ASK FATHER: “I now have doubt about sorting the doctrinal from the papal opinion.” Wherein Fr. Z rants.

From a reader…


All this confusion with the death penalty has caused me to doubt the authority of what I assumed were books of bedrock Catholic Doctrine.

Of course there was the first JPII Catechism, then his revision, both of which I thought were 100% settled Catholic Doctrine. Discovering that pre-V2 teaching of the death penalty was other than as presented in the current CCC, I now have doubt about sorting the doctrinal from the papal opinion.

So what Major Catechisms are doctrine/dogma only that are not infused with papal opinion or zeitgeist that I can use for definitive answers when confronted by lapsed Catholic and non-Catholics?

As far as I’m concerned, from my training in Patristic theology, the 16th c. Council of Trent’s Roman Catechism is “modern”.

Also, be careful when reading certain sites and their commentary on this.  The Id of Traddy-dom is pretty yakkity right now.

This question – your doubt – underscores one of my principle concerns about the change to CCC 2267.

Firstly, my problems with the change don’t have so much to do with Pope Francis’ opinion that capital punishment should never be used.  Maybe he is right and maybe he isn’t.  Were one to consult all the Popes back through history, you would get an answer different from what Francis has opined, even with variations about the circumstances and mercy, etc.  Also, the inserting of one paragraph into the CCC that cites only Francis’ own speech as a reference in the notes is pretty thin stuff.  Remember that things don’t become true by their being put into the CCC.  They are truth, and verified, doctrines with a serious pedigree before they go into the CCC.  They are put in because they rest on solid footings.  To my mind, that new 2267 doesn’t come up to scratch, when placed alongside centuries of teaching, vaporous claims about public opinion (as if that were a criterion for confirming doctrine), and a dubious argument from the point of view of the inviolability of human dignity, which seems not to take into consideration the eternal soul and fate of the condemned.

I am concerned about this paragraph not because of the opinion it expresses about the use of capital punishment, but because this is an attempt to instrumentalize the CCC for reasons other than teaching doctrine.  Note that there is in new 2267 an admonishment to nations not to use it.  Is that what catechisms are for?

Another reason, if this paragraph on this teaching can be altered in such a way, then what other paragraphs will be changed.  This change strikes me as a trial balloon and a call to special interest groups to redouble their calls for changes to the CCC.  Homosexualists are already emboldened.

Also, and this is really a problem, this change to 2267 has sown doubt in people’s minds, just as it has done in yours, about the reliability of what John Paul called a sure reference.

Hence, I an not a fan of this change.  However, let’s not make more of it than we need to.

No catechism does it all.  Also, even the Catechism of the Catholic Church was also intended as a model for local catechisms.

It is good to have a ranger of sources, classic and new.  Cross-checking is useful.

Old manuals of theology are also great resources.  However, they are virtually all in Latin, which is hard for most people or inaccessible.

That said, keep in mind that this latest change to the CCC in paragraph 2267 is an alteration of one paragraph concerning a tiny sliver of criminals who are themselves a minority in society.  Also, it deals with contingent moral choices about that tiny sliver of the small fraction.  Unless you are a governor of a state or an executioner, this paragraph won’t have much bearing on your daily life.  Neither does it concern issues far closer to the core of the Faith.  Also, we have not yet seen the official text of 2267 in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, which is the official instrument of promulgation of the Holy See.

I’m telling people to keep that CCC close and, with an erasable pencil draw a circle around that paragraph and put a question mark by it… for now.

Meanwhile, we have multiple catechisms at our disposal.   Chief among them are these.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church.
US HERE – UK HERE (There are many editions.  Look around.)

The Catechism of the Council of Trent for Parish Priests.
US HERE – UK HERE (There are many editions.  Look around.)

Also, the Baltimore Catechism, which has different volumes for different ages (US HERE – UK HERE).  It’s so useful, in its Q&A format.

And the Catechism of Pius X is also great.  (US HERE – UK HERE).

There are many good resources available.

You might also try Ludiwg Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma.  (US HERE – UK HERE)

Morever, for primary sources, try Enchiridion Symbolorum: A Compendium of Creeds, Definitions, and Declarations of the Catholic Church (Latin and English Edition) from Ignatius Press (US HERE – UK HERE)

Finally, here’s a little rant. 

Each time the Pope or one of his creatures says something weird or at least confusing, then we, all of us, have an opportunity to educate ourselves.  We ought to be driven to our books and to our sound, reliable priests, or at least to take steps to find them and use them as good resources.

