In the ancient Greek theater, you better speak up. Some plays sat up to fourteen thousand in the audience, so acoustics can be a challenge when you’re playing Achilles comforting Priam on the death of Hector.
From center stage of theaters on the coast of Greece the early Christians adopted the word ‘katekhein‘ which, in reference to the theaters, meant to “echo down” or to “resound in the ears“. And for thousands of years, from the death of Christ in 33 AD until the invention of the movable-type printing press in the 1400’s, Christianity was a lot like the theater. The ‘soul’ of the Christian message lived in the sound.
Christians used this word to describe the echoing of the Christian faith down through the ages, or the teaching of the faith to new Christians. ‘Catechists’ would ‘echo down’ the epic story of God’s saving acts in human history, climaxing in the second act with Jesus Christ’s life, passion, death, resurrection, and the hope of His coming again. The story ends with the invitation for hearers to respond to the sounds of the story by becoming part of it, as it lives on in the Church and now in them.
The difference between the epic of Homer and the epic of Christ is that, like a dream where the characters of a fairy tale are suddenly real, the story of Jesus Christ is REAL. It is this same rawness of historicity and incredulous-ness of the resurrection that screams out from the hearts of the thousands who hear St. Peter’s first homily: a re-echoing of the story of Jesus.
“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?” Acts 2:37
And for centuries the echoes of this story, the loud echoes from the hearts of Christians – mothers, husbands, sisters, bakers, soldiers, cobblers, poets, children, sinners and saints – have not been deadened. This echo, the soul of the story, Jesus, is the Deposit of Faith. And this great Tradition was passed on orally for thousands of years. It is a treasured story guarded by the Church and entrusted first to the Apostles, and then to us.
“O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid profane babbling and the absurdities of so-called knowledge. By professing it, some people have deviated from the faith.”
– 1 Timothy 6:20-21
“Guarding the Deposit of Faith is the mission which the Lord entrusted to His Church, and which she fulfills in every age.”
– Pope John Paul II, Fidei Depositum
I love the Bible. It is the inspired word of God. But the Bible as we know it wasn’t compiled into a collection by the Bishops of the Catholic Church until the late 4th Century. What did the Catholic faith consist of before then? It lived in the oral Tradition of the Deposit of Faith, the story of God’s works in history culminating in the story of Jesus Christ, and it was lived out in the Sacraments of the Church and the Charity of the Saints.
On October 11, 1992, the 30th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, Pope John Paul II promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church.