Is the Catechism “Extra Stuff”?

November 25, 2013 | 13 comments

Some people mistakenly believe that Catholics elevate the Catechism of the Catholic Church to the status of the Bible. Others believe the Catechism is meant to explain the supposedly unbiblical teachings of the Church. Both views hold that the Catechism is essentially unnecessary “extra stuff.” In their view, all one needs is the Bible itself to know and understand the word of God. How can we Catholics respond to this?

The Catechism is not elevated to the level of Scripture.

The Catechism is a teaching tool. Its aim and intended readership are clearly explained in its prologue:

This catechism aims at presenting an organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine, as regards both faith and morals, in the light of the Second Vatican Council and the whole of the Church's Tradition. Its principal sources are the Sacred Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, the liturgy, and the Church's Magisterium. It is intended to serve "as a point of reference for the catechisms or compendia that are composed in the various countries."

This work is intended primarily for those responsible for catechesis: first of all the bishops, as teachers of the faith and pastors of the Church. It is offered to them as an instrument in fulfilling their responsibility of teaching the People of God. Through the bishops, it is addressed to redactors of catechisms, to priests, and to catechists. It will also be useful reading for all other Christian faithful (11-12).

In short, the Catechism intends to summarize 2,000 years of Catholic teaching in one reference guide for those who have been entrusted with handing on the Faith. It can help us better understand the fundamental truths of Christianity contained in Scripture, but it is not elevated to the same level.

Why not just use the Bible?

People from an ancient culture foreign to our own wrote the books that make up the Bible. Because of this, the untrained reader can easily misunderstand the texts. The necessity of a teacher is best illustrated in Phillip’s meeting with the Ethiopian eunuch recorded in the Book of Acts:

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him (8:27-32).

Certainly the position of teacher was not meant to end with the apostolic age. In fact, the further we get from that time, the more necessary an authoritative interpreter becomes. One example of interpretation and application would be the Church’s teaching on embryonic stem cell research (ESCR).

We know from the Bible and the writings of the early Christians that the killing of a preborn child has always been believed to be contrary to the will of God. ESCR requires the termination of a living human embryo to harvest its stem cells. There is nothing in the Bible that speaks directly about ESCR, so the Church, applying its consistent life ethic, teaches that the willful destruction of human embryos for the purpose of medical research is contrary to God’s will.

In the same way, the Catechism summarizes and applies the fundamentals of the Catholic Faith to contemporary issues. This is a large part of why Jesus instituted an authoritative Church, telling his apostles, “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16).

Does the Catechism teach doctrines not found in the Bible?

It is claimed on many Fundamentalist Christian websites that the Catechism teaches things that are not found anywhere in the Bible. These sites typically list doctrines like purgatory or Mary as “Mother of God,” claiming the Catechism attempts to explain them away in the absence of any scriptural support.

Catholic apologists have always responded to these objections by pointing out that certain universally accepted doctrines like the Trinity are not expressly stated in the Bible but taught implicitly. The same can be argued for those doctrines that non-Catholic Christians commonly object to because they do not comport with their own theology.

From cover to cover, the Catechism includes copious references to the Bible supporting Catholic doctrines, including those not taught explicitly therein. In addition to this, it cites popes, early Christian writers, and Church councils to demonstrate a continuity of doctrine that stretches all the way back to the apostles and ultimately to Christ himself.

If you are interested in reading the Catechism, you can access it here for free, or you can purchase a printed copy from our online shop.

Jon Sorensen earned his bachelor’s degree in 3D Animation and Visual Communications in 2004 from Platt College, Ontario. Before coming to Catholic Answers, he worked in the automotive industry producing television commercials and corporate video. He has also produced motion graphics for several feature-...

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition
"The first new compendium of Catholic doctrine regarding faith and morals in more than 400 years, the second edition stands, in the words of Pope John Paul II, as ""a sure norm for teaching the faith"" and an ""authentic reference text."""

Comments by Members

#1  Clinton Ufford - Sweet Home, Oregon

Awesome. I have had a few struggle's with this topic dialoguing with my Protestant friends. It is clear to see that without the Church, we Christians easily become lost and develop our own doctrines. The Bible can be very confusing. The Catechism is a wonderful tool.

