Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Gift for the faithful
Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Archbishop Angelo Amato, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
WLODZIMIERZ REDZIOCH: - A few months ago the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, promulgated on 28 June 2005 by Benedict XVI, appeared in book shops. Why was a synthesis of the new Catechism worked out?
ARCHBISHOP ANGELO AMATO: - In 2002, after John Paul II had published the Catechism of the Catholic Church he acceded to the request of many people who wanted to work out a simple synthesis that would be easy to remember. Thus they wanted to present the young people, but not only them, a clear and concrete idea of the Catholic identity. John Paul II immediately acceded to the request and in 2003 he appointed a special commission, consisting of several cardinals (Christoph Sch(nborn, Jorge Medina Estevez, Dario Castrillón Hoyos, Jan Pieter Schotte, Tarcisio Bertone), presided over by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. At that time I was the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and it was the reason why Cardinal Ratzinger did not only invite me to participate in the meetings of that commission but also asked me to co-ordinate its work. We immediately asked three outstanding specialists coming from different countries to prepare the first synthesis of the Catechism.
- Why has the Compendium been written in the form of dialogue?
- In order to prepare a synthesis of the Catechism we had to choose its form: a simple compendium, some kind of summary or the form of dialogue, a series of questions and answers. The commission chose the form of dialogue since it is a very old catechetical style. There were famous catechism of that style in the Middle Ages and later that form was used as well. The catechism - docrinae - by Robert Bellarmine is well known. The catechism of Pius X consists of questions and answers. So this form was chosen because it draws the reader's attention, it is brief and easy to remember.
- Thus the Catechism has been 'reduced' to several hundred questions and answers...
- Three editors 'reduced' the Catechism to 600 questions and answers. The first version of the Compendium was printed and sent to the cardinals and presidents of national Bishops' Conferences towards the end of 2003. 95% of the commentaries were positive. We also received 3,000 comments and proposals. And the editors began working again in order to prepare a new version by the end of September 2004. That version was to include the proposals. Unfortunately, the editors prepared two versions of the Compendium. In this situation the cardinals' commission appointed a new group of experts, consisting of six university professors. Thanks to God, all of them agreed to work during winter holidays. They met daily at the Vatican, the house of St Martha, on 2-8 January, and worked from morning till evening. Thus one text was created and was at once sent to the cardinals' commission. At three meetings the cardinals saw through the document and sent it to John Paul II who was in the Gemelli Policlinic at that time. After some time the Holy Father sent us a marvellous letter from the hospital and he wrote, 'I like the text. Congratulations! I would like to promulgate it on the feast of Saint Apostles Peter and Paul and give it to the young people during the World Youth Day in Cologne'.
- Why was the Compendium not presented to journalists in the Vatican Press Office as it is usually done in case of papal documents?
- I would say this was a theological choice. Benedict XVI decided to make an 'ecclesiastical' gesture since the presentation of the catechism is an event that refers directly to the Church. That's why its promulgation was to be done during ecclesiastical prayer (it was done in the afternoon prayer of the hours - ora sesta - in Clementine Hall, the Apostolic Palace). Obviously, one could think that because the Compendium was not presented to journalists the press would not write about it and moreover, only 20-30 thousand copies would be sold. But during the first month 300,000 copies were sold (at the beginning of October the number was 800,000 copies!). As you can see, the Church herself, bishops and believers cared for the promotion of the Compendium.
- Does the Compendium include any new elements in comparison with the Catechism?
- First of all I would like to stress that the Compendium is not some kind of a new catechism but it contains essential contents of the big Catechism of the Catholic Church. Every answer has footnotes to the Catechism. Therefore, the characteristic feature of the Compendium is its faithfulness to the Catechism, in this way its four parts have been kept: confessed faith (Credo), celebrated faith (sacraments), experienced faith (commandments) and faith that becomes prayer (the Lord's Prayer). These are the four pillars of faith for Catholics.
- What is new in the Compendium is illustrations. Whose idea was it and what is the meaning?
