Catechesi Tradendae’s Fortieth Anniversary

The Usefulness of Metaphysics and Epistemology in Catechesis

The year 2019 marks the fortieth anniversary of a classic papal document on catechesis and evangelization in the contemporary Church and world, namely, Pope St. John Paul II’s 1979 apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, “On Catechesis in Our Time” (hereafter CT).1 A key toward appreciating the document, as well as toward improving catechesis and evangelization today, is to revisit the document and to understand John Paul’s Thomistic foundation in a true metaphysics (the science of being) and in an accurate epistemology (the science of knowing). A strong basis in metaphysics and epistemology can only help the Church to continue to grow in accomplishing the “definitive aim” of evangelization and catechesis, which is, as John Paul states, attaining “communion . . . [and] intimacy, with Jesus Christ.”2 It is hoped that a receptive re-reading of CT through a metaphysical and epistemological lens can contribute to what Pope Francis has prayed for in catechesis today: “That people who are involved in the service and transmission of faith, may find, in their dialogue with culture, a language suited to the conditions of the present time.”3

Three main reasons, all linked by John Paul’s deep philosophical background, explain why he was so eager in CT in 1979 to foster catechesis that is done with “unprecedented enthusiasm.”4 First is the pope’s desire to push back against any false philosophical ideology, such as atheistic Polish Communism, that would impede the human right to catechesis; second is John Paul’s heartfelt conviction that catechesis in the truth, in Christ, liberates people to be, metaphysically speaking, exactly what they are in their human nature as free and intelligent and transcendent persons; third is John Paul’s insistence that catechesis in the post-conciliar era of the 1970s, even after the important 1977 Synod of Bishops on catechesis, was still in a transitional state needing clarification and implementation of the synodal propositions. The pope’s catechetical programme would unfold under the clear understanding that catechesis and evangelization proceed together, always under the leadership of evangelization, which is the presentation of the life-changing Good News by which a person can hopefully be “overwhelmed” by Christ and later seek deeper systematic comprehension of the Faith through catechesis.5 John Paul prays in CT: “God grant that the attention aroused [by the 1977 Synod of Bishop on catechesis] will long endure in the Church’s consciousness.”6

I. Transcendent Human Nature and the Human Right to Catechesis

The overall theme of CT can be summarized in three central ideas, the third being the most central to any exploration of the impact of John Paul’s philosophy on his catechesis. The three central ideas are: the primacy of catechesis in the mission of the Church;7 the need for ongoing catechetical renewal within Tradition, lest catechesis become either “routine” or “outlandish”;8 and the human right (ius) to catechize and to be catechized without external interference.9

A key philosophical-legal idea in CT is that every human person, without exception, has the “right” (ius) to be catechized.10 Furthermore, the Church has the “right” to give catechesis in every time and place, in every culture and context, without external interference of any kind. In other words, it is entirely just and proper that the Church should catechize and that each person should be catechized or at least have some religious or spiritual formation, in accord with each person’s spiritual and transcendent nature. Here John Paul uses the concept of a “right” as each person’s God-given claim or entitlement to all that is necessary for living a fully dignified human life here, leading to a completely happy hereafter. As we shall see, John Paul demands a public recognition of the right of each person to a spiritual or religious formation in accord with human nature itself and suited to the particular socio-cultural circumstances of each person.

The philosophical and theological foundation of the right to catechesis is a practical focal point of John Paul’s entire metaphysics and epistemology. His words on the right to non-interference in catechesis echo the struggle for religious freedom in the atheistic-Communist Poland of the 1970s, and his words carry added significance in today’s quest for religious liberty in many Islamic nations and elsewhere. John Paul urges:

I vigorously raise my voice . . . against all discrimination in the field of catechesis, and . . . I again make a pressing appeal to those in authority to put a complete end to these constraints on human freedom in general and on religious freedom in particular.11

It is John Paul’s strong philosophical conviction, about human nature itself and the inherent dignity and rights of every human person, that causes the pope to view catechesis as being absolutely essential to authentic human freedom and to genuine knowledge of the truth. We must know the truth in order to be free; we must be free in order to seek and internalize the truth through spiritual formation.

