ADAPTATION TO READERSAll men and women's oneness of purpose requires oneness of means to achieve it. Such are acceptance of the truths of faith, the practice of moral precepts and participation in the means of grace; in other words, acceptance of all that which forms the specific object of oral and written preaching.
However, the variety of people and the degree of their education and perfection demand that these same things be presented in a way that is suitable and fitting.
Now, in view of these differences, the people whom the apostle writer addresses may be classified into three main categories: beginners, proficient and perfect.
Beginners. As regards the press apostolate,
these are children in the faith, that is, infants who are taking their first steps in the Christian life: people in general, those who Saint Augustine targeted in his De catechizandis rudibus [Catechesis for Beginners]. To these we can add those non-believers who are taught by the Church as it advances on its journey through space and time.
Proficient. These are adolescents in knowledge: students on the way to the ecclesiastical state or a profession; young people and adults of average education or high social standing.
Perfect. These are ecclesiastics or lay people who undertake a full and deep study of religion.
Particular needs of the individual categories
Of the three categories the first and most in need of apostolate are, naturally, the beginners. In reality they make up the great mass of the faithful who need to have the bread of truth and the Christian life broken for them by means of catechetical instruction. At a rough guess you could say that of the two billion people alive, at least nine-tenths, that is, one billion eight hundred million (1.800.000.000) belong to this category.
These must be the preference of the apostle who, like the Divine Teacher, has the
mission to address himself in particular to the poor and the lowly: "evangelizare pauperibus misit me."1
After the beginners come the proficient. It is not their number so much as their quality that makes the apostolate addressed to them so important. We are talking here of one-twentieth of humanity, a minority, but counterbalanced by the fact that as regards their moral influence, that is, their social status, wealth and connections, they will be leaders in society.
It is not the great thinkers or the great writers who guide the masses, but opinion makers. Therefore, to guide them is like guiding generals in the army.
This is a most difficult group and the time when educators have experienced the greatest setbacks and delusions, as well as the greatest enthusiasm and the most stable results.
With proper instruction and guidance, the proficient - as a general rule - grasp religion better than beginners do, because theirs is a more suitable preparation. Indeed, this grounding in reasoning will lead them to a greater fidelity to God and to the practice of the "psallite sapienter."2
Lastly, there are the perfect. Here the apostle will continue the ongoing work of forming the "new man" in Jesus Christ, communicating truth, morals and grace in greater depth, "ut abundantius habeant."3 He will do this in such a way as to consolidate the rational basis of
their faith, develop the true meaning of life and of morals and help them to obtain the grace necessary for the particular circumstances of their life.
The importance of the religious formation of this elect group of people grows out of the need to win over for the Church the teaching part: the hierarchy of order and jurisdiction; the need to have a competent defense of the Catholic religion against the assaults of unbelief and heresy; the need, lastly, to win over minds, wills and hearts so as to form one great school of Catholicism.
What training the perfect means is to promote the various apostolates, the missions, the flower of Catholic thinking - all capable of implanting this new leaven, this indefectible life of Christ, into the whole of knowledge, civilization, the arts, customs, legislation, schools, the press... It means giving honor to God and to beseech him, through Jesus Christ, that all will become true sons and daughters of God.
It is true that what constitutes the object of the apostolate - Catholic faith, morals and worship - is the
same for all, but since each of these categories has different spiritual needs, the way to present [such teaching] will also be different.
In practical terms this means following a method. The "way, truth and life" method, used in a cyclical way, consists in giving to each group of persons a proportionate yet complete overview of the whole of Christian doctrine. Each group and class will have to have progressively set out the truths concerning faith, morals and worship adapted to its capacity and preparation. The whole could be likened to an upside down cone in which the vertex represents the basic notions necessary for the great mass of beginners. The middle section represents instructions useful for the proficient and the base those notions suitable for the perfect.
In this sense the "way, truth and life" method, used cyclically, can be said to be life-giving and natural. Life-giving because the aim is to give to every group and individual all they need in order to live out religion - faith, morals and worship. This is done progressively. It starts with general notions regarding the Creed, the Commandments and the means of grace. It continues by expanding these notions little by little.
It is a natural method in that it follows human beings in their development - physical, intellectual and moral. It considers the child as it is in reality: a small adult already gifted with a mind, a will and feeling. It follows him step by step in his development,
guiding him, in our case, to render complete homage of himself to God at all times.
This is the method that is generally followed in teaching; the one promoted constantly in the Church, both in theory and in practice. As regards theory it is to be found principally in Saint Thomas [Aquinas], the doctor of method, and in practice in many holy Pastors, principal among whom is the Doctor of Pastoral Care, Saint Gregory the Great who, in his teaching preceded from the easy to the difficult, from the known to the unknown.
Lastly, it is the method that lends itself better to the pastoral form, which is the one to be preferred to all the others because it is more effective and conforms better to the needs of ordinary people. Children, people, upright persons - even if they are highly educated - do not generally look for long and subtle arguments but are, on the contrary, lovers of simplicity. This is mirrored in God-filled good and simple people and in the testimony of human conscience, which is naturally Christian: "testimonium animæ naturaliter christianæ."4
1 * Cf. Lk 4:18: "He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. [He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed]."
2 * Cf. Ps 46:8 [47:7]: "[For God is the king of all the earth;] sing praises with a psalm!" Cf. also Col 3:16.
3 * Cf. Jn 10:10: "[I came that they may have life] and have it abundantly."
4 TERTULLIAN, Apol. XVII. * "Witness of a soul naturally Christian."