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1. Branch of religious educ. dealing with the theory and method of teaching Christian doctrine, particularly to children and to such adults as are candidates for ch. membership. The term is derived from the Gk. word �athcvw, meaning “to instruct by word of mouth”; it first referred esp. to oral instruction, usually of an informal type. By the 13th c. catechetics had acquired the connotation of instruction in the form of questions and answers. In Luther's time the word catechismus came to be applied to a book; A. Althamer's* 1528 catechism was the first book with the word in its title. Luther used the term because he felt such a book would meet the needs of oral instruction. In the course of time, catechetics has become assoc. with systematic questioning on the basis of a catechism.

2. Since Christ commanded His followers to build the ch. by teaching and baptizing, it was self-evident from the outset that instruction in doctrine be a most important consideration of the church. In the apostolic ch. there were 2 patterns of educ., one for, the Jewish converts and one for Gentiles. The former was quite simple; it had 2 phases: (1) to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah and (2) to understand the place of the Law in the NT church. Traces of a pattern for Gentile converts can be seen in Paul's references to instruction in Christian faith (Ro 16:17; 1 Co 15:3–4) and morals (Ro 6:17; Eph 4:20–32).

3. Up to the time of the persecutions (ca. AD 200) the type of instruction seems to have been of a more informal nature, though the earlier writings show that the ch. fathers tried to systematize doctrines. Under persecution the ch. became more cautious in receiving new members. The time of probation and preparation was extended. One result was the “catechumenate,” beginnings of which are reflected in the writings of Origen.* Inquiry into the character and life of a catechumen and a course of instruction preceded entry into the catechumenate, both classes of which attended the missa catechumenorum*: (1) audientes (Lat. “hearers”) or beginners, who had not yet obtained the mark of complete purification, and (2) competentes (Lat. “those qualified”), who had given sufficient evidence of sincerity. The latter were given instruction for baptism, received by that sacrament into full membership, and admitted to the missa fidelium* and the Lord's Supper. After the persecutions the catechumenate declined for many reasons, chief of which was this, that the large number of persons following the popular trend to become Christians made thorough instruction impossible.

4. From the 7th to the 12th c. religious educ. waned. Mass baptisms and group decisions made it practically impossible to carry on a systematic form of catechetics. A few protested. Men like Pirmin,* Alcuin,* Charlemagne,* and Rabanus* Maurus drew up instructions for training ch. mems., but their influence was limited.

5. Catechetical works in the stricter sense date back to the Weissenburg catechism (ca. the end of the 8th c.), which contained the Lord's Prayer, a section on capital sins, the Creed, and liturgical matter. The catechism of Notker* Labeo was used till the 12th c. The first catechism in the form of questions and answers was written by Bruno, bp. of Würzburg (d. 1045).

6. Among pre-Reformation sects the Waldenses* and the followers of J. Hus* prepared catechisms in the form of questions and answers. These catechisms consisted chiefly of 3 parts explaining the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer; the RC catechism in the Middle Ages as a rule had 2 divisions: the Lord's Prayer and the Creed.

7. With the Reformation many catechisms came on the scene. J. Bugenhagen,* P. Melanchthon,* and J. Brenz* are a few of many who pub. various types of catechisms, some for the people, others for the clergy. Luther's Der kleine Katechismus, which first appeared 1529, is the oldest catechism of the ch. still in use. It was the culmination of several series of sermons beginning 1516. It soon outstripped others in influence and importance and was tr. into practically all Eur. languages, its deeply evangelical note, which was not satisfied with simple historic faith but emphasized functional living Christianity, is doubtless the reason for its popularity. Luther's Der grosse Katechismus also appeared 1529. See Catechisms, Luther's.

8. Pursuant to action of the Council of Trent 4 theologians were appointed to draw up a catechism to serve chiefly as a manual for catechists and preachers. Result of their effort was the Catechismus Romanus (see Roman Catholic Confessions, A 3).

9. After the Reformation throughout Luth. countries the catechism of Luther or those of other reformers came to play an important part in family worship and in the curriculum of ch. and school. But despite earnest efforts, catechetical instruction began in many sections to degenerate into rote learning of the chief parts of the catechism. When Pietism* entered the Ger. ch., notably through P. J. Spener,* special measures were taken to avoid this intellectualism. But the rationalism* which followed this period blighted the ch. in Europe. The theory of rationalists was that instruction in religion should not concern itself so much with imparting truths, but should follow the Socratic method of drawing the needed truths out of the child. They failed to see that a Christian teacher deals not only with reason and experience but also with revelation, the truths of which must be imparted. They also overlooked the fact that they were not dealing with mature minds but with children. By mid-19th c. Luther's catechism was welcomed back into most schools of Germany. In the Scand. chs. Luther's catechisms never lost their hold and are still in use in upper grades of pub. elementary and secondary schools.

