Friday, September 08, 2006

Catechesis and the Principle of Subsidiarity

Don't stress on the vocabulary words. Even though Catechism has been a familiar term to me for a long time, I had to come across Catechesis (basically "the process of teaching the Catechism") quite a few times before it was a comfortable word for me to use (and this was after I was married and studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church with some other moms).

The Principle of Subsidiarity is one I've been vaguely familiar with for quite some time - I first heard the term from Kolbe Academy who model their homeschool program, in part, on this Catholic teaching. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1883): "The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which 'a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.'"]

This has a lot of implications on education and there are two pieces I've just put together that are helping me see the bigger picture relating to Church teaching much more clearly - particularly with what I've been wanting to further understand about the role of method in education...

The first I've quoted several times before from Pius XI's encyclical On Christian Education regarding the teacher's ability to choose what is good from methods available...
There the Christian teacher will imitate the bee, which takes the choicest part of the flower and leaves the rest, as St. Basil teaches in his discourse to youths on the study of the classics.[51] Nor will this necessary caution, suggested also by the pagan Quintilian,[52] in any way hinder the Christian teacher from gathering and turning to profit, whatever there is of real worth in the systems and methods of our modern times, mindful of the Apostle's advice: "Prove all things: hold fast that which is good."[53] Hence in accepting the new, he will not hastily abandon the old, which the experience of centuries has found expedient and profitable.
The second is from Cardinal Ratzinger's papers at a conference on "Handing on the Faith in an Age of Disbelief" (which I quoted from yesterday) which makes it quite clear that many particulars should be left to individual teachers (who are living in communion with the Church), but without at all compromising the essential content of the catechism:
It may surprise today's reader to learn that the Roman Catechism in the sixteenth century was fully aware of the problem of catechetical methodology. It remarks that a lot depends on whether the instructor teaches something in one way or another. Therefore one must carefully study the age, intellectual ability, way of life, and social situation of the listeners, so as really to become all things to all men. The catechist must know who needs milk and who eats solid food, and he should adapt his teaching to the ability of the listeners to absorb it. The biggest surprise for us, however, may be the fact that this catechism allows the catechist much more freedom than contemporary catechetics, generally speaking, is inclined to do. Ineed, it leaves to the instructor to determine the sequence of topics in his catechesis, depending on the persons being instructed and time constraints - assuming, of course, that the catechist himself is personally dedicated and lives a life based on an ongoing meditation upon his material and that he keeps in view the four principal divisions of catechesis and coordinates his own plan with them. ...

In other words, this means that it makes available to the catechist the indispensable basic divisions of catechesis and their particular contents, but it does not relieve him of the responsibility to seek the appropiate way of communicating them in a given situation. No doubt the Roman Catechism presupposed a second level of literature to help the catechist in this endeavor, without itself trying to program in advance very particular situation.
It think this is a beautiful, sensible and well-balanced approach to Catechesis which would certainly apply to education in general.

There's a bit more to it, of course and Ratzinger's portion is a quick and very worthwhile read. This has recently been published by Ignatius Press under the title Handing on the Faith in an Age of Disbelief.

1 comment:

Suzanne said...

Thank you for writing about this -- I find it very interesting and useful; I especially love to read pieces about catechesis that are so full of commonsense and humanity.