- It was me that proposed to place illustrations in the Compendium. I will explain you why I did so. For some time I studied in Greece. Picture has not only catechetical meaning in the Orthodox theology and liturgy but also theological and liturgical meaning. Therefore, the role of pictures in the Compendium is not only limited to a pure aesthetic or didactic dimension. Pictures fulfil catechetical-theological function. They should help people grow in faith since the 'painted' word, just as written word, is a true catechesis (cf. Council of Nicaea in 787). The footnotes are in-depth and constitute some kind of catechesis based on picture. The first icon - very beautiful and little known - depicts Christ Pantocrator (Stavronikita Monastery on Mount Athos in Greece), who hands the Gospel and light of his Truth to the whole world. Like today the Church gives people this book of faith, saying 'Take and read it'. There are 14 pictures in the Compendium. I suggest catechists to use frequently the pictures, which they have in their dioceses, sanctuaries or homelands. Thus this precious heritage of sacred art will be enhanced.
- I noticed one more new element in the Compendium: a set of prayers in Latin. Why have prayers in Latin been included in all language editions?
- The Compendium has got the fifth part, which the Catechism has not. This addition contains the most frequent prayers and some formulas of faith (Cardinal Ratzinger wanted them to be published in the Compendium very much). As you have noticed prayers in Latin have been published. Believers in the whole world should begin assimilating Latin a little, the language that the Church uses in solemn Eucharistic liturgy.
- Do you think that the brief Compendium will contribute to dispel the 'abysmal religious ignorance' of people, including Catholics, which Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger so often spoke about?
- This is the challenge that the Church faces. All depends on the way believers accept the Compendium. As I have already mentioned the book has drawn a great response in Italy. The Bishops' Conferences and dioceses should do their best so that people get to know the Compendium and assimilate its contents. The Pope wanted its promulgation to have a very solemn character in order to show that we are concerned with a great gift that can contribute to overcome today's religious ignorance.
- In the contemporary world various powers fight against religions, considered to be dogmatic, and want to limit them to some private form of spirituality. Is the Church not exposing herself to the criticism of these domineering ideological circles by publishing a 'dogmatic' document?
- Catholics very often feel at loss in today's world and ask the questions: 'What are we to believe?' 'What are we to do?' The Catechism is not only a doctrinal document but is a certain proposal to lead one's life. For example, the third part of the Compendium, which is dedicated to commandments, speaks about ethical choices and motivates people to make such choices (bioethical problems are especially important). The document helps us justify our faith since it is not some step into the unknown but it is God's enlightenment of the mind. We are concerned with the necessity to understand our Catholic identity, which is often presented in a distorted way.
- The problem is that the culture, which dominates in the West, does not accept truths but only opinions. Therefore, the Pope speaks about 'relativistic slavery'...
- In Christianity the truth is not some doctrine but the Person - Jesus Christ. Lord Jesus said 'I am the Way, the Truth and the Life', and today we understand his words and deeds more and more. The French philosopher Michel Henry wrote wonderful books about Christian truth. He claims that the Gospel shows the truth, which becomes more and more understandable as man has better and better cognitive tools at his disposal. That's why, the evangelical truth is based on relativization.
- What challenges is Christ's Church facing today?
- There are numerous challenges but the biggest one is, as usual, the inculturation of the Gospel in the contemporary world. Today the prevailing culture negates evangelical truths. Let us take for example the truth about the necessity to protect the unborn life. The prevailing culture states that life need not be respected, loved and protected in all its phases, in particular at its beginning and end, and that one can freely manipulate it.
- However, the problem is that in the West the prevailing culture has negated the evangelical values for over two centuries and the culture does not only reject sacrum and religion but openly fights against the Church, particularly against the Catholic Church...
- But culture often undergoes conversion because nations are converted or even because of individuals. The Gospel always emphasises the value of each human being. Sometimes one man can show the light of the Good News. Let us consider for instance Saint Maximilian Kolbe. Thanks to him good and grace triumphed in the darkness of his times. And we cannot omit John Paul II who shook the communist regimes. The Pope did not address masses but every single man, being aware of his/her precious value; human being who cannot be manipulated by any ideology and whose rights cannot be violated. The Good News is the source of truth and freedom; it also proclaims respect for every man's freedom, which is unlike ideologies that are intolerant.