UPDATE: Book giveaway is now closed, with congratulations to Ronald T., our winner!
We’re big fans of old catechisms here at Whispers.
Our article and resource listing some of these traditional works is still one of the most-accessed elements on our site, and we continue to receive questions like: “Which one should I read? Which one should I own?”
Thus our excitement over Tradivox – we’ve seen them now on LifeSite, OnePeterFive, The Remnant, and word seems to be getting around. After writing about the project ourselves, Tradivox sent us two copies of Volume 1 of their Catholic Catechism Index series (one to analyze, one to give away) in exchange for a review. We are happy to offer one.
We do have a few critiques, but our review is mostly positive. Read on!
A Catechism for Your Quarantine
First, some context.
This COVID-19 weirdness has left many unjustly deprived of Holy Mass, the Sacraments, catechism classes, and even access to consecrated spaces for prayer. For what may be the first time since the Fourth Century, the public observance of Easter in Rome is forbidden. Now, whatever one thinks of the “public health emergency” being cited as license for these near-universal restrictions on people’s freedom of religion, movement, assembly, etc., it should be noted that the measures themselves are entirely unprecedented in size and scope; particularly as being levied within the Church, by her own clergy.
Admittedly, we’ve nothing like a manifest odium fidei allowing us to call this a “persecution,” particularly when we have Catholic brethren fleeing sharia law or vanishing in Communist China in our own days.
Still, one can’t help but recall the teaching in St. Robert Bellarmine’s Controversies that “the persecution of Antichrist will be the most severe ever known, to the extent that all public ceremonies and sacrifices of religion will cease.” One at least begins to see how a worldwide ban on the Church’s public worship could actually be effected… something inconceivable in Bellarmine’s time. Real plague or hyped overreaction, does it even matter? Do we think that a universal persecution of the Church will be manifestly ideological in an unbelieving age – trample the crucifix or die? There’s only one dogma that could raise instant, global allegiance from without and within the Church today: materialism. Precautions for temporal comfort over our civil and canonical rights. Secular infrastructure over the divine society of the Church. The body over the soul. The rights of man over the rights of God. Suddenly, public worship makes you a Public Enemy. How else could it be achieved?
So, although one needn’t fear (Jesus tells us there is “only one” we ought to fear, cf. Lk 12:5), one might well resist the present infringements upon the divine rights of the Church and her faithful. And pray more. And fast. And petition, etc.
And maybe take a few pages from our forefathers!
Tradivox Volume 1 – Book Review
Old-world catechisms tend to offer (increasingly relevant) historical insight in addition to theological food for soul. Many of them were written by and for the “underground Church” of a particular time and place, and this is one reason we really like Tradivox’s Volume 1 – the three catechisms included in it are from the Anglican Schism period in England. One was written in 1556 by a bishop (Edmund Bonner), and the other two by Catholic priests: Laurence Vaux and Diego Ledesma, in 1583 and 1597, respectively.
(Oh, and if you’re only just tuning in: Yes, there are hundreds of different catechisms in the Catholic Church’s long tradition. If you thought the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church was the only one, or the “best” one, you may want to read this.)
The Preface of Volume 1 does a touching job of very concisely painting the historical setting of each of the three catechisms it includes, leaving one feeling closer to our persecuted forebears in the Communion of Saints. In some ways, this is one of the most valuable parts of the book, and we look forward to the rest of the Prefaces in this series. (An aside: whatever one thinks of Bishop Athanasius Schneider, the fact that he was raised under Communist oppression and received his early Sacraments in the Gulag, makes it rather compelling to find his name as the major endorsement of this series.)
Now then, since our “cons” are more or less external to the actual contents of the book, we will begin there:
VOLUME 1: CONS
- Foreword? – Tradivox’s forthcoming Volume 2 will apparently feature a Foreword by Bishop Schneider, but our copy of Vol 1 doesn’t have that. We’re told they are negotiating a new print setup, so hopefully the next run will include this.
- Master Index – We don’t all know our way around the old catechisms, so it would be nice to have an index in each individual volume, in addition to the standalone Master Index they’re going to publish.
- Not Verbatim – The content appears faithful to the original, with no watering down or funny business. Still, some of us would prefer a simple scanned reprint or verbatim retype, without all the fancy updated typeset, reformatting, etc.
- Minimal Explanations – Because they’re keeping so close to the originals, precious few explanations are given in the text for points that require a bit of research these days, e.g.: what’s a “Favell”? what’s the essential form of Holy Orders? what fasting laws are currently in force? etc.
- Some Obscure Notes – Classical authors often played fast and loose with references. Although Tradivox seems to have “filled out” most of the original authors’ notes, they also leave a few obscure, rather than dropping them. Maybe the originals were inaccurate or untraceable? Those of us who love footnotes will find a few speed bumps.
- Binding – Maybe we’re hard to please, but our copy seemed to have a little excess binding glue in the spine – but the pages sure aren’t going anywhere!
