John Paul II's Christological catechesis
Jubilee 2000 Search


Angelo Amato, sdb

1.Catechesis as contemplation of the mystery of Christ

From 7th January 1987 to 19th April 1989 the Holy Father John Paul II gave extensive catechesis on the second article of the Creed: "I believe in Jesus Christ". It consists of 85 chapters of a Christological itinerary divided into eight stages:

a. Jesus Christ in the Old and New Testaments (1-13);

b. Jesus Christ Son of God (14-33);

c. Miracles as "signs" of Jesus' divinity (34-40);

d. Jesus Christ man among men (41-44);

e. The Church's faith in Jesus Christ (45-49);

f. Jesus Christ's mission (50-64);

g. Jesus Christ's sacrifice (65-76);

h. Jesus Christ's Resurrection and glorification (77-85).

In this exemplary magisterial work the Pope affirms that the definitive aim of all Christian catechesis is the mystery of Christ: "Catechizing is in a way to lead a person to study this mystery in all its dimensions...; to reveal in the person of Christ the whole of God's eternal design reaching fulfilment in that Person" (CGC 1, 2).

For the Pope the centre of divine revelation is the mystery of the Incarnation, that is, contemplation of Jesus Christ true man and true Son of God. It is a "truth which determines the essential newness of the Gospel and the entire originality of Christianity as a religion founded on faith in the Son of God made man for us" (CGC 13, 1).

2. Catechesis as the sequela Christi

An important characteristic of the Pope's catechetical discourse is its existential perspective. His catechesis is not only profound exegesis of a biblical fact, a careful examination of the Church's faith expressed in well-known Christological dogmas (cf. CGC n. 45-49) and a linguistic and conceptual adaptation to contemporary culture. It is above all teaching that faith is found in the following of Jesus, in obedient listening to his word, in the total abandonment of one's life to his Person and his truth.

In following Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life (cf. Jn 14:6), every believer follows a methodology of continual conversion, which leads him to full maturity in Christ. This was the method of Jesus – the Pope says –, who followed "the pedagogy chosen to lead the disciples gradually, as though taking them by the hand, to the mysterious heights and depths of his truth" (CGC 31, 1).

3. John Paul II's Christocentricity

This emphasis on Jesus the Lord of the Church and the universe and "the centre of mankind" (CGC 85, 7) is the fundamental characteristic of John Paul II's Magisterium. Correcting an exaggeratedly anthropocentric current common in the theology and catechesis of the seventies since the beginning of his Pontificate, he has tried to restore the mystery of Jesus Christ, Redemptor hominis, to the Church in all its splendour.

In his first encyclical, of 4th March 1979, Jesus is presented as the "centre of the universe and of history".

Jesus – the Pope would say some months later in Catechesi Tradendae (2nd October 1979) – is also the one teacher of the Church's catechesis, which must be re-focused on the "Person" of the Saviour and the mystery of his incarnation, passion, death and redeeming resurrection. In fact, the definitive aim of catechesis is "to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity".

Also his Marian piety and spirituality – see the encyclical Redemptoris Mater (1987) – go back to the original source, that is, to the mystery of Christ.

The three-year period (1987-89) the Pope dedicated to Christological catechesis on the second article of the Creed is part of this Christocentric theme. In the following decade, from 1989 to today, he has continued his work of bringing all Christian life back to Christ, from missionary activity to consecrated life, from morality to preparation for the Jubilee of the Year 2000.

Also the structure of his two moral encyclicals is Christocentric. In Veritatis Splendor (1993) he again affirms that it is "Jesus Christ, the true light that enlightens everyone" and that he is the teacher and guide of the moral behaviour of humanity. Even today every human being asks the same question the rich young man asked: "Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?".

