In the spring of 1965, some months before Corpus Christi Catechetical Institute opened, Fr Peter de Rosa, who was to be the Vice-Principal, published a statement about how the College saw itself and its work. This was printed in The Tablet on 1st May 1965. I include a part of this statement below; you can read the whole text on-line. It makes very interesting reading and, to the unsuspecting, seems to present a very credible and exciting prospectus. I have inserted a couple of comments of my own, in brackets, into the text.
“It is worth recalling that the First Vatican Council drew up a decree—in the event not promulgated because of the suspension of the Council—for the publication of a universal catechism. Such a decree would, without doubt, be a subject of unsympathetic comment in educational circles at the present time. The desire for a universal catechism is about as respectable as Leibnitz's project for a characteristica universalis, a perfect, all-problem-solving language.
(With hindsight, this rejection of the notion that there should be a Catechism is very worrying. The reasons expressed in the following three short paragraphs are arguable, but the seeking of new methods was to be aligned, by Corpus Christi College, with the seeking of a new content to the Church’s teaching. To what extent was this already envisaged by the new staff as they prepared for the opening of the College in four months time.)
In the first place, the old catechism method of question and answer, a method which is formal, abstract and unscriptural, was scarcely calculated to touch the hearts of children and make them respond to Christ's loving invitation to them to be his friends.
The custom once in vogue of simply dividing up a uniformly written catechism and insisting that the younger pupils learn the earlier, and the older pupils the later parts of it, took no cognisance of the different stages of psychological development through which all children pass.
Further, people of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds require a quite different presentation of the Christian message. It is not a simple matter of language: it involves a radical rethinking of concepts and a like remoulding of the images and the symbols which are for them the vehicles of understanding.
(“Radical rethinking of concepts”, “remoulding of images”: what really was understood here by the writers of this text? And, where had the request for such notions come from? And, to whom would they be accountable for their results?
Also, I heard an echo of this determined rejection of the need for a Catechism in 1994. Bishop Konstant had asked Clare Richards – wife of the former priest Hubert Richards – to speak to the clergy of the Leeds Diocese about the new Catechism, which had then just been published. She told them that she thought that “it would have a shelf-life of four years”. Her opinion reflects the same reality.)
The new college must attempt to present the Christian message as an organic whole — even the youngest child needs a global picture of the faith—and as the gradual telling of the story of God's saving action in history, the climax of which is the Passover death-and-resurrection of Jesus. But it has the task also, as a higher institute, of utilising the latest findings of child and religious psychology and of investigating how best to present the gospel to modern Anglo-Saxons. Whilst we have benefited immensely from the researches and writing of continental scholars, we cannot allow them to do all our thinking for us: their thoughts are not our thoughts and their temperaments decidedly not ours. English-speaking, English-feeling clerics have the right to demand that, if the old catechism method of question and answer is to be relinquished, whatever methods replace it should be conducive to the mental discipline and the sober practices which, for better or worse, we want to cling to, methods that can, besides, be employed with success by ordinary teachers and do not require the special talents of an archangel.
The students of the new college will have the incalculable blessing of daily Mass, followed by a lunch taken together. In the Eucharist they can participate in the sacrificial meal which builds up the Christian community. Their eating together afterwards is not a mere matter of convenience but a direct sharing in the communal life whose holiest fount is the Eucharistic Christ.
This complete participation of all in the life of the college will be the major concern. To ensure success, the whole institute, professors and students, must be engaged continually in a learning process, learning how to improve on past performances, progressing by kind and mutually beneficial criticism. Regular self-study circles will be held so that the suggestions of everyone can be listened to and judged and, if they are thought to be wise and opportune, acted upon. (I’m sorry, but this really does suggest a project of ‘brain-washing’ was being planned.) Thus the principles of social psychology will reinforce a basic conviction that the teaching of Christian doctrine must ever proceed from, and illuminate in its turn, the experience of communal Christian living. Corpus Christi College will be effective by producing not psychotics masquerading as saints, but integrated men and women who are committed to the social purposes of the Body of Christ and who have found themselves as individuals in their reverent service and love of others. The first year's syllabus, which has just been published consists of three sections: theology (the study of the good news of salvation); anthropology (the study of man who receives the good news of salvation); and methodology (the study of the means of communicating the good news of salvation).
In addition to the two residents, Fr. Richards (who teaches scripture) and Fr. De Rosa (the philosophy of man), twenty lecturers are already under contract to give courses on subjects in which they specialise. From abroad will come men like Fr. Bouyer to lecture on "Liturgy and Holiness," Fr. van Caster from the Lumen Vitae in Brussels to lecture on "The Structure of Catechetics" and "Religious Anthropology." From among English professors the college will draw on Fr. Charles Davis, recently appointed to a chair of dogmatic theology at Heythrop, and Frs. Howell and Crichton, the well-known liturgists. Fr. O'Doherty will come from Dublin to teach "General Religious Psychology," and Fr. Enda McDonagh from Maynooth to teach" The Theology of Morals."
Such famous visitors will ensure that the college, even in its infancy, will cast some Pentecostal fire upon the earth. They were invited because their joyous presentation of the good news of salvation makes it seem always good and always news.”
(The legacy of Corpus Christi College cannot be understood as “Pentecostal fire”. But, what was really intended, at the outset, by the original staff of the College, and were they clear about that amongst themselves?)