Home Page Faithful to the Magisterium Ubi Petrus, Ibi Ecclesia Write to Marty Why Catholic? Because True.
Marty’s Magazine Book Reviews Reflections on Eternity Reverence for the Sacred Mysteries of the Mass Basic Catholicism The Church Teaches St. John’s Gospel of Truth
by Martin K. Barrack
Copyright © 2001, Martin K. Barrack
Originally published in The Catholic Faith, Nov-Dec 2001. The magazine had to shorten it for reasons of space. This is the full version.
Précis of Official Catholic Teaching
by George Patrick Morse, J.D., K.G.C.S.G.
Catholics Committed to Support the Pope
9402 Stateside Court
Silver Spring, MD 20903
$135 plus $14 shipping (all twelve volumes, within the United States)
Précis of Official Catholic Teaching is a stunning achievement.
Every Catholic diocese, parish, and religious community absolutely needs a set
of these twelve books in its library.
In response to the heresies propagated in the wake of Vatican II, Pat Morse and his wife Margaret, with the enthusiastic support of Rev. Vincent P. Miceli, formed an apostolate, Catholics Committed to Support the Pope (CCSP), with a twenty year project to organize and summarize Catholic teaching on each of eleven subjects. Pat was the driving and organizing force. Margaret answered innumerable phone calls, made sure the correspondence got out, helped Pat deal with printers and bookbinders, helped package and mail bundles of books all over the world, and did every other kind of work needed to support CCSP.
Their greatest source of inspiration and guidance was the late Papal Theologian, Mario Luigi Cardinal Ciappi, O.P. When Pat and Margaret Morse first visited Rome, Cardinal Ciappi met with them, listened to Pat’s concept, encouraged and guided them. He provided vital support to CCSP for the rest of his life. The Curia moves with great deliberation; it takes a mentor of high rank to obtain the cooperation of so many heads of dicasteries, including the many Cardinals who wrote the prefaces.
I had the joy of reviewing in this journal’s Jan-Feb 2000 issue Pat Morse’s The Mass: Its Mysteries Revealed. It was impeccable in its fidelity to the Magisterium and penetrating in its insights, a small volume intended to spread accurate Catholic teaching on the source and summit of Catholic worship. Now my joy is increased a hundredfold at being able to review this twelve-book set.
Each of the twelve books in Précis of Official Catholic Teaching summarizes authoritative Church teaching documents during approximately the past 100 years on a particular subject.
I Faith, Revelation and the Bible
II Christ Our Lord, True God and True Man
III The Church
IV Marriage, Family and Sexuality
V The Sanctity of Human Life
VI The Social Teaching of the Church
VII The Ordained Priesthood
VIII Worship and Sacraments
IX The Christian Call to Personal Sanctification
X Catholic Education
XI Marian Devotions and the Last Things
XII Supplemental Magisterial Documents
Volume XII was reserved for Church teachings published after the respective volumes were completed. It is organized according to the preceding volumes, so that it begins with two documents that belong to Volume I, followed by a document that belongs to Volume II, and so forth. Since Pope John Paul II produced so many superb teaching documents, Volume XII consists mostly of his writings on a variety of subjects.
Our Lord taught, “You will know them by their fruits.” Précis of Official Catholic Teaching is very sweet fruit indeed. Archbishop George Pell of Sydney, Australia, writes in his preface to Volume XII: “It is a great honour to write the Preface for the concluding volume to this great work. The series provides a tremendous resource to priests, seminarians, and lay people and this last volume is no exception, concentrating as it does on the Magisterium of Pope John Paul II.”
Pope John Paul II in 1993 asked James Cardinal Hickey, late of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., to invest Pat Morse as a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory for his work on Précis of Official Catholic Teaching. The order was founded by Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846) in 1831 to honor loyal and meritorious gentlemen of the Papal States. St. Gregory the Great (sixth century) was a man of extraordinary holiness and an outstanding teacher of the Catholic faith. By the ancient documentation, a Knight is instructed in the uniform, with sword and decorations, including a beautiful medal with an image of St. Gregory at the center, all of which he is required to wear whenever he attends the Holy Father, the Apostolic Nuncio, or the Ordinary of his Archdiocese. In 1995 Pat Morse was elevated to Knight Grand Cross, the order’s highest civilian honor.
