Monday, June 19, 2006

My Own Catechism


I have been thinking for some time of writing a catechism for my children. I know there are many out there already and maybe it is unadvisable to transform my own personal views into family dogma, but I intend to try anyway. My interest in writing a catechism is inspired by a desire to synthesize the best of the historic catechisms of Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism. Not in order to produce cheap ecumenicity in my children, but rather to incorporate the richness of the traditions in a way that reflects my own experience. Of course, the Catechism of the Catholic Church will remain in my family the ‘official’ catechism.

For example, I really like the language of the Heidelberg Catechism question 21:

What is true faith?

Answer: True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ's merits.

Since faith is here confused, in part, with the virtue of hope, I would rewrite it in my catechism to say:

What is faith?

Answer: Faith is a certain knowledge whereby I hold as true all that God has revealed in his Word.


What is hope?

Answer: An assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God’s grace for the sake of Christ's merits.


I especially like the language of the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

What is the chief end of man?

Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

I have never heard a more succinct statement of the Thomistic notion of the extrinsic and intrinsic ends of human existence.

2 comments:

jbrim said...

Thomas,

You write:"What is true faith?

Answer: True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ's merits.

*Since faith is here confused, in part, with the virtue of hope*, I would rewrite it in my catechism to say: etc..."

I believe you are correct about this. However, the writers of the Hidelburg Catechism would beg to differ. For them, faith was all about certainty. They quite removed the doctrine of assurances from the realm of hope and set it squarely in the realm of knowledge. For the Calvinist, especially those of the Continental stripe, the very essance of faith was certainty about, not only the veracity of all things contained in Scripture, but of *ones own personal standing with God*. Early Calvinists leaned towards the opinion that if one had doubts about his salvation, then in fact, his salvation was in doubt; because, the faith which comes from the Holy Spirit implants within the heart that true and certain knowledge of those things mentioned in the catechism, noted in your quote above.

This is the root of the modern day protestant idea of assurance of salvation; for example when they say that "Catholics *hope* they are saved but Protestants *KNOW* they are saved."

Later Calvinists modified this position (I believe under Puritan and Scottish influence) to a more congenial stance. In essence, the language of 'doubt' had no place whatsoever in the early days of the Reformation. It was only later that the Reformed churches began to grope for answers on how to deal with their dwindling assurances. Herman Bavink wrote, in a neat little book called "The Certainty of Faith" this interesting statement...I paraphrase,"At the dawn of the reformation people rarely doubted the truth of Scripture, not even in their hearts. But later, after the language of doubt crept once more into the language of faith it became evident that people no longer confessed their beliefs but only believed their confessions." (As I quoted that from memory and since I have not read the book in over 15 years please grant me significant leeway if you choose to look the quote up yourself.)

At any rate, I know this is a bit off topic because you were not discussing the content of the Hidelburg confession in particular but were talking about writing a catechism for your children. But, I wanted to make mention of this for whatever its worth.

Jason

Thomas said...

jbrim – I think you are right in your analysis of the result of the rejection of the theological virtue of hope. Interestingly, in the 'Enchiridion' Augustine clearly distinguishes faith from hope in the following way,

‘Again, can anything be hoped for which is not an object of faith? It is true that a thing which is not an object of hope may be believed. What true Christian, for example, does not believe in the punishment of the wicked? And yet such an one does not hope for it. And the man who believes that punishment to be hanging over himself, and who shrinks in horror from the prospect, is more properly said to fear than to hope…Accordingly, faith may have for its object evil as well as good; for both good and evil are believed, and the faith that believes them is not evil, but good. Faith, moreover, is concerned with the past, the present, and the future, all three. We believe, for example, that Christ died,--an event in the past; we believe that He is sitting at the right hand of God,--a state of things which is present; we believe that He will come to judge the quick and the dead,--an event of the future. Again, faith applies both to one's own circumstances and those of others. Every one, for example, believes that his own existence had a beginning, and was not eternal, and he believes the same both of other men and other things. Many of our beliefs in regard to religious matters, again, have reference not merely to other men, but to angels also.’

‘But hope has for its object only what is good, only what is future, and only what affects the man who entertains the hope. For these reasons, then, faith must be distinguished from hope, not merely as a matter of verbal propriety, but because they are essentially different. The fact that we do not see either what we believe or what we hope for, is all that is common to faith and hope. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, for example, faith is defined (and eminent defenders of the catholic faith have used the definition as a standard) "the evidence of things not seen." Although, should any one say that he believes, that is, has grounded his faith, not on words, nor on witnesses, nor on any reasoning whatever, but on the direct evidence of his own senses, he would not be guilty of such an impropriety of speech as to be justly liable to the criticism, "You saw, therefore you did not believe." And hence it does not follow that an object of faith is not an object of sight. But it is better that we should use the word "faith" as the Scriptures have taught us, applying it to those things which are not seen. Concerning hope, again, the apostle says: "Hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it." When, then, we believe that good is about to come, this is nothing else but to hope for it.’ (8)

Josef Pieper, the Thomist moral philosopher, clarified the character of hope by contrasting it with two opposing vices. On the one hand, hope is not despair. On the other hand, hope is not presumption. He has an excellent comment on the Reformation doctrine of assurance which I wish I had in front of me. I will post it tomorrow.

It is also interesting the way reformed and evangelical writers consistently impute the qualities of hope to faith. It seems that this is necessary because the augustinian/scholastic definition of faith is too intellectual to be the subject of 'sola fide'. It does not posses the same existential qualities as the latter. Therefore, what the catholic recognizes as the mutual dependence of faith and hope, the traditional Protestant seeks to combine into a mega virtue or single instrument. This is the only way faith can be "alone". But in reality, it is simply conjoined to hope and love.