Subsection

1.3 The Story of the Relationship between Catechesis and Religious Education

Summary of content
1.3.1 Catechesis in the early Christian Church
1.3.2 The Reformation, catechism and catechesis

1.3.3 Revival of the term 'catechesis' in the 20th century

1.3.4 Developments in the theory of catechesis: Implications for religious education in Catholic schools

1.3.5 Clarifying the relationship between "catechesis" and "religious education"
1.3.6 Confusing the models and the contexts

1.3.7 OPTIONAL ADDITIONAL READING ONLY: The historical debates: Some articles of historical interest illustrating the earlier debates about distinctions between catechesis and religious education

1.3.1 Catechesis in the early Christian Church

The term 'catechesis' originated in the catechumenate in the early Christian Church. Adult believers who had admitted a conversion to Christ and a commitment to the Christian way of life voluntarily joined a catechumenate; they were called 'catechumens' and the process, the 'catechumenate'. In the catechumenate, the catechumen learned through interaction with other Christians the beliefs and practices of the faith community. The interactions were of a personal faith-sharing kind. Catechesis was understood as a special and sacred process; it could not adequately be described as education. In fact, the process of catechesis was regarded very differently from what was known of education in the Graeco-Roman and synagogue schools of the times. The apparent lack of interest of the early Church in schools as far as the transmission of the faith was concerned may seem surprising. Also, the New Testament word for 'teaching' the faith in catechesis was regarded differently from the word for teaching knowledge in the contemporary schools. (NOTE: There is no evidence that the earliest Christians were seriously interested in using schools as agencies for handing on the Christian faith. This matter is considered in an article by Edwin Judge, 1984, "The Reaction against Classical Education in the New Testament", Journal of Christian Education, Papers 77, 7-14.)

At this point, a comment on the 'teaching' of Jesus is relevant. Jesus 'the teacher' is often proposed as the model for the religion teacher. However, Jesus' 'teaching' was not like the teaching done in the schools of his time. Put simply, he did not work from an academic curriculum model; his teaching was far removed from the idea of a classroom full of children, his teaching was for adults; and it was often 'parabolic' (as in a parable) -- in the sense of disturbing the usual expectations so that people might be awakened to a new vision of life. There is, then, a need for careful qualification when one proposes Jesus as a 'model' for today's classroom teacher.

Returning now to a summary of the process of catechesis -- it had the following qualities:

Qualities of catechesis in the early Christian Church:
  1. It was a voluntary, adult-oriented, faith-sharing experience;
  2. often it included a type of 'one to one' process where the catechumen had a Christian mentor -- this idea has been preserved in having 'sponsors' at confirmation;
  3. catechesis presumed an initial conversion and commitment to Christ;
  4. it took place within a community of faith;
  5. it was closely connected with the Eucharist, and was oriented towards the full initiation of the believer into the religious practices and sacraments of the Church.
  6. The process of catechesis was also often directed towards a climax at the Easter Saturday liturgy during which new converts were initiated formally into the Christian community through Baptism (Confirmation and Eucharist) at the Vigil ceremony.
  7. In the early centuries, Christianity gradually became more widespread and a more accepted part of the cultural traditions. With the need for Christians to initiate their children into the faith rather than wait to initiate them as adults, the catechumenate gradually declined and disappeared. Correspondingly, infant baptism became the most common rite of initiation into the faith.

Eventually, the Church sponsored schooling and the idea of secular education became associated with learning about the religious tradition. The early Church schools were concerned mainly with the education of future clergy. Thus began a long association of the Christian Church with schools. While the history of Church schools would provide a useful background for contemporary discussion of the aims of Catholic schools, what is of interest here is the relationship between schools and catechesis. It is also useful to note that traditions for study of theology, Scripture and spirituality developed in the Church. However, most of this religious education was for the clergy. (NOTE: See for example the article by Brian Hill, 1984, "Faith in the Independent School", Word in Life, 32, 4, 10-15; and also B.V. Hill, 1985, The Greening of Christian Education, Sydney: Lancer.)