- Minimal Foil – The book does have a gold foil impress along the spine; but come on now, monuments like these deserve some serious gilding under that dust jacket. Or why not go all-out with an engraved cover? You know, something like Easton’s “fine print” of the Divine Comedy…
VOLUME 1: PROS
Surface issues aside, it’s easy to see the value of Volume 1’s content. We are relieved to learn that Tradivox plans to only restore catechism predating the 1960s, for the clarity and conviction with which the Faith is expounded in the old catechisms is truly refreshing; and the texts reclaimed in this volume are no exception.
Take, for example, the treatment of non-Catholic religions. After reading Tradivox’s Volume 1 (or indeed, any of the old catechisms), it becomes almost laughably jarring to read any post-1965 catechism on this subject. For a representative sampling, here are snippets from three catechisms published after Vatican II (1967, 1968, and 1974, respectively):
“…[Regarding] other religions and ways of redemption… There are religions and philosophies outside the Christian faith which contain elements which are strictly speaking foreign to such [Catholic] views, but which are wholly in the spirit of Christ.” (A New Catechism, pp. 283, 286)
“[There exist] other religions… proposing ‘ways,’ comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings… ‘[T]rue and holy’ things to be found in non-Christian religions can be at the same time the fruit and the occasion of divine grace…” (The Catechism of Modern Man, pp. 54-65)
“Those who are not actually baptized may, nevertheless, be saved through the Church according to their faith in whatever historical revelation they come to know… They also perform certain ritual actions that are sources of grace for themselves and those to whom they minister. ‘Christ’s Spirit,’ therefore, ‘has not refused to employ them as means of salvation’…” (The Catholic Catechism, p. 236, 242)
Since each of these catechisms bears the imprimatur, one should expect to find the above teaching articulated similarly in the old catechisms, right?
Well, let’s compare. From the Vaux text in Tradivox Volume 1:
“I am persuaded that same [Catholic] Faith and doctrine only to be true, and that it shall continue to the end of the world; but all other sects, false religions, and heresies which have risen from time to time, to be pernicious, hurtful and damnable… All these manner of people are excluded from the Communion of Saints, the participation of Sacraments, and the suffrages of the Church; which be clean void of a spiritual life, and are in bondage of the Devil.” (n. 3, 27)
“Who be they that break the First Commandment of God by Infidelity? All heretics, idolaters, Turks and Jews, and all they that do not profess the Catholic Faith…” (n. 57)
“It is forbidden to hurt the souls of the people with heresy and false doctrine contrary to the Catholic Faith, whereby the people are deceived and brought into state of damnation. Heretics bear false witness with the Devil against Christ and his dear spouse the Catholic Church. They maintain falsity against the truth, and although they be punished or put to death by burning or otherwise, yet they receive no crown of martyrdom, but they receive punishment worthily for their infidelity and false witness against the truth. So heretics be children, martyrs, and witnesses for the Devil against Christ and his Church. Thus all manner of lies are to be detested and are forbidden by the Commandment of God.” (n. 97)
Clear! Coherent! Catholic!
And also… utterly irreconcilable with the other two catechisms.
Wait, wait, perhaps we should apply the…
Sorry, but no. One can’t have “other ways of redemption.” False religions can have no “sacred rites” proper to them, no “true and holy things” that are “occasions of divine grace,” while at the same time being “pernicious, hurtful and damnable,” “clean void of a spiritual life,” and “in bondage of the Devil.”
Who has it right? On this score, we’d bet on the testimony of Scripture, the unanimous consent of the Fathers and Doctors, innumerable papal documents, and the constant ordinary magisterium of the Church in her catechetical tradition, concisely recapitulated here in Volume 1. You know, that whole infallible thing.
Tangent over, let’s take a closer look at Volume 1:
Writ small, here is our short list of PROS for Volume 1:
- Reliable – “Official,” Catholic, clear, concise… the genuine article
- Good Trim – 6×9 hardcover, tight and sturdy, respectable dust jacket
- Quick Read – Only 160 pages, simple Q&A format
- Uniform Notation – Consistent and extensive footnotes
- Lovely Preface – Inspiring anecdotes on the historical side
- High Diction – You just gotta love “wherewith” and “yea forsooth”
- Clean Typeset – Admittedly much easier on the eye than scans of originals
- Graphics – We counted fourteen neat woodcuts, plus original frontplates
Superficial critiques aside, as artifacts of Catholic faith and praxis, the old catechisms are beyond reproach by “just being there,” and Volume 1 has us convinced that Tradivox won’t be issuing a bunch of classic texts that have been adjusted to fit a current ideology. They are allowed to speak for themselves. For that reason alone, the series deserves high marks and a wide distribution.
But far more valuable in our estimation, is the fact that this series could really help Joe and Jane Catholic trace the continuity of the Church’s faith and morals (and even the Roman liturgical tradition), and allow them a closer contact with our sacred heritage. It stands to help us all put on the truly “Catholic mind.”
In conclusion, we couldn’t agree more with this statement at New Liturgical Movement: “The old catechisms offer a way back. They bear witness to how things were, and how they could be again.” Tradivox appears to be a resource that could help us do just that.
Whispers of Restoration Rating: 5/5
Free Book Giveaway
Win a free copy of Volume 1 of this Catholic Catechism Index by entering the giveaway here.
and bravo the restoration!