Catechesis and Theology: The Conversation Continues

Our symposium on catechesis and theology continues with a contribution from Thomas Rausch, S.J.. Fr. Rausch is responding to an article by Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler from the September 12 issue:

There is one point on which I take issue with them. The distinction Lawler and Salzman draw between theology and catechesis is too facile, especially when they place it in the context of Pope John Paul II’s apostolic constitution, Ex corde ecclesiae. Ex corde is not speaking about theology in general, but rather about those Catholics teaching theology in Catholic universities, who “are called to be witnesses and educators of authentic Christian life, which evidences attained integration between faith and life, and between professional competence and Christian wisdom” (no 22). What I found missing in their article was any sense that theologians teaching in Catholic universities might have some responsibility for the faith development of their students, that being a Catholic theologian is an ecclesial vocation. Faith formation is more than instruction; it cannot be reduced to learning the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It calls for meeting the students where they are, getting them in touch with their experience, addressing their questions. To say this is not to deny the critical, exploratory and creative aspects of the theologian’s task. But it does suggest that those teaching undergraduates have a responsibility beyond that of the theologian whose only public is the academy—something many theologians today are unwilling to acknowledge.


The theological illiteracy and ignorance of the Catholic tradition that afflicts so many young Catholics today, including those in our Catholic universities, has been widely acknowledged. John Cavadini and Cathleen Kaveny are among the many voices who have noted his problem. Yet too many academic theologians too easily divorce theology from a pastoral concern for the religious lives of their students with the argument that theology is not concerned with catechetics. Research interests or personal agenda prevail over seeing themselves as mediators of a tradition. Recently at my university, a colleague wanted to drop from a description of our department’s mission an emphasis on the “service of faith,” arguing that our mission was education, not faith formation. Students generally take only two courses in theology, yet early on they are faced with religious pluralism, deconstruction in Christology and criticism of the church for its authoritarianism, patriarchy and sexual repression before they have read a gospel from beginning to end or encountered the tradition’s greatest thinkers. What this means is that the academy is winning out over the church.

My own department is strong in its Catholic identity. Yet when our majors were surveyed by a faculty committee, they collectively responded that “they had been better instructed in modern and postmodern developments and critiques of the tradition than in the tradition itself.”

Read the rest here. The full symposium can be found here.

Tim Reidy

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Thomas Piatak
6 years 7 months ago
Fr. Rausch makes some very important points.
Jim McCrea
6 years 7 months ago
I personally think that the damage has been done long before one reaches the college/university level of education. With the demise of Catholic primary and, to a lesser degree, secondary schools, and what is alleged to be the insipidness of CCD programs, children's faith ignorance is firmly entrenched long before advanced education.  There are many Catholics who never advance beyond the high school level of education and this seems to be the end of whatever limited exposure to Catholicism that they will receive.

Unfortunately  a willing eager teacher who is essentially ignorant of the faith fundamentals him/herself can do more damage than having no teacher at all.  Ditto for parents.  I shy away from the catechism approach but for the life of me cannot come up with anything better in the church’s quiver today.
Maybe Catholics need to consider a version of the LDS church's "Institutes of Religion:”   -    My limited contact with Mormons has taught me that they are infinitely more versed in their religious tenets than the average Catholic in this day and age.


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