For her work on Précis of Official Catholic Teaching, at the same ceremony and also at the Holy Father’s request, Cardinal Hickey conferred on Margaret Morse the high papal honor of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (for Church and Pontiff). The beautiful medal is in the form of a cross, with figures depicted on it and on the ribbon. It was instituted in 1888 to mark the golden jubilee of Pope Leo XIII, and continues to be awarded as the sign of a Holy Father’s recognition of distinguished service to the Church and the Papacy.
In 1997 Cardinal Hickey awarded to Pat and Margaret Morse the Archdiocesan
Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle Medal for distinguished service to the Church in connection
It is the common teaching of the Church that we can never outdo Jesus in generosity. Pat and Margaret Morse, and all the distinguished theologians who worked with them, did all of their work without material compensation. We can only imagine the awards ceremony in heaven when Jesus presents the medals.
I was particularly interested in how Précis summarizes all these Catholic teaching documents. Faithful Catholics are so accustomed to thinking of each Vatican document as holy writ that we assume altering it would be a sacrilege. Rest assured, this time we can recall what Jesus told John the Baptist, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” After Pat Morse and his wife Margaret personally delivered the third volume to Pope John Paul II in 1993, the Holy Father told them, “Your work is very important to the Church; what you are doing is for future generations.”
As editor and publisher, Pat Morse personally planned and directed the Précis
project, with major work contributed by Dr. William E. May and Rev. Msgr. Peter
J. Elliott. Dr. May is a former member of the Vatican’s Theological Commission
and currently professor of moral theology at the John Paul II Institute for
Studies on Marriage and the Family in Washington, D.C. Msgr. Elliott was for
over ten years an official in the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family
and is now Episcopal Vicar for Religious Education in the Archdiocese of Melbourne,
Australia and a Permanent Fellow of the new John Paul II Institute in that city.
Dr. May and Msgr. Elliott captured the essence of each document by retaining
the exact language of all the important sentences while carefully paring away
extraneous comments. Theological advisers for the project are Most Rev. William
E. Lori, Bishop of Bridgeport,
CT., and Msgr. Elliott. In 1997, Cardinal Hickey awarded to Dr. May and Msgr.
Elliott the Medal of St. Dominic.
After the summaries were completed for each volume, they were submitted to the cardinal prefect of the responsible dicastery for approval. After the dicastery assured him that nothing of significance had been left out, Pat Morse edited, designed and published that volume. Pat and Margaret Morse then personally presented a copy of that volume to the Holy Father.
I made several random comparisons between the original and summarized versions. In all cases the summarized version was appreciably shorter and easier to understand as a whole. The amount of compression varied because some Vatican writers are more skillful wordsmiths than others, and some more prolix than others. Because the document’s exact wording was retained in each case, it can be safely quoted for books, magazine articles, speeches, lesson plans, etc. Compression was particularly useful where an encyclical digressed from its primary theme. Many social encyclicals contain political and economic analyses. Some hortatory encyclicals contain a lot of biographical material on saints. Some other encyclicals digress into tangentially related areas. The Pope does not intend to teach infallibly on these matters, so they engage his teaching authority in a very limited way. In general, the longer the document the greater the compression. Overall, Précis retains about two-thirds of the original encyclicals.
Cardinal Hickey observed in his forewords to several of the volumes: “It is an accurate summary of official Catholic teachings. Its compilers have rendered an important service in making these important documents accessible to a wide range of readers.” Catholic scholars know how difficult it has been to find and reach all of the Catholic teaching within the past hundred or so years on a particular subject. Pat Morse and his team designed a format and system that improves on the traditional arrangement at four levels. First, they placed all of the Vatican teachings on a particular subject in one volume. Second, within that volume they placed all the teachings in chronological order, which makes it easy to follow the development of doctrine. Third, each document is headed by a background statement that explains its circumstances and purpose. Fourth, within the document itself the substance is presented in “bullet” style without loss of significant information.
Dr. May proposed the eleven categories, with substantial aid from Cardinal Ciappi, Msgr. Elliott, and Pat Morse. They were particularly well chosen to cover the range of subjects important to Catholic life. However, to impose a reasonable limit on the number of categories, some subjects are necessarily excluded. For example, all of the Vatican II documents are present except Perfectae Caritatis, on the renewal of religious life, and Inter Mirifica, on the media and social communication, evidently because they did not fit into any of these eleven broad streams of Catholic teaching.
All told, with more than 2,500 pages of text organized and distributed among twelve volumes, the work was monumental.
Précis actually contains most of the history of Church teaching through encyclical letters. To understand why, let us briefly review the two thousand year history of Church letters.
