by Giuseppe Frassinetti, 1982
Sect. I. The Importance of this Teaching.
1. Man's first and highest need is to know God, and the truths which He has revealed. Without this knowledge, life must pass unhappily in this world, and will end in eternal misery in the next. This first and highest need of man becomes of urgent necessity, as soon as the light of reason dawns upon the understanding. Hence, while all other kinds of instruction may be deferred till the child has advanced in years, instruction in the truths of religion must not be delayed. On this account the teaching of Christian Doctrine to children is of the highest importance, nay! of absolute necessity.Sect. II. On the Method to be observed in this Instruction.
2. Moreover we must consider that the tenderest age is the best suited for such instruction; for if the first ideas which are communicated to children, when they attain the use of reason, are Christian ideas, these will become, as it were, natural to them, and will remain profoundly impressed on their minds: they will seem to have been born Christians rather than to have been made Christians; nor in later years will they easily suffer those ideas to be altered or effaced. Christian instruction, begun with the first development of the understanding, and carried on afterwards, as it ought to be, with patient and diligent perseverance, is the surest guarantee we can have that the child will become a good youth and a good man.
3. For this reason, General Councils, the Supreme Pontiffs, and the Bishops have ever prescribed, by most earnest and vigorous precepts, that children should not be left without this instruction; and hence, also, men the most distinguished for learning and sanctity have always promoted it with indefatigable zeal, and have taken delight in making it their own personal care.
1. This instruction should be uniform. Hence children should be taught only an approved Catechism (ex. How to Teach Our Little One), and, if possible, made to learn it word for word. Moreover, a particular form of words is more easily retained, and keeps longer alive in the memory the substance or understanding of the things taught.Sect. III. The Maxims to be instilled into Children.
2. It is not meant, however, that the mere letter of the catechism is alone to be taught. Persons who are not instructed in theology should confine themselves to this, and content themselves with teaching the catechism as it stands, without expatiating on it or explaining it, because, as they are wanting in the necessary theological knowledge, they might very possibly teach grave error; but let those who are sufficiently instructed endeavor to dilate upon and explain it according to the children's capacity, in order that they may the better understand it, and that the truths which it contains may make a deeper impression on their minds.
3. But be careful not to think it always easy or desirable to explain too minutely to children the truths of Christian doctrine. This is not an easy matter, because in the mysteries of the Faith we cannot know all that we should like to know, but only what God has chosen to manifest to us. St. Athanasius said, in regard to the mystery of the Most Blessed Trinity, that we must be content to know just so much as the Church teaches us concerning it, and that the rest is Covered by the wings of the Cherubim. In like manner, as to the mystery of the Incarnation, in regard to Grace, and to all other mysteries, you must not attempt to give a reason for every difficulty that you meet with, or expect to understand and be able to explain everything. Neither is it desirable; for, even supposing that he who is teaching Christian doctrine be very learned, and capable of treating Catholic truths with profound depth and subtlety, still this would not be suitable for children, who are scarcely able to understand the subjects of primary importance, and that in a general way. Explain, therefore, Christian doctrine, but not too minutely, so that children may learn what is necessary, without having their minds confused rather than enlightened.
4. Another important caution is, not to touch on those objections which cannot be answered so as fully to satisfy the unformed intellects of children, nor on those difficulties which cannot be cleared away by evident, or, so to speak, palpable reasons, of which alone the minds of children are capable. Such knowledge as is important for all, should be given to children, and that with the greatest possible clearness and simplicity; they have not to confute heretics, nor to sit in the chair of the teacher. This caution is very necessary for clerical students, who are sometimes apt to set to work to teach children what they themselves are learning in the schools.
5. Children must be taught gradually, beginning with such things as are most necessary to be known, and proceeding from these to the rest; hence they ought not to be taught a multitude of things at once. For example, you should begin by teaching them the existence of God, His Attributes, the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, &c, and so lead them on from one subject to another without confusion. You must, however, it is true, often recur to the previous subjects, in order that they may not be forgotten. And here I would insist on the importance of so explaining the Divine Attributes that children may conceive a grand idea of God, and the grandest idea possible; for this grand idea will be of the utmost service in causing the maxims of the holy Love and Fear of God to make a great impression on their hearts. We know that the reason why God is so little loved and so little feared by many Christians is, because they have too little knowledge of His Goodness, and of His Greatness.
6. Remember that in teaching children you cannot expect the same success with all. Therefore, let those who are quick and bright, and have good memories, learn more; while you must be content that those who are slow and dull, and of feeble memory, should learn only those things that are really necessary. You will only lose time if you try to make dull children learn as many things as children of better capacity, and you will only puzzle them. Hence the prudent catechist will seek to instruct children of dull understanding only in such truths as are most important, and indispensably necessary for them to know.