The same can be said of Evangelium Vitae (1995), focussed on Jesus Christ, the life and giver of life to humanity and the universe. John Paul II's Christocentricity thus leads Christian morality back to its original source, encouraging the filial dynamics of assimilation to Christ in obedience to the Father. The horizon of human existence and action is, in fact, the reality of the Incarnation of the Son of God. Also the apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (1994) reflects this context of renewed Christological centrality in catechesis and evangelization: Christ is "the one Mediator between God and men" (TMA 4); he is "the Lord of the cosmos, and also the Lord of history" (cf. TMA 5); he is "the Lord of time; he is its beginning and its end" (TMA 10).

The Jubilee, as a propitious time for re-evangelization and maturation in the faith, must live from this inner Christocentric reality, which is essentially Trinitarian: "The thematic structure of this three-year period, centred on Christ, the Son of God made man, must necessarily be theological, and therefore Trinitarian" (TMA 39). Reflection will be centred on an in-depth study of "Jesus Christ, the one Saviour of the world, yesterday, today and for ever" (TMA 40).

Thus the year 1997, which marked the beginning of the preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, was "devoted to reflection on Christ, the Word of God, made man by the power of the Holy Spirit. The distinctly Christological character of the jubilee needs to be emphasized, for it will celebrate the Incarnation and coming into the world of the Son of God, the mystery of salvation for all mankind" (TMA 40).

John Paul II's undeniable and all-embracing Christocentric horizon is reaffirmed in the post-synodal exhortation Vita Consecrata (1996). Consecrated life is a life focussed on one value: the Person of Jesus. Tabor, with its Trinitarian horizon, becomes the parable of the sequela Christi as ascent to Trinitarian communion and descent in the daily sharing of the mystery of the Cross.

4. Christocentric catechesis and the General Directory for Catechesis (1997)

John Paul II's Christocentricity is also present in the new General Directory for Catechesis (GDC: 1997). This is how he explains its triple meaning:

"It means, firstly, that "at the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth". In reality, the fundamental task of catechesis is to present Christ and everything in relation to him. This explicitly promotes the following of Jesus and communion with him; every element of the message tends to this.

Secondly, Christocentricity means that Christ is the "centre of salvation history", presented by catechesis. He is indeed the final event toward which all salvation history converges. He, who came in the "fullness of time" (Gal 4:4), is "the key, the centre and end of all human history". The catechetical message helps the Christian to locate himself in history and to insert himself into it, by showing that Christ is the ultimate meaning of this history.

Christocentricity, moreover, means that the Gospel message does not come from man, but it is the Word of God [...]. Thus all that is transmitted by catechesis is "the teaching of Jesus Christ, the truth that he communicates, or, more precisely, the Truth that he is". Christocentricity obliges catechesis to transmit what Jesus teaches about God, man, happiness, the moral life, death etc. without in any way changing his thought" (GDC n. 98).

5. A renewed Christocentric catechesis

John Paul II's Christocentric teaching involves four aspects that present-day catechesis cannot and must not disregard.

In the first place, concentration only on the life of Jesus means that catechesis must be focussed more on the Person of Jesus in order to live the following and salvific experience completely.

Secondly, this communion with Jesus means that one sees in human history not a series of chaotic or absurd events, but the horizon of the saving presence of Christ, the sacrificed Lamb, who leads human history towards its fulfilment in the triumph of the heavenly Jerusalem.

Christocentricity also means transmitting all Jesus' teaching without changing anything, without false interpretative comments, so that it is He who is the real and only Teacher of Christian existence. It is what the Gospels do, which, precisely because they have an essentially Christocentric structure, are at the heart of the catechetical message.

Finally, if the aim of catechesis is to put the baptized in communion and in intimacy with Jesus, and bring this conformity to Christ to maturity, then catechesis takes on a strong spiritual connotation. Thus from being a school of knowledge and in-depth study of the mystery of Jesus, catechesis becomes a school of spirituality. And it is complete when it enables the disciple "to form the perfect Man fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself" (Eph 4.13).

With this spiritual dimension, ecclesial catechesis offers in the mystery of Christ a peerless spiritual heritage of truth, enlightenment and life.

This is the meaning of the Pope's invitation: "Throw open the doors to Christ".