Motu Proprio: Approving the Compendium of the Catechism

T o my Venerable Brothers the Cardinals, Patriarchs, Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, Deacons and to all the People of God. Twenty years ago, work began on the Catechism of the Catholic Church that had been requested by the extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops held on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council. I am filled with heartfelt thanks to the Lord God for having given the Church this Catechism, promulgated in 1992 by my venerated and beloved Predecessor, Pope John Paul II. The great value and beauty of this gift are confirmed above all by the extensive and positive reception of the Catechism among Bishops, to whom it was primarily addressed as a sure and authentic reference text for teaching Catholic doctrine and, in particular, for formulating local catechisms. But it was also confirmed by its vast favorable reception in all segments of the People of God, who have come to know and appreciate it in more than fifty translations which to date have been published. It is with great joy that I now approve and promulgate the Compendium of that Catechism. The Compendium had been fervently desired by the participants in the International Catechetical Congress of October 2002, which gave voice to a need widely felt in the Church. My beloved Predecessor, recognizing this desire, decided in February 2003 to begin preparation of the text by entrusting the work to a Commission of Cardinals, over which I presided, and which was assisted by various experts. In the course of the work, a draft of the Compendium was submitted to all the Cardinals and the Presidents of Conferences of Bishops, the vast majority of whom evaluated the text favorably. The Compendium, which I now present to the Universal Church, is a faithful and sure synthesis of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It contains, in concise form, all the essential and fundamental elements of the Church’s faith, thus constituting, as my Predecessor had wished, a kind of vademecum which allows believers and non-believers alike to behold the entire panorama of the Catholic faith. In its structure, contents and language, the Compendium faithfully reflects the Catechism of the Catholic Church and will thus assist in making the Catechism more widely known and more deeply understood. I entrust this Compendium above all to the entire Church and, in particular, to every Christian, in order that it may awaken in the Church of the third millennium renewed zeal for evangelization and education in the faith, which ought to characterize every community in the Church and every Christian believer, regardless of age or nationality. But this Compendium, with its brevity, clarity and comprehensiveness, is directed to every human being, who, in a world of distractions and multifarious messages, desires to know the Way of Life, the Truth, entrusted by God to His Son’s Church. Through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church, may everyone who reads this authoritative text recognize and embrace ever more fully the inexhaustible beauty, uniqueness and significance of the incomparable Gift which God has made to the human race in His only Son, Jesus Christ, the “Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn 14:6).

Given on 28 June 2005, the vigil of the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, in the first year of my Pontificate.

Pope Benedict XVI

Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, was born in Bavaria, Germany, on April 16, 1927, Holy Saturday, and baptized the very same day, in the newly blessed Easter water. This special baptism was seen from the beginning of his life as a very special blessing of Divine Providence.

Josef and his brother George entered the seminary and were ordained priests together on June 29, 1951. After receiving his doctorate in theology from the University of Munich in 1953, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger became a professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Bonn. When Vatican Council II began in 1962, Fr. Ratzinger, only 35 years old at the time, was named chief “peritus” or theological advisor to the Archbishop of Cologne, Joseph Cardinal Frings and accompanied him to all four sessions of the council, having input on the writing of several of the Council Documents. From 1969 until 1977 he taught theology at the University of Regensburg and, from 1969 until 1980, he was a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission.

Fr. Joseph Ratzinger was ordained archbishop of Munich-Freising on May 28, 1977 and was created a cardinal priest by Pope Paul VI on June 27, 1977, his titular church in Rome being St. Mary of Consolation (in Tiburtina).

On April 5, 1993 Cardinal Ratzinger was transferred by Pope John Paul II to the order of cardinal bishops as titular bishop of the suburbicarian see of Velletri-Signi. In 1981 Cardinal Ratzinger became the Prefect (head) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department in charge of protecting the sacred deposit of the faith handed on from the apostles. As such, he was Pope John Paul II’s chief assistant in the formulation of the Pope’s teaching and writing. There is perhaps no one who worked more closely with Pope John Paul II during the course of his pontificate. Cardinal Ratzinger would generally have lengthy private meetings with the Pope twice per week. Before his election as Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger also served president of the Pontifical Biblical and Theological Commissions.

On November 6, 1998, Cardinal Ratzinger was appointed Vice-dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals. Prior to the death of Pope John Paul II, he served as a member of the Congregation of Bishops, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Council for Christian Unity, the Council for Culture, the Commission Ecclesia Dei, and the Commission for Latin America. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger had a decisive role in the writing of the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” signed in October 1999 by the Holy See and the World Lutheran Federation in Augsburg, Germany. The declaration, one of the most important ecumenical steps since Martin Luther’s split with the Catholic Church in the 16th century, took place thanks to the dialogue held in November 1998 between Cardinal Ratzinger and Lutheran Bishop Johannes Hanselman in Munich.

As he approached his mid-seventies, Cardinal Ratzinger attempted to retire several times, but Pope John Paul II would not accept his resignation. It seems Pope John Paul II knew God had other plans for the German Cardinal. At 78, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected as Pope Benedict XVI on April 19, 2005, only the second day of the conclave. This speedy election demonstrates a remarkable consensus on the part of the 115 Cardinals who elected him by a two-thirds majority. Their vote was for a defender of the truth, a man of prayer, a humble servant of the servants of God.


Besides his academic articles and official Church documents, the new Pope Benedict XVI provides us with a window into his mind and heart through several books, the Ratzinger Report (1996), The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000), God and the World (2002) and Introduction to Christianity. For those who have had the privilege of knowing him personally, what is most striking about him is his simplicity, humility, and childlike wonder at things. His self-effacing manner is combined, however, with a firm but gentle courage in defending the faith in all its fullness and integrity. In his resolute opposition to error, he is however, never personally defensive since he has no ego to protect. It is worth noting that on his coat of arms, Benedict replaced the traditional papal tiara with a bishop’s miter with three stripes representing the Church’s three-fold mission to teach, sanctify, and govern. At his inaugural Mass, he took the time to explain the importance of the pallium which symbolizes the shepherd’s mission and the yoke of Christ.