II. A Catechesis for Correcting Philosophical and Theological Errors

The Gospel message authentically provides, in an absolutely unique and irreplaceable way, salvific meaning and liberating knowledge to humanity in every time and place. But sadly, the pope laments in CT, there are various reasons why the Good News is not being transmitted and received as well as it could be, all of which are serious yet none of which is insurmountable. Included here over recent decades are communism, secularism, materialism, and interference from the “ambient” cultural noise12 of apathy and indifference and nihilistic meaninglessness, not to mention moral relativism (thinking that there are no absolute truths) and voluntarism (thinking that the will, and not the reason, is the dominant force in human thought and action) and nominalism (thinking that the mind randomly assigns names to individual beings since there can be no intelligent abstraction to categorize beings according to their essence).13 Obviously the Church, John Paul states, has no interest in correcting specifically philosophical errors, except when such errors impede the faithful transmission of the Church’s salvific theological message, by “threaten[ing] the right understanding of what has been revealed [by God in Christ], and when false and partial theories . . . [are] confusing the pure and simple faith of the People of God.”14 Yet the correction of philosophical and theological errors becomes by necessity an important part of the pope’s agenda, notably in Catechesi Tradendae and later in his encyclicals Veritatis Splendor and Fides et Ratio.

John Paul’s insistence on correcting the current lack of reason springs from his personal encounters with the irrational insanity of Nazism and Communism; indeed, his commitment to reason is an anticipation of Pope Benedict XVI’s magnificent defense of reason (logos), as expressed in Benedict’s “Regensburg Lecture” in 2006. As Popes John Paul and Benedict indicate, four contemporary errors that are especially in need of correction are: nominalism, voluntarism, nihilism, and relativism. Nihilism and moral relativism are explicitly rejected by John Paul in CT as harmful especially to the youth, as when young people yield to temptations toward feeling that life is meaningless and that there are no real ethical norms for acting rightly or wrongly. Yet John Paul is furthermore a precursor to Benedict in knowing full well that the underlying errors of nominalism and voluntarism are alive and well today as two of the most serious and corrupting mindsets in the contemporary world which is so weakened in its use of reason.15

All four of these errors are dangerous in themselves as leading people to think wrongly in general, but they are especially dangerous in the field of catechetics, through which the Church’s authentic message is handed on. For example, imagine how harmful it would be to a young man just learning the beginnings of his Faith, if he is taught the nominalist idea that the traditional descriptive terms of Father and Son and Holy Spirit for the Divine Persons in the Triune Godhead were merely random names, having no real bearing on who God is or on the man’s call to be brought by the Son through the Holy Spirit to a relationship of adopted sonship with the Father. Or imagine how misguided a young woman would be if she were taught the voluntarist concept that her will and not her reason is the basis for her decision-making, or if she were taught the relativist idea that there are no firm moral standards, or if she sank into the depths of a nihilist outlook in denying any meaning to her existence.

One can easily discern why correcting these four errors is particularly important for authentic catechesis in the contemporary world. Catechizers do well to be alert to dissuade the catechized from the effects of these errors against reason and faith. Obviously the catechizers must not expect children or the uninstructed to understand such advanced philosophical terminology, even though young people are quickly capable of understanding why nihilism and relativism are wrongful thinking. A young person who is trapped in the mentality of nihilism (meaninglessness) may well be depressed and also in need of psychological assistance, even more so than intellectual guidance; yet a personal rejection of meaninglessness can have a powerful and positive impact in one’s outlook on life as one embarks on a meaningful adventure in growth through faith and reason toward union with God and neighbor. Popes John Paul and Benedict would fight the good fight of correcting errors in contemporary thought, a work that John Paul acknowledges is a “thankless task of denouncing deviations and correcting errors,” yet a work that would also bring “joy and consolation.”16

John Paul in CT is grounded in a true metaphysics (he grasps the relationship between uncreated Being and created beings) and in an accurate epistemology (he understands that knowledge comes through the senses by way of images or phantasms and abstraction in the mind). This solid philosophical foundation enables him in CT to insist that: (Against nihilism) Human existence has meaning as a gift from the uncreated Being, God, with Whom we humans are invited to a close union; (Against nominalism) The human mind can through abstraction comprehend the essence of beings and can affirm also the real existence of beings and of being itself and of the non-contingent Being Who is God; (Against voluntarism) Human reason, directed by conscience and grace, is the authentic guide to proper human action, not the will; and (Against relativism) There are, indeed, absolute moral truths, such as the absolute truth contained in the fifth commandment of the Decalogue, namely, that it is always and everywhere gravely wrong directly and intentionally to destroy an innocent human life. In short, John Paul in his apostolic exhoration Catechesi Tradendae promotes a philosophical awareness of the truth as a knowable guide in contemporary thought and in moral action. Catechists will do well, as John Paul did, to keep “free” those being catechized, “free” from any form of harmful false philosophical ideology, “free from the distorting influence of ideological and political systems or of prejudices which claim to be scientific.”17

