic instruction than the vast majority of nowadays’ cafeteria catholics and – possibly – than a good number of regular churchgoers. Go figure.
This is the unofficial translation in English, made a couple of decades ago to encourage the diffusion of one of the catechisms of St. Pius X. The great Pope and Saint was responsible for the creation of three such catechisms (again: for little children, for more advanced young men and women and for adults), though their adoption never became mandatory and they only found regional application. I found years ago (and lost in a hard disk casualty) the Italian version some years ago and once again, the clarity of the Italian therein used greatly impressed me. The English translation seems rather good too, though it is important to remember that this is not an official version.
These are the choices I would recommend. Again, I don’t think it wise to waste money on the V-II ridden, politically correct, bulky and unsuitable for beginners JP II’s product.
I hope this helps. Best wishes of progress in Catholic instruction to you.