The original Apostles, particularly St. Paul, used letters to keep in touch with far distant church communities. Twenty-one of these letters were included as part of the New Testament. After the Apostles passed into eternity, bishops often sent letters to one another, and sometimes to the faithful, to promote consistency in faith and discipline, especially about doctrines, feast-day celebrations, and liturgical calendars. The Bishop of Rome wrote epistles to bishops all over the world. He also received a great many letters from bishops all over the world and circulated them to other bishops.
The practice of circular letters fell into disuse during the Middle Ages, when the collegial bonds among bishops began to fray. The Holy See began to write letters to one bishop at a time concerning the affairs of his local diocese, and each diocesan bishop would in turn write only to the Holy See.
Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758), helped by widespread use of the printing press, revived the ancient tradition of the Pope writing a common letter to all the bishops of the world; modern collections of papal letters usually begin with his papacy. Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846) called these letters encyclicals, from the Latin encyclicus, circular, because they were intended for wide circulation. However, for papal letters published between 1740 and 1870, there was no agreement among scholars as to which were encyclicals. After Vatican I (1870) encyclical letters were clearly marked as such.
Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) restored an important characteristic of the early Christian circular letters. Encyclicals since 1740 had been primarily admonitions and exhortations regarding traditional issues; Pope Leo XIII addressed new substantive issues, such as Catholic social teaching. He wrote some seventy-five encyclicals, including such classics as Humanum Genus (1884) on Freemasonry, Rerum Novarum (1891) on Catholic social teaching, and Providentissimus Deus (1893) on Holy Scripture, and Annum Sacrum (1899) on consecration to the Sacred Heart.
During the twentieth century, Pope Pius X (1903-1914) wrote sixteen encyclicals, Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922) wrote twelve, Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) wrote thirty, Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) wrote forty-one, Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) wrote eight, Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) wrote seven, and Pope John Paul II has so far written thirteen. All the important encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII and the twentieth century Popes are in Précis.
Since 1740 the Popes have produced nearly three hundred encyclicals, most of no continuing pastoral or theological interest. Pope Benedict XIV’s Quod Provinciale (1754) to the Bishops of Albania on the use of Islamic names by Christians, and Pope Leo XIII’s In Amplissimo (1902) thanking the American bishops for their good wishes on his anniversary, address no pressing needs for the Church Militant of our day. Indeed, among the encyclicals written before Pope John Paul II, perhaps ten percent are currently studied by faithful theologians.
Many Catholics have heard a priest or teacher observe that Pope John Paul II is one of the greatest Popes during the two thousand year history of the Church and wondered why. His role in the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1989 alone would suffice. His remarkable influence on religious freedom, the culture of life, interreligious dialogue, and worldwide evangelization would suffice as well. Within the scope of this review, his encyclicals have been extraordinary in their importance. Pope Paul VI set the stage with Humanae Vitae (1968), a bold stand against contraception, but Pope John Paul II has written a remarkable number of encyclicals that have had a powerful impact on the Church, and also on non-Catholics via the public media, such as Laborem Exercens (1981) and Centesimus Annus (1991) on Catholic social teaching, Veritatis Splendor (1993) on the splendor of the truth, Evangelium Vitae (1995) on the value of human life, Ut Unum Sint (1995) on ecumenism, and Fides et Ratio (1998) on the unity of faith and reason. Pope John Paul II has written encyclicals that have attracted only minor attention, such as Slavorum Apostoli (1985) on evangelization of the Slavic peoples, but his overall impact is astonishingly high. Because nearly all of the important teaching encyclicals began with Pope Leo XIII, Précis covers most of the history of Church teaching through encyclical letters.
Pope John Paul II’s encyclicals deserve special explanation. The Holy Father does not simply make a statement supported by persuasive arguments. Instead, using phenomenological analysis, which emphasizes careful description, John Paul II often approaches the same question from several different angles within a single document. He describes, thinks, judges, and then repeats the cycle often with only a slight variation. He also freely integrates insights from philosophy, theology, anthropology, and other disciplines. All this can be hard to follow for the reader who has not had seminary training. Most lay readers recognize his brilliant insights but find it hard to follow their logical development.
This phenomenological approach makes Pope John Paul II’s encyclicals much longer than the encyclicals of earlier Popes but also allows greater compression. John Paul II writes very deeply, with subtly embedded shadings of philosophical and theological insight. The highest Catholic scholars can see all this in his original texts, but most Catholic clergy and laity will find that the compression helps them see the encyclical’s overall message amid the strands of rigorous logic.
