Monday, March 09, 2015

Parvus Catechismus Catholicorum

This post is partly just for my own benefit, although others might find it of some use. I help out with a confirmation class on Wednesday nights; a person more poorly suited to relating with teenagers than myself I can hardly imagine, but I seem to have one advantage over a great many people, namely, that I'm actually willing to help at it if help is needed. If that sounds a bit acidic, it is; if there's anything that I've learned from this and other cases in which I've helped out with a ministry, it is that Catholics are much better at demanding that things be done than they are at helping to get them done. In any case, we've had some difficulty with the fact that we have a very diverse parish and we can't assume anything about what the students actually know about Christianity. So ever since we realized this, we've had to go back to basics: Bible stories, Ten Commandments, and the like. And in the same spirit, I dug up a translation of St. Peter Canisius's old catechism for children, the Parvus Catechismus. The translation is nicely accurate, but the catechism was written for the catechesis of nine- to fourteen-year-olds, and the translation choices are not always what I would have chosen for handing over to a typical child of this age. So I really need to go back to the Latin original, and due to the wonders of the Internet, it turns out there's a handy one available in the Latin with a facing German translation, at the Internet Archive. Thus I put it here so I can easily find it again.


  1. MrsDarwin8:43 AM

    Oh, I would like to find that in English.

    I assure you it's not just in a diverse parish that you can't assume knowledge of Catholicism. We are in a parish with a school, and I've found that parents who care most about their children's religious education send them to the Catholic school, where they take religion class and so don't attend PSR (Parish School of Religion, what we used to call CCD when I was a youngster coming up), or they homeschool. This is not universally true, of course; the school is expensive and uses the same curriculum as the public school here, so many educated Catholic parents don't find it worth the investment. Still, in the class I help with, sixth and seventh graders, I can't rely on it that my students, mostly born and raised Catholic, know anything. Some of this is just the slippery surface of the juvenile mind; my own children occasionally ask me things like, "Is George Washington still alive?" and it makes me crazy.

    I don't know if that's mainly an effect of a move away from a catechism-based, memory-based style of religious education, though of course in the heyday of the Baltimore Catechism et al there were still plenty of people who didn't understand their faith. Still, there seems a shift away from basic literacy in Christian concepts which has to have repercussions for literacy in other aspects of life (to say nothing of the spiritual deficit).

    You do have a major advantage over many catechists: you know what you are talking about. There are so many good-hearted people teaching, who really want to give good instruction, who desire to keep kids in the church, and yet who speak so imprecisely that kids are left with the impression that Jesus is different from God or who misunderstand the parables, to give two examples I witnessed just this past Sunday. "The people perish for want of knowledge." Of course, I learned almost nothing from any religion class I ever took, and almost everything from my dad, and what can a teacher do about home environment? More and more I pray as a teacher that the Holy Spirit will work in ways I don't understand, because I often feel like the sower casting out seed without any control over what happens when it leaves my hand.

  2. branemrys9:24 AM

    One of the things that simply floored us was discovering that a significant percentage of the students didn't know the Nativity story -- they knew that Christmas had something to do with the birth of Jesus, and that was all. At that point we realized that almost all the confirmation curricula available were going to be nearly useless. The person who is in charge of the program has been working with the pastor to try at least to encourage the parents to get their children to Mass sometimes during Lent. But we've had to remind ourselves multiple times of precisely the seed point.

    This is the English translation I found. It prioritizes accuracy over age-appropriateness at times, and doesn't give St. Peter's biblical references, but there are advantages as well as disadvantages about both.

  3. MrsDarwin10:54 AM

    We have been working on Biblical literacy and basic concepts of religion. All of our students get Bibles and are supposed to bring them every week, and by now we've pounded the name and order of the four gospels into their heads. It's frustrating working with a large group because there are those kids who really have been well-educated and would benefit from a deeper class, and we try to provide something for them, and then there are those who, as you say, don't even know the story of Christmas, or Easter, or Creation. And I've come to realize: IQ is a real thing, and it's a constant process of simplifying and taking it down a level and Socratic prodding, and just plain teaching, to teach some - okay, most - of the kids. I feel like Anne Shirley looking out over her classroom for a kindred spirit.

    In my class, getting a Bible into their hot little hands and reading - in class - can help with that, but there is also a level of discomfort with the physical process of finding a Bible passage that we have to overcome. I don't know if you, as a good young Baptist, were ever in Awana, but I was, growing up in the Bible Belt where the Protestsnts were the only ones taking religious education seriously in the 80s, and that's where I memorized the order of the books of the Bible. (I actually have trouble now remembering where the Catholic books fit in.) But we don't even do anything like that, and so the kids are just overwhelmed by this huge assortment of oddly-named books. When I assign a passage in the NT, I'll recite throught the books -- "Let's find Phillipians 4:13. Phillipians is in the NT, Matt., Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1. Cor., 2 Cor., then four epistles together, Gal., Eph., Phil, Col. -- that's it!" With enough repetition, maybe it will stick.

