Ignorance of Christian doctrine is main cause of the decline of Faith

Over at Eponymous Flower I saw a post that Cardinal Burke has praised the old Catechism of Pius X.

I must agree. Back in the day, Catechisms were designed to help you understand and also memorize things. Somewhere along the line, educators started to claim that kids shouldn’t memorize. What’s with that? For dumb!

Not knowing the Faith well has social implications.

Cardinal Burke: Catechism of Pius X is Also Today a Sure and Indispensible Reference Point

“St. Pius X saw with clarity how religious ignorance not only leads individual lives, but also to the decay of society and a lack of balanced thinking in the most serious problems,” said Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura at event surrounding the Catechism of St. Pius X 100 years after its publication, by the Kulturkreis of John Henry Newman on the 24th of May. It was organized in Seregno.
In his “extraordinary and brilliant lectio” says Catholic writer Cristina Siccardi, Cardinal Burke maintains of Saint Pius X (1835-1914) that “ignorance of Christian doctrine is recognized as the main cause of the decline of faith and therefore sound catechesis is of paramount importance for the restoration of faith. It is not difficult to see how current the observations and conclusions of St. Pius X are. They are really recognizable in the motives that has led Pope Benedict XVI. to proclaim the year of the faith. ”


Yes, we have now the Catechism of the Catholic Church. That doesn’t mean that older catechisms are no longer useful.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. DumSpiroSpero says:

    I absolutely love Cardinal Burke–he would make a fine Pope one day!!! One can only pray…

  2. Andrew says:

    Last year, in making an extensive comparison of the Catechismus Romanus and the Catechismus Catholicae Ecclesiae, I was struck by the similarity between the two documents. The fourfold foundation (Creed, Sacraments, Commandments, Prayer) is the same. Much of the exposition is similar and often identical. Most of the differences stem from short additions in the new Catechism pertaining to recent social and scientific developments, while, on the other hand, the older Catechism is a bit more detailed in many areas.

    Actually, as the new Catechism was being prepared, original manuscripts of the older Roman Catechism were discovered in the Vatican, and a new “editio critica” of it was prepared and published in 1989. (Available for app. $200 which is much cheaper then most cell phones today).

  3. anilwang says:

    One of the key selling points of the new Catechism is that it can truly be a reference for daily life because it includes features such as cross references and indices (e.g. http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/index/a.htm ) on commonly referenced material and each paragraph is referenced so you can easily tell third parties what that Catholic teaching on abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia are just by providing references. This isn’t just theoretical. Catechism references have been used at our Catholic school board to counteract CINO board members that say “Jesus was inclusive, so GSAs are consistent with the Catholic faith”.

    The if the Catechism of Pius X is to have the same usability as a daily reference, it needs to acquire some if not most of these features. Sadly, I don’t see such a cross referenced version existing on the Vatican web site, but it doesn’t need to be to be valuable. If you look for the Catechism online, the scborromeo.org web site comes in second in a google search so it’s easy to find.

    IMO, such an effort will greatly aid the hermeneutic of continuity by making it easy to compare doctrines from the old and new catechism and highlight nuances that might not be obvious in the new catechism without looking at the footnotes.

  4. Rich Leonardi says:

    Pope Benedict too praised the Catechism of St. Pius X. Here he is, writing as Cardinal Ratzinger, as the Compendium was being promulgated:

    “The faith, as such, is always the same. Therefore, St. Pius X’s catechism always retains its value, … There can be persons or groups that feel more comfortable with St. Pius X’s catechism. … that Catechism stemmed from a text that was prepared by the Pope himself [Pius X] when he was Bishop of Mantua. The text was the fruit of the personal catechetical experience of Giuseppe Sarto, whose characteristics were simplicity of exposition and depth of content. Also because of this, St. Pius X’s catechism might have friends in the future.”

  5. Robbie says:

    Cardinal Burke would have made a wonderful Pope. Too bad he’s an American and too bad there are so many modernists in the College of Cardinals who would oppose him.

  6. Mike says:

    I think the Roman Catechism is more focused than the CCC. Granted, the former lacks updating, but the new catechism, in my opinion, has too much of a “shotgun” approach: a zillion citations, all over the place at times, which can dilute the main point–which I know can have many facets. But a catechism should be above a good instrument for teaching us the Faith, no?