When you love someone, you want to know all about that person.  Right?  And, when love is genuine, charity, sacrificial love, then the more you come to know, the more you choose to love.  Love is an informed choice, not a gooey feeling.

If we love our Faith, we want to know more about it, always.   We make distinctions about the content of the Faith.  We talk about the Faith in which we believe (fides quae creditur) and the Faith by which we believe (fides qua creditur).   The former, we study and dissect and memorize and dispute, etc.  The later is infused gift of the Holy Spirit.  They work together, our capacity and God’s grace, which raises and perfects our natural gifts.

In making these distinctions, remember too that the true content of the Faith is a Person, the Divine Person of the Word, Our Lord Christ Jesus.  He is in and behind and before all the truths that we have received faithfully from Apostolic Tradition onward.  When the Church teaches, He teaches.

He is the content.  We can, therefore, have a real relationship of love with the content of our Faith.

When you love, you want more.  It costs, but the cost is not counted.

Today we tend to confuse “love” with ooey gooey good feelings, like early romantic relationships.  However, real love is a choice, not a mere impulse.

I’m not getting much ooey gooey right now, and I think most of you aren’t either.  Hence, when the object of your love becomes difficult, unattractive, challenging, unlikeable, problematic, we choose to love anyway.  Sacrificial love, charity, means taking the hits.

But don’t discount the ooey gooey!

In a way, our old fashioned pious devotions and the prayers of our forebears with their florid language are like the ooey gooey part of romantic love.  But, even within those devotions there is deep doctrine, profound truths.  The devotions should drive us to learn more, go deeper.  Going deeper should then bring us back to our devotions with greater fervor.   Ooey gooey is a starting point and, maybe, even a re-starting point and a re-freshing point.

Amplify this by a factor of a gazillion regarding our participation in Holy Mass!

We are both intellective and affective.  They come together in the tension of fides quae and fides qua, our willed choice to know and to love.  After all  God made us His images, to act like He acts, to know, to will, to love.

Catholics who truly love their Faith shouldn’t need weird stuff and controversies to spur them into their catechisms and the constant study of and review of the Faith.   We should burn with a desire to know more more more anyway and all the time.

In a lot of ways, I admire greatly the practice of orthodox Jews who assiduously study and debate about their “portions” of Torah and the commentaries that surround them.  We could use some of their discipline.  Maybe that’s one reason why, in this troubled time for the Church, I have wryly coopted the language of the Left to suggest that Catholic should form base-communities of study and of prayer and of old-fashioned pious devotional practices.  Our forebears did this, with their weekly return to church on a weekday for devotions such as the Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, for 1st Friday, 1st Saturday and Way of the Cross in Lent, Rosary, Exposition and Benediction, Processions and Missions and Vespers on Sunday afternoons.

FATHERS!  BISHOPS!  We need old-fashioned prayers and devotions in our churches!  Start them and invite people to come!   Let’s think outside the box by opening up the good old boxes we already have and have closed for a while.  We have to be the householders who bringeth forth things out of our treasure new things and old.

Perhaps a place to start with these devotions could be for reparation for sins and even for the grace of compunction.   Benedict XVI wrote a pastoral letter to the people of Ireland after the scandals shredded the Church and faithful.  He talked about how abandoning devotions eroded them and he recommended their recovery along with the treasures of their cultural heritage.

This is my RX for what ails us.   More study, and more pious, old-fashioned devotions at home, sure, but especially in parishes.

Thus endeth the rant.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Erasable pencil, good idea. I seem to recall that’s what I used when my CCD teacher told me circa 1970 to cross “All are bound to belong to the Church . . .” out of my Baltimore Catechism0.

  2. Thomas says:

    I’m definitely trying to pray and offer some small mortification for the Church. Father Weinandy, former adviser to the USCCB said something like God is letting all this happen to show how little faith there is today.

  3. chantgirl says:

    Ok, we clearly have some sort of vicious pandemic sweeping the Church and need to erect the Holy Office of Quarantine to keep it from spreading. Many prominent clerics are showing signs of the disease and they must be kept away from the general population to contain the contagion.

    If you see clerics, theologians, or rogue nuns foaming at the mouth on social media about new paradigms, papal power over and above Scripture and Tradition, the god of surprises etc, please call the Holy Office of Quarantine to help contain the madness and keep the laity from falling ill.

