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From beginning to end it not only reflects the light of faith, but it also radiates the warmth of devotion and piety.”1

(LifeSiteNews) — In the previous part I made bold claims about the importance of the Roman Catechism in our current Church crisis. In order to back up these claims, let’s see how the Church came to have the Catechism of the Council of Trent.

Background

In response to the Protestant revolt, the idea of publishing an official, universal catechism was raised at the Council of Trent in April 1546.

Initially, the idea was the publishing something more along the lines of the Baltimore Catechism. A conciliar decree proposed a text for children and uninstructed adults, “who are in need of milk rather than solid food.”2

Although the Council fathers approved the idea, the project fell into obsolescence for a few years. Nothing appears to have happened until sixteen years later, when St. Charles Borromeo apparently brought up the question again. In response, the Council appointed a commission to carry out this project.

The commission recruited a wide range of theologians from different nations and orders, and each of the articles of the Creed and so on were divided amongst them. But despite the presence of representatives from different schools of theology, John A. McHugh and Charles J. Callan tell us, the scholars “were instructed to avoid in its composition the particular opinions of individuals and schools, and to express the doctrine of the universal Church, keeping especially in mind the decrees of the Council of Trent.”3

In September 1563, the commission reported back to the Council on its progress. The subsequent discussions led to a change in direction – instead of something like the Baltimore Catechism, it was decided that the commission was to prepare “a much more extensive and more thorough work to be used by parish priests in the instruction of the faithful.”4

The Council decreed that when it was finished, the text should be translated into the various vernaculars “and expounded to the people by all parish priests.”5

The work was not finished by the time that the Council of Trent was closed. The Roman Pontiff took charge of it, and appointed St. Charles Borromeo as the president of the committee when the previous one died.

St. Charles Borromeo

St. Charles recruited “the greatest masters of the Latin tongue of that age” to ensure the quality of the style, and it was revised several times from this perspective.6

When Pope St. Pius V acceded to the papacy in 1566, he appointed theological experts whose task it was “to examine every statement in the Catechism from the viewpoint of doctrine.”7

By the end of the year it was completed, and then published.

In the next part, we will see how the Roman Catechism was received – but let’s first consider a few English versions available.

As the Council of Trent desired, the Roman Catechism has been translated into many different languages – including Arabic.

The first known English version appeared in 1675, and only incorporated the sections on the Creed and on Prayer. Several versions appeared in the following centuries, but many were plagued with translation problems – either inaccuracies when it comes to meaning on the one hand, or poor English on the other. The Reverend J. Donovan of Maynooth published two editions – and both suffered from these two problems respectively!

In 1923, the Dominican theologians McHugh and Callan published their translation, which is very readable. The English is good and separated by clear headings. The translators’ footnotes are useful, referring us to St. Thomas, St. Alphonsus and Canon Law – in addition to the original references to Holy Scripture and the Fathers.

There are three decent editions in circulation. Baronius Press have published a beautiful hardback premium edition. TAN also have a hardback edition. For half the price of these, one can get Vol. VII of the Tradivox Catholic Catechism Index’s version – although this version is glued rather than sewn, and lacks chapter headings. Aside from these, there are a multiplicity of print-on-demand paperback versions of this translation – not to mention free versions online.

Conclusion

This translation is perhaps the one that best realizes the praise of Cardinal Valerius – a friend of St Charles Borromeo:

[The Roman Catechism] contains all that is needful for the instruction of the faithful; and it is written with such order, clearness and majesty that through it we seem to hear holy Mother the Church herself, taught by the Holy Ghost, speaking to us.8

But what happened between its publication and today? How was it received by the Church – and what does this reception tell us about its authority?

In the final part of this series, we’ll see the incomparable authority of this text and the things that great saints and churchmen have said of it.

References

1 ‘Introduction’ by McHugh and Callan, in The Catechism of the Council of Trent, Tradivox Vol. VII, Sophia Institute Press, Manchester, NH, 2022 p 32

2 The Catechism of the Council of Trent (hereafter “RC”), trans. John A. McHugh and Charles J Callan, Baronius Press, 2018. Introduction by McHugh and Callan xxvi.

3 RC xxvi

4 Ibid xxvii

5 Ibid

6 Ibid

7 Ibid

8 RC xxxv

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