1.3.2 The Reformation, catechism and catechesis.

The word 'catechesis' gradually fell into disuse as Christianity became more widespread in Europe. However, the development of catechisms during the Reformation was to have a great influence on the way catechesis would be understood in the 20th century.

One of the most prominent results of the Reformation was the production of Catechisms.

Martin Luther had already made an enormous change in the way Christian spirituality was developed by giving Christians the New Testament in the vernacular language. He was stressing that, in a way, the Church did not have an exclusive monopoly over the Scripture. God communicate personally with Christians through their own prayerful pondering of the sacred texts. This possibility of a more private and personal interpretation of the meaning of the Scripture was a significant feature of the Protestant Reformation.

The catechism, as developed by Luther, was a manual of compact, formularised statements of theology. The stark format and the defensive theology in the catechisms could be understood in terms of the theology and politics of the Reformation. The advent of Gutenburg's printing press made possible the printing and mass distribution of books for the instruction of Christians. The catechisms were books of faith with the theology of Christianity embedded within a question and answer format. Each answer contained a capsule of fundamental Christian Theology in response to questions about God, the nature of revelation, the church, the Christian life, the commandments, sin, redemption etc.

The first Catechisms were intended for adults. However, Luther was interested in the religious education of children and soon there were Catechisms for the instruction of children in the Christian faith.

As a response to the publication of Catechisms by the Lutherans, the Catholic Church did the same. Very prominent here was the catechism of the Jesuit Saint Canisius.

It is of interest to note here that at the time Luther was one of the first people to advocate strongly the idea of universal schooling for children. Prior to the Reformation, during the middle ages and before, schools had grown up around the great monasteries and cathedrals. But in the main, the education provided in these schools was for future Priests. Where ordinary children, especially girls, were educated , this was more a mark of the rank, social status and degree of wealth of the parents. Most of the peasants were illiterate apart from what they might learn at home. In this light, it is interesting to note that for most of its two thousand years the Christian church did not rely on schools to have any significant role in the handing on of the faith tradition -- at least as far as the majority of the population was concerned. The development of Religious education and the use of religious education in schools are recent phenomena in Christian history.

For centuries following the Reformation the traditional pattern was to associate the term catechesis with the catechism - because the terms were so alike. If Catechesis was to be defined during those times, than it would have meant the instruction of children through the medium of the Catechism. While the term Catechism was very prominent during this period, it is quite unlikely that the term catechesis was used frequently.

The 'defensive theology', of the Council of Trent, which followed the Reformation, and which is sometimes referred to as the cornerstone of the "counter-Reformation", coupled with the catechism, remained in place in Catholicism until the early 1960s. With the emergence of the printing press, catechisms were easily produced and were circulated in large numbers. The learning of formularised doctrine in catechism form came to be regarded as a process which established the faith in a young person. While Christian theology has always recognised that knowledge of doctrine does not automatically generate personal faith, the centuries of use of the catechism inevitably reinforced the thinking that knowledge of the catechism was fundamental to becoming a good Catholic. Similarly, knowledge of the Ten Commandments came to be regarded as important for making young people moral.

1.3.3 Revival of the term 'catechesis' in the 20th century

As a response to the influence of 'rationalism' and 'liberalism' in the 19th century, there was a new wave of defensive thinking in Catholicism. This reinforced the already strong pattern of authority in the Church, including the use of the catechism for teaching the faith.

In Catholic circles in Europe by the 1930s, the term 'catechesis' was revived to refer to the process of communicating the faith. The 'catechetical' movement, as it was called, was aimed at broadening the notion of catechesis in the light of its usage in the earlier church, referring to the instructional process for believers ordained to the initiation of catechumens into the Christian church. Prominent here was the work of the German Jesuit Joseph Jungmann. The famous and influential book by Jungmann was called Handing on the Faith.

It is interesting to note here that at a national conference on Catholic schooling in Armidale in the early 1930s it was Brother Benignus Hanrahan (a Christian Brother) who raised serious questions about the 'out of dateness' of using a catechism pedagogy for Catholic religious education. He said that it had little connection with the best approaches to classroom education that were emerging or with the natural personal development of children. It brought about no change. Interesting too, this sort of critique was not successful until the mid 1960s.

Given the preceding centuries of use of the catechism and the similarity of the words, it was not surprising that catechesis was still understood as 'learning the catechism'. Some of the impetus in the revival of the word 'catechesis' was directed towards broadening the methods of religious instruction. Despite the broader thinking about the processes involved in handing on the faith that emerged through the work of people like Jungmann, there still remained a strong linkage between the term Catechesis and Catechism. This was understandable because the learning of the catechism was the sort of instructional process that was at home in the contemporary school. Hence there was natural logic in thinking about catechesis as process of instructing children in the Catechism. Given this notion of catechesis as instruction, it was natural to expect that schools and classrooms would be appropriate places for catechesis. Catechetical theory was directed primarily towards children and its 'natural habitat' was the school.

However, the idea of catechesis as instruction at school was not to survive. The catechetical movement in the Catholic Church resulted in a return to its original meaning, the faith-sharing dialogue in an adult catechumenate. This development could be regarded as valuable for the Church because it freed the term catechesis from a narrow focus on children, schools and formal instruction. This was particularly evident in the Roman document the General Catechetical Directory issued in 1971. Catechesis was restored to its place of prominence in the ministry of the local church. Nevertheless, because religious education in Catholic schools had been strongly tied to the idea of catechesis, this change would inevitably call for adjustments. Resultant changes in thinking about religious education in Catholic schools would not come without difficulty or controversy.

In the 1950;s and early 1960’s there was a significant change to Catholic thinking and practice concerned with the Catechesis of children and the teaching of the Catechism brought about by the Kerygmatic movement (this will be referred to again later in the unit on the history of Religious Education in Australia). The term Keryx, meaning "a herald", emphasised the importance of the history of God’s saving activity through Jesus Christ in the Scriptures. The term which became important was salvation history. Following the liberalising of restrictions which had previously been placed on Catholic Biblical Scholars (the Milestone Papal Encyclical by Pope Pius X11 Divino Afflante Spiritu). there was a resurgence of interest in Biblical Studies in the Catholic church.

During the earlier period in the twentieth century, dominated by paranoia about the heresy of modernism, there had been considerable restrictions placed on Catholic Biblical Scholarship. This fitted with an overall negative view of the role of the Bible ( particularly the Old Testament) in the Christian life at that time. So the Kerygmatic movement signified an important change giving the Bible a much more prominent place in the religious education of children. Previously, the use of Scripture had been confined mainly within theology; and there the role of Scripture was for the provision of ‘proof texts’ for doctrine. The revival of the interest in Scripture was to have an important impact on thinking about catechesis.

There is no need to trace here the historical development of the catechetical movement which is covered in other sectional studies. Several good accounts of that history are readily available. (NOTE: The following references give accounts of the history of the catechetical movement. Erdozain, L. 1970. "The Evolution of Catechetics", Lumen Vitae 25, 1, 7-31. Rummery, R.M. 1975. Catechesis and Religious Education in a Pluralist Society, Sydney: E.J. Dwyer; Sloyan, G.S. (Ed.) 1958, Shaping the Christian Message: Essays in Religious Education, New York: Macmillan; Warren, M. (Ed.) 1983, Source Book for Modern Catechetics, Winona: St. Mary's Press. Westerhoff, J.H. and Edwards, O.C. 1981, A Faithful Church: Issues in the History of Catechesis, Wilton, Connecticut: Morehouse-Barlow.) What will be followed up are the implications of these developments for religious education in Catholic schools.

1.3.4 Developments in the theory of catechesis: Implications for religious education in Catholic schools

During the 1960s and 1970s there was a movement to revive the notion of Catechesis particularly with respect to its role in the earlier church for the instruction of new converts and their initiation into the Christian faith. The idea was to broaden the understanding of Catechesis so that it would be much more than simply the instruction of children in the faith.

In their discussions in Rome in the mid 1970s, bishops from South America and Africa wanted to delineate Catechesis from school religious education. They considered that Catechesis was primarily a ministry of the local faith community. For them Catechesis was the process in basic Christian communities. These had become important cells within the Church, especially in South America. Some of their discussions noted that Catechesis was not at home within the organisation of curriculum in a school with timetables, periods, assessment etc. Their concern was to revitalise an adult catechesis.

The thing to note when looking at these trends is the change away from a child centred Religious Education to an interactive adult catechesis for committed believers.

The term catechesis is now used to refer to the process in which the Church communicates the faith to its members. There is an emphasis on the same characteristics that the process had in the early Church, and an emphasis on developing a personal faith. Such emphases place catechesis more in the realm of the Church's pastoral ministry than in education. Catechesis is not primarily a 'scholastic' process. The catechesis of adults became the norm and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (R.C.I.A.) became the principal model for catechesis. The catechumenate, voluntary parish groupings, commitment groups and 'basic' Christian communities became the main places for catechesis. There was an orientation of catechesis towards the critical evaluation of culture, human liberation, justice and peace.

The following summarises the change in emphasis:

Recent emphases in the theory of catechesis:
Nature of Catechesis: Instructional dialogue between believers; sharing of faith insights; continued evangelisation of believers; gradual initiation into the faith tradition; religious socialisation; inculturation; celebration of faith in liturgy; broad range of faith-engaging experiences.

Presumptions:- Presumes an initial awakening or conversion to faith; preceded by forms of pre-catechesis or pre-evangelisation; presumes a willingness to develop deeper understanding of and participation in the Christian faith tradition; presumes that all involved in catechesis (both catechist and catechised) are believers.

Framework: Basic framework is pastoral ministry rather than education.

Orientation: Development of mature adult faith; preparation for formal adult initiation into the Church; critical evaluation of culture; human liberation, justice and peace.

Context: Natural context for catechesis a community of faith; main forms of catechesis should be for adults; Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is the principal model; catechesis to be pursued in many contexts -- parish, adult groups, family, young adults, youth ministry, children's groups, Catholic schools, public school children, the handicapped; catechesis to be occasional but lifelong; at special times, events or critical periods.

The developments in the theory of catechesis noted above bring precision and depth of meaning to the Church's understanding of its work to develop a life of faith in its members. However, many of these developments could not be applied freely or without qualification to classroom religious education in Catholic schools. As the development of the concept catechesis situates the activity in a pastoral, voluntary, adult-oriented, faith-sharing context, the more tenuous would become the claim that the compulsory classroom is a suitable or even desirable place for catechesis.

Tied in with developments in the theory of catechesis were developments in thinking about evangelisation, inculturation, mission and witness. Attention was given to 'family catechesis'. Catechesis in the school was not ruled out, but more thought would have to be given to what this would involve if the principal places for catechesis were outside the school.

1.3.5 Clarifying the relationship between "catechesis" and "religious education"

Developments in the theory of catechesis have evidently been beneficial for the Catholic Church. They have given impetus to the catechumenate as a pastoral structure, to adult religious education, to various parish ministries and to youth ministry. However, these same developments created difficulties for religion teachers if they tried to retain a dependence on the concept of catechesis as the basis for religious education in the classroom.

Take, for example, what was said by the Synod of Bishops in 1977 about catechesis. The bishops gave little attention to schools, not only because few countries have well developed Catholic school systems but because of a "conviction that catechesis is not a scholastic process and that the limitations of syllabus, timetable, compulsion and discipline are too great, and overwhelm it" (K. Nichols, 1978, Continuity and Change in Catechetics, The Month, 11, 3, 88). This thinking may have been disturbing for bishops from countries where the rationale for Catholic schools was dependent on the idea of catechesis.

There may have been a natural resistance to making religious education less dependent on catechetical theory wherever there is a well developed Catholic school system. Such a change could appear to decrease the perceived importance of the schools. In a country like Australia, where about one fifth of the nation's schools are Catholic, there is a tendency to rely too much on them and to expect too much of them as a principal agency of evangelisation, even though they cater for half the Australian Catholic schoolchildren. The relationship between catechesis and religious education is thus an important issue not only for what happens in religion classes in Catholic schools, but also for the rationale of Catholic schools and for the future of pastoral ministry outside schools. For example, Michael Warren noted that Catholic youth ministry in Australia is too narrowly focused on young people who attend Catholic schools. "It needs to be converted to the wider lives and interests of youth and needs to give attention to the hidden youth -- those in State schools, the early school leavers, those being effectively ignored in the Church's pastoral strategies" (M. Warren, 1981, "Youth Ministry in Australia: Some Impressions", Word in Life, 29, 2, 93). Unrealistic catechetical expectations of the school are part of the problem. While it is unlikely, and undesirable, that Australian Catholics should lessen their interest in Catholic schools, an effort to understand that the school's educational role is not a fundamental catechesis or evangelisation may help them understand that Catholic schools are not substitutes for youth ministry or pastoral catechesis. A coming to terms with the religious role of Catholic schools may be necessary for an awakening of Australian Catholics to the real needs for pastoral ministry in the local church.

The book by the Australian De La Salle brother, Gerard Rummery, in 1975 gave ground-breaking attention to the distinction between Catechesis and Religious Education. The title of his book was Catechesis and Religious Education in a Pluralist Society (E.J. Dwyer, Sydney). The impetus to his thinking came firstly from familiarity with the history of catechesis, and secondly from his experience of the new religious studies programs which were developing in England -- with special attention to the phenomenological movement in Religious Education in British state schools where the influence of Professor Ninian Smart was very important. These developments will be examined later in the section on the development of Studies of Religion courses.

In addition to the books and articles noted above which refer to this history of catechesis and its relationship with religious education, Cornerstones: Guidelines for Religious Education (1982), written in the United Kingdom by Monsignor Kevin Nichols, is another volume which gives insight to 1980s thinking about the issues. Monsignor Nichols was the adviser on Religious Education to the English bishops. He lectured in Australia a number of times in the 1980s.

If religious education in Catholic schools has long given catechesis a central place in its rationale, then a claim that catechesis is no longer appropriate in the school will create uncertainty and identity confusion. A new relationship with catechesis would need to be negotiated. If the current rich meaning for catechesis is accepted, then in this sense catechesis has not ever been at home in the classroom. It would then be inaccurate to say that "catechesis is no longer appropriate in the classroom", as if conditions in the school have changed radically. Rather, it would be more accurate to say that "with the change in emphasis in the meaning of catechesis, it is no longer appropriate to use that word to refer to classroom religious education".

Gerard Rummery, noted how this difficulty affected Australian Catholic religion teachers.

Some people no longer find it possible to carry out expressly catechetical work in Catholic schools. What they do find themselves doing is so much short of what they wish to do, that they situate much of their expressly catechetical work outside the school. This does not mean to say that the school has no role to play. Often the school can do something which schools do very well, that is, the teaching of religion or of religious knowledge. This exercise of an educational role can be a worthy aim for a school to explore with its pupils...a highly necessary role. But the expressly catechetical one, by which I mean the ways in which the school invites to expressions of faith or participation in activities that assume the faith of those participating, will always have to be balanced against the overriding importance of the personal liberty of all those concerned -- pupils certainly, but the teachers as well (G. Rummery, 1981, A Decade of Directories...And after? Word in Life, 29, 1, 8).

The problem that catechetical theory posed for religion teachers was also evident in Catholic schools in England.

In (the United Kingdom) catechesis has taken almost exclusively an educational form. The responsibility for developing faith in children has devolved entirely on the classroom subject in religious education. I am convinced that it creates a deep confusion in the minds of many teachers. If they think of themselves as catechists they are pulled one way; if as professional teachers, another. In the eyes of most contemporaries, catechesis is a square peg in an educational round hole. So often, there develops a deep confusion about the role of the religion teacher. Because of this, the teaching given often lacks direction and drive. ... I am sure that bits of all the doctrinal, devotional, Kerygmatic, 'faith response' eliciting and experiential approaches are lying scattered around the world of Catholic religious education, often at odds with each other, rarely held together by the kind of unifying philosophy which makes for good teaching in the subject. ... The present state of religious teaching in the Catholic sector is not good (K. Nichols, 1979, "Curriculum v. Syllabus in Religious Education". Paper presented at the Annual Conference of Catholic Colleges, U.K. Quoted in Word in Life, 1981, 29, 4, 166).

The problem had parallels in Catholic schools in continental Europe and in the United States. Writing about religious education in Catholic schools in France, one educator claimed that:

Teachers in the Christian school have been forced to recognise that their school has become frequented by a population more and more diversified as regards their religious viewpoint. ... The place where these youngsters are grouped together can no longer be thought of as homogeneous and Christian. As a result, the conditions for catechesis were called on to change. It was not thinkable to continue to impose on this pluralist clientele a catechesis on the basis of a presumed Christian or religious common point. We saw come to birth products replacing a catechesis, which had become impossible, but for which we wanted to offer a saving of face (V. Ayel, 1981, Shifts in Catechesis, 1950-1980, Word in Life, 29, 3, 118-119).

One way of interpreting the problem is to note that, in the first half of this century, there was a correspondence between the instructional model of catechesis and the instructional context of the school. However, the expanded model of catechesis resulting from the catechetical movement could not be adequately expressed within the instructional context of the school. Look again at the summary of trends in the theory of catechesis noted above in the box.

Religion teachers would be overburdened if they tried to take the comprehensive theory of catechesis and implement it in the classroom. Teachers could be confused about what aspects of evangelisation, inculturation, ministry, catechesis, and consciousness-raising etc. might be implemented in a religion lesson.

What is needed is a simpler and clearer understanding of the possibilities and limitations of religious education in the classroom.

The comprehensive theory of catechesis needs to be read through 'educational glasses' to see what expectations are appropriate for the classroom. The notion of the Church's 'Ministry of the Word', its share in the saving mission of Jesus Christ, is the central concept in the Church's official aims for handing on its faith tradition and for deepening the personal faith of its members. 'Catechesis' is regarded as one of the fundamental forms of the Ministry of the Word. The 'broadband' aims for catechesis in the Church documents -- for all people in the Church throughout their lives - require considerable translation and qualification when applied to the classroom religion period. Where they refer to the catechesis of young people, the documents assume that they will be brought up 'in the faith'; there is an emphasis on initiation and inculturation.

Two important presuppositions in the major church documents about catechesis need to be considered when implications are sought for classroom religious education.

Firstly, the documents were written out of a socialisation perspective. If the documents on catechesis were to express the Church's concern to hand on the faith tradition and to nurture the personal faith of its young members (socialising its young members into faith and religious practice), then a socialisation perspective would be appropriate to that concern. However, a socialisation perspective has not been regarded as adequate for covering all of the educational processes that would be used in modern schools. At times, socialisation has been contrasted with education. In particular, the pursuit of educational aims like the development of 'critical rationality' and 'moral autonomy' in pupils does not sit comfortably within a socialisation perspective. While schools can be expected to make some contribution to socialisation processes, it is questionable to apply a socialisation perspective in an unqualified way to the school. Also, the school's religion curriculum, which is more attuned to developing pupils' knowledge and understanding of religion, can be overrated for its capacity to socialise young people into the life of the Church. Some religious socialisation is achieved through liturgy and community activities in the school.

Secondly, the Church documents presumed the context of a community of faith. Activities like communal prayer and liturgy and an orientation of religious education towards fostering personal faith can be considered as the natural concerns of a community of faith. Some educators tend to apply the concept 'community of faith' in an unequivocal way to Catholic schools. However, a school is not a community of faith by virtue of its being a 'school', but only to the degree to which it satisfies other conditions. While many implications regarding the place and practice of religion in the school flow naturally from the fact that a school is Catholic, the idea of community of faith must be qualified when applied to a school. Living as a community of faith is a dynamic process, and in this sense, the Catholic school as a community of faith is a goal to be worked for rather than a given. (Lay Catholics in School: Witnesses to Faith, para. 41). When a school aspires to be a community of faith, attention needs to be given to tasks like community building, critically reviewing the values implicit in the school's way of life, inviting fuller participation in the liturgy and allowing for voluntary involvement in commitment groups. Thus, the notion of the Catholic school as a community of faith needs careful examination to determine its relevance to the school's social environment and religion curriculum. The compulsory attendance of pupils at religion class does not, in itself, constitute the group as a community of faith which would authenticate attempts to engage in a faith-sharing catechesis. These two considerations, on a socialisation perspective and on community of faith, show how the Church documents need to be interpreted in relation to classroom religious education. Another principle to keep in mind recognises that "every institution has its own particular task in the education of faith. The task will depend on the nature of the institution." (The Australian Episcopal Conference, 1970, The Renewal of The Education of Faith, para. 144). The 1970s has been a "decade of catechetical directories" for the Catholic Church. A series of official Catechetical Directories has strongly influenced the theory and practice of catechesis. The argument in favour of introducing an 'educational' component into the theory for classroom religious education in Catholic schools, in tension with catechesis, suggests the need for an 'Educational Directory' to complement the catechetical directories. For classroom religious education, the Church documents need to be read through an educational 'lens' to highlight what is appropriate in the encounter between religion and education. The 'catechetical' aims need to be interpreted in the light of 'educational' aims. The material here is an attempt to give an 'educational' picture of classroom religious education. This can be used as a 'lens', as suggested above, for examining the Church documents on catechesis -- as will be done in module 2. This way of reading the documents will help show up the distinctive contribution that classroom religious education can make to the Church's ministry. It will help avoid unrealistic expectations. It will also help religion teachers to respond more creatively to the challenges that the Church documents offer to religious education.

When religion teachers can articulate their task in educational terms, they can then go back to the Church documents and show how the teaching of religion makes a distinctive contribution to processes like catechesis, evangelisation, inculturation, conversion and mission.

A simplification of the theory for religious education should help us deal with the problem of a great variety of approaches that are available in religious education. 'Getting the practice into theory' can be a more pressing problem than 'getting the theory into practice'. There is no shortage of practical approaches; but there is need for a theory that can make sense of the diverse practices. The capacity of religion teachers to experiment with a wide variety of activities concerned with personal and religious development has outstripped the framework of theory that should provide coherence and direction to religious education.

Educators in Catholic schools seek a comprehensive role for religion in the curriculum, in the school's social life and in the personal development of pupils. Therefore, there is a natural tendency to overestimate the school's potential religious influence. Being clearer about what is involved in the teaching of religion can help teachers be more realistic and purposeful about other aspects of the school's religious life. This helps overcome problems which arise when the boundaries between the religion curriculum, liturgy, pastoral care and community-building are blurred and indistinct. For example, a priority given to justice and peace has implications for both the religion curriculum and the social organisation of the school. If teachers know how to explore these in the classroom, they will more easily recognise that there are other aspects which can only be addressed by making the school itself a more just and peaceful organisation. Furthermore, justice issues are not the exclusive preserve of the religion staff and can be raised appropriately in other curriculum areas like English literature, history, geography, economics and science.

1.3.6 Confusing the models and the contexts

In 1976, the book Will Our Children Have Faith?, by John H. Westerhoff, was well received by religion teachers in Australian Catholic schools. The book claimed that the trouble with religious education was its dependence on a 'schooling/ instructional' model. Westerhoff argued that a 'community/catechetical' model was more appropriate because of the importance of celebrative ritual in the communication of faith.

While the author was writing about voluntary Sunday schools in Protestant churches in the United States, his ideas were taken as relevant to the compulsory religion curriculum in Catholic schools, because of the natural leaning of religion teachers towards a catechetical theory. This thinking would make them uncomfortable with the intellectual learning processes that are typical of classrooms and would encourage them to look for 'community experience' and 'personal sharing' instead. Westerhoff's thought was invoked to justify affective, personal trends in religious education as opposed to a 'study' of religion. Some religion teachers would look for faith-sharing responses in every religion lesson; whether successful or not, they were always trying to introduce a 'catechetical' dimension to their teaching.

It seems incongruous that religion teachers would see a 'schooling/instructional' model as inappropriate for the classroom. Yet this was the conclusion they drew from their catechetical theory. They were working in one context while invoking theory from a very different context.

The pertinence of Westerhoff's thesis for voluntary groups is not in question. The 'community/catechetical' model is quite appropriate for retreats, youth groups, liturgies and community activities in the school. But it is not appropriate for the classroom. The idea of religion as a 'non-subject' (discussed in the previous chapter) can be advocated by a community/catechetical model. But this creates problems; a model which is appropriate for 'community' aspects of the religious life of the school is being uncritically applied to the classroom which needs an instructional model.

There is no need to complain that Catholic schools are failing to develop a sense of 'community'. In this area they do well. However, there is reason for claiming that the serious study of religion is neglected. As Gabriel Moran commented about the Catholic preoccupation with catechetical theory:

The Church has been more successful in providing community/inculturation than in providing schools for studying religion. ... The Church is badly in need of schooling in which religion can be taught and studied, that is, critically examined and intellectually understood (G. Moran, 1978, "What Now, Where Next?" in P. O'Hare (Ed.) Foundations of Religious Education, New York: Paulist Press).

Another example of the way religion teachers are unduly influenced by catechetical theory is the idea of 'religion days'. To get away from an instructional setting and an instructional model, religion classes may be replaced by an occasional religion day (not a retreat). A seminar approach may be followed at a congenial site away from the school where pupils assemble in casual clothes with some air of informality. The move seeks conditions which are different from those of the regular classroom with its 'academic' procedures. Similarly, the use of informal 'religion centres' or discussion rooms can be interpreted as a move to break away from a schooling/instructional model.

There may be value in the above procedures; but if they dominate the school's religion curriculum, then the study of religion will be seriously neglected. In these cases, teachers seem to be changing the classroom situation to one that is more 'un-school like' and which harmonises with a community/catechetical theory. What is needed is a change in the theory to make it more 'school like' so that it will harmonise with the instructional possibilities of the classroom.

Catholic schools could gain much from a revision of theory which clarifies the relationships between catechesis and religious education.

1.7 OPTIONAL EXTENSION ONLY The historical debates: Some articles of historical interest illustrating the earlier debates about distinctions between catechesis and religious education

If you are interested in some of the earlier historical debates about distinctions between catechesis and religious education, you can look up the following article which led to strong debate in 1981.

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Rossiter, G. (1981). Stifling Union or Creative Divorce? The Future Relationship between Catechesis and Religious Education in Catholic Schools. Word in Life, 29, 4, 162-173.
This article, published both in Australia and the United States in 1981, stimulated a lot of discussion about the meaning of catechesis and its potential place within the Catholic school in general and classroom religious education in particular. The title which used the word "divorce" was unfortunate; it was intended to show the need for both catechesis and religious education, together with care to distinguish the important differences between the two. But the word "divorce" irritated some readers and this weakened the arguments presented.

In a footnote in his book Sharing Faith (1990), Thomas Groome argued against the distinction promoted above. He maintained a prominent place for Catechesis in his theory for Christian religious education.

You can also look up an article by Professor Michael Warren (St John's University, New York. Warren made a number of lecture visits to Australia in the 1980s) below which gives one of the best accounts of the differences between catechesis and religious education. Warren's principal interest is in the catechesis of adults and young people. Following the link to the reading is a summary of his ideas in diagrammatic form.

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Michael Warren, (1986). Ministry, Catechesis and Religious Education: Implications for Youth Ministry and Catholic Schools. Catholic School Studies , 59 , 2, 45-48.

This is one of the best articles available that clarifies the distinction between Catechesis and Religious Education.

 

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