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Education in the faith

In the course of conversations after one of my recent talks on Vatican II, the question came up about how knowledgeable about their faith U.S. Catholics are. At one point, it dawned on me that the overwhelming majority (over 90%) of them have never had an adult course in their faith. This estimate is based on these considerations:

  • the great majority of Catholics do not attend Catholic elementary or high schools;
  • of this number the great majority do not have any religious education after Confirmation;
  • as of the 1990's only 50% of white Catholics were attending college (are there later data?);
  • 90% of Catholic college students are at non-Catholic institutions;
  • many Catholic colleges do not require more than two courses in theology; at some of them, courses in religious studies can satisfy the requirement.

Given all this, it seems fair to say that it is the rare U.S. Catholic who has taken an adult course in his faith. It is possible, of course, that deficiencies in formal religious education or theology is made up for by diligent work on the part of individuals or even groups of adult Catholics; and I would love to have some data on this, too.All this makes me interested in whether sociological surveys include questions about levels of religious education or of religious literacy, these two not being identical, of course. I should think that the authors of surveys would want to take these levels of education and literacy into account in assessing the data they collect; but I dont recall seeing much made of the matter, certainly not as much as of religious practice.Another way of getting at pertinent data would be to ask about the reading-habits of Catholics. What percentage have read any books, or even articles, on their faith, on the history of the Church, the Bible, biographies, etc.? What percentage subscribe to Catholic periodicals? (A rough estimate would be that only one of every 4,000 U.S. Catholics subscribe to Commonweal [0.00025%].) What percentage have read any of the great classics of Catholic thought or literature? Where do Catholics get their information on the Church?The claim is often made that contemporary Catholic laity are the best educated in history, and this may be true when it comes to their general education; but this does not necessarily mean that they are well educated in their faith. The image comes to mind of Catholics limping: one leg is well developed, the other stunted in its growth.A few years ago, the Jesuit journal Conversations devoted an issue to the place of philosophy and theology at their colleges and universities. This article gives the core requirements.

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Right on! It was the the Philosophy and Theology courses that was required to take in the 60s that gave me the critical thinking background to accept and evaluate Vatican II.

How about lay movements as adult education .???The diocesan offices have been suspicious of lay movements for decades.CFM, Legion of Mary, Vincentians, Marriage Encounter, Engaged Encounter, Cursillio, communio Sant Edidgio, Catholic Worker Retrouvaille, Retreats, Opus Dei, Focalare, KofC. Knights of Malta, Knights of Peter Claver, Third orders, Associates of multiple orders, more and more.. [legionary groups boo]Get a complete list from the USCCB office of laity. When it comes up about the Catholic good ole days.. I bring up my uneducated blue collar Irish extended family in the Bronx 1940... when I asked, at a large family gathering, "what INRI means on aunt Lizzie's cross in the dining room. ' no one knew and some one asked Lizzie in the Kitchen.. she answered 'Iron Nails Ran In'... all agreed that Lizzie was a holy theologian with all the answers. .

And I'd hardly call Commonweal Catholic...

In my day at Loyola Chicago, in the early 1980s, three courses in theology and three in philosophy were required. I see the requirements have now been diminished to two and two. In my time, very few undergrads were theology majors, but a theology minor was fairly common, at least in the School of Arts and Sciences. I'd be curious to know whether that trend continues.

Fr. K, would you consider parish-based programs like Little Rock Scripture series to be adult education? Those are pretty popular around here. Our parish runs similar scripture courses, taught by a very talented and qualified person on our Faith Formation staff, and they are well-attended - perhaps as many as 100 parishioners register for each series.

The majority of Catholics have probably always been fairly ignorant of the finer points of doctrine and theology, although the Baltimore Catechism tossed around some pretty esoteric concepts when you think about it. But the truth is today it's hard to find Catholics under the age of, say, 50, who can even name a theologian. And having sent my own children through Catholic schools, including colleges and universities, I can't say that a Catholic education helps much. I'm still discovering odd notions my kids picked up in Catholic schools, thanks to the apparently only partially converted converts who taught there (e.g., total pacifism in one instance, creationism in another). I can't tell you how many Catholic twentysomethings have told me they'd never heard the Church had anything against contraception (!). I can only imagine how confused many must have been by the bishops' big to-do over the HHS mandate. But really, after the Baby Boomers die out, how many US Catholics will there be who know a Schillebeeckx from a Schwinn bicycle? How many are there now?