There is no claim, of course, that the document CT itself is infallible — it is quite practical in form and content — yet many of the dogmatic truths which are referred to in the document are infallible, such as the core Christian doctrines on the Trinity and the Incarnation and the salvific role of the Holy Spirit and of our Lady and other similar dogmatic truths. Indeed, any catechesis would be gravely deficient, the pope states, if it failed to emphasize creation, sin, redemption, the Incarnation, the Mother of God, penance, asceticism, the Eucharistic Presence, “participation in divine life here and hereafter, and so on.” It would be entirely inappropriate for a catechist to omit from catechesis any of the central truths of the Catholic Faith.18

III. Catechesis as Communicated Theology

Catechesis, according to the useful categorization of Bernard Lonergan, is a subspecialty within the functional specialty of communications, within the yet wider discipline of theology itself as the science or study of God. The subject-matter (the object) of theology is, of course, as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, divine Revelation as given in Scripture and Tradition; human reason does well to investigate rationally this subject-matter, assisted by God’s gift of divine and catholic faith, as guided by the Magisterium. In particular, catechesis is the process by which the Church communicates the fruits of what Lonergan calls the seven previous forms of functional theological specialization that lead into catechesis: research, interpretation, history, dialectic, foundations, doctrines, and systematics.19

Three branches of theology are most evident as source-materials in the writing of CT: Christology and ecclesiology and especially anthropology. Christologically speaking, John Paul’s entire program for catechesis rests on his fervent desire that every human being should come to a saving knowledge and intimate “communion” with Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God made flesh, the Redeemer of humankind. Clearly for John Paul, “at the heart of catechesis we find, in essence a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, ‘the only Son from the Father . . . full of grace and truth’” (Jn. 1:14).20 Catechesis is, then, an eminently Christocentric enterprise.

Ecclesiologically speaking, catechesis is a central dimension of the self-awareness and self-expression of the Church as the People of God, the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and the communion of created human persons in the uncreated communion of the three Persons in God. All Christians are called to be catechized, and many (if not all) are called to catechize in some way, as minimally by their prayer and good example if not by actually teaching the Faith pedagogically. Bishops and priests will do well to remember that:

Catechesis is intimately bound up with the whole of the Church’s life . . . [so that] her inner growth and correspondence with God’s plan depend essentially on catechesis. . . . [Develop] a real passion for catechesis . . . [so that] if catechesis is done well . . . everything else will be easier to do . . . [and this catechetical focus will] win for you . . . joy and consolation . . . [as you are] devoting your best efforts to the growth of your communities in the faith.21

IV. A Grounding in a True Metaphysics and in an Accurate Epistemology

In terms of theological anthropology, it must be affirmed that the theological gravitas of CT is due largely to John Paul’s being so deeply grounded in Thomistic philosophy, especially in a true metaphysics as the science of being as being and in an accurate epistemology as the science of human cognition and how we know. The properly theological truth from which John Paul proceeds is that all human persons possess an infinite dignity from being created in God’s image (Gen 1:27), from which flows the human and ecclesial right to receive a religious formation which is appropriate to their transcendent nature as rational creatures called to union with God here and hereafter.

Surprisingly, however, the pope’s strong affirmation of human dignity and human rights is grounded in CT primarily in a philosophical, and not a theological, framework. Of course, John Paul’s affirmation of human dignity rests on the traditional Thomistic foundation in philosophical-theological anthropology, whereby the human person as a rational animal is understood to be a body-soul composite, endowed with the spiritual-mental faculties of intellect, memory, and will. Yet the pope takes the traditional philosophical-theological anthropology a significant step further, especially through his own insights into traditional and modern metaphysics and epistemology.

One explanation for John Paul’s emphasis on philosophical anthropology in CT is that he wants to speak in a reasonable way that can engage believers and even non-believers who seek the truth, on a topic that is generally palatable to reasonable contemporary minds, namely, human rights and religious freedom, especially the right to catechize and to be catechized. Another reason for John Paul’s keen interest in the relative autonomy of philosophy as a human search for the truth apart from explicit Revelation from God, lies in the history of Karol Wojtyla’s spiritual and intellectual formation. Wojtyla writes two doctoral dissertations, both proceeding from Thomistic principles: the first on St. John of the Cross affirming faith as the only “suitable means” to union with God; the second on moral values, concluding that, as one commentator states, no one could “do for contemporary Christian philosophy and theology what Aristotle had done for Thomas Aquinas . . . [since the modern tendency is to give only] a truncated portrait [of human persons who are always] . . . more than composites of their various emotional states and experiences.”22

As Wojtyla comes to realize, nothing else but Thomism will do, really, for no other system is capable of properly grounding human being in its metaphysical foundation as related to ultimate Being; and no other system is capable of properly grounding human knowing in the knowing of the ultimate Knower. The Church, of course, does not “canonize” or single out for exclusive usage the Aristotelian-Thomistic system. But the Church has found over many centuries that the perennial Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy is distinctively useful, especially when it comes to understanding the realities of being and of knowing. A grounding in a properly philosophical framework can best invite dialogue from believers and non-believers alike, in the search for the truth, which is ultimately to be found in Christ as “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6)