  7. wolfeken says:

    The great thing about pre-Vatican II catechisms is the clarity. Question. Answer.

    The current catechism is often useless, as it states a general principle, left open to interpretation. Much like the 16 documents of Vatican II. Much like, sadly, the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Ambiguity and confusion. What the heck does that actually mean?

    Maybe the next pope will replace the current catechism with an updated version of the Pius X catechism, reflecting the Internet age and other modern situations. The Catechsim of Pius XIII.

  8. Supertradmum says:

    Yes, yes, yes, and I love the Catechism of the Council of Trent, http://www.amazon.com/The-Catechism-Council-Trent/dp/0895551853 and other sources less pricey.

    But, how many dioceses hire orthodox catechists and how many parishes have Faith Formation for Adults, as does the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph? Any parish teaching here is rare or skimpy.

  9. Unwilling says:

    When I converted to Roman Catholicism, I was given “The Dutch Catechism” (before the “Corrections” became an appendix). Somehow, I immediately recognized that its mushy meandering obfuscations did not present the majestic radiant holiness of the Religion I was converting to. A friend (not the official priest catechist) saved my faith with the gift of a Penny Catechism and a few books by Chesterton, Lewis, etc.

    Years later the Rector of our Cathedral parish put me in charge of converts from the “intelligentsia”: professors, lawyers, etc. I found that the more educated and intellectually sophisticated, the more they wanted teaching in the fewest possible words… thoroughly explained and defended in discussion! Eventually my resources portfolio became: The Penny Catechism, the Missal, and the Bible for homework. Forty years later, I would recommend the same list — at least, for that kind of enquirer.

  10. Bosco says:

    May I just say that the Baltimore Catechism served well for my early instruction in the Faith during the late ’50s when I still lived in the U.S.

    (The Daughters of St. Paul later put out excellent Catholic educational material in the 80’s.)

    The foundation I had had in the Baltimore Catechism lead me in later life to the wonderful expositions of Father John Hardon, S.J..; Father William Most; and Cardinal Ratzinger, to name a few.

  11. For an excellent historical analysis of this phenomenon in three rural French dioceses for the 200 years following the Council of Trent, read Karen E. Carter’s Creating Catholics. It is amply evident what does work and what doesn’t work, catechetically speaking. But, don’t forget that it took 200 years for Trent’s reforms to take effect. In contrast, urban Catholic France went the way it appears the USA Catholic Church is doing post-Vatican II.


  12. contrarian says:

    Cardinal Burke = awesome.

    For those interested, there are lots of free html and pdf and e-book versions of the Catechism of the C0uncil of Trent available on the internets (though I agree, Supertradmum, that real books are better!).

    Our overlords at google have even posted a free e-book version of the 1829 edition! Cool!

    Cannot one also make the argument that the new mass has has added to our knowledge of the faith as well, given its soft-peddling on and sanitizing of so many important Catholic doctrines?

    If you took two intelligent people who had no knowledge of Catholicism, and you had one read through the prayers and scripture readings of a year’s worth of old masses, and then had the other person read through the prayers and scripture readings of a year’s worth of new masses, the person reading the old mass would do much better on a pop quiz in Catholicism 101.


  13. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Sadly, I don’t see such a cross referenced version existing on the Vatican web site, but it doesn’t need to be to be valuable.”

    It should not be hard to make.

    The Chicken

  14. Bob B. says:

    There is a lot to be said for memorizing some things, though a principal once told me that, with the Internet, there is really no reason for children to learn their Times Tables and some of our Catholic prayers – !!!.
    In teaching religion to middle school students, I loved using the Baltimore Catechism as a basis for further discussion and I would use a question such as, “Why did God create you?” Invariably, there was a hodgepodge of answers, so I’d use, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven. ” They had to learn this reply and we could focus on what the answer meant.
    (I also liked to have students compare passages of their Bibles to my Douay, which also brought up a discussion of the beauty of the language of “yesterday” to whatever it is today.)

  15. It is a terrible disservice to adult converts not to tutor them on the entire content of the new catechism. The compendium falls short. I wish it hadn’t been published or that it was more thorough. Although I doubt many RCIA programs utilize any catechism. People are asked to profess their belief in all teachings of the Catholic Church without having been taught what they are.
    You won’t find the last sentence of this important tidbit in the compendium: 2181 The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.