  4. supercooper says:

    The actions of this pontificate have certainly harmed the prestige of the Pope’s authentic magisterium, to which we are bound to give a religious submission of the intellect and the will. That no longer seems possible to give. Ed Feser makes a very compelling case that the church’s teaching on the licit nature of the death penalty is part of the de fide, universal and ordinary magisterium.

    I have long wondered whether the notion of religious submission of the intellect and will to the authentic magisterium is coherent. If we are to give religious submission of the intellect and will to everything the Pope teaches I am afraid it is (or at least can become) a papolatry, going far beyond the teaching of Pastor aeternus.

    If the church universally gives religious submission of the intellect and the will to the Pope’s authenic magisterium, what prevents the authentic magisterium from eventually being seen as ordinary magisterium when it is not?

    These questions and others are above our paygrade as laymen, and yet we are being forced to grapple with them.

  5. Malta says:

    I would just get a Sharpie pen and mark-out 2267. Our just stick to the JPII Catechism, which I have.

  6. WVC says:

    Fr. Z is spot on when it comes to this being an opportunity to strengthen your “Sensus Fidelium” – it should NOT rest on any one pope or book or blog (present blog possibly exempted). You don’t have to be a theologian or an expert, but you (as in every single Catholic man, woman, and child) need to have a strong sense of the Deposit of Faith based on numerous encounters with numerous authentic resources – the older the better. In fact, if you stick with Ott and Denzinger and the Roman Catechism – that will cover most if not all of your practical bases. You really only need recourse to modern books in order to deal with modern moral quagmires (like cloning or eugenics and end-of-life medical issues) – and at that point you need to rely on trusted theologians with a solid reputation (like Grisez, Marshner, or May). If you need recommendations on trusted theologians, ask Fr. Z, but for settled matters of Faith and Morals DO NOT LET POPE FRANCIS SHAKE YOUR FAITH. That’s letting the enemy win, and the real enemy is Satan and his goal is to SHAKE YOUR FAITH.

    And do not go to modern websites and blogs to learn the Catholic Faith (this blog possibly being exempted). And Heaven Help you if you try to learn the Catholic Faith based on Internet Comments!! Go to OLD catechisms and OLD theological manuals and Ott and Denzinger. One should have solid legs beneath them BEFORE wading into the strong, ever-changing tide that is the Catholic blog-o-sphere.

    That being said, it would be nice to get more doctrine preached from the pulpit. Even good priests tend to spend a little too much time (in the humble opinion of this laymen) on practical modern issues like abortion and homosexual marriage when the vast majority of good Catholics who go to Mass on a regular basis know what the Church teaches on those issues even if they choose to ignore it. Maybe this is a good opportunity for priests and bishops to dust off their old catechisms and start re-preaching some of the basics of the faith to the congregation. It’s a thought.

  7. Traductora says:

    The point about taking up practices was excellent. A Romanian priest (I think he’s associated with some kind of Charismatic movement) gave a weekend retreat for a group of Spanish speakers in my town last weekend, and one thing that he did was have them bring bottles of water, salt and oil. And he blessed these substances and then told the attendees how to use them at home. This makes a big difference to people, because it’s non-verbal, admits no nuances, and makes the holy and the evil real.

  8. Lurker 59 says:

    To the questioner’s point about “which catechism?”:

    You need to read things in concert and read as much as you can. One single catechism doesn’t work because it has a certain limitation due to the scope and intended historical audience. The more you read, and the wider you read, the more the “papal opinion” falls away.

    If we are just going for what should an average layman read to really know “what the Church teaches”, good bible, pray the liturgy of the hours, Baltimore Catechism, a collection of the sayings of the Church Fathers, and two enchiridions — the modern one and a pre VII one.

    Also, the book that I keep mentioning for confused Catholics during this time is to read “The Mind that is Catholic” by Schall s.j. You can get it on Audible for free with one of their trial memberships. It will make you go “Oh.”

    (With Ott’s book, make note of all the times classical s.j. positions on grace and moral theology are in conflict with the heavyweight towards Neo-Thomism that the book has. I would like to read an article unpacking that as to how we got to where we now are.)

  9. Unwilling says:

    Superb! Complete. Particularly contextualizing true doctrine in real love: both the ooey-gooey and the fiercely loyal types, corresponding to the corporeal and spiritual nature of man.

    In being “careful” with thoughts and words and deeds, I find it helpful to imagine how all the dust of doubt being kicked up would look like to Screwtape and Wormwood.

