Wednesday, September 10, 2008

USCCB Historical Curriculum

At my parish, I am registered with a program through the USCCB that sends me advance copies of books and instructional materials that the USCCB plans on publishing and allows our parish discounts if we want to buy copies in advance. I usually get something once every other month, and most of the stuff is pretty dull. But today I got something that at least interested me, and I was rather surprised with what I found.

The document has the cumbersome name of Doctrinal Development of a Curriculum Framework for the Development of Catechectical Materials for Young People of High School Age. It consists of a series of outlines for various topics (mainly various branches of theology) and gives suggestions for how to develop a pedagogical method for teaching high school children in these areas. What piqued my attention was the an elective option on Church History. The USCCB, traditionally, has implicitly disliked Catholic history, for the very reason that it has taken positions contrary to Catholic tradition and the Church's historical development. What could the USCCB have to say about teaching Church History to high schoolers?

Overall, the content of the curriculum they proposed was actually pretty good. It emphasized all of the formative points and events of Church History and highlighted the lessons with biographical information on several important saints. It seemed like it was following the Seton Model for Church History, which is why it seemed so familiar to me since my family uses Seton.

I thought the biggest problems would be in the treatment of the Midde Ages, but the most distressing aspects of the instruction were actually in the patristic era. The treatment of the first three centuries had a distinctively archaeologist appraoch to it: the past is interpreted in light of present practice to try to legitimize what most Catholics experience in an NO by way of errantly insinuating that that is how th early Church worshipped. For example, the fact that liturgies were held in houses is especially stressed, with an emphasis on the Eucharist as the "Breaking of Bread." Public worship in Church buildings is portrayed as an entirely post-Constantinian innovation, which is not true (it is well known that public churches existed in the early and mid 3rd century: Diocletian had one across the street from his palace before he began his persecution).

A further attempt to impose post-Vatican II ideals on the Fathers is a section on "inculturation" and how readily the Church Fathers adopted Greco-Roman philosophy, kind of back-handedly making the assertion that the "inculutration" of the faith in places like India today is really no different from the Christianization of the Roman Empire. Mother Teresa allowing her nuns to go to Hindu services was just another form of inculturation, something practiced in the early Church. Of course, little distinction is made between Chrysostom's concept of "inculturation" and that practiced by today's missionaries.

In the development of the papacy, while giving credit to the divine origin of the Church, the USCCB seems to take the mistaken position that the primacy of the See of Rome and the development of its political power were solely accidents of history and not part of the divine plan (see this post for more on this).

The instruction does a good job of pointng out the contributions of monks to the development of agriculture and education, something universally overlooked in secular histories. When it get's the the period of the Council of Trent, it refers to the Traditional Mass as the "Mass of St. Pius V," which I guess is accurate, but seems to try to establish the Traditional Mass as some kind of novelty of the post-Trent period, kind of discounting the pre-Tridentine continuity of Mass from Pope St. Gregory the Great throughout the Middle Ages.

When we get to the modern period, an exorbitant amount of time is devoted to Catholic social teaching. The pontificate of Pius X is interesting: it praises him for lowering the communion age, but says that he "popularized" Gregorian Chant, as the case with the Tridentine Mass, making it seem like Gregorian Chant was something that only got "popular" after Pius X promoted it, ignoring its history prior to the early 20th century. Most annoying is that the heresy of modernism is always mentioned in quotation marks ("modernism"), which is a degrading was of implying that it was not a true heresy at all, kind of like when anti-Catholics put the word "heresy" in quotation marks when they want to attack the Church for defending the truth. But modernism is a real heresy, just as real as Arianism or Lutheranism. Imagine if whenever we talked about St. Athanasius we mentioned his struggles against "Arianism." Why put this one heresy in quotation marks but not all others as well? This is especially odd since Pius X thought modernism was more serious than the older heresies.