Recall that in John Paul’s later encyclical letter, Fides et Ratio, he would remind the contemporary world that the search for truth, which is the basis of philosophy, is an essential part of what it means to be human. Searching for, and finding, and living in the truth, is what we humans distinctively do. Knowing and seeking to know the truth is a characteristic part of what we human beings do when at our best as thinking and acting persons. God forbid, says the pope, that today’s youth should be left “with a sense that they have no valid points of reference,” because they are stuck in nihilism as a “denial of all foundations and the negation of all objective truth.”23

In fact, John Paul’s strong affirmation in CT of religious freedom and of human rights is grounded, not primarily in faith but in reason, and in the philosophical anthropology of the essential nature of the human person. Truly, as Pope Benedict XVI would later indicate, and as one author aptly insists in the title of a book, “Theology Needs Philosophy” — why? — in order to ground fundamental truths and rights and freedoms in human nature itself, even apart from any explicit Revelation in Scripture and Tradition on the infinite goodness of the human person.24 Just as we can know through unaided human reason that God exists (and other preambula fidei, or preludes to faith), so also we can know that each person has a profound goodness from the sheer fact of existing.25 The profound goodness of the human person includes the fact that he or she has a transcendent nature, that is, a capacity and orientation and motivation toward the Infinite.

There is a general pattern for how we humans know particular beings, that is, through the three-step process of sensate perception and conversion of sense-input into a mental image or phantasm and intelligible abstraction so we can identify beings as similar to other familiar mental images. Yet we can know more than merely individual beings. As St. Thomas says, the human person can attain a proper knowledge of the essence (Latin quidditas) of corporeal beings as to the truth of what they actually are in their nature, “and through this nature of visible things the human person also reaches out to knowledge of invisible things,” such as God.26 The transcendent human intellect is capable of understanding even Being itself from understanding particular beings. That is, we can understand that created being as a whole really exists and is intelligible; yet since created being is contingent, this contingency points us toward the uncreated and non-contingent Being, God, Who causes all contingent beings to exist and Who sustains all created beings in existence.

There is a delightful and self-revelatory account in John Paul’s own words, concerning his initial mighty struggles with the study of metaphysics when, as a young man, he reads his first book on metaphysics during the periodic down-times while working in a factory in 1942. He recalls, then as a student and later as pope, what an awakening it was when, through metaphysics, he discovers that being itself can be understood and that the world is intelligible, as St. Thomas teaches. John Paul writes:

Yes, it’s hard going. . . . [I] try to understand it — I feel it ought to be very important to me. . . . I couldn’t cope with the book [on metaphysics by Kazimierz Wais], and I actually wept over it . . . but in the end it opened up a whole new world to me. It showed me a new approach to reality, and made me aware of questions that I had only dimly perceived. . . . [A]fter two months of hacking my way through this vegetation I came to a clearing, to the discovery of the deep reasons for what until then I had only lived and felt. . . . What intuition and sensibility had until then taught me about the world found solid confirmation . . . [as I discovered] a new world of existence.27

After Wojtyla’s struggle with classical Thomism, he eventually incorporates into his own thought (within reasonable limits) some of the positive aspects (despite the dangers) of modern philosophy’s post-Kantian and post-Enlightenment “turn to the subject,” particularly evident in what was then in the 1950s the new field of so-called “transcendental Thomism.”

Wojtyla’s philosophical mindset was also strongly influenced by at least two relatively new strands of Thomistic thought — what one author names as a transcendental Thomism and a personalist Thomism — among the three “major currents” of philosophical thought, along with phenomenology and analytico-positivist philosophy, especially at the Catholic University in Lublin where Wojtyla lived for several years.28

Specifically, the pope in CT applies the classical Thomistic epistemology to modern humanity’s quest for truth and for meaningful connection with the non-contingent uncreated Being (God) who creates and sustains all contingent being and beings. John Paul himself cannot be categorized as a transcendental Thomist; but he certainly was aware of, and influenced by, the significant and mostly positive theological contributions made by transcendental Thomists like Joseph Marechal (d. 1944) and Karl Rahner (d. 1984) and Bernard Lonergan (d. 1984), the last two of whom died relatively early in John Paul’s long pontificate.

