Blessed Cesar de Bus: Patron for Modern Catechists

Author: James Likoudis


James Likoudis

Fr. Cesar de Bus was one of the glories of the Catholic Counter-Reformation who proved to be one of the greatest catechists in the history of the Church. Born in Cavillon, France, on February 3, 1544, the seventh of thirteen children, he was to die in the odor of sanctity in Avignon, on Easter, April 15, 1607. He experienced a conversion from a worldly and frivolous life to embrace a life of prayer, penance, and austerity reminiscent of a St. Ignatius Loyola or a Pere de Foucald. He had been known as a dandy prone to cajolery and being "<the life of the party>" among his fellows.

His conversion took place on the way to a masked ball while passing by a place where a small light was burning before an image of Mary Most Holy. Suddenly, the prayer of a remarkable unlettered friend, the mystic Antoinette. Reveillade, came to mind. She had begged God with tears for the salvation of his soul that death would not find him in mortal sin. He thought, "How can I recommend myself to God while I am on the way to offend Him?" An extraordinary grace was victorious. In the words of one of his biographers, "One tempestuous night, the All-powerful God, the King of Glory, encountered the worldly chevalier Cesar de Bus, obstinate in sin, and conquered him."

Ordained a priest in 1582, de Bus was profoundly affected by his reading a life of St. Charles Borromeo shortly after the saint's death. He was to take him as a model in everything that seemed to suit his own temperament and formation best, that is, the penitential life of the holy cardinal, his devotion to the Passion of Christ, his preaching, and especially his catechetical apostolate imbued with a deep love of the Church undergoing the terrible after-shocks of the Protestant Revolution. On reading the life of St. Charles, the Blessed himself wrote:

I was so beside myself and fired with such a longing to do something in imitation of him, that I would not give my eyes sleep or my days rest until I had given some beginning to this resolution of mine.

It should be recalled that the Blessed's future catechetical apostolate was part of a vast movement of religious revival which implemented the decrees of the Council of Trent (1545-1563). One has only to think of the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1586) who died during the Council; St. Philip Neri, founder of the Oratory (1515-1575); St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582); St. John of the Cross (1542-1591); St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621); St. Peter Canisius (1521-1591); and particularly St. Charles Borromeo, the indefatigable Archbishop of Milan whose work with the famous <Roman Catechism>, provincial councils initiating needed reforms, and holiness of life, were to greatly influence the Blessed Cesar de Bus.

The French priest was to expend his energies catechizing the people of Aix-in-Provence who manifested massive religious ignorance as a result of the social and cultural turmoil stemming from the Religious Wars begun by Luther's and Calvin's rebellion. Largely forgotten today, de Bus was an impressive figure among his contemporaries. St. Francis de Sales considered him to be a holy rival to St. Philip Neri and declared him "a star of the first magnitude in the firmament of Catechesis." De Bus was venerated by no less than Cardinal Richelieu who could not fail to be impressed by his austere and holy life.

In his Beatification Address of April 27, 1975, Pope Paul VI brought out the Blessed Cesar's significance for the Church and catechesis in our own time:

In the year of his birth at Cavaillon, the Christian world is in a crisis, one of the most serious crises in its history. A crisis that is not only a religious and doctrinal one, but also a crisis of civilization, with the afflux of new movements of thought, not all negative, but which confuse the mass of the faithful. Cesar de Bus came into the world in this troubled period when men are gradually opening up to culture, to the arts and to the reign of pleasure. He let himself be swept along, during adolescence and early manhood, to the life of ease for which his social status and his fortune marked him out, the superficial, careless life of a gifted being, brilliant in society, a poet when he liked, more sensitive to the appeal of pleasure in every form than to the demands of the Gospel.

... After his conversion, the spiritual progress of the Blessed was not without its upsets, moments of discouragement, uncertainty. We have been struck, however, by what was to be, almost from the beginning, a characteristic of his whole life. Perhaps that is the secret of his constancy, or in any case, what always enabled him to over come his difficulties and start off again with increased energy; we are referring to his "spirit of repentance." Repentance is not an empty word for him. He carries it to its extreme consequences, for he has come back from afar! He must master the passion of which he was the slave in the past, a violent and perpetual battle against carnal temptations. He learns in this way to seek and love sacrifice, for sacrifice configures one with Christ Suffering and Victorious. To offer himself as a libation, to leave everything in God's hand at the cost of the greatest renunciations, this seems to have been the <leitmotif>, the perpetual aim of his efforts. And when, at the end of his life, suffering and afflicted with blindness for 14 years, he is at last able to prepare for the supreme gift, he will realize how useful asceticism has been to master the old Adam. He will be ready to meet the Lord. His joy will be perfect.

The Pope explained how Blessed Cesar's life work was to communicate Catholic doctrine in all its fullness to the people he so loved:

The aim of Father de Bus is to communicate Christian doctrine to the people. The idea is far from being new. From the beginning the first Christians were anxious to transmit, and transmit exactly, the essential part of what they had received. Collections gathering the most out standing events and sayings in the midst of a darkness and pagan world and in view of the dangers of doctrinal deviation, to inculcate in catechumens and recall to disciples a "kerygma," that is, a central core, a "summary of the faith" containing the essential elements, which can serve as a basis for developments adapted to circumstances and to the psychology of listeners. It is necessary to give a solid foundation to their faith, to support their affective and charitable attachment to the living God with a knowledge of the truths of faith that will correspond to this love.

What the Fathers and Councils of the early Church did in their time to catechize the faithful in the apostolic deposit, Blessed Cesar de Bus helped accomplish in his time, shining among the array of brilliant catechists who excelled in implementing the <Roman Catechism> ordered by the Council of Trent. His remarkable "Three Cycles of Doctrine" still constitute a rich treasure of catechetical teaching of value to catechists today. The "Three Cycles of Doctrine" consisted of his <Doctrine Breve> (Primary Course) for children of those totally ignorant of Catholic teaching; <Doctrine Moyenne> (Medium) for adolescents, many with an inadequate knowledge of the principal truths of the Faith; and <Doctrine Grand> (Advanced) for those capable of studying the truths of the Faith more deeply. Blessed Cesar's genius as a catechist lay in his ability to adapt doctrine to the mentality and state of readiness of his listeners and readers.

In an excellent article on "The Catechetical Apostolate of Blessed Cesar de Bus," Abbe Robert Allix noted: Whatever the level of teaching may be, the Blessed Cesar did not depart from four rules:

1) The teaching of religion is closely connected with the usual prayers: the Creed, Pater, the Ten Commandments, and Sacramental practice.

2) For instruction, the faithful are grouped according to the degree of their knowledge.

3) All questions are dealt with in full according to a worked out plan, positive part; exposition of the truths; negative part; errors and transgressions.

4) Then the fruit to be obtained from God's truth and grace, together with the spiritual means to use to avoid dangers.

Let it be added that, skilled teacher that he is, Cesar de Bus is not content with sowing the seed; he takes care that it penetrates and germinates. For this reason he never tires of coming back to the truths once taught. (Christ to the World, Rome, no. 4,1975)

This article was taken from the March/April 1996 issue of "The Catholic Faith". Published bi-monthly for 24.95 a year by Ignatius Press. To subscribe, call: 1-800-651-1531 or write: The Catholic Faith, P.O. Box 160, Snohomish, WA 98291-0160.