The phenomenological approach is also a clue to Pope John Paul II’s personal authorship of many of his encyclicals. Every Pope is assisted by the responsible dicastery in producing his encyclicals. In most cases the dicastery writes the encyclical according to the Holy Father’s instructions and submits it for his approval. The Holy Father makes changes as necessary and signs the final version. This is all highly confidential; the Pope’s signature makes it his encyclical. However, in Pope John Paul II’s case, his phenomenological approach and distinctive writing style make it possible to conclude that he pretty much writes his own encyclicals.
Pope John Paul II had said in his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis (1979), that Vatican II was a providential event and that he is committed to implementing it. His encyclicals put great emphasis on the Vatican II documents, especially Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, and Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. In addition, John Paul II often quotes or cites Scripture in his encyclicals, overwhelmingly from the New Testament, especially The Gospel According to St. John and the Letter to the Romans. In the Old Testament, he most often quotes Genesis chapters 1 through 4. John Paul II generally lets Scripture speak for itself, without reference to historical or critical exegesis. He also refers often to the Church Fathers, especially St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, and also to the Doctors of the Church.
Encyclicals are not divinely inspired and do not contain new revelation, but they are authoritative teaching instruments from the Vicar of Christ. In descending order of formal authority, the papal documents are: apostolic constitutions, encyclical letters, encyclical epistles, apostolic exhortations, apostolic letters, letters, and messages. An encyclical letter is written for the whole Church, while an encyclical epistle is directed toward part of the Church, e.g., bishops or laity in a particular country, leaders of religious orders, priests, etc.
Précis will foreseeably be the high water mark in accessibility for Church documents in paper form for a long time. The whole set takes up less than 8½ inches of bookshelf space. Pretty impressive for a hundred years of major Vatican documents. Because it is currently up-to-date, Précis will not need updating for at least four or five years. After that, plans are to either include new summarized documents in the relevant volume when supplies run out and it has to be reprinted, or to add another volume as appropriate. However, Pat and Margaret Morse are both 84 years old, full of years and honors. Let us pray that they remain active for many years to come.
Although Précis of Official Catholic Teaching was approved at the highest level of Church authority, there will be purists who decry it as altering the documents originally signed by the Popes or heads of dicasteries. No need to fret. The originals are still available, and serious Catholic libraries will have them as well as Précis. But I expect even the purists will use Précis’ rigorous organization of the documents to find what they are looking for and then take the full document from the library shelf for quotation.
Précis of Official Catholic Teaching and the Catechism of the Catholic Church are both summaries of authoritative Catholic teaching, but they are not at all comparable. The Catechism of the Catholic Church contains only 45 direct quotations from encyclicals. The Catechism is concerned with the profession of faith, the celebration of the Christian mystery, life in Christ, and Christian prayer. It devotes, by my count, only thirteen of its nine hundred pages, less than two percent, to Catholic social teaching. However, more than twenty percent of Pope John Paul II’s encyclicals have been on Catholic social teaching. So the Catechism of the Catholic Church is not a substitute for Précis of Official Catholic Teaching.
The best way to order a set of the twelve Précis volumes is to make a check to “CCSP” for $149 and mail it to Catholics Committed to Support the Pope, 9402 Stateside Court, Silver Spring, MD 20903. An address to which the Précis volumes should be shipped would also be helpful. Pat and Margaret Morse fill all the orders themselves. If they are traveling when the letter arrives, they will fill the order when they return.
On March 28, 2001, Cardinal Estévez, Cardinal Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, published Liturgiam authenticam, on the use of the vernacular languages in the books of the Roman liturgy. It is the harbinger of more accurate translations of the sacred liturgies as compared with the Latin typical editions, long awaited by faithful Catholics. Pat Morse has reprinted Volume VIII, on Worship and Sacraments, to include Liturgiam authenticam in full. Owners of the existing set who wish to obtain the reprinted Volume VIII may request a copy together with a check for $16.50 (including shipping within the United States) to CCSP as above.
About four thousand copies of the twelve volume set are already on bookshelves in more than forty-five countries throughout the world. Every Catholic diocese, parish, and religious community needs a set of Précis in its library. Certainly every ordained bishop, priest or deacon should own a set kept near his writing desk. Every Catholic catechist who teaches other catechists needs a set as well. Catechists who teach RCIA or adult-ed or CCD classes should also have a set. If there are enough copies of Précis and the Catechism of the Catholic Church around, we can drive the heresies propagated in the wake of Vatican II back into the darkness from which they came.
Copyright © 1999-2010 Martin K Barrack. All rights reserved.