A Thomistic Critique: The purpose of CGS? (Part 2 of 6)
Updated: Jul 18
According to the Magisterium, Catholic catechesis exists to form Catholics in four categories: promoting knowledge of the Faith, teaching to pray, moral formation, and liturgical education. Although further investigation is needed to judge the CGS approach to liturgy, CGS fails to cover Catholic doctrine and moral formation properly. It does teach and convey truths one could refer to vaguely as Christian, but CGS fails to convey the truths which are expected to be known by Catholics. This article will reveal the aims of CGS by investigating CGS Levels 2 and 3.
As we see from the writings of the founder of CGS, Sofia Cavalletti, she did not focus on the sacred doctrines of Tradition or the Magisterium, but scripture and liturgy. When we look at the founders of CGS, they do not appear to have a desire to take the Catholic faith and find a way to convey this faith to children. Rather, they desire, at best, to give children teachings they find enjoyable.
"Only materials that aroused much interest and deep joy were kept. They were seeking the most essential and the simplest materials that would help the personal work of the children so that the children would be able to grasp the message of the Scripture or the liturgy." https://www.biola.edu/talbot/ce20/database/sofia-cavalletti
We can see that CGS's purpose is not to convey the faith or sacred doctrine of the Church, but to convey scripture and liturgy. Taking complex concepts of God and salvation, and teaching these ideas to children are not concerns; they are things which, apparently, could be removed from the program if they did not interest the children and bring them joy. Teachers in other subjects realize that children or young adults need to learn complex truths if they are going to understand a subject, like geometry or a language. Theology is no different. As we look over Church history, great debates have raged about complex theological issues, out of love and desire for the truth. Though these arguments' complexity need not be presented to children, a good catechesis does not remove the difficult teachings, but instead seeks to explain them as succinctly and appropriately as possible.
According to the General Directory for Catechesis, this passing-on of the faith is what the Church has declared to be one of the four main ends of Catechesis. As we look at various Catechisms over the centuries, we see a collection of truths and concepts that are consistent and deemed necessary for passing-on the Catholic faith. In CGS we only find these teachings mentioned briefly, if at all. This will be examined further in a future post on the formal cause of CGS.
In the Roman Catechism, Baltimore Catechism, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we find clear teachings on doctrinal issues, as well as a deep understanding of the moral law, that include a thorough explanation of the Ten Commandments and venial and mortal sin. This cannot be found in any depth in CGS. This causes CGS to leave out many controversial issues that should be addressed, such as the knowledge of the Blessed Trinity, and Mariology, as well as teachings about purgatory, which are not believed by Christians of other denominations. On the converse, CGS does have a great focus on scripture and liturgy. We can thus conclude that CGS does not achieve the ends of Catholic Catechesis. What, then, is the goal or purpose of these deviations from a traditional catechism?
Only the agent cause – the authority composing or teaching the Catechism of the Good Shepherd – can know the answer; but we can speculate as we peer deeper into CGS writings. One possible answer is the desire of CGS to remove difficult topics, so that the child only has 'joy', as indicated by the founder Sofia Cavaletti. Furthermore, her program not only sought to remove difficult elements of doctrine, but CGS was also created and modified "so that the children would be able to grasp the message of the scripture or the liturgy." There must be a reason for the radical program of creating a catechism that is void of the Catholic faith's many fundamental teachings. The answer would appear to lie in a desire for false ecumenism.
It is true that the Church allows ecumenism in the catechism, but not an unbridled ecumenism that distorts the true Faith.
198. "In the context of different Christian confessions, the Bishops may deem opportune or necessary specific ecumenical co-operation in the area of religious instruction. It is important, however, that Catholics are guaranteed, at the same time, a genuinely Catholic catechesis, by specific provisions and with all the more care." General Directory for Catechesis.
Though a limited and moderate amount of ecumenism is permitted in catechesis, this Vatican document clarifies that it must not be at the expense of "a genuinely Catholic catechesis." The emphasis on scripture and liturgy, as well as the disregard for Catholic doctrine, would appear to stem from a false ecumenism. Once a Catholic understanding of doctrine is removed, and nothing is taught but scripture and liturgy, all that remains lacks much of what makes it genuinely Catholic, and not simply Christian. It is the Catholic faith's explanation of the invisible reality that separates Catholic liturgy from many denominations. The failure of a catechism to fulfill its end of teaching Catholic doctrine causes children born into the Catholic Church to receive a nearly identical faith as non-Catholics.
Though CGS says little about the importance of passing on the Catholic faith; yet, the program makes numerous mentions of ecumenism.
“Ecumenism is, first of all, an act of faith that opens completely new horizons before us." Sofia Cavalletti – READ SOFIA’S PERSPECTIVE ON CGS AS A CONTINUUM
“The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is open to all Christians of various denominations and of different commitments within the church." #29 Characteristics of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
"Ecumenism is not just a branch of catechesis; rather, the spirit of ecumenism does permeate the whole of catechesis." (p. 123 Religious Potential of the Child, 6-12 years)
Based on the emphasis, it would appear the end of ecumenism has become the ultimate purpose of CGS, rather than teaching the Catholic Faith. Regardless of the reason, CGS fails to fulfill the ends of catechesis as prescribed by the magisterium. Having this end distorted significantly affects the material cause and formal cause of this catechesis program. The problems of the final cause of CGS can be summarized in this quote by C.S. Lewis.
“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” C.S. Lewis on his conversion from atheism