Stephen Prothero, the Chair of the religion department at Boston University, wrote a book a few years ago called "Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know" which looked at the very low levels of religious literacy in the U.S., even among practicing Christians.I know that parish staff working in Adult Formation (those who aren't 110% consumed by RCIA) wrestle with this. Like most parishes, my own has tried a number of programs. Parishes are challenged by the fact that interested parishioners often come with very different education levels and interests. Some are genuinely interested in theology while others favor studying the Catechism because of its "just the facts ma'am" approach.

What percentage have read any books, or even articles, on their faith, on the history of the Church, the Bible, biographies, etc.?Probably many, if not most, of those involved with parish ministries such as catechesis, baptismal preparation for parents, marriage preparation, bereavement and funeral preparation, as well as those who attend Lent lectures or book clubs at the parish. I would guess that overall that's a few percent of those registered at a parish.A larger percentage, I think, receive the diocesan paper, but I don't know how many read it, nor whether it ever contains anything that could be considered educational.But of course, a still larger fraction of Catholics, maybe one third, those who go to Mass regularly, get 8 minutes per week of instruction of some kind during the homily. Over the years, it adds up: in terms of lecture time, if homilies were lectures it would be like one semester course every five years.

"But really, after the Baby Boomers die out, how many US Catholics will there be who know a Schillebeeckx from a Schwinn bicycle? How many are there now?"I WAS being facetious with that. But my point is I think you're right about most Catholics not getting much in the way of an introduction to the classics of Catholic philosophy and theology. Homeschooled Catholics of a traditionalist bent get these, of course, but nothing more. Ordinary Catholics get little more than cursory overviews of a topic as prep for the sacraments, and these too often flawed overviews at that. Some parishes offer scripture studies and the occasional lecture series. But without some attempt at integration, the average person has no idea how any of it fits into the larger picture.

From a site lamenting forgotten New York, here's a poignant entry about a vanished part of New York (and other cities): neighborhood Catholic bookstores where one could find high-brow, middle-brow and low-brow literature. http://forgotten-ny.com/2012/09/catholic-shop/

I have a ba in philosophy and took a few religion classes too, but I don't think a relationship with God necessitates philosophy or theology, though reading the NT would certainly help. But you aren't talking about people being Christians, you're talking about people being versed in Catholic Church teachings? I think a sincere prayer life is worth more than an aquaintance with Thomas Aquinas.

Father K, in two thousand years of the faith, very few Catholics, I think it's safe to say, were "knowledgeable about their faith" in the way you have in mind. Theirs was a simple faith, free from complex academics and theologies and philosophies and ecclesiastical politics - those were done at a level far above their heads, elsewhere, by a highly educated few living in a rarified world somewhere apart from the millers, bakers, hunters, and farmers. Normal, healthy, fully functioning laymen simply believed what they were given to believe - and, probably, made up a lot that they weren't given.If you're saying, in some way, that these times in which people in great numbers in the West spend four years in a watered-down academy require all people to have an infinitely complex and nuanced and flexible faith based on reading hundreds of books by hundreds of specialists, I don't think I agree. A man who's memorized a million facts is in no way superior to one who hasn't. People hardly have to be very "knowledgeable about their faith" to save themselves from being carted off to hell - or even in order to be elevated to a heavenly ivory tower.

Did Church leaders through the centuries desire and encourage the faithful to read, evaluate, and inevitably question the history and the teachings of the Church? Do they now?

"worth more than", "superior to": why the defensiveness? Who can deny that education is good?There is no suggestion that education ought to compete with prayer. Rather, if you're attracted to Christ, it is natural to wish to learn more about him, and one way is to read what our predecessors had to say about him. Their insights can be helpful in navigating difficulties that they faced before us.That education is good does not mean that an educated person is superior to another. "Well educated" is not a judgment of a person's value (although I suppose it may look like one). Money helps you buy things, education helps you think. If you are below the poverty level, lack of money gets in the way of your life. It's not good, but it says nothing about your value. If you have "deficiencies", I take it to mean that lack of education gets in the way of your faith life. Again, it's not good, but it says nothing about your value.I react because for me it is a little bit threatening to see on this blog what, on the surface, appear to be anti-intellectual comments. Fr K, I would be interested in an example of what you would consider to be a "deficiency", not for a youth but for an adult.

"I think a sincere prayer life is worth more than an aquaintance with Thomas Aquinas."Crystal --No doubt Thomas himself would agree with you. But why the either-or? Why not both prayer and Thoms? And a bunch of other wise men and women who through a 2000 year old history of experience are there to help you out? Why re=invent the spiritual wheel?

