Excerpt from "The Catholicity of 12-Step Programs"

This is an excerpt from The Catholicity of 12-Step Programs written by W. Robert Aufill in This Rock, October 1996, which is a Catholic apologetics magazine.

AA’s fulfillment in Catholicism

Many AA members would be surprised to learn that in the very earliest days of AA, the 12 steps had not yet been written down. Bob Smith described the situation in 1935 in this way: “We already had the basic ideas, though not in terse and tangible form. We got them . . . as a result of our study of the Good Book.” [Dr. Bob and the Good Old-timers (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 1991 [1980]), 97.] One early AA member recalls that Smith used to stand up at the meeting with the Bible under his arm, saying that “the answers were there if you looked for them because people back in the Old Testament were just like people of this century and had the same problems.” [Ibid., 228.]


The Bible served as AA’s earliest meditation book.[ Ibid., 111.] Smith and his wife Anne were especially fond of the Epistle of James, with its emphasis on faith that works through charity: “For faith without works is dead,” as Anne would often conclude the morning devotion. [Ibid., 71.] Early AA was so impressed with the necessity of following James in putting their faith to work that they often thought of calling their new fellowship the James Club. Ibid. They also often meditated on the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount and on Paul’s words about true charity in 1 Corinthians 13. Ibid., 96. The Bible was the only reading material allowed to hospitalized alcoholics, and Smith regularly described AA as a Christian fellowship when inquirers came to him.[ Ibid., 111, 118.] At meetings, he cited his favorite Scriptures and used stories in much the same way that parables are used in the Bible.[ Ibid., 228.]


In memory of his contribution to AA, Smith’ Bible is still displayed to this day on the podium of the King School Group in Akron, Ohio, with the following dedication inscribed by Smith himself: “It is the hope of the King School group-whose recovery this is-that this Book may never cease to be a source of wisdom, gratitude, humility, and guidance, as when fulfilled in the life of the Master.” [Ibid.]


AA’s Christian and Biblical derivation is here made obvious. No less striking is the almost Catholic emphasis that true saving faith is faith which works through charity (i.e., surrenders unreservedly to God and cooperates with his grace by persevering in charity and in working the steps of recovery). God’s grace does not negate human freedom, but restores and empowers it. On the experiential level, AA members come very close to Catholic doctrine, often without realizing it.

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