February 6, 2009

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Basic Catholicism: What the Church teaches

John F. Fink(Introducing a new series)

Sixty-six years ago, C.S. Lewis began a series of radio talks in England that eventually were published in three separate books—The Case for Christianity, Christian Behavior and Beyond Personality. The three books were then brought together and published as his masterpiece of Christian apologetics, Mere Christianity. It comprised what Lewis saw as the fundamental truths of Christianity.

As I was thinking about writing a series of columns about the basic teachings of the Catholic Church, Lewis’s book naturally came to mind. I considered calling the series “Mere Catholicism,” but settled on “Basic Catholicism.” I don’t like the word “mere.”

Whereas he wrote about Christianity in general, carefully refraining from teaching the doctrine of any particular denomination, this series of columns will explain specifically what Catholics believe and practice. Lewis avoided any topics that would take him, as he said, “into highly controversial regions,” and the example he gave was “more about the Blessed Virgin Mary than is involved in asserting the Virgin Birth of Christ.” Catholicism, of course, doesn’t avoid those controversial issues, especially doctrines about the Blessed Virgin, and so neither will this series.

On the other hand, I thought it would have been permissible to use the word “mere” in relation to Catholicism. Anybody who knows a number of Catholics will realize that not all of us agree about everything. There are so-called conservative Catholics and there are liberal Catholics. Some Catholics are Democrats and some are Republicans. Some Catholics go to Mass daily and pray frequently throughout the day, and others are less devout. In other words, there is a legitimate pluralism in the Catholic Church.

However, there are also basic doctrines that all Catholics are required to believe, and there are basic devotions that all Catholics are expected to practice. Most of those doctrines—but not all—are included in the Catholic Church’s two creeds, the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed. Anyone who doesn’t accept those doctrines should not go around calling himself or herself a Catholic.

Just as C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity was meant to be non-controversial for all Christians, so I hope this series will be non-controversial for all Catholics. It includes many doctrines and devotions that Lewis didn’t touch on because those are doctrines and devotions that the Catholic Church teaches and practices. They might be controversial among different Christian denominations, but they shouldn’t be controversial for Catholics.

This series, then, will be about the basic teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. However, it is not a catechism. Thankfully, the Catholic Church now has excellent catechisms, including the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, both of which I will quote frequently—and will consult even more frequently if I don’t actually quote from them.

This coming July, I will have been writing this column, plus some editorials, for 25 years, so my regular readers (I’m told I actually have some) might recognize some of the ideas in the columns.

If so, I beg your forbearance. †

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