  16. Sixupman says:

    It is hardly rocket-science: cease teaching Catholicism within schools; cease preaching Catholicism from the pulpit; dilute the meaning of The Mass; dilute the status of the priesthood; create an understand of lay equivalence with the priesthood; imply or even actually state that all Christian churches are the same, et al! What on earth do you expect to happen, certainly not a blossoming of Catholicism.

  17. tjg says:

    I can say without a doubt that the lack of this type of training has led to severe shortcomings in my knowledge of the Faith. Thankfully, God led us to homeschooling our children and we have used the Baltimore Catechism for years with great success.

  18. mamajen says:

    I don’t think simple memorization is the answer. Understanding why the Church teaches what it does is what really gets people invested. I know plenty of people who were very well catechized, yet eventually fell off the wagon when worldly concerns were more attractive. And what of all these politicians, priests and religious who know full well what the Church teaches, but don’t give a damn? It’s good to know all the rules, of course, but without a proper understanding combined with love and even a certain amount of healthy fear, you’ve got nothing.

  19. Unwilling says:

    @ Bob B quotes “with the Internet [available], there is really no reason for children to learn”
    With Obama [ruling], there is really no reason for anyone to will.
    With Rush Limbaugh [talking], there is really no reason to think.

    Do it yourself can be fun though.

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  21. Agreed, and it starts at home with parents teaching their children the beautiful richness and fullness of the Faith. We need to get back to the basics and fundamentals. The Baltimore Catechism is an outstanding resource for teaching the kids at home. There is very poor catechesis at the parish level.

  22. Bosco says:

    Memorization pre-supposes that the ‘why’ will necessarily follow when the child has reached an age when the theological explanations are easier to comprehend.

    The child doesn’t need to know the ‘why’ of the alphabet at first or ‘why’ such knowledge is necessary. That will come inevitably.

  23. cwalshb says:

    I love the Catechism of St. Pius X, especially for when prioritizing information to teach to young people in religious education classes. Even if they remembered everything, I can’t teach them the whole CCC in a year. And they happen to remember almost nothing, so I am very grateful to St. Pius X for distilling the Faith down to its very bare bones components as a guide to me and others!

  24. Andrew says:


    You write: “The great thing about pre-Vatican II catechisms is the clarity. Question. Answer.”

    The Catechism of the Council of Trent, known as the “Roman Catechism” does not follow such format. The “question / answer” format is used by authors who prepare short catechical booklets, derived from the “typical edition” mostly for children.

    You write: “Sadly, I don’t see such a cross referenced version existing on the Vatican web site …”

    The critical edition of the Roman Catechism comes with lots of indices and cross references (and much more).


    You write: “I think the Roman Catechism is more focused than the CCC.”

    If by focused you mean detailed, I would say it goes both ways. They complement each other, and in many respects, the CCC is more elaborate and clearer at times. (For instance when it speaks about the end of times).

    The masked chicken:

    You write: “It [a cross referenced version] should not be hard to make.” So when do you start working on one such version?

    To all: it is easy to rip everything new and to be critical and to cry (sniff sniff) about the “good old days”. I think Catholics need to snap out of it and realize that never was there an easy time to be a Christian, or to sort out the true from the false. What medieval saint wasn’t persecuted by those closest to him? What confusion in the early centuries with bishops denouncing each other? There are difficulties in our time. Sure. But not everything is bad. And the new catechism is a gem, especially if you read it in conjunction with the old one. (And by the way: there have been only two Catechisms produced in the Church, by the Magisterium and neither one is available on Google).

  25. Lynne says:

    Andrew, The Catechism of the Council of Trent was meant for priests. The Catechism of Pope Pius X was meant for the laity. And both of them are much easier to understand than the 1994 CCC. I have the Compendium which is more like Q and A but I haven’t read it.

    My favorite catechism is “My Catholic Faith” which is more detailed than the Catechism of Pope Pius X but not nearly as verbose as the CCC.

  26. Mike says:


    I mean the CCC is unfocused. Citations fall like snowflakes, each blurring into the general white mass…

  27. VerbumJournal says:

    Cardinal Burke is a rare treat. By the way the Catechism of the Catholic Church is available via the Vatican website.


  28. Bea says:

    “Ignorance of Christian doctrine is main cause of the decline of Faith”


  29. The Masked Chicken says:

    “You write: “It [a cross referenced version] should not be hard to make.” So when do you start working on one such version?”


