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Clash of the Catechisms, pt. 2

Author’s Note: this series endeavors to correct the historical record and encourage Catholic parents and educators with a sure sign of hope for the future. Part I demonstrates the public rupture in the catechetical manuscript tradition over the past sixty years, while Part II offers a critical review of the new catechism Credo within this same manuscript tradition.


As shown in Part I, a dispassionate review of the Catholic manuscript tradition reveals that the “catechism crisis” of our time is not rooted in a simple failure to teach effectively. Rather, it stems from a highly effective effort to teach error, largely by way of bad catechisms.

Public results are seldom lacking. As we continue the Christmas cycle, one recalls a Texas bishop lighting the menorah at a Hanukkah ritual he helped organize—an act maintained in all catechisms as intrinsically evil (if not grounds for excommunication[1]) before 1962, but permitted or encouraged in nearly every one published since.

Days prior, a motu proprio required that sacred theology “not be limited to abstractly re-proposing formulas and schemas of the past.”[2] While one searches in vain to discover what “formulas and schemas” are here intended (the Apostles’ Creed, perhaps?), there appears no end to the doctrinal dumpster fire in Rome, with the Vatican now issuing a “real development” to allow for the conferral of priestly blessings on sodomitical couples. (Gender nonconforming throuples and polyamorous quartets seem to have been discriminatorily overlooked in the document; an oversight that will perhaps be addressed in a future development of the development.)

In place of a catechesis bound to communicate beliefs and behaviors “marked by universality, antiquity, and harmony,”[3] we are now exhorted “to a turning point, to a paradigm shift, to a courageous cultural revolution.”[4] As previously shown, this shift is already sixty years underway.

For this reason, we must carefully examine the newest catechism to issue from the Catholic episcopate: Credo: Compendium of the Catholic Faith (2023). The author claims it is “a guide to the changeless teaching of the Church,”[5] but compared against the prior manuscript tradition, do such claims hold water?

Authorship & Authority

Credo is authored by Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan, with its first edition appearing under the imprimatur of the English-language publisher’s local bishop—typical for works of religious instruction. It is therefore the first such canonically-approved work to be issued by an individual bishop in over fifty years.

However, it must be observed that Credo is not an official catechism in the restricted sense, as it has not been formally imposed as normative within a given territory (at least, not as of this writing). However, Credo could be adopted in such manner in the future, as it expresses the doctrine of a Catholic bishop in good standing, authorized to preach and teach in virtue of his episcopal office. Furthermore, it has been officially approved as free from error in faith or morals, and subsequently endorsed by several other bishops as an effective and reliable instrument for learning and teaching the Faith.

As such, Credo may be held as an expression of the Church’s ordinary teaching office, exercised by her living bishops. Like every catechism before, it is not infallible in itself, but contains infallible propositions and expresses the authentic magisterium, purportedly “entire and incorrupt.”[6] In virtue of this authorship and canonical status, Catholics should be able to hold up Credo and say: “This is the teaching of the Church.”

Nevertheless, given our decades of positively disastrous “officially approved” catechisms, we must inquire further.

Scope & Sequence

For being “a comprehensive summary of Christian doctrine,”[7] Credo’s manageable size—under 350 pages of body text—is fairly remarkable. It employs the concise and readable Question-and-Answer form common to most Catholic catechisms, and does not obfuscate or mince words; its propositions are direct and clear. Its overarching threefold structure is familiar and straightforward: Faith, Morals, and Worship, expounding on the creed, commandments, and means of grace, respectively.

The linguistic form is generally excellent, displaying the Romanitas characteristic of so many prior works: noble diction, paired with a tight logical flow concerned primarily with categorical truths and principles. However, the sequence of ideas in Credo can be awkward in places, as some Questions are explained across multiple pages or chapters—a challenge inherent to all systematic works. Fortunately, the book’s formatting admirably meets the difficulty with a detailed Table of Contents and exhaustive Index. Given its primary audience—lay Catholics eager for clear doctrine[8]—such apparatus would seem critical.

Now, the rub: amid the catechism crisis of recent decades, does Credo’s doctrinal content harmonize with the prior catechetical manuscript tradition of the Church?

Content & Continuity

The predominant fault of most postconciliar catechisms is a marked shift in terminology and semantic range: innovations that suggest (if not openly declare[9]) to the reader that something has changed; that Catholicism today differs in some significant way from what came before.

By contrast, Credo makes a careful study of honoring the catechetical legacy of the past: not descending into lexical innovation, minute theological attenuation, or pastoral experimentation, while repeatedly affirming “fidelity to Sacred Tradition [as] essential for right faith[10]—a decidedly Catholic principle, if there ever was one.

