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Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [1]

A form of instruction by means of questions and answers. There have been various catechisms published by different authors, but many of them have been but ill suited to convey instruction to juvenile minds. Catechisms for children should be so framed as not to puzzle and confound, but to let the beams of divine light into their minds by degrees. They should be accommodated as far as possible to the weakness of their understandings; for mere learning sentences by rote, without comprehending the meaning, will be but of little use. In this way they will know nothing but words: it will prove a laborious task, and not a pleasure; confirm them in a bad habit of dealing in sounds instead of ideas; and after all, perhaps create in them an aversion to religion itself. Dr Watts advises that different catechisms should be composed for different ages and capacities; the questions and answers should be short, plain, and easy; scholastic terms, and logical distinctions should be avoided; the most practical points of religion should be inserted and one or more well chosen texts of Scripture should be added to support almost every answer, and to prove the several parts of it. The doctor has admirably exemplified his own rules in the catechism he has composed for children at three or four years old; that for children at seven or eight; his assembly's catechism, proper for youth at twelve of fourteen; his preservative from the sins and follies of childhood; his catechism of Scripture names, and his historical catechism. These are superior to any I know, and which I cannot but ardently recommend to parents and all those who have the care and instruction of children.

Webster's Dictionary [2]

(1): (n.) A book containing a summary of principles, especially of religious doctrine, reduced to the form of questions and answers.

(2): (n.) A form of instruction by means of questions and answers.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [3]

(in the ecclesiastical sense), a book of Christian instruction, put forth under the authority of the Church, for the oral instruction of children and proselytes. Generally, at the present day, the Catechism is in the form of question and answer.

I. The Name Catechism. The name is derived from Κατηχέω ((See Catechetics) 1). In its existing sense it probably originated with Luther. In the early ages the catechumens (q.v.) were taught the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and certain rudiments of doctrine (Bingham, Orig. Eccls. bk. 10, ch. 1, § 6). Cyril ( 386) and Gregory of Nyssa ( 394) wrote what would now in substance be called Catechisms, as did Augustine ( 430) in his Exposition of the Creed. (See Catechetics).

But in Augustine's use, the word Catechism means the act of preparatory instruction through which the catechumens went before baptism. In the Middle Ages, Kero of St. Gall (8th century) published the Creed and Lord's Prayer in German, for the instruction of children and ignorant people. Wicliffe also did the same in English, adding the Decalogue. But Luther first gave the name Catechism (1525) to the sum of Christian knowledge made up for elementary instruction into a book. It is possible, however, that the term "Catechism" had been used by the Waldenses before Luther's time in the same sense. See Zezschwitz, Die Katechismen der Waldenser und b Ö hmischen Br Ü der (Erlangen, 1863, 8vo).

II. The Principal Catechisms.

1. Lutheran. In 1520 Luther published his first Short Catechism, containing a short form of the Creed, the Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer; but his experience of the gross ignorlnce of the people in religious things, especially as seen by him in his visitations of 1527, led him to prepare Larger and Smaller Catechisms, which afterwards found a place among the symbolical books or standards of the Lutheran churches. They are to be found in Hase, Libri Symbolici Ecclesiastes Lutherans (Lips. 1846), where a brief sketch of their history is given; also in Prancke, Lib. Symb. Ecclesiastes Lutherance (Lips. 1847). Translations in German and English are abundant. The Catechismus Major was intended for the use of the clergy and schoolmasters, thelinor for the use of the people and the children. The Formula Concordice calls these Catechisms "quasi laicorum Biblia, in quibus omnia ilia breviter comprehenduntur qua in sacra Scriptura fusius tractantur" (Pars 1, § 5; also Pars 2, § 8). The Smaller Catechism is in the form of question and answer; the Larger is not. The contents of the Smaller are: Preface; Chap. 1. The Decalogue; Chap. 2. The Apostles' Creed; Chap. 3. The Lord's Prayer; Chap. 4. The Sacrament of Baptism; Chap. 5. The Lord's Supper; Appendix 1. Morning and Evening Devotion; App. 2. Blessing and Grace at Table; App. 3. The Home Table (containing a brief summary of ethics). This arrangement of topics is followed also in the Larger Catechism (omitting the appendices), but more amply treated. The German churches still use Luther's Catechism generally, but not without opposition. See Zezschwitz, System der christlich-kirchlichen Katechetik (Leipzig, 1864, 1866, 2 vols. 8vo); Nitzsch, Prakt. Theol. 2, 1:191, and Jahrb Ü cher f Ü r deutsche Theologie, 10, 2, 395 sq. For the various editions of Luther's Catechisms, and the works written upon them, see Walch, Bibliotheca Theologica, 1:452 sq. Winer, theol. Literatur, pt. 11, pt. 27.

2. Reformed.

(1.) Geneva Catechism. Calvin drew up a Catechism in French in 1536; in Latin, 1538 (the Catechismus Genevensis). This was revised and published in French in 1541, and in Latin, 1545. Its heads are, 1. Doctrine, or Truth (the Apostles' Creed); 2. Duty (the Decalogue); 3. Prayer (Lord's Prayer); 4. The Word; 5. The Sacraments. Appended is a form for public prayer and the administration of the sacraments (see Calvini Opera, Geneva, 1617, vol. 15, p. 12 sq.; Augusti, Corpus Libr. Symbolicor; 460 sq.). It was speedily translated into other languages, and adopted in 13th Reformed churches of Switzerland, France, England, Scotland, Hungary, and the Netherlands. As late as 1578 it was ordered to be used in the University of Cambridge, England. See K Ö cher, Katechet. Gesch. Der Reform. Kirche, Jena, 1756, 8vo, 210 sq.; Bonar, Catechisms Of The Scottish Reformation (Lond. 1866).

(2.) Heidelberg. The most important of the Reformed Catechisms is that of Heidelberg, compiled by Caspar Olevianus and Zacharias Ursinus, at the request of the Elector of the Palatinate, Frederick III, and published at Heidelberg in 1562. After its approval by the Synod of Dort (q.v.), it became one of the symbolical books of the Reformed Church of Holland, as well as of the German Reformed Church. It may be found in Latin in Augusti, Libr. Symbolicor. 532 sq.; in English in many separate editions. The best English version is the Tercentenary (N.Y. 4to, 1863); the best German ed. is that of Schaff (Phila. 1866,18mo). In view of the special importance of this Catechism, it is treated in a separate article. (See Heidelberg Catechism).

3. Church Of England. We give the following account from Procter, On Common Prayer, chap. 5:

"Previously to 1661 the Catechism was inserted in the Order of Confirmation. The title in the Prayerbooks of Edward VI and Elizabeth was, Confirmation, wherein is contained a Catechism for Children; and in 1604, The Order of Confirmation, or laying on of hands upon children baptized, and able to render an account of their faith, according to the Catechism following; with a farther title to the Catechism itself, that is to say, An Instruction to be learned of every Child before he be brought to be confirmed by the Bishop. The insertion in the prayer-book of such an authorized exposition of the elements of the Christian faith and practice belongs to the Reformation. English versions and expositions of the Lord's Prayer and Creed had existed in early times. But immediately before the Reformation, it appears that these elements were by no means generally known. The origin of the rubrics about catechizing may be referred to the injunctions issued in 1536 and 1538 (Strype, Eccl. Mem. Hen. VIII, 1:42), which ordered the curates to teach the people the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments, sentence by sentence, on Sundays and holydays, and to make all persons recite them when they came to confession (Burnet, Hist. Ref. 4:101, ed. Nares [Records, book 3, No. 11]). As soon as a book of service was prepared, a Catechism was placed in it, that the exposition of these Christian elements might not depend on the care or ability of the curates. This manual still remains in the Prayer- book, with only a few verbal alterations, and the addition of an explanation of the sacraments in 1604. The composition of this latter part is generally attributed to bishop Overall, who was the prolocutor of the Convocation, and at that time dean of St. Paul's. It was added by royal authority, 'by way of explanation,' in compliance with the wish which the Puritans had expressed at the conference at Hampton Court (Cardwell, Conf. p. 187), and, with two emendations, was afterwards confirmed by Convocation and Parliament in 1661.

"An intention was formed, in the time of Edward and Elizabeth, to have also another authorized Catechism for the instruction of more advanced students, and especially those in public schools, touching the grounds of the Christian religion. The original of this work is ascribed to Poynet (Orig. Lett. [Park. Soc.] 71, Cheke to Bullinger, June 7, 1553), who was bishop of Winchester during Gardiner's deprivation. It was published in Latin and in English in 1553, and is supposed to have had the approval of Cranmer, and also of the Convocation which sanctioned the Articles in 1552 (see it reprinted in bishop Randolph's Enchiridion Theologirusm, vol. 1. Both the English and Latin editions are reprinted in Liturgies, etc., of Edw. VI [Park. Soc.]). It seems, however, that this was not considered quite satisfactory; nor was it able to supplant the many similar compilations of the foreign Reformers, which were adopted by many teachers, and occasioned much complaint as to the want of a uniform system of religious instruction (see Hardwick's Hist. of the Articles, p. 108 sq.). Of foreign Catechisms there were the Catechism of Erasmus (1547), ordered to be used in Winchester College and elsewhere; the Smaller and Larger Catechisms of Calvin (1538 and 1545), that of (Ecolampadius (1545), Leo Judas (1553), and more especially Bullinger (1559). Even in 1578, when the exclusive use of Nowell's Catechisms had been enjoined in the canons of 1571, those of Calvin, Bullinger, and others were still ordered by statute to be used in the University of Oxford (see Cardwell, Doc. Ann. 1:300, note). Hence it was agreed by the bishops in 1561 that, besides the Catechism for children who were to be confirmed, another somewhat longer should be devised for communicants, and a third, in Latin, for schools. It is probable that at this time Dean Nowell was employed upon such a Catechism, taking Poynet's as his groundwork; so that it was completed before the meeting of Convocation (Nov. 11, 1562), by which it was approved and amended, but not formally sanctioned, apparently because it was treated as part of a larger design, which was not realized, viz. to publish Nowell's Catechism, the Articles, and Jewell's Apology in one book 'by common consent to be authorized, as containing true doctrine, and enjoined to be taught to the youth in the universities and grammar-schools throughout the realm.' The Catechism, therefore, remained unpublished until 1570, when it was printed at the request of the archbishops, and appeared in several forms, in Latin and in English. The Larger Catechism, in Latin, intended to be used in places of liberal education, is reprinted in Bp. Randolph's Enchirid. Theologicum, vol. 2. Its title is 'Catechismus, sive prima institutio, disciplinaque pietatis Christianae, latine explicata.' In the same year it was translated into English by Norton. Also an abridgment of it, called the Shorter or the Middle Catechism, was prepared by Nowell for the use of schools. He also published a third, called the Smaller Catechism, differing but slightly from that in the Book of Common Prayer. It is probable that Overall abridged the questions and answers on the Sacraments from this Catechism (see Churton's Life of Nowell, p. 183 sq.; Lathbury, Hist. of Convoc. p. 167 sq.)." Cranmer's Catechism was reprinted, London, 1829, 8vo.

Among the numerous commentaries on the Catechism are, Nicholson (Bp.), An Exposition of the Catechism of the Church of England (2d ed. Oxf. 1844, 8vo); Beveridge (Bp.), Church Catechism Explained (12mo); Nixon (F. R.), Lectures, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical, on the Catechism of the Church of England (3d ed. Lond. 1847, 8vo); Fitzgerald (A. D.), Short Lectures on the Church Catechism (12mo); James (J.), A Comment on the Church Catechism and Occasional Offices, or the Mother's Help (Lond. 1842, 12mo); Secker (Arp.), Lectures on the Church Catechism (12mo); Burnet's Exposition of the Church Catechism (8vo). John Wesley says of it: "Our Church Catechism is utterly improper for children of six or seven years old" (Works, N. Y. ed. 7:170).

4. Presbyterian Church. The Westminster Catechisms, with the Westminster Confession of Faith, constitute the standards or symbolical books of the Presbyterian churches. They were prepared by committees of the Westminster Assembly; the Shorter Catechism was presented to the House of Commons November 5, 1647; the Larger, April 5, 1648; and by resolution of September 15, 1648, the Catechisms were ordered printed By Authority, for public use. The shorter is not an abridgment of the larger, but the latter is an expansion of the former. They were both adopted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1648. The Shorter Catechism "has been, and still is, in almost universal use among Presbyterians speaking the English language, and to a considerable extent among Independents and Congregationalists both in Britain and America. In Holland, also, a translation of it has been much used. It is very generally regarded, by those whose doctrinal views are in accordance with it, as an admirable compend of Christian doctrine and duty. The authorship of the Westminster Assembly's Catechisms has been the subject of much debate, or at least the authorship of the first drafts of them, it being admitted that they were prepared with great care by committees of the Assembly. But the probability appears to be that their authorship is to be ascribed entirely to these committees, and that, like the Westminster Confession of Faith, they are thus the result of the joint labors of many. From discoveries recently made by Dr. M'Crie, it seems probable that at least the plan or scheme of the Shorter Catechism is to be ascribed to Mr. Palmer" (Chambers, s.v.).

There are numerous editions of the Catechisms; the latest are those of the Presbyterian Board of Publication (Philadelphia). They teach the Calvinistic theology. Among the many commentaries on the Catechisms, we name Green (Ashbel), Lectures on the Shorter Catechism (Phila. 1841, 2 vols. 8vo); Belpage, Exposition of the Assembly's Catechism (Lond. 2 vols. 12mo); Fisher, Exposition of the Assembly's Catechism (Lond. 1849, 12mo); Paterson, The Shorter Catechism (Lond. 1841, 12mo); Vincent, The Catechism Explained (Lond. 1848, 18mo); Boyd, The Westminster Shorter Catechism (N. Y. 1849, 18mo).

5. The Methodist Church. In the Wesleyan Methodist Church, in England, the Catechisms in use are three, arranged in gradation, for pupils of different ages, by the Rev. Richard Watson. They are printed as The Wesleyan Methodist Catechisms. For many years these Catechisms were used also in the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States, together with A Short Scriptural Catechism. prepared by the Rev. J. Edmondson (?). In 1848 the General Conference ordered the preparation of a Church Catechism, which was undertaken by the Rev. Dr. Kidder (then Sunday- school Editor), who, with the aid of other divines, prepared a series of Catechisms which were approved and adopted by the General Conference of 1852. They are published as Catechisms Of The Methodist Episcopal Church, No. 1, 2, 3 (New York, Methodist Book Room). The series does not consist of three separate Catechisms, but of One, in three stages of development, the language of the basis being unchanged in the different numbers of the series. No. 1 is the Catechism; No. 2 is the same, with the addition of numerous Scripture proofs and illustrations printed side by side with the several questions and answers; No. 3 expands the answers of No. 1 and the proofs of No. 2 into something like a system of Christian doctrine in a condensed form. The Catechism proper is taken up section by section, and a summary is given, in comprehensive language, of the subject-matter of each section. Then follow an analysis of the section, a number of explanatory and practical questions, and a set of definitions. The outline of topics is as follows:

1. GOD:

§ 1 . His Nature and Attributes;

§ 2. The Persons of God.


§ 1. The World;

§ 2. Man.

3. Man'S Fall And Sinful State:

§ 1 Sin;

§ 2. Guilt, Prevalence, and Consequences of Sin.

4. SALVATION: Christ, and Redemption through Christ;

§ 2. Conditions of Salvation;

§ 3. The Fruits and Extent of Salvation.

5. THE Means Of Grace:

§ 1. The Church and Ministry;

§ 2. The Sacraments: (1.) Baptism; (2.) The Lord'S Supper;

§ 3. The Word of God and Prayer.

6. God'S Law: Duties to God and Man.

7. OF Death, Judgment and Eternity. Appendix: The Beatitudes; The Lord's Prayer; The Ten Commandments; The Apostles' Creed; Baptismal Covenant; Examples of Prayers for the Young.

6. The Church Of Rome. In the Church of Rome the Tridentine Catechism (Catechismus Romanus) is a book of symbolical authority. It was prepared in obedience to a decree of the Council of Trent (Sess. 24, de Ref. 100:7), by archbishop Leonardo Marino, bishop AEgidius Foscarrari, and the Portuguese Dominican Francisco Fureiro, with the aid, as later writers (e.g. Tiraboschi) conclude, of Muzio Calini, archbishop of Zara; revised by cardinals Borromeo, Sirlet, and Antonian; and sanctioned by Pope Pius V. It was published at Rome in 1566, the Latin version being either by Paulus Manutius or Poggianus. The Council of Trent had ordered (1. c.) that the Catechism, when prepared, should "be faithfully translated into the vernacular languages, and expounded to the people by all pastors." It was subsequently approved by special bulls, and adopted by votes of provincial synods in the various Roman Catholic countries. It consists of four parts: the Apostles' Creed, the Sacraments, the Decalogue, and the Lord's Prayer. It is one of the standards of doctrine in the Church of Rome, though the Jesuits deny its symbolical authority. M Ö hler refuses to it the character of a "public confession," but admits "the great authority which undoubtedly belongs to it" (Symbolism, Introduction, p. 105; see also Elliott, Delineation of Romanists, bk. 1, ch. 1; Cramp, Text-book of Papery, ch. 22). The Catechism is not fitted for the instruction of children, but is a manual for the use of pastors. It was not originally in the form of question and answer, but some of the later editions took that shape. There 1829; Baltimore, n. d. 8vo). Cramp remarks of this translation that it "suppresses or alters such passages as express the peculiar tenets of popery in too open and undisguised a manner," and furnishes proofs of the charge (Text-book of Popery, p. 430). Besides the Catechismus Romanus, numerous other Catechisms have appeared within the Church of Rome from time to time. The most important are those of Canisius (q.v.), the Jesuit (1554 an: 1566), which have been largely used from that time to this, especially in Germany; and that of Bellarmine (1603), and of Bossuet (1687). On recent Roman Catholic Catechisms, as compared with Canisius, see Theologische Quartalschrift, 1863, 3, p. 443.

7. The Greek Church. Palmer (in Herzog, Real-Encyklop. s.v. Katechismus) remarks that the only Church without an authorized Catechism is the Greek Church. But a Catechism prepared by Mogilas, metropolitan of Kiew (1642), was recognized by a synod of Jerusalem (1672) as a standard.

8. Socinian.

1. The Cracovian Catechism was drawn up by Schomnann, 1574, for the Polish churches; it is made up chiefly of verses of Scripture.

2. The Catechism of Faustus Socinus was published at Racovia, 1618, in an unfinished form, owing to the death of Socinus, under the title Christ.-Relig. Brevisima Institutio, etc.

3. The Racovian Catechisms, larger and smaller, composed by Moscorovius, a Polish nobleman, and Schmalz, a Socinian minister (Latin, Racovia, 1609, 12mo; new ed. by Crellius, 1630, 4to; and another, with refutation, by (Eder, Frankfort and Leips. 1739, 8vo; English translation by Rees, Lond. 1818, with preface, treating of the literary history of the Catechism).

There have been many Catechisms prepared by individuals and used in various countries and churches, but as none of them have been clothed with symbolical authority, we do not attempt to give a list of them. Smith's Hagenbach, Hist. of Doctrines, § 226; Shedd, Hist. of Doctrines, 2:457-498; Smith's Gieseler's Ch. History, vol. 4, § 31; Anuusti, Corpus Libr. Symbol. Reform. (Uberf. 1827, 8vo); Winer, Theol. Literatur, § 27; Walch, Bibliotheca Theologica, vol. 1, ch. 4; Herzog, Real-Encyklop Ä die, 7:454 sq.; Zeitschrift f Ü r histor. Theologie, 1865, p. 300.