Friday, March 25, 2011

Some items about Luther's Small Catechism

We are almost finished reading Martin Brecht's:  Martin Luther:  Shaping and Defining the Reformation.

But we are backtracking a little bit.  What has stuck in my mind are the times when Brecht talks about the concern Luther had for the teaching of the simple and young, so that a new generation of well-taught people would grow up with benefits related both to their own faith and to the service of a peaceable and well-ordered community.

Because of the devastating, existing deficiencies and lack of basic knowledge, Luther emphasized most strongly the promulgation of the catechisms.  He returned to this subject most strongly over and over again.  No one was to refuse to learn it and no one should think too highly of himself to not want to teach it.  Those were the best who could teach the catechism well.  He stressed that he himself exercised himself in it daily.  This was basic knowledge needed to be a Christian.

The Christian education of youth and of the laity in general has never been a task that the church has found easy. The leaders of the young Reformation movement were aware that its success depended not least upon whether they would be able to convey to congregations, and especially to young people, a coherent knowledge of the evangelical faith that would consist of more than superficial and fragmentary information.  Therefore they addressed the subject of religious pedagogy in a new way and with far more energy than had earlier been customary.  Along with preaching the biblical Word, Luther himself began working very early on conveying a basic knowledge of Christianity to the congregation.  The laity should know and understand the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer;  in addition they should be informed about the sacraments. Since 1516, as had been customary, he had preached again and again on these subjects, primarily during Lent.  Each time he began with the Decalogue;  he usually finished by treating the sacraments during Holy Week.  After Bugenhagen became the pastor at the end of 1523 he appears to have primarily assumed this responsibility.  This instruction was closely connected with confession and communion....  After 1524, in Wittenberg, it appears that an examination of one's knowledge of communion was connected with confession. (p. 273)
...A form of questions and answers--and Luther provided examples--would serve to make sure that what was learned was also understood.  For this purpose the material should be divided into two sections, dealing respectively with faith and love, which would correspond to the aspects of corruption and redemption, or to well doing and suffering.  Bible passages could be arranged according to these categories.  For Luther, this method certainly should not be deprecated as pedagogical "child's play."  It was the way preaching would be A"driving home to the hearts,"  and a great wealth of Christian people would grow up, "enriched in Scripture and in the knowledge of God."  At that time Luther did not mention the sacraments, but he was certainly thinking about them as well.
In the preface to his commentary on Zachariah, Luther complained about how few preachers were competent to give good catechetical instruction.  those who could, he ranked above the most subtle theologians.  "One ought, however, to regard those teachers as the best and the paragons of their profession who present the catechism well.... But such teachers are rare birds.  For there is neither great glory nor outward show in their kind of teaching;  but there is in it great good and also the best of sermons, because in this teaching there is comprehended, in brief, all Scriptures."  Luther was aware of how difficult any sort of elementary Christian instruction was.  Nevertheless, he considered it one of theology's most noble tasks.
In the preface to the German Mass, Luther had advocated regular preaching on the catechism on Mondays and Tuesdays.  Instructions for the Visitors also provided for regular catechetical sermons.  In Wittenberg it appears that Pastor Bugenhagen treated the catechism four times a year.  When he was in Brunswick in 1528, Luther substituted for him at this task and on 18-30 May, 14-25 September, and from 30 November until 19 December he preached on the entire catechism, each time four afternoons a week.  The last series contained an urgent appeal for whole families to take part.  Work was not a valid excuse, since the many saints' days had been abolished and people wasted a great deal of time--in drinking, for example.  One hour could well be spent in perfecting the knowledge of Christ.  Domestic servants who did not want to participate should be discharged.  Luther did not agree with their masters' argument that one should not compel them.  The master of the house was their bishop and pastor, who was responsible for their education both outwardly and inwardly.
Alongside Pastor Bugenhagen, Luther wanted to do his part through his preaching, "and more than we are obliged to do."  A similar appeal is found in a sermon preached in Kemberg in July 1529.  Luther had already expressed himself quite positively about evangelical catechetical instruction in September 1528.  A boy or girl of fifteen now knew more about the Word of God "than all the universities and doctors before,"  because the true catechism was being taught, namely, the "lord's Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, what confession, baptism, prayer, the cross, living, dying, and the sacrament of the altar are, and about what marriage, civil government, father and mother, wife and child, man and son, servant and maid are.  In sun I have brought a good conscience and order to all the estates int he world, so that everyone knows how he is to live and serve God in his estate, and not a little fruit, peace, and virtue has been produced among those who have accepted it."  The Catholic side could show nothing comparable. (pp. 274-275)

This last bit about the Catholic side being able to show nothing comparable makes me think because it seems to me now that the RC church is putting more energy into its RCIA classes than we are into instruction.

It is not often that one meets any adults who talk about exercising themselves in the catechism.   Sometimes, I've carried the pamphlet edition in my purse and brought up quotes in Bible studies and other places.  Sometimes, someone says: "Can I have that pamphlet."

Really great is the Small Catechism with Explanations because it lists many Bible verses to prove all the statements in the questions and answers.

The Small Catechism with Explanations can also be found on-line in a day by day project of posting to blog here.

It can also be found in the German in this Google Book, with the explanations provided by Johann Conrad Dietrich (1575-1639).

Getting back to RCIA classes, because I have a friend who went through the program, this is what I quickly googled:

The Second Vatical Council recommended that the Church renew its way of receiving Adult Candidates. A revised rite called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) was approved by Pope Paul VI in 1972 and has become the norm for the Church. RCIA stresses formation in doctrine, liturgy, Church life, and service and involves the larger Church community in welcoming, instructing, helping and praying for Candidates.
Read more:

I used to attend a church where we regularly went through a cycle of adult instruction, and regular members of the congregation would attend together with friends who were interested in joining.  Now I have not seen a class like that in some time.

I think I agree with Luther:  let us inculcate the catechism everywhere and let those be praised who can do it well.  They are our best assets. 

In looking for a picture to go with this post, I came across this pastor's blog entry.  The pastor belongs to a liberal church which does not know what to teach any more and thus he is not sure what to teach to his confirmation class.  Now that is a conundrum, if there ever was one.   Now this is a problem.


Steve Martin said...

I went to that blog and gave that pastor a piece of my mind.

I don't know if he will let it go up on the blog. many of these liberal pastors can't stand ANY disagreement.

Brigitte said...

I was thinking I should mention something about mentioning him.

Steve Martin said...

Well, I give him credit, he did put up my comments.

And then he asked me, "saved from what?"

This guy is a pastor?!


These are truly strange times in which we live.

Brigitte said...

Steve, I made a comment, too, but it is in moderation at this time.

Brigitte said...

We have a comment from Roberto, which did not post for some reason.

Thank you Brigitte for visiting my English blog A Study Of Christian Doctrine.

Hello Roberto, thanks for dropping in. It would be nice to talk to you some more.

Steve Martin said...

I read your comments, Brigitte.

Nicely done.

Brigitte said...

You're a good friend, Steve.

Roberto said...

Try to find my text in Comments - Spam

Brigitte said...

Hi Roberto? Do we have lost comments? I do not have them in the e-mail. ??? You can write to my e-mail, too. It's in the profile.

Brigitte said...

Sorry, I just figured out the spam box in dashboard. There are no comments in spam.

Roberto said...

Brigitta, it's ok!

Could yiu add A Study Of Christian Doctrine to your Blog List in sidebar? It would be so nice, if your readers could get daily question from Luther's Small Catechism...

Brigitte said...


Roberto said...

Thank you, Brigitte!