On the four propositions raised in Part I, Credo reads like most any catechism before the postconciliar “transmission failure:”[11] The inspiration, inerrancy, and historicity of Scripture are clearly articulated;[12] the nature of the Church and its necessity for salvation is thoroughly explained;[13] all “disordered use of the sexual faculties”[14] is condemned; and (as in every preconciliar text on the subject) active participation in non-Catholic worship is maintained as sinful.[15]

Other treatments in Credo include such bracing echoes of prior teaching as to possibly surprise someone grown numb within a vaunted “shifting paradigm of church.”[16] Unattenuated religious freedom is held as “a grave error”[17]—a constant teaching of the Church whose wisdom is made clearer with every passing December in the United States, as public displays of Satanism continue under state and federal statute. Amid today’s rampant (often clinical) violations of the fifth commandment, one is edified to find Credo following other classic manuals by including scandal and mortal sin in its treatment here, since such forms of “spiritual murder”[18] are “a more dreadful calamity than the death of all mankind.”[19]

The nature and proper gravity of sin (conspicuously absent in many postconciliar texts) is apparent throughout Credo.[20] Its insightful treatment of conscience leaves no room for relativism or self-will, while a sensitive appraisal of scrupulosity is offered for those tempted to undue rigorism, leaving readers “trusting in [God’s] superabundant love and mercy.”[21] The Catholic creation doctrine,[22] the folly of atheism,[23] the absolute need for a Redeemer,[24] and dozens of other explanations read as if lifted from the best works in the catechetical tradition of the Church.

In addition, the Church’s perennial moral precepts are brought to bear on many contemporary issues, each in its logical place: “Gender ideology” appears in the chapter on Christian anthropology; various forms of “environmental idolatry” and “transhumanism” are addressed in the chapter on Creation; synodalism, schism, and sedevacantism are explained in the chapter on the Church, etc.

As a result, what emerges from the pages of Credo is a Catholic self-understanding that is both internally coherent and historically consistent with itself: as if what was believed and practiced in the Church of yesterday maintains a real bearing—indeed, a moral binding force—upon Catholics today. For this reason, as one scholar has succinctly stated, Credo must now compel a comparison: “Either Credo articulates the authentic Catholic doctrine—that is, it is true—or it is not. … [But] to condemn Credo would thus be to affirm, in a public manner, that Church teaching has changed.”

Controversy & Objections

Of course, such is the base claim of Credo’s sundry critics. Some doctrines have “developed,” they maintain—perhaps even into their opposite—thus rendering Credo (and all preconciliar catechisms, presumably) the work of “an evil heretic,” “deeply flawed,” and even “hateful, heretical trash.” Given the current ecclesiastical landscape, such charges could serve as salient warnings or ringing endorsements; but they certainly highlight the manuscript rupture of the past half-century. We might engage a few such critiques in catechetical form:

Is Credo just the author’s private opinion? No. Bishops don’t issue systematic texts of religious instruction under imprimatur as “private opinions.” Credo is an authoritative summary of Catholic doctrine by a bishop in good standing, officially maintained as free from error.

Don’t we already have the CCC? Yes, and it has many excellent qualities. It was also written thirty years ago, for bishops, in order to stimulate the creation of other derivative texts, suited to the needs of the faithful in a given context. Credo fits that bill.

Is Credo incomplete? Yes, of course it is. There are four-volume catechisms that are incomplete.[25] The Deposit of Faith extends well beyond any single text; the question is how effectively any one catechism articulates that Deposit.

Is Credo just a long, reactive diatribe? No. It is a comprehensive presentation of Catholic faith and morals, engaging contemporary issues along the way. Such is the task of every bishop (see 2 Tm 4:2), and if this is “reactive,” one could use a bit more of it in the Church.

Does Credo contradict the CCC and Vatican II? Since the documents of Vatican II, the CCC, and Credo are all officially maintained as free from error, the “hermeneutic of continuity” would deem any apparent contradiction a simple mistake of perception. Unless, of course, one is theologically and juridically competent to declare an essential irreconcilability among them, with some governing standard by which each can be measured.

Is Credo ambiguous on human dignity? No. “Human dignity” is itself a multivalent phrase, and Credo plainly expounds its proper application: It affirms that every human person has a basic value or ontological dignity,[26] but that each person achieves theological-moral value in the eyes of God only through His grace.[27]

Is Credo antisemitic, islamophobic, bigoted, or hateful? No. It affirms the insufficiency of Judaism (as well as Islam, Buddhism, and other false religions) for salvation, and the dire consequences of all mortal sin. If this is “hateful,” so is the Gospel.

