“Poorly catechized”

22 09 2008

Like most canards, the phrase, “poorly catechized” is whatever you want it to mean. Some people seem to think that it means that people don’t read the Bible enough. Pace  the testimony of some of the Fathers of the Church, reading Scripture by yourself is not a noble exercise per se. And for most of history, most people couldn’t read anyway. Sometimes “poorly catechized” means that people simply don’t know their catechism. Every good Catholic should then have a dog-eared copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (I would prefer the Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent: I prefer my doctrine dry and straight-to-the-point.) But in my mother’s village in Mexico, they learned all they needed to know in rhymes and songs. So that base I think was covered. Some people think “poorly catechized” means that people misbehave themselves more than usual. Well, we have unlimited access to Catholic radio, print press, and you can’t even type in the word “Catholic” into Google without getting hundreds of apologetics sites, each waiting to get in a rumble with any wayward “separated brethren” that comes their way. Has Catholic morality gotten any better? Wait, don’t bother answering that…

So I have concluded that “poorly catechized” merely means that some great theological mind out there seems to think that the practices of certain people are kitschy, primitive, and not at all to their liking. How much do you really need to know about fourth century Trinitarian theology for it to really make an impact in your day to day life? Is knowing all about the theology of grace really going to keep you from gossiping, cutting people off in traffic, or having uncharitable thoughts toward your boss? On the other hand, is it going to remind you that in the end, divine doctrines are only vaguely grasped by mortal minds, and doctrine should be probed only on a need-to-know basis (the mantle of theologian is not something to be eagerly coveted)?

That is why I grasp tightly onto my trinkets, my holy cards, and my statues of saints. Loving God and your neighbor and behaving yourself are really not that hard of concepts to grasp, but they are what’s important. A scapular around my neck reminds me more of my sinfulness than a million treatises on original sin read with great erudition. Ideally, you should have both. But if you don’t have the former, I can’t see the latter doing you much good.

For AG

22 09 2008

“Mon Coeur s’ouvre à ta voix”

Olga Borodina, Plácido Domingo

Samson et Dalila
Camille Saint-Saëns (1877)

[It’s one of her favorite moments in opera]

A Rationalized Animal

22 09 2008

From recent correspondence:

The transformation that occured in Catholicism after the Counter Reformation also makes the possibilty of [the beatification of Marsilio Ficino]  quite small. Christianity was altered in many ways that even most erudite Christians don’t realize, and not necessarily in the ways that most people now think. If you’ve read Ioan Couliano on this, it becomes especially evident. The Church was in a sense profoundly disenchanted, to the point that the liturgy was simplified at the Council of Trent, sacred art regulated, and any form of astrology or “white magic” outlawed outright. (Albertus Magnus was a great magus.) Perhaps the watershed moment in my opinion came with the condemnation of Pico della Mirandola’s 900 Theses. From then on, the Church began to increasingly see the world as “Other”, and human history in very linear, progressive terms. (The discovery of the Americas also contributed to this.) Christianity now is a much more rationalized animal. And that is why Ficino’s veneration of Plato and Hermes Trismegistus will always be a strike against him: he will always be “too pagan” for the current Church. Sadly, I think the world is moving further away from Ficino’s world, not closer, to its own detriment.


Addendum: The question could of course be asked, “How do YOU know?! Aren’t you as modern as the rest of us?” True enough. However, as in all social phenomena, phases of history are never that well-defined and clear cut. In many parts of Christendom, a pre-modern ethos continued to dominate in much of the culture, even up to very recently. I would also say that there is not very much of modern in many aspects of folk Catholicism. These elements also meld with modernity in completely different ways than more mainline European systems of belief and practice.

If one can say anything, it is that the movements of aggiornamento in the 1960’s were the culmination of a process that began at the Reformation and Trent to highlight some aspects of Christianity over others. It is not a process of negation of the principles that came before (the traditionalist critique of Vatican II being the end of the Counter Reformation) but rather the logical development of some of its principals: the triumph of “theology” over religion.

Above: a photo of a roadside shrine to the Argentine folk saint, Gauchito Gil