    I wasn’t trying to be glib. I meant that, with today’s computer technology, making such a thing is very easy. All you need is the plain text version and a word search algorithm. If you want me to make a cross-referenced version (I don’t know what that is – I assume the original poster meant an indexed version, like IntraText), I will, but I am busy for the next two weeks preparing two papers for a conference. After that, I will have some free time.

    The Chicken

  30. Legisperitus says:

    If anyone has posted a link to the Catechism of St. Pius X already, I must have missed it. EWTN has it at http://www.ewtn.com/library/catechsm/piusxcat.htm

  31. jacobi says:

    The CCC, (pocket edition), all 691 pages of it, index and all, is a splendid book but not everyone has the time or the inclination to use it regularly.

    A quick-consult alternative is the much loved “Penny Catechism”, still available. It would still be a great catechism to give to children – as it always used to be.
    It’s also available as the “Catechism of Christian Doctrine” but somehow the old title seems better.

  32. pinoytraddie says:

    I do have a Copy of a “Baltimore” Inspired Catechism written by an Opus Dei Priest from the Philippines ( A fellow Countryman,RIP). Based on the CCC,it’s much simpler and clear than the Compendium and YOUCAT put together.

  33. Jason Keener says:

    I think all Catholic school children in the early grades should be made to memorize the Baltimore Catechism. Children of that age soak up memorization tasks, and that’s why the Baltimore Catechism and others like it were/are so useful for giving people a foundation in the Faith that can later be built upon with longer expositions of doctrine as found in the New Catechism. My mother can still quote verbatim many parts of the Baltimore Catechism, and she is 60 years old. So, yes, I’m a big fan of all the older catechisms. They had a precision, directness, and way of phrasing things that is rarely found in Catholic writings today. Kudos to Cardinal Burke. I wish we had more prelates like him.

  34. melanie says:

    Rote learning has value! Even the UK government has got it right (on this one issue). The new national curriculum for primary schools includes the requirement for children to learn their times tables and to recite poetry. Maybe the Catholic Education Service will follow suit and reintroduce rote learning of elements of the Faith too?

  35. Amy Giglio says:

    Car. Burke is spot-on, and so are the commenters who have advocated for memorization. It’s a useful tool for beginners. As a child gets older, a foundation has been laid, and a child’s brain is developed enough to handle abstract questions and concepts, (usually around age 9-10) there is plenty of time to explore the “why” of our faith.

    There has been much emphasis in parish catechesis in the last 40 years or so on connecting to God through the “heart” vs. through the “head.” Where this approach fails is that if it’s all “heart,” faith gets squishy. There needs to be both “heart,” developing a relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as well as learning basic facts so one can defend one’s faith when called upon to do so.

    I have used the Baltimore Catechism in my CCD classes in addition to the other textbooks that the parish provides. I find the Baltimore catechism Level 1 especially useful for students with special learning needs. It’s very concrete for concrete thinkers.

    Many thanks to Legisperitus for posting the link to the Catechism of Pius X. I look forward to reading it.

  36. Something that I think we as Catholics often overlook is the fact that the Catechism of the Catholic Church, though legitimate, is not perfect and in some ways is less advantageous as a universal teaching tool. It is okay, and is great in some areas, but weaker in others. This is to be expected as normal. Also, it was not intended to be a universal Catechism to the exclusion of all others. It is explicitly stated in the Catechism that it was intended to be a general Catechism that covers the basic outline of the Faith as a helpful jumping-off point for others Catechisms, such as the Catechism of St. Pius X in the West, and the Ukrainian Eastern Catholic Catechism in the East. If we really want to understand the Faith in an active sense, we ought to consult all of the Catechisms we can get our hands on, both Eastern and Western.

  37. Supertradmum says:

    Jonathan Catholic, excellent point and the CCC should never be the only text, but one of many-such as the encyclicals and the Doctors and Fathers of the Church. I have never used the CCC alone as a text. One can see the weaknesses and even some of my students in the past found these. To be an educated Catholic adult is a lifelong effort.

  38. AnnAsher says:

    trouble for me is the New Catechism seems to contradict the former, ie: Baltimore, Trent …. I am not so sure it is ignorance of doctrine as it is lack of clarity in doctrine and lack of consistency of practices amongst Bishops.

  39. AnnAsher says:

    Also True or False – The New Catechism of the Catholic Church is *not* Doctrine ?

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