I love showing students the creativity expression of exegesis and theology in good Biblical art. I intend to show my students this brilliant 17th century oil painting by Matthias Stom. This work portrays St. Luke writing with his symbol, the ox, by his side. St. Mark is resting on the lion, his own symbol, and facing the viewer. The words on the book say: “Pax tibi, marce, evangelista mea” — “Peace be with you, Mark, my evangelist.” Supposedly, Christ spoke these words to Mark while the Evangelist was in prison.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I am preparing to teach a course on “Teaching Doctrine in the Church” next term. One question that will obviously come up is – why catechesis? Isn’t it enough that I love Jesus and read my Bible and pray? Leave it to Pope Benedict XVI to bring exquisite clarity and insight to this matter. He shares a story about sending a piece of scholarship to Hans Urs von Balthasar at one point. He received a nice reply from Balthasar, but it included an exhortation: “do not presuppose the faith but propose it.” By that, I take to mean, Balthasar wanted his teaching to be more than mere philosophy or interpretation, but something filled with kerygmatic energy, an invitation to be transformed by the gospel all over again. This was an “aha!” moment for Pope Benedict.
Wide-ranging exploration of new fields was good and necessary, but only so long as it issued from, and was sustained by, the central light of faith. Faith is not maintained automaticaly. It is not a ‘finished business’ that we can simply take for granted. The life of faith has to be constantly renewed. And since faith is an act that comprehends all the dimensions of our existence, it also requires constantly renewed reflection and witness. It follows that the chief points of faith…are never outmoded. They are always the issues that affect us most profoundly. They must be the permanent center of preaching and therefore of theological reflection. The bishops present at the 1985 synod called for a universal catechism of the whole church because they sensed precisely what Balthasar had put into words in his note to me. Their experience as shepherds had shown them that the various new pastoral activities have no solid basis unless they are irradiations and applications of the message of faith. Faith cannot be presupposed; it must be proposed. This is the purpose of the Catechism. It aims to propose the faith in its fullness and wealth, but also in its unity and simplicity. (The Essential Pope Benedict XVI, p. 211)
Essentially, Pope Benedict XVI says that the Catechism is not meant at all to be something dead we give to the church – quite the opposite, it is the effective way to give life to faith, to energize it for living. This seems to be in tune with Pelikan’s famous adage: “Tradition is the living faith of the death, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”