I react because for me it is a little bit threatening to see on this blog what, on the surface, appear to be anti-intellectual comments.

Anti-pretension, rather, Claire. Intellectuals are as good as anybody else, as long as they behave themselves. "Education" is many things, only one of which is the four-year college. Yet, the four-year college, along with money, has come to serve as the class classifier, putting graduates above and non-graduates below in social and personal worth. It's not anti-intellectual to say that that's a twisted way to use schooling. Nor is it anti-intellectual to say that people don't need to be schooled to know how to think.

I'm all for education - I have a college education and think it would be helpful to almost everyone to be able to go to college. Having said that, though, while it may be interesting to read what the early church fathers or the scholastics or modern/contemporary theologians have to say, all that really is is other believers' speculations, other people's experience. It's one thing to learn philosophy because it can teach you to think critically, and historical Jesus studies are helpful too because they at least aim to be based on fact, but theology tries to set forth opinions as truth. As Ann mentioned, later in life Aquinas had a religious experience that made him say all he'd written up until then was just "straw". I think he was onto something :)But sure, if one was interested, why not read theology. I just don't like the idea that someone's religious life is any the poorer if they don't.

Sorry - I just mean to say I think a person's religious life isn't about education, it isn't about knowing what others have written "about" God, it's about experiencing God, and anyone, no matter what their education is or isn't, can have religious experience/relationship with God.

When I went to Catholic College, (also in the 80s)I had to take a combination of 5 theology and philosophy courses but they were pretty eclectic (I met 3 of the requirements by taking Symbolic Logic, Medieval Science and History of Medieval Philosophy).But I did take Introduction to Christianity, which I guess wasn't technically Catholic, but the textbook was Introduction to Christianity by Cardinal Ratzinger, so that makes it pretty Catholic, I guess. And a really great course, History of Religion in America, which was really interesting. But I guess out of those 5 courses, only 1 could be considered a theology course.

I keep signing up for these Coursera classes then don't have time to actually do them. Adults are busy. Maybe tying in continuing ed to some participatory element might work. If I were running a church, I would be vigorously and consistently encouraging people to participate in the liturgy - signing up everybody to be lectors and eucharistic ministers, whatever. (I'm none of these by the way, talk is cheap :-)) And then, I would target adult courses to this actively engaged group.And how hard is it to be a deacon? It seems pretty select. I would have lots and lots of deacons and deaconesses; sign up everyone who wanted to be one. I think the more people we had actively engaged, the more interest and enthusiasm you would see for adult learning.

Wasn't it St. Bonaventure who said (I write from a failing memory) that an old, poor, illiterate woman who says her Gloria Patri with devotion can love God more that a learned doctor of the Church?It seems to me that it is not necessarily "book learning" that makes a "good Catholic" or even an "informed" Catholic but the inspiration of saints, living and dead. What the Catholic people need are "witnesses" who truly live the Faith. And the faith is best taught through the liturgy, properly celebrated, of course.

I'm not sure whether Fr. Komonchak is more interested in whether polls adequately parse "Catholics" into those who actually practice and understand their faith, or whether he's lamenting the lack of faith formation generally.I can only respond to the latter concern, and only with questions that might be useful as parishes look at the "graying" of their membership:1. Is there a Catholic school within reasonable distance for parents with children?2. Is the tuition of the school within the budgetary constraints of parents?3. Do parents feel that the education (aside from religious) at the Catholic school trumps that in the free public school? (This includes training for handling special needs children as well as art, music and sports programs.)4. Does the parish offer CCD at reasonable hours for kids and families or at times that suit the convenience of the CCD teachers?5. Do those teaching CCD have any affinity for children?6. Does CCD engage children with their faith, allow them to ask questions, and give them outlets for living their faith? (I tend to think of children as seekers, but we treat them more like their faith is a done deal.)7. Do diocesan and parish publications recognize the achievements of kids who go to CCD as well as kids in Catholic school?8. Does the parish make an effort to include confirmed teens into the life of the church? Does value their talents and ask them to contribute them?9. Does the parish offer faith formation for adults so that kids can see their parents wanting to grow in their faith?10. Does the parish offer family-oriented programs that would encourage families to discuss their faith?11. Is there an ongoing dialogue between clerics and lay members of the parish about how current events affect the faithful? (Tom Blackburn, on a previous thread, noted that he felt he needed to have his living will vetted by a theologian b/c he no longer knew where the Church stood on end-of-life issues, a confusion I share).

