"A catechism should faithfully and systematically present the teaching of sacred Scripture, the living tradition of the church and the authentic magisterium as well as the spiritual heritage of the fathers and the church's saints, to allow for a better knowledge of the Christian mystery and for enlivening the faith of the people of God" (apostolic constitution Fidei Depositum).
"It was assumed [a decade ago] that in the brave new church then emerging there would no longer be any need for a universal 'Roman catechism.' . . . Today, however, the problems are seen to be more complex. . . . The tensions of our time have made it increasingly evident that for Catholicism to endure in the 'global village' visible structures of unity are essential. A vibrant sense of Catholic unity seems to require not only an inner union of spirit but a measure of common catechesis, common legislation, common customs, common symbols and common ministerial oversight" (The Reshaping of Catholicism, 1988, p. 205).
Without an organic and comprehensive knowledge of the faith, our people will be "retarded" in comparison with the rest of their development. Without genuine conviction which they can articulate, they will necessarily be handicapped by uncertainty and timidity in responding to the call to be apostles...
"I want a laity . . . who know their faith, who enter into It, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it and who know enough of history to defend it. I want an intelligent well-instructed laity. . . . And one immediate effect of your being able to do all this will be your gaining that proper confidence in self that is so necessary for you (cited in E. D'Arcy, "The New Catechism and Cardinal Newman," Communio X) 43 Fall 1993, 49-7).
The unity of the Christian faith is also witnessed by the way in the which the catechism allows the fathers of the great patristic age, and the saints of all ages, to give testimony to the apostolic faith which the church has proclaimed from the beginning. For these writers the Scriptures were the primary source for knowing God and his revelation; they remain so for us today. Therefore the catechism's use of Scripture is of special importance. It was criticized by some at the time of the circulation of the draft for the consultation of the world's bishops, and the catechism committee paid careful attention to the criticisms, with the assistance of a team of biblical experts.
But the problem is not so much with the catechism's approach to the Scriptures, but with a proper understanding of the Catholic way of interpreting Scripture itself. Far from the suggestion of "proof texting" made by some, I see the catechism's use of Scripture entirely consistent with the use made of it by the church fathers and by its liturgy. The church uses Scripture as its own book, with a familiarity that lets her read it as God's word from start to finish. The whole dogmatic and spiritual tradition of the church, while paying careful attention to the data of biblical exegesis and enlightened by the insights of modern historical-critical methods, probes the Scriptures under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to discern the true meaning of the whole of God's revelation.
Yet he has not simply ignored history. He has read the great German exegetes of the past generation, Protestant as well as Catholic, and draws on them for particular points even though the format of his work does not make for detailed discussion. He denies the suggestion that he is producing a “Christology from above” (in which the orthodox theological cart is placed before the historical horse) by arguing that scholarly exegesis of the New Testament “must see itself once again as a theological discipline, without abandoning its historical character”, forswearing popular but shallow positivism and combining a “faith-hermeneutic” with “a historical hermeneutic” so as “to form a methodological whole”.
The Pope suggests that this is a step forwards. Many, though, will inevitably see it as a step backwards, to a pre-modern, pre-critical reading which simply pushes the problems to one side and allows the great ecclesial tradition to rumble on as if there had been, after all, no real cause for concern about the reliability of the New Testament in the first place. The parallels between this approach and the stance that the Church is perceived to take on some other issues will, naturally, raise eyebrows. The business of whether theology and history can actually meet without a serious explosion is of course a question which, in one form or another (whether through debates on science and religion, or on faith and politics), has stood behind a good deal of intellectual conflict in the West over the past two centuries. Many will take more convincing than is provided in Jesus of Nazareth before they will readily accept such a marriage.