Do we really want to inculcate the Catholic population with the very neo-scholasticism which (Card.) Henri de Lubac, (Card.) Yves Congar, and even Joseph Ratzinger so loudly decried? From what I understand, Hans Urs von Balthasar went so far as to refuse to undergo doctoral training in theology because he so detested the neo-scholatic method, the very method which informs the Baltimore Catechism! For all of the problems and struggles the Church has had since Vatican II, the best and brightest theologians of the pre-Vatican II era (including our current pope!) found the theology of that very era dull and lifeless, and insisted on a movement away from the sort of theological method employed in the Baltimore Catechism. Do we really want to revert back to that? Richard McBrien once said, “You want to go back to the Church before Vatican II? I’m a product of the Church before Vatican II!” Regardless of what you think of Fr. McBrien, it’s worthwhile to consider those words!
I share the reader’s opinion that the recent history of the American Church has brought some good changes. Like American society as a whole, Catholic theologians are more considerate of the experiences of the poor, minorities, and women. That’s a good thing.
But stop to consider the premise of the reader’s argument: If the Baltimore Catechism were re-introduced, the Church’s leading theologians would be up in arms, fearing that the development would return the Church to the days of authoritarianism and judgmentalism. This premise strikes me as false. Neo-Scholasticism does not need to descend into authoritarianism any more than neo-Augustinianism needs to descend into relativism.
After all, the Church in the decades immediately before Vatican II produced more than liberal theologians like Richard McBrien. It also produced some of the best Catholics of the 20th century — Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, Caesar Chavez, Sargent and Eunice Shriver, Bishop Sheen, Thomas Merton, David L. Lawrence, Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor, Monsignor John A. Ryan. None of these figures was authoritarian. They were orthodox. For example, Day and Monsignor Ryan were not only tribunes for the poor and working classes, but also opponents of the sexual revolution.
Do not many Catholics hunger for clear and complete orthodox instruction and programs? One young priest suggests that they do. According to Father Seamus Griesbach, Generation X and Millennial Catholics believe their catechesis was watered down to the point of caricature:
We had not been taught the fullness of the faith, we were not given adequate tools to handle real life – to deal with evil, to seek what is good. We were not trained in the virtues, we were not given a solid foundation in logic and critical thinking, we were not exposed to the cultural and religious treasures of our western heritage. Instead, we had been brought up by a generation that was convinced that the way to show their love for us was by being likable and entertaining us. The youth ministry mantra was, I’ll never forget, the “4 F words”: food, fun, friends, and faith.
But in the face of terrorists trying to kill us, criminal priests, divorce, substance abuse, psychological illnesses, violence, and promiscuity, the 4 F words just didn’t cut it, being likable and entertaining didn’t cut it either. Many of my peers left the faith, tired of being around a bunch of people who seemed obsessed with being likable, rather than being good. Who didn’t have any answers for the larger questions of life. Who didn’t seem to want to talk about suffering and death and desire and addiction.
In theory, producing a new Baltimore Catechism could combine the best of both worlds. It would feature the best of the pre-conciliar era of instruction (clarity and completeness). Yet it would not posses the worst of the post-conciliar (vagueness and emotivism) and pre-conciliar (authoritarianism and judgmentalism) eras. Now that would help produce an enlightened age for the mass of Catholics if not the elites.