One of the blessings, or not, of being a public minister of the church is that many people give you tomes on theology or spirituality as gifts. I fear that my bookshelves, which already were overflowing, are now super-abundant with books that I did't ask for and probably never will read. If someone could figure out a way to get books that are gathering dust on the shelves of people like me, into the hands of people who would be interested in reading them, that would be a good service.I should add that I'm not opposed to reading books. But I kinda like to choose my own :-). If you're thinking of buying a book for a beloved person in ministry, resist the urge and get her a bottle of wine instead. Or a Barnes and Noble gift card.

A few clarifications or further points:I said nothing about "the good old days"; my point concerns present conditions not comparisons with the past.What percentage of Catholics are involved in the lay movements or other adult-education opportunities?Isn't it a common complaint that most homilies lack intellectual content?The number of people who read diocesan newspapers is very low, and the ones I've seen have not been educational about much more than the bishop's schedule.I'm not claiming any religious superiority on the part of theologically educated Catholics. But Thomas a Kempis oversimplified when he wrote, "It is better to feel compunction than to know how to define it," when it is possible to do both, and since knowledge is a good, one could even say that best of all is to feel compunction and also be able to define it.Yes, Church leaders have been remiss in not doing something about religious illiteracy among Catholics, but I've found that administrators of Catholic institutions and faculties of theology and/or religious studies can be as much at fault. I've heard theologians condescendingly say, "We don't do catechesis," as if this was unworthy of their attention and commitment. A college would be praised for providing courses to improve reading and writing skills, say, for the poor or for immigrants, so why might not a Catholic college or university think it could and even should provide courses for addressing religious illiteracy? But apart from that aspect of the problem, shouldn't the institution want to do all it can to foster an adult integration of faith and reason, of their religion and the area of their concentration? That's the real challenge, I think. The issue of faith and reason can be talked about abstractly, as if "faith" and "reason" were realities and capable of thought and decision. But only people think and decide, and the issue of faith and reason is resolved in the heart and mind of the individual, and if what comes under "reason" is well developed and what comes under "faith" is neglected, I do not know how a mental integration and balance can be achieved. Because they don't know that there can be an intelligent appropriation of the faith, some will leave it off as irrational, while others reduce it to sentiment. The answer is not to be found in easy apologetical arguments; I agree with Karl Barth that the best apologetics is a good dogmatics. Finally, I don't know how we can expect our faith to be brought to bear upon the challenges and needs of the day without thinking about it, and that requires knowing about it.Does anyone have any comments about the article in Conversations to which I referred?(It would be a mistake to think of participants in this blog to be typical US Catholics, and neither are subscribers to Commonweal or America.)

Fr. K:

if what comes under reason is well developed and what comes under faith is neglected, I do not know how a mental integration and balance can be achieved.

I wonder if some of the difference is rooted in the old debate around how the movement of grace operates (in the mind or in the heart(will). As I recall, the Dominicans believed grace operated through the mind and the Franciscans the heart.This is relevant for how people interpret or respond to the movement of grace or faith which is afterall a gift from God.I think it was Pascal who said that the heart has reasons that reason cannot reason. If you take that approach, then it is pointless to read books after books on understanding what is occurring in the mysterious depths of your faith life. Instead, one needs to surrender and let go.The rise in popularity of pentacostal movements or charismatic movements in the Church underscores this I think. And it has implications for adult faith formation.If we believe that faith is a grace that moves the heart, then there will be an attractiveness towards more charismatic or affective worship. If we believe it moves the mind, then adult formation classes, books, etc. will be the emphasis.It isn't either/or and the Church needs to or use both styles to "educate" people in the faith.As an example, I attend a parish that is dedicated to First Nation people (wife is First Nation). I would say that many are from more challenging backgrounds socially and educationally. The recent canonization of Kateri was a very healing event and even First Nation people who were traditional (e.g. do not practice Christinanity and practice pre-contact ceremonies and spiritualities) came for a feast and ceremony honouring her. I am also noticing that more traditional elements are being integrated in the liturgy (e.g. drumming, sage burning instead of incense or holy water, the four directions, etc.). Education around both traditional First Nation practices (pipe, drums, etc) as well as Catholic practices occur just through participation.Yet, I notice that overall when they have their prayer days, it is a lot more charismatic and although First Nation people tend to be very quiet and reserved those liturgies have a lot of rousing songs and are charismatic oriented.