But again, why, exactly, is John Paul so insistent about the importance of religious freedom and the right to seek the truth? Why such vigorous insistence on religious liberty? The answer is that John Paul wants to apply his own philosophical framework in the service of humanity, in order to speak strongly in favor of religious freedom and to call for “a complete end to . . . constraints on human freedom . . . and on religious freedom in particular.”29 This insistence on religious freedom is due to John Paul’s firm philosophical conviction regarding the essential nature of the human person, about which he had learned so much while studying metaphysics and learning to think metaphysically, early and later in his life. Religious freedom is grounded in the very nature of the human person, for we must be free in order as knowers to seek and to learn and to live by the truth; and conversely, we must know the truth in order to be authentically free: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:32). It would be a grave injustice and a most serious violation of the dignity of the human person, if any person were denied the opportunity to hear the truth and to respond freely to the truth which is proposed or discovered. Hearing the truth gives to a person true freedom; and true freedom gives to a person the possibility of internalizing the truth, that is, appropriating the truth which can only be accomplished through interior psychological freedom. Freedom and truth are central themes in all of John Paul’s thought.

John Paul is in no way caught up in the nominalism and voluntarism which so pervade contemporary thought, going back to the fourteenth century and William of Ockham’s idea that we humans cannot know God, only “concepts” about God, as Ockham says: “We cannot know in themselves either the unity of God . . . or His infinite power or the divine goodness or perfection; but what we know immediately are concepts, which are not really God but which we use in propositions to stand for God.”30 And while it is true that we cannot know God in the same way that we know, for example, a stone, still we certainly can have some knowing awareness, though shrouded in unknowing, of what John Paul calls “the living mystery of God,” which is much more than knowing “a body of abstract truths.” That is, we can have some mysterious awareness, some knowledge, of God as our ultimate Source and Sustainer and Destiny. One contemporary commentator puts it very well: “In [Aquinas’s] denying that we can fully comprehend the essence of God one may yet allow that we know something of what God is and not just that He is.”31

John Paul is convinced that the human person is a knowing and acting subject who has an innate and inherent orientation toward the truth, toward the accurate correspondence between one’s thinking and reality as reality actually is. We humans ask questions — it is what we do — so as to discern the truth, and once the truth is found, then we can act on the truth and grow through the truth toward meaning and happiness here and hereafter. Again, the pope when writing CT in 1979 is well aware of, and is generally open to, within proper limits, the late-twentieth-century philosophical-theological currents in transcendental Thomism that are proposed by philosophically-grounded post-Kantian theologians like Rahner and Lonergan, especially regarding the infinite openness in human consciousness that motivates us toward union with God.32

For John Paul, a central aspect of human nature is that the knowing human subject is essentially also a transcendent subject. That is, the human mental ability to abstract, through the agent intellect, from particulars to generals (from horse to horse-ness, from beings to being and to Being), also enables the knowing subject, in a manner proper to created human beings, to apprehend and to participate in absolute Truth and in infinite Being itself, and not merely in concepts about Truth and Being. Knowledge of contingent beings points one toward knowledge of being itself and toward knowledge of the uncreated non-contingent Being, God. An infinite series of contingent beings is irrational; there must be a non-contingent Being. Knowledge of a truth points us toward the absolute Truth; knowledge of a beautiful object points us toward the absolutely Beautiful Who radiates Himself through created beauty;33 and knowledge of a good points us toward absolute Goodness itself, toward God as the infinite horizon and ground of all truth and beauty and goodness.

Again, the human subject possesses an inherent orientation, toward understanding not just beings but Being, and toward apprehending not just truths but the Truth. This orientation opens the human mind toward not only individual truths and beings but also toward the infinite expanse, the unfathomable horizon of truth and being, toward God. The human person cannot be fully himself or herself, if there is a denial of one’s transcendent human intellect and transcendent human nature which are fundamentally oriented toward freely seeking the Truth.

John Paul remains receptive, with limits, to the idea of what Rahner astutely calls “the supernatural existential,” somewhat akin to St. Thomas’s “obediential potency” (potentia obedientialis) as the inherent radical human orientation and motivation toward self-transcendence and toward God; the pope is equally open to Lonergan’s important insight about human experiencing/understanding/judging/deciding, namely, that the process of understanding is “a fixed base, an invariant pattern, opening upon all further developments of understanding.”34 Suffice it to say that today it is an accepted starting-point of philosophical-theological anthropology, from traditional Thomistic thought on being and on cognition, to acknowledge of the human person’s radical orientation and motivation toward knowing the truth, that this orientation forms as always a relatively constant and predictable dimension of human existence. St. Thomas’s initial and perennially-valid understanding of the human person as essentially a knower, enhanced by the post-Enlightenment turn to the subject and to the subject’s process of knowing, has produced a situation in which today, it is hoped, we humans understand more about understanding than in previous ages.35 We humans are knowers, and we will always be knowers, and that is why religious freedom is so important, as we freely seek the truth through spiritual or religious formation, and as we become truly free by knowing the truth.

