An Explanation of Luther's Small Catechism
This book aims to present both an analysis of Luther's Small Catechism and a clear, concise, yet reasonably full explanation of its contents. It is an attempt, upon the basis of twenty years' experience and a study of the literature of the subject, to meet the peculiar wants of the catechetical class in our Lutheran Church in America. The object of the book is twofold: first, to furnish an outline of teaching which the pastor may use as a guide in his oral explanation and questioning; and secondly, to furnish a sufficiently complete summary by means of which the catechumens may review the lesson and fix its salient points in their minds. No text-book can, of course, adequately supply the parenetical side of the catechetical instruction or take the place of the living exposition by the pastor. But it can and should support his work, so that what he explains at one meeting may not be forgotten before the next meeting, but may be fixed in the minds of the catechumens by study at home.
Since the task of the pastor in catechization is not only to impart religious instruction, but to impart it on the basis of that priceless heritage of our Church, Luther's Small Catechism, the explanation here offered follows the catechism closely. The words of the catechism are printed in heavy-faced type and are used as headings wherever possible; and thus the words of the catechism may be traced as a thread running through the entire explanation.
Wherever he deemed it necessary, the author has added a fuller explanation of the text of the catechism than that which Luther gives, and has supplemented its contents with such additional matter as the needs of our catechumens require. He does not agree with those catechetical writers who maintain that the pastor, in his catechization, must confine himself to an explanation of Luther's explanation. Such a principle would exclude from the catechetical class much which our catechumens should be taught. But all such additional matters are introduced under an appropriate head as an organic part of the whole explanation, thus preserving its unity.
This book is written in the thetical form instead of the traditional form of questions and answers. There is nothing in the nature of catechization which would require the use of the interrogative form in such a text-book, and accordingly the thetical form has for years been employed by numerous writers of text-books for the catechetical class in Germany. While questions have an important place in catechetical instruction, the matter and not the form is the vital thing. Catechization is not a method of instruction by means of questions and answers. Neither the original meaning of the word nor the history of catechization justifies such a definition. (See my article, "A Brief History of Catechization," in the Lutheran Church Review, January, 1902; comp. v. Zezschwitz: System der christl.-kirchl. Katechetik, vol. i. pp. 17 seq., and vol. ii., 2. 1., pp. 3 seq.) And since Christian truth is not something to be brought forth from the mind of the child by means of questions, but something divinely revealed and hence to be communicated to the child, the most natural form in which to set it before him in a text-book is the thetical. Luther's catechism itself is, indeed, in the form of questions and answers. But his catechism is confessional as well as didactic, and its words, memorized by the catechumen, are to become a personal confession of faith. The explanations of a text-book, on the other hand, are not to be memorized, but are meant to aid the catechumen in grasping the thoughts of the catechism. For this purpose, the thetical form is better than the interrogative, because the explanation is not continually broken by questions, and is thus better adapted to give the catechumens a connected idea of the doctrines taught.
Each chapter of this explanation is followed by a number of questions. After the pastor has explained a lesson at one meeting, the catechumens should prepare themselves to give an answer to the printed questions in their own words at the next meeting. The pastor may, of course, substitute other questions, assign additional ones, or eliminate some. The proof passages for the teachings set forth are cited in the margin. The more important passages, particularly those which the catechumens may be expected to memorize, are specially indicated by a dagger (+), and are printed in full at the end of the chapter. The use of a Scripture lesson is, of course, optional with the pastor. One is indicated, however, for each chapter, and may be read in class or be assigned to the catechumens to be read at home. The Scriptural illustrations are cited for the convenience of the pastor in his oral exposition. The division into chapters has been regulated by the subject-matter, and will, it is hoped, aid in the survey of the contents of the book as a whole. It is not intended that each chapter shall necessarily constitute one lesson. Some lessons will doubtless include only a part of a chapter, while others will include several chapters, as the pastor may determine.
While the author, in the preparation of this explanation of Luther's catechism, has gone his own way, careful consideration has been given to the voice of those whose study of the problems involved entitled them to be heard. Luther's other catechetical writings, the standard theoretical works on Catechetics, and numerous monographs have been constantly at hand. Explanations of the catechism for the use of pastors and teachers have been freely consulted,—among others, those of Schuetze, Fricke, Mehliss, Kahle, Zuck, Kaftan, v. Zezschwitz, Palmer, Harnack, Nissen, Hempel, Schultze, Th. Hardeland, O. Hardeland, Nebe, Buchrucker, and Cremer. Acknowledgment is due also to the authors of numerous American and German text-books and helps for the catechetical class, whose works have been carefully scanned, in order that the fruits of past experience and the best results of former labors in this field might, if possible, be embodied in this work.
May the Lord bless this explanation of Luther's Small Catechism to the upbuilding of His kingdom and the glory of His name.
Martin Luther to all faithful and godly Pastors and Preachers: Grace, Mercy and Peace, in Jesus Christ, our Lord!
The deplorable condition in which I found religious affairs during a recent visitation of the congregations, has impelled me to publish this Catechism, or statement of the Christian doctrine, after having prepared it in very brief and simple terms. Alas! what misery I beheld! The people, especially those who live in the villages, seem to have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and many of the pastors are ignorant and incompetent teachers. And, nevertheless, they all maintain that they are Christians, that they have been baptized, and that they have received the Lord's Supper. Yet they cannot recite the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments; they live as if they were irrational creatures, and now that the Gospel has come to them, they grossly abuse their Christian liberty.
Ye bishops! what answer will ye give to Christ for having so shamefully neglected the people, and paid no attention to the duties of your office? I invoke no evil on your heads. But you withhold the cup in the Lord's Supper, insist on the observance of your human laws, and yet, at the same time, do not take the least interest in teaching the people the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, or any other part of the word of God. Woe unto you!
Wherefore I beseech you in the Name of God, my beloved brethren, who are pastors or preachers, to engage heartily in the discharge of the duties of your office, to have mercy on the people who are entrusted to your care, and to assist us in introducing the Catechism among them, and especially among the young. And if any of you do not possess the necessary qualifications, I beseech you to take at least the following forms, and read them, word for word, to the people, on this wise:—
In the first place; let the preacher take the utmost care to avoid all changes or variations in the text and wording of the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, the Sacraments, etc. Let him, on the contrary, take each of the forms respectively, adhere to it, and repeat it anew, year after year. For young and inexperienced people cannot be successfully instructed, unless we adhere to the same text or the same forms of expression. They easily become confused, when the teacher at one time employs a certain form of words and expressions, and, at another, apparently with a view to make improvements, adopts a different form. The result of such a course will he, that all the time and labor which we have expended will be lost.
This point was well understood by our venerable fathers, who were accustomed to use the same words in teaching the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments.