Tuesday, March 8, 2011

De catechizandis rudibus pro rudibus

In my preparations to give a talk to parish catechists I happened upon St. Augustine's De catechizandis rudibus ('Catechizing of the Uninstructed'), which is a real gem. Very little changes in 1600 years. The link is to chapter 10, "Of the Attainment of Cheerfulness in the Duty of Catechising", always a necessary lesson. As public domain translations are often bursting with ponderous Victorian prose (and Augustine is wordy enough to begin with!) I heavily edited and paraphrased an excerpt to share with these teachers. Perhaps in the future some stalwart souls will put out a series of the Fathers in modern, accessible English. (De catechizandis rudibus pro rudibus?) In any case, I hope you will find edifying the following:

It is my duty to speak of the acquisition of the cheerfulness, because I have heard you complain that your classes seemed to yourself to be poor and spiritless.

Now this, I know, results not so much from a lack of things to teach about, as rather from weariness of mind. And that may spring from the fact that we once heard these same teachings explained more beautifully than we could ever hope to do, and feel that in coming up with our own words we teach the subject inadequately. Or perhaps we are wearied by the fact that we already understand these things, and become tired of discussing matters which seem to us childish.

A sense of weariness is also induced upon the speaker when he has a hearer who remains unmoved, either in that he is not stirred by any feeling, or in that he does not indicate by any motion of the body that he understands or that he is pleased with what is said.

Not that it is a becoming disposition in us to be greedy of the praises of men, but that the things which we minister are of God; and the more we love those whom we teach, the more desirous are we that they should be pleased with the things which we hold forth for their salvation: so that if we do not succeed in this, we are pained, and we are weakened, and become broken-spirited in the midst of our course, as if we were wasting our efforts to no purpose.

Sometimes, too, when we are drawn off on a tangent, and can't talk about something we particularly enjoy or find particularly important. Or sometimes, either because of the command of a person whom we are unwilling to offend, or because of the importunity of some parties that we find it impossible to get rid of, we find it impossible to instruct anyone catechetically! In such circumstances we approach a duty for which great calmness is indispensable with minds already perturbed, and grieve that we are not permitted to teach as we would like, and that we cannot possibly be competent for all this. And thus feeling weighed down our discourse ceases to be attractive, because, starting from the arid soil of dejection, it goes on less flowingly.

Sometimes, too, sadness has taken possession of our heart in consequence of some offense. And inevitably at that moment someone says, “Come, speak with this person; he desires to become a Christian.” For they who thus address us do it in ignorance of the hidden trouble which is consuming us within. So it happens that we undertake this task with no sense of pleasure; and then, certainly, the discourse will be languid and unenjoyable which is transmitted through the agitated and fuming channel of a heart in that condition.

Consequently, seeing there are so many causes serving to cloud the calm serenity of our minds, in accordance with God’s will we must seek remedies for them, such as may bring us relief from these feelings of heaviness, and help us to rejoice in fervor of spirit, and to be happy in the tranquility of a good work. “For God loveth a cheerful giver.”

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this Peter. Nice blog by the way.

    -Joe de O