Friday, 9 May 2008


On the Way to Life: Contemporary Culture and Theological Development as a Framework for Catholic Education, Catechesis and Formation. This is the title of a study by the Heythrop Insititute for Religion, Ethics and Public Life. The May-June 2008 issue of FAITH Magazine contains articles which represent a serious critique of this study, which was commissioned by the Catholic Bishop's Conference of England and Wales in 2005.

My own memories of trying to read it soon after it was published. It was too long - I still haven't succeeded in reading it all. As far as the parts of it that I did succeed in reading were concerned, I never really succeeded in grasping anything that they were trying to say. I wasn't able to make a coherent connection between different parts of the document. The title of the document is perhaps indicative of this - can you read it, and pick out from the title, an exact meaning or statement of intent for the study as a whole?

I recall being rather amused by a quotation of Hans Urs von Balthasar on p.36 of OTWTL. This was taken from a book of his called, in English translation, The Moment of Christian Witness. The point to this book is that Christianity demands at a certain point a decisive moment of witness, even to the point of death should that be called for; this moment of testimony is explicitly Christian and does not permit of any "anonymity" in its Christian expression. Reading the quotation in the context of OTWTL, you do not get the impression that, in the immediately preceding paragraph, von Balthasar has referred to the legend of Cordula, who willingly gave herself up to death a day after her fellow virgins in witness to Christ. The defencelessness to which von Balthasar is referring is anything but a philosophical or ideological principle, as its citation suggests. The use of other citations by OTWTL is the subject of comment in one of the articles in FAITH Magazine.

I also recall thinking that, in so far as I could make out any coherent thought running through OTWTL, it was this. It was an attempt to present a now critiqued experentially based approach to catechetics (I recall encountering ideas of "incarnational theology", rather akin to OTWTL's idea of "sacramental imagination" [which doesn't really have anything to do with the Sacraments themselves, though it sounds as if it does], many years ago) in the language of Christological specificness of a generation brought up on von Balthasar, John Paul II, etc. In the end, it rings a bit hollow, and I found myself not quite believing what it was saying.

I certainly do not think the quality of the work represented by OTWTL warrants its being taken as some sort of magisterial document that must be used as a basis for developing religious education or catechetics in the future. The detailed criticisms offered in the current issue of FAITH Magazine do, I feel, substantiate this view.

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