In his encyclical Etsi minime, Pope Benedict XIV addressed this problem by proposing the catechism of Robert Bellarmine as the standard for teaching Christian doctrine (Kevane xxxi). Benedict says of it, “There is nothing more effective or opportune for guarding in advance against the errors which can creep into the situation of such a variety of Catechisms for children” (qtd. in Kevane xxxii). He also stated that if a local catechism must be used, care should be taken that nothing be added to it that contradicts Catholic truth, and that these truths are presented in a clear and comprehensive yet concise manner (xxxii).
In 1869, with the convening of the First Vatican Council, the Church again took up the problem articulated by Pope Benedict XIV. Besides the publication of two Dogmatic Constitutions (Dei Filius and Pastor aeternus), which themselves did much to solidify the Church’s teaching on Divine Revelation and the Infallibility of the Pope, steps were taken to compose a uniform catechism for use throughout the entire Church (xxxiv-xxxv). That the Church, after so many years, would still be concerned with a uniform presentation of the faith is a testament to her constant zeal and concern for the Deposit entrusted to her. She is always desirous to pass it on with the utmost fidelity and to nurture within the hearts of men a true and lasting increase in understanding and conversion to Christ.
The schema presented to the Council Fathers on January 14, 1870 expressed the intent of the Council:All the members of the Church of Christ diffused throughout the whole world should be of one heart and one soul; hence they must likewise be unified in their lips and their language. It must be recognized, however, that a variety in approach and method of teaching the rudiments of the faith to the faithful is no slight obstacle to this unity. Hence, with the approval of this Council, We shall take care to produce a Small Catechism by Our authority, which all are to use. Thus, the variety of small Catechisms will be removed for the future. (qtd. in Kevane xxxv)Again, the catechism of St. Robert Bellarmine was held as the standard to be emulated, and after some weeks of discussion, the project for a Small Catechism was brought to a formal vote and overwhelmingly approved by the bishops. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War forced the Council to suspend its work before the disciplinary decree for the Small Catechism could be officially promulgated (xxxvi). “Thus the pastors and the faithful continued after Vatican I with the Roman Catechism together with the several national and regional Catechisms for children as the ongoing teaching aids for handing on the elements and rudiments of the deposit of faith” (xxxvii).
Learn more about the great Cardinal Roberto Francesco Romolo Bellarmino