It is Pope John Paul’s excellent philosophical training in metaphysics and in epistemology, among many other factors, that enables him to incorporate the best insights from classical Thomism and from transcendental Thomism and from all branches of philosophy and theology into his strong defense of religious freedom and of human rights.36 Religious freedom and human rights are grounded in the true philosophical and theological anthropology of who the human person is and what is the nature of the human person; for the pope, moreover, this grounding is more philosophical than theological, more metaphysical than dogmatic. For religious freedom and human rights are at the heart of precisely who and what the human person is as a free, intelligent, and transcendent subject seeking knowledge of and participation in the Truth. Catechesis, therefore, must always include “an appeal to reason,” which together with faith enables believers to be “channeled toward Christian practice in the Church and in the world.”37

V. Conclusion

Any critical assessment of the iconic 1979 apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradendae must remain very limited in scope, due to the unsurpassed excellence of the document in all aspects philosophical, theological, pastoral, pedagogical, and practical. The document is, for all intents and purposes, the unmatched standard of excellence among brief catechetical documents (the Catechism of the Catholic Church being unsurpassed, of course, among longer documents). In 2019 and beyond, the fact that we wish the pope had said more about a few topics is largely a re-affirmation of the excellence of CT.

There is one factor above all, which gives to the 1979 Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae a great and enduring theological-catechetical value even today and beyond, namely, its foundation in philosophy and especially in a true metaphysics and in an accurate epistemology. It is John Paul’s personal depth of knowledge in the reliable Aristotelian-Thomistic sciences of being and of knowing that enables the pope to take the theological discipline of catechesis to new depths of insight and to new heights of possibility. The grounding of CT in a perennially-valid philosophy enables it, as a properly theological document, to have a substantial impact on all the ways that catechesis is done today and can be done tomorrow, as Pope St. John Paul II wished, “with unprecedented enthusiasm.”38

