From the beginning of time, people have used the arts to teach and express beliefs. There are many forms this has taken, but the two I will focus on in this essay are Music and Literature. Both Music and Literature are wonderful Theological teaching tools.
The Church in her wisdom has always incorporated music into teaching and expressions of faith as evidenced by the Psalms and Canticles within Sacred Scripture, and the many hymns and songs used by the Church today. Music can be used when teaching the faith in a parish presentation for RCIA or Youth Education. In LifeTeen at our parish, we utilize Music to convey the message of the teaching we are covering, or to enhance the spiritual environment. Praise and Worship music can be used to uplift and energize the faithful or to calm and assist in meditation. The Hymns and Songs that pertain to different Theological themes is endless. I have to say that one of the things we can learn from our Protestant brothers and sisters, is their wisdom in using music and singing as a very effective teaching tool with the littlest of our Christian family. I was raised Protestant and remember probably all of the songs that we sang in VBS and Sunday school. Songs about Daniel and the Lion’s Den, The Battle of Jericho, This little light of Mine (taken from Matthew 5:15), and even songs meant for memorizing the books of the bible, etc. Even when I was a teen, during our teen Church meetings we would sing songs like, “Hear oh Israel, the Lord they God is one God….Thou Shalt Love the Lord they God with All of thine Heart” (Taken from the first commandment and Matthew 22:37). The Theological concepts can be appreciated in one of my favorite songs “Jesus is Lord, My Redeemer”. The song lyrics speak of Jesus’ death and resurrection, His divinity, our redemption, and the belief in His return:
“Jesus is Lord, my redeemer How He loves me, how I love Him He is risen, He is coming Lord, come quickly! Alleluia!”
I will never forget the lessons I learned from the songs sung in worship and I thank those that taught them to me.
As far back as the origins of Gregorian chants and other forms of Catholic musical praise, the Catholic Church has always stressed the power and importance of musical worship. I have written recently in a discussion regarding my favorite Eucharistic song, “Remembrance” by Matt Maher. This song conveys the unifying or communal nature of the Eucharist and points to this celebration as a universal gift for all:
“None too lost or afraid,
None to broken or ashamed,
All are welcome in this place.”
The faithful are able to grasp concepts pertaining to the Eucharist, without even knowing the technological definition of it.
Music is used in the Liturgy, in Adoration, and in prayer. It teaches, elevates, and inspires.
To further stress the value of Catholic music, the Roman Catholic Church named St. Cecilia the patroness of Catholic musicians and Catholic music, with her feast day on November 22.
Another very important “other foundation” of Catholic Theology is literature. I can say for sure that Literature is the leading teaching tool used by countless Catholic Theologians and Scholars to teach the tenants of the Catholic faith to the young and old, the scholarly and not so scholarly. I, in fact, remember well the first time I read “Rome Sweet Home” by Scott Hahn. This was the beginning of my conviction in the area of Catholic Theology regarding Marriage and Family and led me to discover the richness of the late John Paull II’s Theology of the Body.
He is very gifted in his ability to take the technological meaning of Catholic Doctrine, and convey it in ways that connect to what is happening in the world around us, and in our own lives.
The types of literature that can be used in teaching the Catholic faith are endless. There are even different types of Literature just within the Bible. According to the American Bible Society (2015), the many forms include laws and rules, history, poetry and songs, wisdom sayings and proverbs, Gospels, letters, and apocalyptic writings and other forms of literature describe sections within a book, such as prose narrative, prayers, parables, prophesies (oracles), and long family lists (genealogies). Of the many theological books that I have read, my favorite are in the form of scholarly journals, such as Scott Hahn’s Letter and Spirit, or that mix theology with true life stories of conversion or life in general. Another form that I enjoy and is great for teaching is the periodical prayer and meditation books, such as The Magnificat, that combines poetry, hymns, biblical verse, and prayers, and even includes short essays and commentaries on Catholic Art. If we look back in time we can see the depth of great Catholic literature and literary giants that the Church has produced. From St. Augustine to Dante, Pascal, Manzoni, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Sigrid Undset, Bernanos, Tolkien, Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor, Sienkiewicz, Calderon de la Barca, Hilaire Belloc, Fr. Ronald Knox, Fr. Robert Hugh Benson, G.K. Chesterton, Shakespeare, Edwin O’Connor, Ralph McInerny, Fr. Thomas Merton (The Catholic Thing, 2014). Many of these works are focused on deep theological themes, and many of them deal with difficult philosophical ideas. Some works are written in ways that can be better understood by the faithful, and connect the technical theological meaning to daily life. Some even use fantasy to convey moral teachings and theological truths.
Tolkien is my favorite Catholic Fiction author and his work is excellent for use in teaching theology for all ages. He does not use as directly correlating characters as C.S. Louis, but the deeply philosophical and moral character of his work is unmistakable. He is able to teach moral truths without one even realizing that they are being taught. The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit are among my favorite of Tolkien’s. He paints a beautiful picture of the spiritual realities that occur all around us, unseen. One theological and philosophical theme that occurs in his work is the idea of self-gift and reciprocity that is grounded on the teaching of the many Theological Scholars of the Church, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, then later by St. Pope John Paul II.
The use of these “other foundations” of Catholic Theology, provide a means to connect the technological meaning of Catholic doctrine to the life of the faithful. In this way we are able to increase understanding of Catholic Doctrine and open up a deeper spiritual experience for those we teach. In order for the people to experience a true conversion, the teaching of the Church must be able to penetrate not only their minds, but their hearts. Use of the “other foundations” make this true conversion of the heart possible.
americanbible.org, ed. “Http://bibleresources.americanbible.org/resource/different-Kinds-of-Literature-in-the-Bible.” N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Aug. 2015.
catholicity.com, ed. “Http://www.catholicity.com/mccloskey/catholic-Literature.html.” N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Aug. 2015.