The Hierarchy of Truths
The Hierarchy of Truths
The Deposit of Faith – much like a house – exists according to a Hierarchy of Truths, wherein some truths are more foundational than other truths. The latter rest upon the former as the 2″ x 4″ studs constituting the frame of a home rest upon the concrete foundation and the plumbing. Before the frame is built, the concrete must be poured, and even before the pouring, the first pipes for the plumbing must be set in place. With regard to catechesis, the existence of a hierarchy of truths does not mean some truths are more true than others. Rather, it means that for an effective pedagogy (or, method of teaching), the catechist must lay the foundation first and teach the remainder of the deposit with the foundation always in mind, connecting the pieces.
5 Foundational Truths
In order for RCIA participants to get a solid hold on the Deposit of Faith, it is critical to show them how all of the truths are grounded in several foundational truths. These truths are contained in one significant paragraph within the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.” (CCC, #1)
These five foundational truths of revelation are invoked throughout the Catechism and provide a framework in which all doctrine finds its proper context. They are:
1. The Blessed Trinity: God is an eternal loving communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
2. The Person of Jesus: A divine person who took on human nature in the Incarnation
3. The Paschal Mystery: the suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ
4. The Dignity of the Human Person: made in the image and likeness of God
5. The Church: the Body of Christ brought to life in the Holy Spirit
Breaking It Down
Let’s take a look at each of these foundational truths individually.
The Blessed Trinity
All creation comes from the Trinity, receives its truth, goodness and beauty as a reflection of God’s nature, and finds its end in the Trinity. Therefore, it makes sense that all reality should be understood in terms of the Trinity. Human dignity flows from its being made in the likeness of the Trinity. Holy Matrimony participates in the inner life of the Trinity. Our being male and female reflects the Trinity (e.g., the Theology of the Body). Eternal life consists in living in the bosom of the Trinity.
The Person of Jesus
Pope John Paul II tells in in Catechesi Tradendae (On Catechesis in Our Time): “At the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth” (CT #5). Everything is summed up in Jesus. Everything must be taught in relation to him. The Mosaic Law prepared Israel for Jesus. Jesus is the center of history. Jesus is the fulfillment of divine revelation. Jesus makes the Father visible. Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit. Jesus governs over his Church as its invisible head. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. Mary’s importance flows from her relation to her Son.
The Paschal Mystery
The Paschal Mystery sheds light on every truth. It reveals God’s love for us. It is the means by which we are saved. Mary shared in Jesus’ suffering. The grace of the resurrection is communicated through the Sacraments. We share in Christ’s priesthood. It serves as the foundation of redemptive suffering. The Church is formed from the side upon the Cross. Jesus teaches us how to be self-less lovers from his work upon the Cross.
The Dignity of the Human Person
The dignity of the human person springs from the remarkable fact that, starting from the beginning, the sublime love among the three Persons of the Trinity, needing nothing else, nevertheless overflowed with a desire for other persons to share in their divine love. God crown creation with the creation of man. Being made in God’s image makes us capable of receiving his life through the salvation that flows from the Redemption. The Christian moral life flows from our human dignity. Holiness consists in being formed into the image of Christ, who is the eternal image of the Father.
God created the world for the sake of the Church. Jesus suffered, died, and rose from the dead in order to create and imbue the Church with his divine life. The Church is God’s chosen instrument of salvation and the dispenser of the Sacraments. Mary is the Mother of the Church. The Holy Spirit guides and animates the Church. The liturgy is the public worship of the Church and unites the Church in heaven with the Church on earth. God prepared Israel in the Old Testament to be united with the Gentiles in the Church. The Church safeguards the Deposit of Faith and faithfully hands it on from one generation to the next.
What Does This Mean Practically?
The ordering of teachings within the catechumenal process requires a firm understanding of the foundational truths and the way in which all other truths flow from them. These foundational truths, then, should be laid out at the beginning and referred back to during subsequent sessions. In this way, the catechist can provide participants with an overarching framework in which the entire Deposit of Faith can and must be understood.