  1. Pope St. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, Catechesi Tradendae (“On Catechesis in Our Time”), Oct. 16, 1979 (hereafter CT, followed by paragraph or section number); Acta Apostolicae Sedis (1979), Oct. 31, 1979, 1278–340.
  2. CT 5.
  3. Pope Francis, Prayer Intention, December 2018, as listed on the Vatican website.
  4. CT 73.
  5. CT 25.
  6. CT 40. CT is the fruitful result of the 1977 Synod of Bishops on the topic “Catechesis in Our Time” and of Pope St. Paul VI’s 1975 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (December 8, 1975) on evangelization in the modern world. The Synod produced 34 propositions on such topics as the importance of catechetical renewal and the nature of true catechesis; Pope Paul’s earlier document stressed, for example, that the Church “is linked to evangelization in her most intimate being” (par. 15). Using both these sources, Pope John Paul II incorporated all their main ideas into CT. See, on the Fourth Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (Rome, September 30 to October 29, 1977), Message to the People of God and Interventions of the U. S. Delegates: The Fourth Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 1997 in Rome (Washington, D.C.: USCC, 1978); also “L’Osservatore Romano,” Oct. 30, 1977, 3–4. See also Robert J. Levis and Michael J. Wrenn, eds., Pope John Paul II: Catechist (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1980).
  7. CT 1. See also USCCB, National Directory for Catechesis (Washington, D.C.: USCCB, 2005), 41-68.
  8. CT 17 and 61.
  9. CT 14 and 30.
  10. CT 14.
  11. CT 14.
  12. George Weigel, Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church (New York: Basic Books, 2013), 84.
  13. CT 35.
  14. Pope St. John Paul II, Encyclical, Fides et Ratio (9/12/1998), no. 29.
  15. On philosophy’s proper and relatively autonomous methods for seeking the truth, see Pope St. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter, Fides et Ratio (Sept. 12, 1998), no. 29. On the errors of nihilism, nominalism, voluntarism, and relativism as negatively impacting the faithful transmission of Church teaching, and on the correction of these errors by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI especially in the latter’s “Regensburg Lecture” of September 12, 2006 (Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2006), see Matthew L. Lamb, “The Need for Reason in Theology,” in Lamb, ed., Theology Needs Philosophy: Acting Against Reason is Contrary to the Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2016), xi–xxi. Benedict in paragraph 7 of his “Regensburg Lecture” warns of the danger of thinking of the one true God of reason (logos) as instead being “a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness.” Also consulted in this section were unpublished notes from Matthew Lamb’s 2011 lecture at Ave Maria University, “On Nominalism and Voluntarism: Eclipsing the Intellectualism of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas”; also Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, 9 volumes (New York: Doubleday Image Books, 1946–1953, vols. I-III reprinted 1985), vol. III on Ockham to Suarez, 49–152; also F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974), s.v. “Nominalism”; also Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, 2003), s.v. “nihilism,” “nominalism,” “voluntarism,” and “relativism.”
  16. CT 63.
  17. CT 34.
  18. CT 30.
  19. Bernard J. F. Lonergan, Method in Theology (New York: Herder and Herder, 1972), 127ff.
  20. CT 5.
  21. CT 13, 15, and 63.
  22. George Weigel, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (New York: Harper Collins, 1999), 129. On faith as the only “suitable means” for attaining union with God, see Wojtyla, Faith According to Saint John of the Cross (Rome: University of St. Thomas, 1948), passim. On Scheler’s phenomenology as a possible though inadequate “basis for Christian ethics,” see Wojtyla, An Evaluation of the Possibility of Constructing a Christian Ethics on the Basis of the System of Max Scheler (Krakow: Jagellonian University, 1954). See also George Huntston Williams, The Mind of John Paul II: Origins of His Thought and Action (New York: Seabury Press, 1981), 86–167; also, on Thomistic philosophy being simply the “most consonant with the Word of God,” see John F. Wippel, “Fides et Ratio’s Call for a Renewal of Metaphysics and St. Thomas Aquinas,” in ed. John P. Hittinger, The Vocation of the Catholic Philosopher: From Maritain to John Paul II (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2010), 145.
  23. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, nos. 6 and 90. On John Paul being a most “superbly educated” pope, see Matthew Bunson, Encyclopedia of Catholic History (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 1995), s.v. “John Paul II,” 475ff. See also John F. Wippel, Metaphysical Themes of St. Thomas Aquinas II (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2007), 3, where the author reminds us that truth, Thomistically speaking, is the “adequation of the intellect and a thing,” in this case, the positive correspondence between our human desire to know things as they actually are and the realities that can be known by our intellect such as individual beings and, to some degree, God. See also Edward Freser, Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide (Oxford: One World Publications, 2009), on “Metaphysics: Being,” 59–61.
  24. Lamb, “The Need for Reason in Theology,” xi–xxi, in Theology Needs Philosophy, refers to Pope Benedict XVI’s “Regensburg Lecture,” on the fact that theology always needs a grounding in reason and in philosophy, for Christian faith is completely compatible with human reason, even though faith exceeds reason. See also Carl J. Peter, referred to as insisting that “there is no incompatibility between Christian faith and critical intelligence”; in Richard J. Dillon, “The Contribution of Carl J. Peter,” in ed. Peter C. Phan, Church and Theology: Essays in Memory of Carl J. Peter (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1995), 26; also the insistence in the 1997 General Directory for Catechesis in paragraph 175 that catechesis should “develop the rational foundations of the faith . . . in conformity with the demands of reason and the Gospel.”
  25. The Church teaches that “the one true God . . . can be known with certainty from his works, by the natural light of human reason” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 47, referring to Vatican Council I, can. 2, section 1: DS 3026). See also Roger Nutt, “Are Aristotelian-Thomists Rationalists? On Thomism, the Preambula Fidei, and Theological Faith,” in Lamb, ed., Theology Needs Philosophy, 116–34.