A few things ...There's an important distinction to be made between education in religion and formation in faith. Among the churchgoing population I encounter, I'm concerned about the lack of distinction between knowing God and knowing about God. I overheard a discussion between two of our very active students last week. One was using the GIRM to suggest that lay ministers should be vested, and the other was citing the Roman practice of listing lawful options in order that they are all possible, but the official preference would be listed first. So what kind of knowledge do we wish adult Catholics had? Fodder for interesting cocktail conversations (Who *was* the author of Hebrews?) or the ability to apply moral judgments (What if my embryo implants in my fallopian tube?) in real life situations?I hear a great number of bishops lament the (stupidity) of the laity for voting to reelect or approving same sex civil unions. Bishop Trautman, too, on liturgical vocabulary. This tack is most unimpressive. And it seems pervasive. No offense intended to JAK, but all too often those who lament the lack of catechesis seem to really mourn that nobody is educated to think the way they do.That said, I would certainly agree that Catholic schools, especially high schools, do an incredibly poor job teaching theology. Is it any wonder that adult parishioners are leery about reliving a high school snooze-fest?I would propose that Catholics, including theologically educated ones, just don't want to learn about things that don't interest them. Who want to learn more? People whose hobby is religion and maybe some, but not all clergy and professionals. In nine years of blogging, I've posted the entirety of the conciliar documents for discussion, plus every major and several minor post-conciliar liturgy documents. Are the comboxes under these posts brimming with insightful discussion? Occasionally. The most read posts on my site are summaries of wedding readings. Doubtless I have Google to thank for that. But I think adult Catholics, being busy people with many concerns, are looking for information they can use when they need it. Our bishops, homilists, and catechists are not addressing, by-and-large, what people want to know when they want to know it. And too many of them are simply not engaging as teachers.

I read the article, as well as the two introductory pieces by Schroth, To be honest, it's not that easy to extrapolate from some of the descriptions just what is taught, or how. I guess I observed that some programs make sure to include categories concerning things such as ethics, and I noted that only a handful were explicit about 300-level requirements.Since you yourself noted how few Catholics attend schools such as the ones surveyed in the article, is the issue whether or how some of the topics and materials that provide the core to secondary Jesuit education can be experienced by those who don't attend? I guess I'm wondering what the content of the theological education people are lacking is meant to be? Or does it have less to do with content than process, or the fact that people are indeed pursuing greater knowledge?

Let me add this, since it is not hypothetical or conceptual.I have been studying very intensely these past several weeks various and sundry writings involved in 5th century christological controversies (Cyril and Theodore and all that jazz). A stray thought that keeps nagging at me while I read this stuff concerns what it means that these sorts of ideas, which contribute significantly to the creeds and sacramental activities that are essential to Christians, are unknown and probably incomprehensible to the vast majority of Christians? (Don't get me wrong, they may very well be incomprehensible to everyone, including me.) What ought Christians to know? Should they know about these ideas? About the history of their formulations? Or should they know the ideas, themselves? Does it matter? I know that the easy rejoinder is that the person who believes X about the eucharist may very well be better off than the person who understands X about the eucharist, but I don't think that that solves the problem of the wild interplay between ideas, doctrine, practice, and belief.

In Method in Theology, Bernard Lonergan addressed the question whether academic theology was not "merely a cultural superstructure, divorced from real life, and thereby inimical to it.? He replied by appealing to the differentiations of consciousness that have accompanied, indeed even defined, contemporary culture:

"So for undifferentiated consciousness all that is academic is essentially alien, and any effort to impose it not only is an intolerable and deadening intrusion but also is doomed to failure. Still this is not the whole story. For once consciousness is differentiated, a corresponding development in the expression and presentation of religion becomes necessary. So in an educated and alert consciousness a childish apprehension of religious truth must either be sublated within an educated apprehension or else it will simply be dropped as outmoded and outworn. To return, then, to the common objection, one must, I should say, ask whose 'real life' is in question. If concern is expressed for the real life of primitives and other instances of undifferentiated consciousness, then manifestly an academic theology is utterly irrelevant. But if concern is for the real life of differentiated consciousness, then in the measure that consciousness is differentiated an academic theology is a necessity" (139)."If one does not attain, on the level of one's age, an understanding of the religious realities in which one believes, one will simply be at the mercy of the psychologists, the sociologists, the philosophers, that will not hesitate to tell believes what it really is in which they believe" (351).