Does Credo redefine schism vis-à-vis the pope? No. It does not quote the juridical terms of Canon Law, but “refusing to recognize the Supreme Pontiff or have canonical communion with him”[28] is a sound theological definition in the author’s own words, and far from “redefinition.”

Does Credo undermine papal authority? No. It plainly supports and maintains both, while explaining time-honored principles (and historical cases) whereby it may become “permissible and sometimes obligatory” [29] for a Catholic to reject a certain teaching or command of a given hierarch.

Is Credo intended to form a new, parallel “church of the perfect”? No. Since it repeatedly asserts the opposite—even in the opening pages—one would need an unusually rich imagination to claim such intent, and a native clairvoyance or mystical hierognosis to prove it. Credo is a Catholic catechism, from the Catholic episcopate, written for Catholics.

Does Credo foster division and disunity? No. It promotes unity in the truth of Christ, which is ever a sword division (see Mt 10:34-35). Such texts are not designed to present a doctrinal minimum upon which the maximum number may find comfortable agreement, but to present divine truth with maximum clarity; that others may perceive it, assent to it, and find salvation in His Church.


Although we remain heirs to an ongoing catechism crisis of staggering proportions in the Church, the confused Catholic and non-Catholic may take solace in the publication of Credo: Compendium of the Catholic Faith. Like a monument on a hill, it offers a contemporary and enduring account of the Faith of our Fathers, in manifest continuity with the venerable catechisms of the past. As I maintain elsewhere:

Credo represents a masterful reclamation of the catechetical manuscript tradition: a righting of the episcopal ship, a reconnection of the disjointed tracks from which the magisterial train seemed to have jumped years ago. It is a testament to the indefectibility of the Church and the continuation of the apostolic doctrine in the Church’s living hierarchy.

To Catholic parents and teachers of the future, Credo will offer something further: an artifact of clarity from a dark and confusing period.

One can imagine a child’s Church history lesson, centuries from now: “See Johnny, some bishops held fast to the teaching of Jesus, even during this hard time. Christ was still leading His Church in those days of confusion, just as He did back in the 4th century, when most of the hierarchy taught error about Him. In fact, there was a very important bishop back then…

…His name was Athanasius.”

Credo: Compendium of the Catholic Faith
By Bishop Athanasius Schneider
Sophia Institute Press, 2023
Hardcover, 432 pages


[1] By the fifth century, the Apostolic Canons decreed: “If any Christian brings oil into a temple of the heathen or into a synagogue of the Jews at their feast, or lights lamps, let him be excommunicated.”

[2] Pope Francis, Motu Proprio Ad Theologiam Promovendam, no. 1.

[3] Pope Clement XIII, Encyclical In Dominico Agro, no. 3.

[4] Francis, Ad Theologiam Promovendam, no. 4.

[5] Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Credo: Compendium of the Catholic Faith (Manchester: Sophia Institute Press, 2023), p. xxiii.

[6] Credo, p. xxiii.

[7] Credo, back jacket.

[8] See Credo, p. xxiii.

[9] E.g., the priest-authors of A New Catholic Catechism (1970) exclaim: “Why shouldn’t we discuss the transformation of a once high and haughty Church? … It might help the layman realize how restraining is the ecclesiastical umbilical cord that controls his mind’s nourishment and his soul’s direction” (pp. 18, 21).

[10] Credo, p. 133, my emphasis.

[11] Recalling the woeful observation of Pope Benedict XVI: “In the post-conciliar period the concrete transmission of the contents of the Christian faith was not achieved.”

[12] See especially pp. 3–5, 21–22.

[13] See especially pp. 72–108.

[14] Credo, p. 192.

[15] Ibid., p. 34. See also the treatments on superstition and irreligion, pp. 172–174.

[16] A Radical Guide for Catholics (1992), p. 3.

[17] Credo, p. 104. See also pp. 105–106.

[18] Ibid., p. 186.

[19] Ibid., p. 154.

[20] See especially the treatment on p. 156 quoting John Henry Newman, which begins: “It would be better for the whole universe to be destroyed, than to attempt to save it by committing even one venial sin.”

[21] Credo, p. 127.

[22] See especially pp. 20–30.

[23] See especially pp. 7, 14–15.

[24] See especially pp. 32–36, 58–60.

[25] E.g., the famous Catechism of Perseverance by Abbé Gaume.

[26] A further qualifying phrase that the publisher says has been added by the author for even greater clarity in the next reprinting of the English edition.

[27] Such a familiar point of Catholic doctrine should need no defense, but a more recent one may be found here.

[28] Credo, p. 79.

[29] Ibid.

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