This year being the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation (1517-2017) – its origin notably marked by Martin Luther’s posting of his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517 – we have begun a series of posts to run throughout the year on some of the major works of Luther.
Today we take a preliminary look at Luther’s Small Catechism, sometimes called “Enchiridion,” a Latin word meaning small handbook or manual.
One of the earliest fruits of the Reformation was the development of a catechism curricula of Protestant (and later Reformed) truth and practice for the instruction of the youth and the adults of the church. Just as Rome recognized the importance of teaching the children of the church in her doctrines, so did the Reformers. Only they were intent on teaching the youth the truth and godliness of the Word of God, not the false teaching and ungodliness of the apostate Roman Catholic Church.
And so, early on Luther wrote his small catechism (1529), to instruct and guide the members of the recently formed Protestant churches in the newly rediscovered doctrines of the Bible. The content was simple and clear, as this paragraph from a Lutheran website states:
The Small Catechism explores the Six Chief Parts of Christian Doctrine: the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar. It also includes daily prayers, a table of duties for Christians, and a guide for Christians to use as they prepare to receive Holy Communion.
For this post, we refer you to the preface of this catechism of Luther, where he deplored the spiritual condition of the church and implored the pastors and preachers to get about instructing their members in the basic truths and practices of the Christian faith.
Here are his opening lines of that Preface:
Martin Luther, to all faithful and godly pastors and preachers: grace, mercy, and peace be yours in Jesus Christ, our Lord.
The deplorable, miserable conditions which I recently observed when visiting the parishes have constrained and pressed me to put this catechism of Christian doctrine into this brief, plain, and simple form. How pitiable, so help me God, were the things I saw: the common man, especially in the villages, knows practically nothing of Christian doctrine, and many of the pastors are almost entirely incompetent and unable to teach. Yet all the people are supposed to be Christians, have been baptized, and receive the Holy Sacrament even though they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments and live like poor animals of the barnyard and pigpen. What these people have mastered, however, is the fine art of tearing all Christian liberty to shreds.
Oh, you bishops! How will you ever answer to Christ for letting the people carry on so disgracefully and not attending to the duties of your office even for a moment? One can only hope judgment does not strike you! You command the Sacrament in one kind only, insist on the observance of your human ways, and yet are unconcerned whether the people know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, or indeed any of God’s Word. Woe, woe to you forever!
Therefore dear brothers, for God’s sake I beg all of you who are pastors and preachers to devote yourselves sincerely to the duties of your office, that you feel compassion for the people entrusted to your care, and that you help us accordingly to inculcate this catechism in the people, especially the young. If you cannot do more, at least take the tables and charts for catechism instruction and drill the people in them word for word….
To read the rest of this powerful introduction to Luther’s catechism, go here. And when you are tempted to criticize or complain about the catechism lessons your children have to learn and you as parents have to help them learn, go back and read this preface.