Here are some brief remarks that Pope Benedict made today at a meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Science that are pertinent. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2012/november/do... breakfast this morning, I was reading a NYRB review of a three-volume study of Auguste Comte. Two paragraphs of note:

[John Stuart] Mill seriously entertained Comte's belief that the rule of a scientific elite could serve as a corrective to the atomizing tendencies of modern society. He was particularly drawn to Comte's view that humanity was leaving behind a fractured, individualistic age of disorder and entering a new 'positive' era, when each member of society would be personally fulfilled by contributing to common ends determined by a group of scientists who knew better. Not for the last time in the history of political thought, the liberal was tempted by the technocrat....In the US recently, a more socially minded neo-Comtean current of positivism runs through the thought of some leading scientists. The zeal with which neuroscientists such as Steven Pinker and Sam Harris assert that we can derive guiding moral precepts from the scientific study of the human brain echoes the confidence of Comte and his first disciples. To think that a more sophisticated understanding of brain waves or biological evolution could provide the right blueprint for society, once and for all, seems as implausible now as it did in the nineteenth century.

Finally (for the moment), when I was in the seminary I heard many a sermon warning against intellectual pride. I never heard one warning against intellectual sloth. Plus a change...

I think it's obvious that many/most Catholics, including ordained men, know VERY little about religion in general or about the Catholic Church in particular.Take a look at the curricula at today's seminaries. Surprised at what is not taught? (And take a look at the book Raymond Burke thinks should be a standard textbook in seminaries: Mariology.) Given the low level of education of today's bishops and priests, is it any wonder that the focus of the Church has narrowed to one or two matters? If you think you're well educated in the faith, you can give yourself a little test: go to the Catholic Encyclopedia and click any ten letters. Select the first or the tenth or the thirtieth item under each letter and see if you can identify it. What's your score?

It seems to me the discussion so far here (with the possible exception of some hints in a different direction from Todd Flowerday) has exclusively identified education with schooling -- a common failure to distinguish two different things. Educational theorist Gabriel Moran talks about this problem in his writings about religious education. If it's possible to step back for a moment, we must acknowledge that human beings are learning all the time, and very little of that learning occurs through schooling. How we talk, what we see, the relationships we have and do not have, the character of our social arrangements, whose voices get to be heard and whose are silenced -- all of this is learned and much of it in ways other than schooling. Especially when we talk about religious education, I think we must widen the frame considerably in order to be equal to our subject. Ed Gleason enumerates lay movements which "could" have an educating effect, but I am afraid he means that to the extent that their activities resemble schooling, and not in their broadest meaning. Paul Likoudas rightly brings forward the inspiration of the saints and the experience of the liturgy. But perhaps we all suffer from a history of the polemical (yet very unsupportable) opposition between the means available to the modern bishop or catholic school teacher and the means available, always and everywhere, to the Christian people. I don't think anyone here has yet brought up the role of parents as first educators of their children -- a point affirmed by episcopal documents and undeniable. Truth to tell, one must look at religious education very broadly indeed. Until we get the scope of the question right, we're always going to be lamenting how our efforts at education (aka schooling) "don't work" so well.

Another dimension of religious education that I have observed in Catholic High Schools, Colleges and Universities and Newman Clubs involves the expanding role of the laity in liturgy as lectors, Eucharistic ministers, and liturgy planning teams. There can be significant learning by doing. Also, programs like Cursillo and Christ Renews his Parish (CRHP, pronounced Chirp), which involve collaboration of clergy and laity, have contributed rather successfully to the faith formation of adults.

re: conflation with education and schoolingUseful to include the seminal contribution of the Catholic Ivan Illich in his still relevant work "Deschooling Society"I am a fan but he might not fit in the technocratic revolution that the quote from Fr. K alludes to. He also wrote "Medical Nemesis",

Fr. Komonchak and others --You might be interested in an article I wrote recently for America magazine that touches on some of the issues above. It is titled, "Help their Unbelief," and centers around faith formation in Catholic schools, mainly high school. It is for subscribers only, but I will happily email a copy if people don't have a subscription.http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=13556

Abe: I don't think that Catholics need to know all the details of the trinitarian and christological discussions of the early Church, but it wouldn't hurt if they could explain what that word "consubstantial" means in the Creed they every week profess to believe. And, given the widespread interest in studies of the so-called "historical Jesus," it would be helpful if they understood the Chalcedonian formula. I think also of their being able to deal with some of the issues because of which some have abandoned the Christian faith: cosmology and the first chapters of Genesis; original sin; the doctrine of the Atonement; the problem of evil. It would be good if they could explain what "sin" means, or "grace." Rita: I agree entirely that religious education encompasses more than academic instruction, but there are issues that come up that require serious and critical investigation and reflection, and in our society that most commonly takes place in academic institutions. I don't think, for example, that the reconciliation of divine providence and human freedom or creaturely contingency is likely to arise in any of the other contexts to which you refer.Not all of these questions arise for everyone, and I don't pretend that they have to. But they certainly do arise for some, even many, people, and I would like them to be prepared to address them intelligently and critically. The kind of dialogue the Pope calls for in the text I referred to above certainly requires on the part of participants a greater than high school level education in the faith. Think of the number of people who have been taken in by the likes of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens and who might have been saved by a more than elementary knowledge of the doctrine of creation. I agree that parents ought to be the first educators of their children in the faith. I'm concerned that they not be the last ones. My parents--God reward them for handing on the faith to us!--would not have been able to help in thinking through the relation between nature and grace.