  4. MrsDarwin10:58 AM

    BTW, do you find resources like the YouCat helpful, or is even that starting too conceptually for your group?

  5. branemrys11:35 AM

    It's definitely too conceptual. The primary problem is that they don't even have the vocabulary -- they speak English, but they don't speak Christian at all. We've started focusing on just getting stories connected with names -- Moses, Jonah, David, etc.

    I was never in Awana, but we did have Bible Bowl (although I never actually competed myself).

    I find a lot of my background is as much a handicap as a help. I remember years ago being surprised on discovering that Catholic students in my Ethics class (in which I have a class on virtue in IV Maccabees) didn't know who the Maccabees were, much less the Maccabean martyrs (which IV Maccabees is about). I had known who the Maccabees were before I was fourteen, and they weren't even in my Bible! But that was extraordinarily naive. At this point I'm realizing that an immense portion of the next generation of Catholics is connected to the Church by nothing more than grandmothers insisting that Baptism and Confirmation are important family traditions. It's a sobering thought.

  6. It's a scary moment when you realize that the quasi-literate morons (I say with affection) you teach in your elite Catholic high school really are the best and brightest. Lovecraft-scary. Teaching pre-confirmation classes on Wednesday nights helped me see that.

    Also, YouCat is one of those well-intentioned but terribly misguided "bad for all ages" resources. If you want to teach something from the CCC, figure out who they are quoting, read that yourself, and convert to the level of the student.

  7. MrsDarwin5:23 PM

    Rob, you're not the first person I've heard criticize the YouCat. iChat is it that people object to? I received a copy when I started teaching religion classes but haven't looked through it in any depth.

  8. MrsDarwin5:27 PM

    *What* do people object to, I mean. The dangers of relying on autocorrect while typing one-thumbed in the midst of the post-dinner roaring.

  9. Timotheos6:10 PM

    This post reminded me about the curriculum that John Wesley set up for the Methodist religious schools. I'm not sure how well it was carried out in practice, but here's the curriculum he suggested for 6 to 12 year olds!!!

    "1. Our design is, with God’s assistance, to train up children in every branch of useful learning.

    2. ‘We teach none but boarders. These are taken in, being between the years of six and twelve, in order to be taught reading, writing, arithmetic, English, French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, history, geography, chronology, rhetoric, logic, ethics, geometry, algebra, physics, music.

    3. The school contains eight classes.

    In the first class the children read “Instructions for Children,” and “Lessons for Children;” and begin learning to write. In the second class they read “The Manners of the Ancient Christians;” go on in writing; learn the “Short English Grammar,” the “Short Latin Grammar;” read “Praelectiones Pueriles,” translate them into English, and the “Instructions for Children” into Latin; part of which they transcribe and repeat. In the third class they read Dr. Cave’s “Primitive Christianity;” go on in writing; perfect themselves in the English and Latin Grammar; read “Corderii Colloquia Selecta,” and “Historiae Selectae;” translate “Historiae Selectae” into English, and “Lessons for Children” into Latin; part of which they transcribe and repeat. In the fourth class they read “The Pilgrim's Progress;” perfect themselves in writing; learn Dilworth’s Arithmetic; read Castellio’s Kempis, and Cornelius Nepos; translate Castellio into English, and “Manners of the Ancient Christians” into Latin; transcribe and repeat select portions of “Moral and Sacred Poems.” In the fifth class they read “The Life of Mr. Haliburton;” perfect themselves in arithmetic; read Select Dialogues of Erasmus, Phaedrus, and Sallust; translate Erasmus into English, and “Primitive Christianity” into Latin; transcribe and repeat select portions of “Moral and Sacred Poems.” In the sixth class they read “The Life of Mr. De Renty,” and Kennet’s “Roman Antiquities;” they learn Randal’s Geography; read Caesar, select parts of Terence and Valleius Paterculus; translate Erasmus into English, and “The Life of Mr. Haliburton” into Latin; transcribe and repeat select portions of “Sacred Hymns and Poems.” In the seventh class they read Mr. Law’s “Christian Perfection,” and Archbishop Potter’s “Greek Antiquities;” they learn “Bengelii Introductio ad Chronologiam,” with Marshall’s “Chronological Tables;” read Tully’s Offices, and Virgil’s Aeneid; translate Bengelius into English, and Mr. Law into Latin; learn (those who have a turn for it) to make verses, and the “Short Greek Grammar;” read the Epistles of St. John; transcribe and repeat select portions of Milton. In the eighth class they read Mr. Law’s “Serious Call,” and Lewis’s “Hebrew Antiquities;” they learn to make themes, and to declaim; learn Vossius’s Rhetoric; read Tully’s Tusculan Questions, and “Selecta ex Ovirlio, Virgilio, Horatio, Juvenale, Persia, Martiale;” perfect themselves in the Greek Grammar; read the Gospels, and six books of Homer’s Iliad; translate Tully into English, and Mr. Law into Latin; learn the “Short Hebrew Grammar,” and read Genesis; transcribe and repeat “Selecta ex Virgilio, Horatio, Juvenale.” "


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