1. Teaching children Christian doctrine should not be a bare, dry teaching of the truths of the Faith, such as to tell them: There is a God,--there is a Hell,--there is a Heaven,--there are seven Sacraments, &c.; but it should be a teaching full of life and vigor, which inflames the heart, at the same time that it enlightens the mind. This will be effected by teaching and explaining good Christian maxims; and I will here put down a few principal ones, by way of example. The first maxim is this;--that God has placed us in this world, not that we may eat and drink and amuse ourselves, &c., but that we may know Him, love Him and serve Him now, and afterwards enjoy Him in Heaven; you must thoroughly explain this fundamental maxim, and make children understand, that whoever does not live in this world for the end of knowing, loving and serving God and gaining Heaven, lives ill, and deserves to be removed from the world, just as a vine which does not bear grapes, or a fig tree which bears no figs, would deserve to be cut down and consumed.
2. That the grace of God is the greatest treasure, nay, the only real treasure that there is in the world; that, to preserve the grace of God in our hearts, we should throw overboard the whole world, if it were ours, and if it were necessary so to do in order to preserve the grace of God.
3. That the greatest evil is sin, which deprives us of the grace of God, and that it would be better to keep a live serpent in our bosoms than a mortal sin in our souls; and that, as he who should carry a live serpent in his bosom would be unable to eat or sleep, or amuse himself, from the fear that at any moment this serpent might sting him to death, so it should seem impossible that a person, who has ever so little faith, could eat, or sleep, or amuse himself, while he has on his soul a mortal sin, which at any moment might cast him into Hell; and so, if a child have the misfortune--the greatest of all misfortunes--to commit a mortal sin, he should immediately make a lively act of contrition, and then, as soon as possible, go and confess it.
4. That he who has wicked companions has no need of the devil to tempt him, that he may go to Hell; for it often happens that a wicked companion does more hurt to the soul than the devil himself. Moreover, unrestricted intercourse between boys and girls, if not evil, is always dangerous, and is displeasing to their Guardian Angels.
5. That it is far better not to go to Confession at all, than to make a bad confession by concealing sins. With this object, it would be well for you to bring forward some terrible example of badly-made confessions.
6. That they must exercise themselves in acts of the love of God, which, according to St. Teresa, are like the wood which maintains and increases in the heart the holy fire of God's love. And here it will be well to suggest to children the practice of making them often in the course of the day, such, for instance, as--"My God, I love Thee above all things"--"I love Thee, O Lord, with my whole heart." Theologians are of opinion, that as soon as children attain the use of reason they are bound to make acts of the love of God; yet, generally speaking, they are not instructed or incited to fulfill this duty, and, from the natural thoughtlessness of childhood, they themselves think but little of it. In order, therefore, that they may acquire the habit of making frequent acts of the love of God, it will be well for you to examine them from time to time as to this.
7. That a person, truly devout to our Blessed Lady, was never lost. And here I would exhort you carefully to instill into the hearts of children this tender and fervent devotion, teaching them ever to regard Mary as a most loving Mother, and to have recourse to Her in all their needs. Among other practices you might suggest to them the following easy and most fruitful devotion; that every morning and evening they should say three Aves, adding this short prayer--" Dear Mother, keep me from mortal sin. Dear Mother, let me rather die than offend God."
8. If such and similar maxims are instilled into the hearts of children and young persons, at the same time that you teach them Christian Doctrine, they will be easily trained to goodness and piety: and these maxims, being thoroughly impressed on their hearts in early years, will never be effaced in later life.
children Christian Doctrine should strive to acquire.
1. He who has to teach children must be patient, grave, and kind. He must, in the first place, be patient, because children, either from a heaviness of disposition, or from a rude up-bringing, or from thoughtlessness and levity, are often tiresome and difficult to manage. You must compassionate them: all the evil which is in them is not pure malice, and sometimes certain defects exist which you must put up with. Hence that Saint said well when he said to children: "Be wise, if you can." You must affect not to see many faults and acts of thoughtlessness, which after all are of no great consequence. When the faults are really considerable, you must take the opportunity of scolding them, or punishing them; but, if a child finds himself scolded and punished for every trifle, while he knows not how to avoid all these scoldings and punishments, he will begin to care for neither the one nor the other, and so will gradually become insensible, and therefore incorrigible.
2. You must preserve a befitting gravity, in order that the children may always have the necessary respect for their master, without which there will be neither attention nor profit. The Catechist, therefore, must always preserve a certain decorum of countenance and manner, in order that the children may respect him. This caution is especially necessary, even on other accounts, for all who teach children.
3. But gravity must not be separated from kindness, in order that children may take pleasure in being with those who teach them Christian Doctrine. If your manners are harsh and repulsive, you will alienate the minds of the children from your teaching, and the few who are present will soon grow weary, be distracted and learn nothing.
4. Those, however, who teach Christian Doctrine with true zeal, will never find themselves deficient in the requisite qualifications, for the love of God will teach them how to profit by all means and opportunities. Cultivate, therefore, a great love of God, reflect how important a thing it is to instruct the mind and form the heart of youth, and then you may hope for abundant fruit from your labors. In the eyes of some, those labors may appear of small esteem and little honor, because they are expended on children of tender age, and often of rude natures and low birth, but in the eyes of God, Who does not regard things with the prejudices of human vanity, they are of priceless value.