10. The RC Ch. also felt the impact of rationalism. Its catechisms were criticized as too dry, too impractical, too scholastic, and not Christian enough. Dissatisfaction culminated in attempts to produce more satisfactory texts, most of which bore the mark of rationalism. In reaction to this, a spirit of romanticism came into the RC Ch., showing respect to antiquity and esp. to the Middle Ages.

11. When Luths. came to Am. they at first used catechisms of their native land. Among these catechisms was the so-called Kreuz-Katechismus of Dresden. But Am. translations and explanations of Luther's Small Catechism began to appear in the 17th c. J. Campanius* tr. it into an Am. Indian language. German and Eng. eds. probably came from Benjamin Franklin's press 1749. Since then many hundreds of eds. have been pub. in Am. in nearly all languages spoken in the country. Among those of important influence were reprints and revisions of the Dresden catechism and Ger. and Eng. eds. of J. K. Dietrich's* catechism which included material from the Dresden catechism. Other explanations of Luther's catechism used in Am. include those by J. K. W. Löhe,* J. Stump,* J. M. Reu,* H. J. Schuh,*, C. F. W. Gausewitz,* Jacob A. Dell, Henry P. Grimsby, Otto Frederick Nolde, and J. Tanner*; among Norwegians, E. Pontoppidan's* catechism and Harald Ulrik Sverdrup's catechism, abridged ed., tr. by Emil Gunerius Lurid (1852–1938) have been preferred; the H. C. Schwan* ed. was popular in the Mo. Syn. till a new synodical catechism appeared 1943.

12. The catechism enjoyed a prominent position also in the Ref. branches of the Prot. church. In Scotland, Calvin's 1545 catechism held a dominant place, but was supplanted 1648 by act of Parliament by the Westminster Shorter Catechism, used by Presbyterians, Baptists, and Congregationalists in Gt. Brit. In Holland and in the Palatinate, where Dutch Ref. and Ger. Ref. were prominent, the Heidelberg Catechism was used (see Reformed Confessions, D 2).

13. When mems. of various denominations came to Am., they brought their catechisms with them. In the course of time these catechisms were supplemented by the writings of J. Cotton,* B. Harris,* and I. Watts*. Much of Cotton's catechism was incorporated in The New-England Primer. Other early catechisms were by J. Davenport,* J. Eliot,* T. Shepard,* R. Mather,* J. Norton,* and S. Stone.*

14. For many yrs. the outstanding catechism of the RC Ch. in Am. was the 1885 Baltimore Catechism, later revised by a committee of bps. and printed in graded eds. Since 1959 A Catholic Catechism, Eng. version of the Katholischer Katechismus, official for all dioceses of Ger., has found widespread use in the US

15. While catechetics has disappeared in many sections of the Christian ch., it still holds an important place among Luths. and RCs Among the latter there is a definite trend away from formalism and toward leading the catechumen to personal, living, active faith. Catechetical renewal has been linked with the liturgical renewal in that church. Impetus was given to this movement by the Congress for Mission Catechetics, Eichstätt, Ger., July 21–28, 1960. Among the leaders in this trend are Johannes Hofinger, Josef Andreas Jungmann, Gerard S. Sloyan, and Josef Goldbrunner.

16. Some of the more important trends in the Luth. Ch. are evident in the Ger. writings of Kurt Frör, Karl Witt, Karl Hauschildt, and Alfred Niebergall. In the US, the LCA's parish educ. curriculum (ed. W. Kent Gilbert) and the LCMS's catechism series (ed. Walter M. Wangerin) give evidence of a departure from formal questioning and a return to the concept of catechetics which combines discussion and the expository method in such a way that doctrine becomes personal and functional. ACR

See also Theology.

I. Historical Studies. J. M. Reu, Catechetics, or Theory and Practice of Religious Instruction, 3d ed. (Chicago, 1931), Quellen zur Geschichte des kirchlichen Unterrichts in der evangelischen Kirche Deutschlands zwischen 1530 und 1600, a multivolume work (Gütersloh, 1904–35), and Dr. Martin Luther's Small Catechism: A History of Its Origin, Its Distribution, and Its Use (Chicago, 1929); L. J. Sherrill, The Rise of Christian Education (New York, 1944).

II. Recent Roman Catholic Studies. J. Goldbrunner, Teaching the Cath. Catechism, tr. B. Adkins, 3 vols. (New York, 1959–60); J. A. Jungmann, Handing on the Faith (New York, 1959); Shaping the Christian Message, ed. G. Sloyan (New York, 1958); Teaching All Nations, ed. J. Hofinger, rev. and partly tr. by C. Howell, 3d print. (New York, 1962).

III. Recent Lutheran Studies. K. Frör, Erziehung und Kerygma (Munich, 1952); O. Hammelsbeck, Der kirchliche Unterricht (Munich, 1947); K. Witt, Konfirmandenunterricht, 3d ed. (Göttingen, 1964); A. C. Repp, Confirmation in the Lutheran Church (St. Louis, 1964).

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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