Thanks, Rita, for your observations. Speaking to Pope Benedict for a moment, while I've been heartened by his public regard for Lectio Divina, I have to concede I'm almost scandalized by how he does it, or rather, by how it's presented--as a heavily intellectual enterprise, devoid of spiritual depth for the practitioner to apply in real life. Rita is right: we need to look at "education" much more broadly. And we have to be realistic. We are not ever going to be a Church of a Billion Academics--Ratzinger or Congar lookalikes running around amassing followers to fill our auditorium desks. In other words, the brain cannot say to the heart, "I do not need you."

How does Catholic education--or the lack thereof--affect voting, Joe?

Todd: Can the heart say to the brain, "I do not need you"? You're trivializing the question by your caricature. No one is suggesting, expecting, or desiring, "Ratzinger or Congar lookalikes running around."

Crystal --It seems that we know God in two ways -- directly (in a sense) and indirectly. The mystics know God sort of directly, but that sort of experience seems to be rare and is a gift of God -- we can't earn it or produce it with drugs or physical exercises either. We can only try to prepare ourselves for it. The rest of us know him indiectly by knowing what He tells us in Scripture and Tradition and by knowing the things in the world that are somehow somewhat like Him. So in knowing *other people* and *their* experiences we come to know a bit more about what God is Himself. For instance, in know Teresa of Avila's works and St. John of the Cross' great, great poetry we know something of what they experienced of Him. But note this -- both of them knew Aquinas well. They recommended that the rest of us learn Thomas. Thomas gives us concepts and vocabulary (or at least he give them to the theologians) to understand what they understood about God. But they're not the only ones who reveal Him a bit. Everyone is a sort of revelation of the goodness and truth and beauty of God. This is why people love the lives of the saints -- they reveal the goodness and beauty of God. But no one is a trivial thing, not even the trolls running about the net. Each of us is a unique, though tiny, revelation of what God is. And, as everyone knows who has ever seen a flower or a sunset knows, all things the beauties of the world reveal God. Etc., etc., etc.Theology and philosophy tell us about those understandings and experiences. And, I might add, the best of the novels, e.g. Greene The Power and the Glory and Dostoievsky's The Brothers Karamazov, in revealing people reveal what God is like. So theology, philosophy, art -- they are all important in getting to know the Lord.

Cathy: I have no idea how the degree of Catholic education affects voting, or if it does so at all. Do you know? I'm raising here a larger question.

No I don't know. I thought that was part of the question you were raising implicitly, and it's not at all clear to me what would follow from more education. For example, does more education include some introduction to the notion of development of doctrine (Newman and Noonan)? If so, you might have people who see themselves not as dissenting Catholics but as on the vanguard of development.

As a young adult I was part of a loose group of friends who had occasional discussions on religious topics. Once I was asked to prepare a discussion on the problem of evil. I couldn't care less about it (my only reason for attending the meetings was to be with my friends) but I agreed. I knew nothing, I read nothing besides an incomprehensible article that someone lent me, and, in those pre-google times, I arrived empty-ended and clueless at our meeting - in fact it was a little embarrassing. The others turned out to be equally baffled by the subject. A few months later one of us committed suicide. Since then I have always had the irrational fantasy that, had I known what to say on the problem of evil, maybe he would not have died. Now I am still clueless, but with a much keener sense that such questions matter. I realize that different people think in different ways, but, by and large, it's not pointless academic interest that drives the quest for understanding.