  26. St. Thomas Aquinas, ST I, q. 84, a. 7. On transcendental Thomism, and on the human “power of abstraction . . . of liberating . . . a quiddity from its concretion in sensibility,” that is, the intellectual capacity to abstract from knowledge of beings toward apprehending being itself and eventually Ultimate Being, see Karl Rahner, Spirit in the World, transl. William V. Dych (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968, orig. 1957), 187, and Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity, transl. William V. Dych (New York: Seabury, 1978, orig. 1976), 52: “The knowledge of God is . . . a transcendental knowledge because man’s basic and original orientation towards absolute mystery, which constitutes his fundamental experience of God, is a permanent existential of man as a spiritual subject.” See also Bernard Lonergan, on the radical “self-transcending” nature of the human person and the orientation of human understanding toward transcending toward truth and toward God, as discussed in Method in Theology, 355ff at 357; also Bernard Lonergan, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992; first published New York: Philosophical Library, 1957), passim. For a modern philosophical anthropologist’s view of abstraction and the human tendency toward transcendence, see J. F. Donceel, “The ‘Impression’ or the ‘Impact,’” in Donceel, Philosophical Anthropology (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1967), 293ff; also Angelo Scola, Gilfredo Marengo, Javier Prades Lopez, La Persona Umana: Antropologia Teologica, vol. 15, Manuali de Teologica Cattolica (Lugano: Associazione Manuali de Teologia Cattolica, 2000), 37 and 51. Note that St. Thomas was convinced that, besides the agent intellect’s ability to abstract, and the practical intellect’s power to operate, it is the human person’s speculative intellect in “the consideration of the truth” that best reflects our resemblance to God our Creator; on this, see ST I-II, q. 3, a. 5, ad. 1, where Thomas states: “But the likeness of the speculative intellect is one of union and ‘information’; which is a much greater likeness” than other ways that humans resemble God; see also ST I, q. 79, a. 11, resp., on the fact that the speculative intellect is focused on considering the truth.
  27. Quoted partly in G. H. Williams, The Mind of John Paul II, 87, and partly in Weigel, Witness to Hope, 70–71; see also Williams, 97, 117, 147, and 167. Unfortunately, both Williams and Weigel quote merely secondary sources like Malinski’s Pope John Paul II at pages 47 and 159, and Kwitny’s Man of the Century at page 78; neither Williams nor Weigel gives precise original citations for exactly where and when John Paul made these statements. See also H.D. Gardeil, “The Metaphysical Notion of Being,” in transl. John A. Otto, Introduction to the Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, vol. IV, Metaphysics (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1956), 38–44.
  28. Williams, The Mind of John Paul II, 147.
  29. CT 14.
  30. William of Ockham, I Sent., 3, 4, M, translated in Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. III, 87. See also Paul Gondreau, “Set Free by First Truth: Ex corde Ecclesiae and the Realist Vision of Academic Freedom for the Catholic Theologian,” in eds. Michael Dauphinais and Matthew Levering, Wisdom and Holiness, Science and Scholarship: Essays in Honor of Matthew L. Lamb (Naples, FL: Sapientia Press of Ave Maria University, 2007), 73–108. See also Lamb, “The Need for Reason in Theology,” in Theology Needs Philosophy, xi, xiii–xiv; also Lamb, unpublished 2011 lecture notes, in op. cit. above, on Benedict XVI’s “Regensburg Lecture.”
  31. See CT 7 for catechesis as being the “communication of the living mystery of God”; also John Haldane, Reasonable Faith (London: Routledge, 2010), 14. There is a grain of truth in Ockham’s idea that we know God through concepts and names — Aquinas in ST I, q. 13, a. 1-2 gladly admits that our words for God hint at but do not express God as He is in Himself — but Ockham exaggerates this idea, to the extreme error of nominalism, as in the idea that we can only assign arbitrary names to God and to things, names that convey no real meaning about the true nature of any reality. The negative idea exists in mystical theology about knowing God by “unknowing,” that is, by knowing the undefinable God in relation to “what God is not” (ST I, q. 13, a. 2); this means knowing that God is not any creature, or knowing simply that God is the One Creator. This “negative theology,” especially from sources in mystical theology, is found, for example, in Pseudo-Dionysius and in St. Bonaventure and in The Cloud of Unknowing and in St. John of the Cross (respectively, in Mystical Theology 1 and Divine Names 1–4; Itinerarium 5; Cloud 6; Ascent of Mount Carmel 1.11).
  32. See Rahner on the “supernatural existential,” and Lonergan on the human subject as being radically “open” to transcendence toward God, in, respectively, Rahner, Foundations, 126–33, and Longergan, Method, 357; also Matthew Lamb, “Lonergan, Bernard J. F.,” in gen. ed. Richard P. McBrien, Encyclopedia of Theology (New York: Harper Collins, 1995), s.v. “Lonergan,” 792–94.
  33. On beauty as reflective of God the Source of all beauty, see Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, 7 vols., vol. III: Studies in Theological Style: Lay Styles, transl. Andrew Louth, John Saward, Martin Simon, and Rowan Williams, ed. John Riches (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986, first published 1962); also W. T. Dickens, Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Theological Aesthetics: A Model for Post-Critical Biblical Interpetration (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), 34.
  34. Lonergan, Insight, xxviii, as quoted in Lamb, “Lonergan,” 793.
  35. Lonergan, Insight, xxviii, as quoted in Lamb, “Lonergan,” page 793, states: “Thoroughly understand what it is to understand, and not only will you understand the broad lines of all there is to be understood, but also you will possess a fixed base, an invariant pattern, opening upon all further developments of understanding.”
  36. See Williams, The Mind of John Paul II, on John Paul’s extensive training philosophy including metaphysics and epistemology, especially 84–171; also Weigel, Witness to Hope, 44–144.
  37. CT 25.
  38. CT 73.
Fr. Robert M. Garrity, JCL, SThD About Fr. Robert M. Garrity, JCL, SThD

Fr. Robert M. Garrity, JCL, SThD, is Assistant Professor of Theology at Ave Maria University and the author of the books Mother Teresa's Mysticism, The Resurrection: Truth or Deception?, Resurrection Power, and O Happy Fault: Personal Growth through Spiritual Progress. He holds a doctorate in sacred theology and a license in canon law, both from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.