  10. ajf1984 says:

    On the point of reviving older practices of piety: this past Sunday, our young priest preached on his experience this past summer of the 40 Hours Devotion while on retreat with brother priests. He is hoping to (re-)institute it at our N.O. parish! He also underscored the importance of bringing a “Eucharistic-devotional mindset” (my paraphrase) to our family lives, reminding us that we are all called to adore the Eucharistic Lord in our daily activities, even when not physically in front of the Sacred Species. It’s always refreshing to hear him preach!

  11. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Rachel Fulton Brown’s new medieval studies book, Mary and the Art of Prayer, has to spend a lot of time explaining devotions and Marian ways to read Scripture before she can get down to explaining her subject, the Little Office. It is both discouraging and encouraging to have these sorts of books – sad to see the ignorance of readers in what should be general knowledge, but great to see people take an interest!

  12. LeeGilbert says:

    Father, you write,

    “Our forebears did this, with their weekly return to church on a weekday for devotions such as the Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, for 1st Friday, 1st Saturday and Way of the Cross in Lent, Rosary, Exposition and Benediction, Processions and Missions and Vespers on Sunday afternoons.” ”

    But our forebears had a home life that encouraged such devotions. [Grrr… then MAKE A HOME LIFE.]

    Consider, for example, the home of the recently beatified Solanus Casey:

    “At a time when television and movies were not even imagined…stories and songs provided the Casey family with sufficient entertainment. Especially when snows landlocked the family, this kind of entertainment kept spirits from becoming morose. Often the children played games. Other times Barney Sr. and Ellen gathered everyone around the dining room for an evening of literature. Barney Sr. would read the poems of Tom Moore besides those of Longfellow and Whittier. Stories like Cooper’s The Deerslayer held the children fascinated for long periods of time. -From Thank God Ahead of Time by Michael Crosby, O.F.M. Cap.

    In such a milieu one can easily pipe up and say, “Why don’t we say our rosary now. . .” Or, “Let’s pop down to the parish for the novena to Our Lady of Sorrows.” But these things are very hard to say to our children or siblings when the TV is in the very process of making worldlings of them. Prayer and TV; oil and water.

    “Ceterum censeo televisionem esse delendam.”

  13. Lurker 59 says:


    Yes, it is hard because we know the price that might be paid by piping up and saying “Why don’t we say our rosary now…” The “no” that shall pierce your own heart. But price to be paid even if nothing is said.

    If the price is too high, at least go and say your rosary that the price shall not be paid or that you can bear the sufferings from paying it. Don’t just sit watching the TV.

  14. LeeGilbert says:

    Fr. Z , you growl, “Grrr… then MAKE A HOME LIFE.”

    Well, we did that 35 yrs ago, principally by throwing out the TV. Practically as a direct result, we had a home life.

    What were we going to do, after all, with the aeons of time that opened up before us?

    Why, we read good literature to the kids, and lives of the saints, and went over the Baltimore Catechism with them. We had a prayerful, peaceful, quiet home in which the children flourished. Practically as a direct result of that we have a contemplative nun for a daughter, and a son who is raising his three children in much the same way.

    If only I could put this in a bottle and sell it to the bishops, monetizing the perfectly obvious and retire to the Bahamas. I would call it Family Evenings Together, and it would have the usual posters, slick brochures, guides for the leaders of small groups, sermon outlines and the like.

    Reminds me. Unlike a formal school setting, we did not insist on excessive reverence in learning the catechism. They could recite fast or slow, in a computer voice or singing, while doing ballet twirls or dangling upside down from the couch. Just get it in your little heads whatever it takes. One amusing result is that while we were doing this one evening, our daughter was drawing a very large Hinckley Schmitt type water bottle filled with eyes! This was pretty alarming, you could say. When we asked what it was all about, she gave us the Catechism definition of an angel. “What is an angel? An angel is a pure spirit that cannot be seen with bottlely [bodily] eyes.” Yes, this really happened. We had a blast.

    One thing I will never understand is preachers who do not believe in the power of preaching. Priests have twenty minutes max every Sunday to instruct, reprove, inspire their faithful, but think nothing of handing them over to the preaching of demons three or four hours a DAY in the typical home. About this no one says ANYTHING. Catholics and their children are being swamped by demonic propaganda of every sort, and our leadership is careful to frame arguments against that propaganda, against abortion, homosexuality, atheism, pornography, but are very leery of taking on the main vector of that propaganda. It is passing strange, no?