Aquinas talked about "preambles" to faith, and more recently Pope Benedict spoke about the notion of preambles in "Porta Fidei," his message marking the beginning of the year of faith.In my experience (across many Catholic institutions), I'd say a lot of baptized Catholics remain in the space of the preambles: meaning, there are a number of questions that they need answered before they can take any organized religion seriously. "Is there a God, and if so, is He anything like what shows up in the Bible? Is the physical world all there is? What does 'faith' mean, and why should I have any? How could one religion possibly be truer than another, and how could it be verified with any finality?" -- these are just a sampling of the questions that seem to prevent people from moving further into faith. Parents do not seem to be addressing these basic questions in any consistent or helpful way (and, to be fair, they may not know how). Catholic schools might be the only place left where these matters are (or should be) an institutional priority. The point is, schools or parishes have to hit these foundational questions, even at the expense of more obviously Catholic knowledge, otherwise students will never ever take their Catholic knowledge seriously. I've experienced this time and again with students who can memorize and understand abstract theological claims, but for whom it is irrelevant because they have never been given a credible framework for believing in God.

My husband and I ventured in retirement to join a lay-run adult Bible Study group at our new parish and were stunned to discover how much we had to learn. It became clear to us that we had to turn our best efforts to this new field, and plunge in with the same commitment we had to our graduate studies in English and Classics and Philosophy. It has been eight years of hard but extremely rewarding work so far. I only regret that all our education at good Catholic schools never really convinced us of the importance-- and possibility-- of doing this long ago. We are in for the long haul, now, though.

empty-handed. Oops!

No, I wasn't raising the issue implicitly. On another thread, I noted that only people who had some post-graduate education gave Obama a significant lead, and there I did raise the issue of whether this would prove true of Catholics, too; but if it were true of them, there would still be no way of finding out whether their education in the faith was on the same level as their other education. But I have been thinking of the question I raised in this thread for some time, and it doesn't have anything in particular to do with the recent election.I think it would be wonderful if more Catholics knew about the development of doctrine and had read Newman and Noonan. The former, of course, included "preservation of type or idea" and "continuity of principles" as the first two tests for discerning between a development and a corruption of doctrine, so there will probably be people familiar with Newman who would gladly find themselves in the rearguard of an alleged development.

George D. --If you "surrender" to the will you can end up a megalomaniac who thinks he's a great saint. Nothing like a delusional Nietzschean. The will can excuse all sorts of horrors when it's inclined to.

both of them knew Aquinas well. They recommended that the rest of us learn Thomas.Where does Teresa make that recommendation?

Hello All,Fr. Komonchak's post touches a nerve with me. I think one of the most serious problems we American Catholics face is simple confusion over which resources we may consider reliable. I think most adult Roman Catholics in North America are like myself in that most of what we know, or think we know, regarding our faith we have learned on our own by studying resources of our own individual selection. But this evidently creates a phenomenon the great social scientist Thomas Schelling analyzed in the 1970s, namely, a spontaneous segregation that no one necessarily wants. I'll use myself as an example. Many Catholics seek answers to their questions regarding the Catholic faith from resources like EWTN. I've concluded that EWTN is not fully reliable (and may be getting some hate mail soon for saying so openly), consequently I avoid this resource. We've already seen at least one post on this thread declaring, none too politely, that Commonweal is an unreliable resource (though it's not clear to me either that Commonweal claims to be a "go to" resources for answers to one's questions or that its readership uses the magazine or this blog for that purpose. Be that as it may, some Catholics I know well are quite disappointed in me for even subscribing to Commonweal.).For all its length and complexity, I find the Catechism of The Catholic Church of limited value. Two of the most sensitive, and to my surprise least discussed, issues connected to the Roman Catholic faith are the teaching on indulgences and idea of universal salvation. I've read and heard directly contradictory claims made by people claiming adamantly that they "know" what the Church teaches, some claiming that Church teaching on indulgences is definitely a doctrine of the Catholic faith and some claiming the opposite, some claiming the Church definitely teaches that some deceased people are now in hell and others claiming the opposite. I could not find answers to my questions regarding these two issues myself in the Catechism, and I suspect that some people leave the Roman Catholic church because of what they believe the Church teaches or does not teach regarding such questions.How much does this matter? I'm aware that Fr. Richard Rohr is (to put it mildly) a controversial figure in some quarters, but I agree with one idea he keeps hammering in his talks and writings: The purpose of practicing the Catholic faith is to transform us into a better people, not to get us into Heaven after we die. (Like Fr. Rohr I'm sympathetic to the idea of universal salvation, which perhaps makes me a dissenting Catholic but to the best of my knowledge I am permitted to believe in this possibility.) Frankly, to some extent I have stopped trying to continue educating myself in the Roman Catholic faith, because I'm not convinced that learning more about whether or not Marian apparitions are authentic (I admit I am a doubter.) or whether or not Church teaching on usury really changed (I think it did.) or the like really improves my character.

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.