Cal Poly Pomona Catholic Newman Club

O Christian, Recognize your Dignity, Know your Faith

By Father John Bullock
March 15th, 2007

Around the end of the 5th century, Pope Leo the Great stated, "O Christian, recognize your dignity."1 Yet you cannot value what you are if you do not know what that means. The following excerpt dramatically raises the issue:

For the past two years, I have given students in my introductory religious-studies course at Boston University a religious-literacy quiz. I ask them to list the four Gospels, Roman Catholicism's seven sacraments, and the Ten Commandments. I ask them to name the holy book of Islam. They do not fare well.

In their quizzes, they inform me that Ramadan is a Jewish holiday, that Revelation is one of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, and that Paul led the Israelites on the Exodus out of Egypt. This year I had a Hindu student who couldn't name one Hindu scripture, a Baptist student who didn't know that "Blessed are the poor in spirit" is a Bible quote, and Catholic students unfamiliar with the golden rule. Over the past two years, only 17 percent of my students passed the quiz... A few years ago, no one in Jay Leno's The Tonight Show audience could name any of the Twelve Apostles, but everyone was able to shout out the four Beatles.2

It's not uncommon to encounter young adult Catholics who know little about their faith. The catechism they learned as children cannot respond to the questions they now face as university students. Many conclude that the faith simply does not have the answers they seek. Therefore, religion is treated as a sentimental connection with one's childhood or dropped as irrational and irrelevant droll. Being spiritual becomes much more attractive than following a rigidly defined religion.

In part, I agree with them.

If the faith remains at the level of a middle school catechism trying to respond to the serious questions of the day, then it will come up short. Yet the problem doesn't lie with the faith per se but that it did not grow with the rest of the knowledge of the individual. Who tries to solve engineering problems with simple arithmetic? Who tries to write a novel after just learning to spell? Faith, like all other forms of knowledge has to grow as the individual does. Who can say that they've heard it all before by the time they were 15 years old? Every science is as profound as the object studied. If God and his relation to man is the object of theology, how profound it must be. Are a few catechism classes received as a child sufficient to grasp something as rich and important as our faith? Great minds like that of Saints Augustine, Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas dedicated their entire life to learning and communicating the faith. How much time do we spend watching television, playing sports, going shopping, etc.? Couldn't we dedicate a couple of hours a week to studying our faith? Read the Bible, read the Catechism or other good books about the faith, join a Bible study, etc.

While it is true that knowledge of God depends more upon a humble faith than a great deal of book knowledge, it is equally true that you cannot love what you do not know. As baptized Christians we are adopted children of God.3 Therefore, I unite my voice to that of Leo the Great: 'O Christian, recognize your dignity,' and add: 'Know your faith!'


[1] Quoted in the Compendium of the Catechism, n. 357

[2] Worshiping in Ignorance by Stephen Prothero in .The Chronicle of Higher Education., March 16, 2007.

[3] Cahechism of the Catholic Church, n. 654