With simple, immediate and familiar language, he made abundant use of the Word of God, applying it to concrete concepts and situations. Through his catechesis, he aimed to induce his listeners to be “good Christians”, not only in their words, but also in their behavior, leading them, through a sincere conversion, to Jesus. César, knew that the “Catechism for Parish Priests”, desired by the Council of Trent, was an instrument only accessible to priests and he worked to adapt it to all faithful:
- carefully studying how “to propose it in a way that people could easily understand, deeply convinced that catechesis is for the lives of the recipients;
- taking his cue from the daily “chronicle” to help reflect on how to shape and orient existence in the light of the Word of God and his love;
- presenting in a gradual way the essentials of Christian doctrine.
He envisioned a model resting on two pillars:
- Small Doctrine, addressed to those who were completely ignorant of the truths of the faith (children and illiterates), teaching them the prayers, starting with the sign of the cross, the commandments and the sacraments, through dialogue and memorization.
- Doctrina Grande, given from the pulpit on Sundays and on solemnities. It consisted of a broad and very simple explanation of the Symbol of the Apostles, the Lord’s Prayer, the Commandments, the Precepts of the Church and the Sacraments.
- Doctrinal Tradition later added the Middle Doctrine, an intermediate form between the two implemented by the Blessed Founder. It was carried out in concrete language and in a way that adhered to reality, with abundant references to Sacred Scripture and to the writings of the Fathers of the Church, taking care to avoid long monologues. Moreover, the question and answer method was used to involve those present, summarizing everything with a concrete example inherent to the theme.
There is no doubt that we are dealing with a “classic” program of catechesis, as envisaged by the Council of Trent. The originality of de Bus was to make the exposition alive and engaging through dialogue, free interventions and even sacred representations. He did not fail to donate books, rosaries made by himself, small crosses and holy images to arouse commitment and interest. Even though he was criticized and opposed by clergymen close to him, César continued his commitment to the catechism with dedication; he seemed to be “making doctrine” and instead he was collaborating to “build” authentic Christian communities, nourished with the bread of the Word, which the Church breaks for all generations.
Paul VI summarized it well in his homily during the beatification of Father César on April 27, 1975, when he said that it is necessary to:
“promote a catechesis that is accessible, comprehensible and adherent to life” and “accompany the boy or the adult in his slow search for God”.
Father César and his method for catechesis
Father César De Bus organizes the exercise of Christian Doctrine in two cycles: the small doctrine, addressed to those who knew nothing, especially children and the ignorant, who learned the prayers, the sign of the Cross, the commandments and the sacraments through dialogue and memory; and the large doctrine, which while maintaining the concreteness of the language, was done from the pulpit on Sundays and on solemn feasts and consists of a broad and very easy explanation of the Symbol of the Apostles, the Lord’s Prayer, the Commandments, the Precepts of the Church and the Sacraments.
Undoubtedly this is a classic program of catechesis, as envisaged by the Council of Trent. Father César , however, makes the exposition alive and attractive through dialogue, free discussion or through sacred representations.
The Doctrinarian tradition distinguished itself, along the lines of Father César , by the search for a living and “inventive” catechesis, immediate, communicated with simple words, few plastic formulas and easy to remember. Marcel, the first biographer of De Bus, affirms that his way of announcing the Word was very simple and therefore within the reach of everyone. He avoided, as if they were dangerous rocks, sophisticated terms, as well as useless and curious topics, although pleasant to listen to. His catechesis was well structured, balanced, presented with grace and fervor in such a way that not only the simple people but also the educated received satisfaction and profit. His intent was not to make his listeners learned, but believers. Around this scheme, Paul VI affirmed, a preaching steeped in Sacred Scripture is being formed, presented in such a way that the notions learned are translated into a spiritual attitude and a way of acting.
The original catechetical experience of Father César and the Doctrinarians is entrusted to a rich collection of catecheses (for the use of the catechist), divided into 4 or 5 parts (according to the first and third editions of 1666 and 1685), gathered under the title Instructions familières. These are their characteristics of structure and style:
- adoption of the now classic partition (with changed succession) of Christian doctrine into Symbol, Commandments, Sunday Prayer, Capital Vices, Sacraments;
- division into “lessons”, or topics according to their logical insertion: the articles of faith, the precepts of God and the Church, the questions of the Pater, the seven deadly sins, the seven Sacraments;
- further subdivision of the individual “lessons” into two, three or four teaching units;
- enrichment of the systematic “lesson” with an introduction, a concluding practical example and the repetition of the subject learned, understood also as a preliminary moment of the catechetical meeting or subsequent didactic lesson;
- extremely flexible use of the technique of questions and answers, not predetermined by a booklet of doctrine or by an interrogation and not aimed at memorization, but at consensual and vital assimilation;
- adoption of a simple and familiar language, fervent and affectionate, with the continuous recall of examples and scriptural and patristic sentences;
- fusion of “theory”, devotion and practical commitment.
The Instructions familières can be considered a catechetical theology, understood as an elementary and living theology for catechists and a living and stimulating manual of catechetical methodology, imbued with spirituality and rich in pedagogical and didactic ideas.