November 26, 2013 at 8:59 am PST
#2  Tom Balistreri - Plum Borough, Pennsylvania

In my weird imagination I picture an episode of the show "I Love Lucy". In the show Lucy converts to Catholicism. Ricky responds by confronting Lucy and saying, "Lucy! You have some splanning to do"!
At this point Lucy hands him the Catechism.

November 26, 2013 at 11:45 am PST
#3  Jon Sorensen - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

^ LOL. I always thought it would have been a great series finale to see the whole family of 7th Heaven convert to Catholicism.

November 26, 2013 at 12:02 pm PST
#4  Bonnie Custer - Portland, Oregon

Regarding the primary purpose of the CCC for use by teachers, I once had a liberal discourage average lay people from reading the CCC at all. The liberal person didn't want the ordinary Catholic t take CCC to seriously without the liberal being able to reinterpret it. I was dumbfounded! I encourage every Catholic I know to have a CCC and go to it when questions arise. If they are confused they can ask for clarification. I thought that one of the goals of Vatican II was well formed and educated laity.

November 27, 2013 at 12:42 pm PST

I think that the truth is only in the Bible, and that in the roman catechism there are many doctrines that we can't find in the Scripture.
The Bible is word of God while the catechism is word of men.

Excuse me for my english, but I'm italian.

November 29, 2013 at 5:11 pm PST
#6  Obilaz Peter - Asaba, Delta

So, which one comes first, the Bible or the CCC?

December 1, 2013 at 4:32 am PST

I think that a christian must only observe all that is written in the Bible, which is the only source of truth.

December 2, 2013 at 9:49 am PST
#8  Benjamin Lovell - Jordan, New York

I believe that the bible contradicts your post. 1 Tim 3:15 says the the church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth. Keep in mind that the bible comes from the church, not the church from the bible.

December 2, 2013 at 2:45 pm PST

when the Bible talks about the church does not refer to a particular denomination, but the term church includes all those who have done direct experience with the Lord, asking for forgiveness of their sins.
To the Lord do not care what church we joined,
but if we have done the experience of the "new birth," as the Scripture says.

December 2, 2013 at 4:36 pm PST
#10  Benjamin Lovell - Jordan, New York

That's an interesting position in light of Matt 16:18-19, where Christ founds his church and John 17:11,21-22, where Christ prays that his they may be one just as he and the father are one. Christ founded one church. The Catholic church is not a denomination.

December 3, 2013 at 8:40 am PST

in the Bible there is not a single step indicating that the true church is the Roman church;
read the book of Acts, and you will realize that it has nothing to do with the Catholic Church.

December 3, 2013 at 3:55 pm PST
#12  Achilles Taylor - St. louis, Missouri

Being Orthodox I have an understanding for wanting people to know the demand of up to 3 2 hour Liturgies fasting every wed and Friday two forty day fasts and many small fasts per year are because many new converts end up failing if not prepared. However, if a soul is calling to be baptized and expressing desire to be part of a church family who are we to stop them from immediately becoming baptized because a couple classes aren't finished. John the Forerunner (Baptist) would baptize people by the hundreds just if they asked. Less political posturing and more Agape!

December 4, 2013 at 8:44 am PST
#13  Mike Wright - Rapid City, South Dakota

The Catechism of the RCC is full of teachings that go directly AGAINST God's Word, the Holy Bible. Take Paragraph 969 where Mary is called "Mediatrix." God's word clearly states that there is only ONE Mediator.
1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time,
New King James Version (NKJV)

Notice how many Mediators God's Word tells us there is. One, not two. Much of the Roman Catholic teachings make Jesus out to be a liar. The Catechism and God's Word differ greatly on basic Christian doctrine. This why some Catholics like Martin Luther tried to point out the ub-Biblical teachings of the RCC.

P.S. Mary was Jewish, she went to Temple and as her Son Yeshua did, she celebrated the 7 Feasts. She wouldn't be found in a Catholic church accepting prayers offered to her.

January 25, 2014 at 8:37 pm PST

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