To understand just how bad the Baltimore Catechism truly is, consider the issue of "mixed marriages", that is, marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics. The Bible minces no words on the subject:
Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, (1 Peter 3:1)
For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:14)The early Church had no fear of the pagans. Every Catholic knew the Faith so well that each believer was expected to convert his or her unbelieving spouse. But how things change in just a couple of millennia! This is the BC's fear-filled command:
Q. 1327. Which are the chief commandments of the Church?By the time the American Catholic bishops approached the problem, they recognized that they had stunk so badly at catechizing the faithful, and the faithful had stunk so badly at being catechized, that neither the ordained clergy nor their flock could risk associating themselves with non-Catholics, even via sacramental bonds. That is, the American bishops and their flocks didn't think even the saving graces of the sacrament of marriage, image of Christ's bond with the Church, would be sufficient to protect the Catholic from apostasy, much less convert the unbeliever.
A. The chief commandments of the Church are six:
6. Not to marry persons who are not Catholics... (Baltimore Catechism)
Yes, in a battle in which the salvific graces of the Bridegroom contest with the pagan heresies of the unbeliever, the gates of Heaven could not be trusted to prevail. That's the Baltimore Catechism for you.
Now, anyone who has spent any time at all studying the precepts of the Church know that those precepts have changed wildly depending on geography and time period.
The Church in her supreme authority has defined nothing regarding the form and number of the Commandments of the Church (emphasis added). The Council of Trent while recommending in a general way in its twenty-fifth session the observance of these precepts says nothing regarding them as a particular body of laws. Neither is any specific mention made of them in the "Catechismus ad parochos" published by order of the council and known as the "Catechism of the Council of Trent" or "Roman Catechism". We have seen that St. Antoninus of Florence enumerates ten such commandments while Martin Aspilcueta mentions only five. This last number is that given by St. Peter Canisius. According to this author the precepts of the Church are: To observe the feast days appointed by the Church; to hear Mass reverently on these feast days; to observe the fasts on the days during the seasons appointed; to confess to one's pastor annually; to receive Holy Communion at least once a year and that around the feast of Easter.
It will be readily observed that the omission by French writers of the Commandment to pay tithes was owing to local conditions. In a "Catechism of Christian Doctrine" approved by Cardinal Vaughan and the bishops of England, six Commandments of the Church are enumerated. These are:
- to keep the Sundays and Holy Days of obligation holy, by hearing Mass and resting from servile work;
- to keep the days of fasting and abstinence appointed by the Church;
- to go to confession at least once a year;
- to receive the Blessed Sacrament at least once a year and that at Easter or thereabouts;
- to contribute to the support of our pastors;
- not to marry within a certain degree of kindred nor to solemnize marriage at the forbidden times.
This list is the same (????) as that which the Fathers of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1886) prescribed for the United States. (question marks and emphasis added)Read that last precept, as presented by the Catholic Encyclopedia, again. Notice what is missing. Notice how the encyclopedia's version of the precept doesn't say a word about not marrying the unbeliever. In fact, you can read the entire encyclopedia article and you would search in vain for the BC's "mixed marriage" precept in ANY of the provided lists, all written by saints and Doctors of the Church. This all the more striking when one considers how little love the Catholic Encyclopedia's own article on mixed marriage exhibits.
Now, one could argue that this entire article is but an argument from silence. But that is precisely the point. The precepts of the Church have never been put under double-secret probation. The whole purpose of the precepts are to make quite clear and quite well-known bedrock ecclesial principles. If something is not listed as a precept of the Church in any list by any father, Doctor, saint or council of the Church, then it isn't a precept of the Church, no matter how much some random lay person, priest or even individual bishop might wish it to be.
So, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Baltimore Catechism did not just back away from the idea that Catholics should evangelize everyone concerning the Faith, even their own spouses. It would be bad enough if this were true, but it is worse. Instead, again, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Baltimore Catechism actively misrepresented the Third Plenary Council's summary of the Church's precepts.
The Baltimore Catechism has many faults.
- It is not logically structured, it does not begin with the Trinity as Aquinas did, but is instead structured almost haphazardly.
- It is a question-answer catechism that consciously imitates Protestant catechetical methods (few today realize that Martin Luther's 1529 Small Catechism was the first question-answer catechism in history).
- It is a catechism that teaches the sacraments in the wrong order, placing Confirmation after First Eucharist when all Magisterial documents clearly show the order of sacramental initiation is baptism, confirmation, Eucharist.
- It is a catechism that is meant to teach only small children, but continues to be sought out by adults who have clearly never gotten beyond a child's understanding of the Faith.
I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. (1 Cor 3:2)When it comes to adult evangelization, the Baltimore Catechism is a hot mess. Due to its defects, it is really not any great shakes at teaching children either.
"When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child. (1 Cor 13:11)It is time for Catholic adults to become adults in the Faith. Adults learn by reading the Fathers of the Church, the saints of the Church, the councils of the Church. Adults put away childish toys like the Baltimore Catechism. Indeed, given what we have seen here, adults would be better off teaching our children directly from the writings of the saints and the Fathers, and ignoring the Baltimore Catechism entirely.