    Until pastors af parishes and fathers of families pry the secular media out of the rectory and the Catholic home, we will continue to have mayhem in the Church. It hardly takes a prophet to see it.

    Of course, it is not the only such vector, but there is not the least doubt that for most of our children, television is their earliest and most powerful formator. It is the de-evangelist par excellence. And from the demonic standpoint it has had marvelous results. For example, it has annihilated the family Rosary. In the mid-fifties TV came in, and the Rosary went out. TV and Prayer; oil and water.

  15. MrsMacD says:

    Dear LeeGilbert,
    If it’s any consolation at all, we haven’t owned a television for the 16 years we’ve been married. There are few good things to be gleaned from television. It’s passive entertainment at best. There is almost always something better to do, and a great advantage is that children learn to play without the television props. That said children need to have a regular routine of prayer (and catechism) worked into family life from infancy so that they take it for granted, because absent the television the children would rather have a story, play a game, sing a song or sleep than do hard work like praying, but they need it, as much as any of us do. We were made to glorify God and our hearts are restless without Him.

  16. RosaryRose says:

    Amen Father Z!. Being Catholic is a way of life, not just a service to attend on Sunday. (Happy Feast of the Assumption to all, btw!!).

    Do not fear! God knows what is happening to us. Our job is to be faithful. Our Blessed Mother told us about these times and she gave us instructions (which sound like Fr. Z’s actually):
    Pray the rosary daily
    Make a Five First Saturday devotion
    Wear the brown scapular

    I have also found incredibly edifying – spending time, even if just 10 minutes, with the Blessed Sacrament, and going to confession regularly.

    I have straddled the Novus Ordo/SSPX Wall my entire life because my Dad was SSPX and my Mom Novus Ordo. All of this is par for the course for someone who has prayed for a restoration for 40 years. I wish I could say something that will give you courage and peace. I will continue praying and sacrificing, for all the readers of this blog, and especially for our leaders like Fr. Z, Cardinal Burke, Cardinal Sarah, Bishop Morlino, Bishop Schneider amd so, so many others.

    If you aren’t familiar with Fatima or Akita, read about them. It’s fascinating. When you read, think about your Mother in Heaven who loves you and pleads for you to her Son. We are not abandoned, we are like the King in LOTR who is under a spell and is just waking up. Wake up! Pick up your weapons!

  17. SemperServusDei says:

    Praying the traditional Brevarium Romanum, weekly Eucharistic adoration, and the daily meditations in “Divine Intimacy” are my main anchors in the storm. And of course knowing that God is in control and always present, making all things work together for the good of those who love Him.

  18. tominrichmond says:

    I’m not sure it’s hard to figure out which latest papal effusion can safely be ignored. The pope’s job is pretty limited: pass on what has been received. If he’s trying to pass on something utterly unprecedented, it’s a safe bet that it can be taken cum grano salis.
    So, in my life as a prosecutor, where I’ve had in the past and may well in the future have to decide whether to pursue the death penalty in a given case, with due respect to the Roman Pontiff, I’ll continue to make the decision based upon principles of justice, primarily, the duty to protect society and to seek a penalty proportionate to the severity of the offense.
    A single Pope, or even two or three, cannot simply wave a wand and change 6,000 years of Judeo-Christian moral teaching and the natural virtue of justice.
    The wheel will turn, and this too shall pass.

  19. supercooper says:

    I’ve been thinking about practical steps which can be taken to reform the Church.

    I think we should reinstate minor orders for married men, and possibly abolish children serving at the altar. This would reduce occasions for these scandalous sins, and restore some testosterone to our sanctuaries, thus fostering good vocations. Ordain men as lectors, no more laywomen. Ordain men to be acolytes. And subdeacons while we’re at it! More Solemn High Masses. Save the liturgy, save the world.

  20. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: a comment elsewhere — If laypeople know something about church sexual abuse or hear something, they need to go to the police about it. Obviously there is a lot of blackmail and/or peer pressure keeping the other church people silent, so why not go to the proper authorities and undercut the blackmailers?

    Also, no need to tempt abusers to become murderers.

  21. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: no kids at the altar — You know, that is hardly going to help. The ancient thing was never letting male or female religious go anywhere without a companion (or better, two), to make sure everybody behaved and was safe. (And yet, some people did manage to corrupt their chaperones, too.)

    But doing stuff in groups might help. More parental supervision might have helped, too.

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