“The Companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: A Compendium of Texts Referred to in the Catechism of the Catholic Church”

The Companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

A Compendium of Texts Referred to in the

Catechism of the Catholic Church

  • Paperback: 975 pages
  • Publisher: Ignatius Press (October 1994)
  • ISBN-10: 0898704510
  • ISBN-13: 978-0898704518

To those who might complain about the cost of this book of over nine hundred pages, it could be answered that it will save the reader thousands of dollars. To collect the original works and translations of all the texts referred to in the Catechism would require a library, so the Companion is first of all a money-saving resource. However, it is also a labor-saving tool which saves the work that it would take to search in libraries for various texts that are out of print or restricted to very specialized collections. The Companion was not assembled for its own sake, and it does not stand alone. It helps the ordinary reader to appreciate the Catechism more by performing this service of placing so much easily at hand. Nor are there alternatives because no other publishing house has attempted this enterprise, and nothing can compete with it.

There are some observations that can be made about the book. We have here a vast array of sources from the Bible, the Church Fathers, the Councils, the Scholastic thinkers, the Popes, and the Code of Canon Law. Not all of them are of equal weight in the Catholic tradition, and they have varying degrees of authority. Therefore the Companion, like the Catechism, must be used by the reader who has some background. Otherwise, the format of organizing everything in sequence could give the impression that Sacred Scripture is on the same plane as an obscure encyclical or a canon from the Code of Canon Law. It is also useful to see who is quoted at length, and who is not. For example, #1898 of the Catechism has a footnote with a reference to Leo XIII’s encyclical “Immortale Dei” and “Diuturnum illud.” In the Companion, these together take up pages 675-694. Quoting integrally takes up space. On the other hand, Pius XII’s important encyclical “Humanae Generis” which is excerpted in the Catechism in #37 and footnoted, does not show up in the Companion which skips from#36 to #38. Again, in #676 of the Catechism there is a reference to Pius XI’s encyclical “Divini Redemptoris” which is footnoted as 577. In the Companion, the full text of “Divini Redemptoris” on atheistic Communism is given between pages 219 and 237, with no editorial explanation of why. Clearly there is an advantage in finding this encyclical integrally, but would there not also be an advantage in finding “Humanae Generis” whole and intact?

Another useful reference in the Companion is the Denzinger-Schönmetzer (DS) number accompanying the decrees of the more recent Councils of the Church. However, at the same time, the correct title of some of the conciliar decrees is omitted. Two good examples are on pages 492 and 493 of the Companion. The Council of Trent is given with a year and the DS number, but no further identification of the citation, whereas the reference to Vatican II on page 493 gives “Sacrosanctum concilium” but not the name of the Council, although we tend to be more familiar with it. Uniformity would suggest the name of the Council, the name of the decree, the year and the DS number be presented in the Companion. At the same time, it is a happy juxtaposition to see Trent alongside Vatican II which illustrates both Catholic continuity and the harmony of the Church’s dogmatic heritage. While the editor had no choice in this matter, the visual effect is achieved in the Companion whereas the footnoting system in the Catechism hides it.

Translations are being produced in every age. Only scholars familiar with the technicalities of biblical, Patristic, philosophical, legal, and pontifical literature can judge their adequacy. The translations used in the Companion are quite common ones and credited in the Acknowledgements at the end of the book on pages 971-975. Happily no intrusive language jars the flow for the reader of the Companion, and current extravagances in the use of American English are not to be found.

The reader has to learn how to use the Companion to the Catechism after learning to use the Catechism. We all need more study, and this is the place to begin. If every pastor preached from these two books regularly, and if every Catholic was nourished from them, the intent of both books would be achieved. These books are meant to be together, but they are not the preserve of teachers or catechists to be consulted only for occasional reference. They belong on every shelf as a point of departure for a deeper reflection on the Faith.

Rev. Brian Van Hove, S.J.
Published in The Catholic Faith, 6/2 (March/April 2000): 49.

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