A whole section is devoted to John Paul II, and as I predicted, he is praised for all the wrong reasons: he was the first non-Italian, he was "vigorous" and "dramatic." He faced down Communism, and made 104 papal trips, making him the most widely traveled pope ever. He survived an assassination attempt and was an example of "courage." These are literally the bullet points for the chapter on John Paul II. These are all noteworthy things, but do any of them have to do with the actual governance of the Church and its state under JPII? Not at all. The praise is entirely for the personality of the man John Paul II and not for his actual achievements with regards to the Church, which were few. By the way, the little section on Benedict XVI mentions Deus Caritas Est and Sacramentum Caritatis but not Summorum Pontificum.

Where we really see the "Spirit of Vatican II" at work is not in the curriculum itself, but in the discussion questions at the end of it. Let's look at seven proposed topics from one section and see if they have anything in common (just in case you miss it, I'll highlight them):

1) How can the Church claim to be holy and a protector of truth when there are things in her history like the Crusades, the Inquisition, the persecution of Jews and the Galileo case?

2) The Church is a source and means of holiness for people because God has made it so. The failures of the Church's members during her history are lamentable. The virtuous lives of the saints validate the truth and power of the Church's sacraments and teaching.

3) Though the members of the Church are prone to sin, the Church herself is sinless and holy.

4) Despite the sins of her members, including the ordained, the Church is entrusted by God with the truth of the Gospel and the graced means of salvation.

5) Many members of the Church are also holy and possess a heroic sanctity witnessed to by the countless sacrifices many have made, often to the point of martyrdom.

6) Pope John Paul II, on various occasions, apologized for the sins of the members of the Church in her history, including harm caused by the excesses of the Inquisition and atrocities committed during the Crusades.

7) The historical context in which these events happened: the people of those days dealt differently with threats and problems than we might do so now. They used means that were commonly used in their society then. We cannot judge them as harshly as some people judge them today.
Now, it might be just me, but do you see an excessive focus on the sins and failures of the Church instead of her victories? Even ones that don't mention sins and failures (like number 7) are still focused on apologizing or explaining them away. This is all the discussion points for 2,000 years of history? How about something like "How did the interaction of the Church and State vary over the centuries?" or "What were the major contributions of the Church to civilization?" Nope, just an absurd focus on the shortcomings and failings of the Church of the past (until 1963, that is). I like the way number five is worded: "Many members of the Church are also holy." Maybe I'm making too much of it, but what is that also in there all about? Doesn't that seem to say, "Most of the Church are sinners, but there's also some who are holy, too."

Focusing excessively on the "sins" of the traditional Church, forcing modern ideologies onto the patristic age and trying to present a clear, flawless continuity from the past to the present without acknowledging the turmoil of the past 40 years: this seems to be the USCCB's vision of Catholic history.

1 comment:

Baron Korf said...

Lets see if I can't help them a bit with some pro bono editing and guidelines.

1) A fair question. Mostly because this is used as an attack on the Church and it would be good to explain these things for what they are and not what they are often billed as.

2) Good point, but drop the middle sentence.

3) Prone is misleading, it implies that somehow as members of the Church we are more susceptible. Switch out prone with capable and it'd be better.

4) Rather than "sins" it should be "imperfections". It shows the human limitations without giving it a negative spin.

5) "Also" makes it feel stilted, and implies that it unusual.

6) This is a good topic to explore, but it is badly labeled. It is important that people understand that he was trying to help heal old memories since those who did wrong in the name of the Church cannot themselves apologize. Pope John Paul II made that distinction I believe.

7) Again, another good topic. Explaining that things like the sack of Jerusalem in the 1st crusade was consistent with the rules of engagement at the time. It goes to the concept of objective wrongs and subjective guilt. "judge them as harshly" seems a like a weighted approach.

So these are all of the bullets? That's really lame. There is so much wonder and glory in the Church's history that they are really doing them a disservice if this is all they are teaching. This would be better served as a sub-chapter perhaps, dealing with questions or objections to the Church's claims.

Also they should teach them to refer to the "Protestant Reformation" as the "Protestant Revolt", I've been doing that with my teenage students on Sunday. They are much more eager to learn about something that they aren't ashamed of. Public schools teach Catholics to be ashamed of their history, I didn't go to private schools so I don't know about those.