Home > Christianity, Eugen Rosenstock Huessy, Uncategorized > Catechism and the Power to Speak

Catechism and the Power to Speak

I’ve been lingering in Telford Work’s Brazos Commentary on Deuteronomy. His midrashic style invites slow rumination. He introduced the term “apochesis” when discussing Deuteronomy 4:25. He says,

“The apostasy is not just a failure of parent to catechize their children (cf. 6:7). It is a life of ‘apo-chesis’ in which parents train their children away from purity. Apochesis is endemic in our day when tradition is mistrusted, cultural revolution exalted, experimentation treated as expression, and youth glorified for its own sake.”

Work has adapted the term catachesis. This word comes from an ancient Greek term, katēcheō, meaning “to sound from above”(Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 3, Page 637) or to “teach by word of mouth” (Encyclopedia of Christianity, Vol 1, p 360). Two Greek words from this word, “kata” meaning according to, after, against, in, down (Strongs, 2596) and “echos” meaning sound and sometimes used to speak about the roar of the waves (Strongs, 2279).

This word was originally used as a dramatic term. The actors spoke down from the stage to the audience. The Scripture uses the word to mean instruction in the word or way of Jesus. So the idea of sounding from above captures the sense of an echo the resounds both in our instruction and in our reflection. The Word of Jesus resounds through His people and in His people. This word is instructing, guiding, opening our eyes to the Gospel and the way of the Jesus.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy says the speech is the power to create the future. Using his understanding of speech, we might see catechism as the way resound the Gospel and thus create the future. We remember, we rehearse, we resound the Gospel. The Gospel is a past historical event in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a present encounter in the Living Person of Jesus Christ we meet in and through the Spirit, and a future kingdom will be fully unveiled in the days to come. It seems to me that catechism capture all three tense: past, present and future. Thus we speak, proclaim, declare Christ is King even in the midst of corrupt and ruling powers.

With this in mind, I return to Work’s use of the word “apothesis.” Work is talking about a generation that choose not to speak, has forgotten to speak, has abandoned the power of speech. Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy wrote in the 1940s that he feared we were entering a “speechless future” (The Christian Future). We live in a world where the prevailing norm is a loss of real speech, words that create the future.

Apothesis seems an apt description to me of a people who have abandoned the future by abandoning the past. They have no power to resound the Word of God and thus they simply make sounds, or as Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy said somewhere, we use words for chatter (from one of his lectures). We are surrounded by chattering voices, sounding off bits of data stripped of vital life. Now more than ever, let us relearn to speak by listening to the Word made Flesh and resounding the Word made Flesh.

  1. Michele
    May 3, 2010 at 11:30 am

    In Orthodoxy, hearing the word spoken, the logos is so married to taking communion, that some say you should not take communion if you came late and “missed” the reading of the Holy Scriptures. There is an arrangement of the Liturgy for a reason. You hear the Logos and then you partake of the logos.

    • May 3, 2010 at 1:37 pm

      More fuel for my brains from Michele—how about if we come to that conclusion by conviction of HOLY SPIRIT—would that be catechism? If the ushers enforce that restriction—would that be catakism? Just wondering.

  2. Benjamin Taylor
    May 3, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    Wow Doug! I never thought about catechism in that way before. I loved especially it’s relation to the word “echo.” It just made me think of a quotation from Calvin (and I’ll probably paraphrase badly here): “Christ is the great choir master who by the Spirit tunes men’s hearts to sing God’s praise.” The notion of joining in with other voices–most of all Christ’s and the great cloud of witnesses who came before us–opens up a great deal for me to ponder. Many thanks.

  3. Joe
    June 2, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    So here’s the relevant Chapter and Verse:

    “After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time—if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God and provoking him to anger”

    Your scholar’s quote seems to be the end of a long chain from a call against idolatry, which, (perhaps due to the generation in which I’m grounded,) seems to be precisely a call for continual cultural revolution, continual mistrust of tradition, continual experimentation and expression, and all in all a continual and difficult effort not to confuse the finger of wood and stone with the moon to which it points.

    On the other hand, you’ve followed this article with a beautiful reflection about the incredible power and importance of the resounding of the word (re-sounding?), the act of preserving the life of the words by living, wrestling with, intoning and singing them in our own (given, and then perhaps only borrowed) voices. But there seems to be a tension here between these two ideas about what a living AND unchanging word is, that might be worth wrestling with (or singing about a bit more) on your blog.

  4. June 3, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Excellent point Joe! When Derrida speaks of deconstruction, I think he is pointing to some of what you’re seeing. There is a sense of continuity and discontinuity with the past and the future. Every movement begins in response to something that is questioned, changed and outright rejected from tradition. Yet, every movement also has seeds of deconstruction embedded within it. To put it in Athanasius’s words, I might say “seeds of corruption.” Thus no movement is complete in and of itself. God speaks from both the past and the future (Genesis and Revelation).

    One temptation for Israel is to formalize the revelation they have of god in such a way as to “idolize” it, to control it, to manipulate it. So, on the one hand, our tradition can become the death us. It can become the overarching power the keeps us from seeing or hearing the voice of God that is calling us into the future. Thus tradition can have a decaying effect.

    And yet even as Scripture questions tradition, it does not abandon tradition. Jesus claims that he came to fulfill the law not overthrow it. Thus it is incomplete and changed. As a Christian, I believe that Christ is the fullness and yet the church is still caught between the past and future in that it does not “own, control, manipulate this revelation of Christ. He has been revealed and yet according to Revelation he will be fully unveiled as well.

    Let me approach it from a different angle.

    Eugen Rosenstock Huessy saw this in terms of conflict between three generations: the parent, the child and the grandchild. The temptation of the parent is to find refuge in tradition alone and to quit communicating with the child. ERH sees this a decadence. The child is tempted to reject the tradition outright and cry out for revolution. So the chlid may embrace (in Telford’s words) apothesis. Thus the two generation break down. But sometimes the parent and the grandchild can speak. The grandchild can teach the parent a new language. (My friend said his grandchild helped him rediscover the love of rock collecting.)

    It is possible for the grandchild to teach the parent and the parent give the wisdom of tradition to the grandchild. This might connect parent-child-grandchild in a way that bridges what Merton once called the tension between tradition and revolution. In some ways, we need both.

    Thus in re-sounding God’s Word, we are learning to listen both backwards and forwards across multiple generations. This new listening might have some fascinating implications for what catachesis looks like in church as well as culture.

  5. Joe
    June 3, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    Once again, Doug, thank you so much for this. As usual, you have an incredible power to make the completeness of things both clear and beautiful!

  6. June 4, 2010 at 8:03 am

    Thank you for such kind words Joe.

  1. May 18, 2010 at 12:07 am

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