« Cataldus Catechesis, Catechetics Catechisms »

Catechesis, Catechetics


Origin and Signification of the Terms (§ 1).

Divergent Views of the Object of Catechesis (§ 2).

True Aim of Catechesis (§ 3).

Methods of Catechesis (§ 4).

Practical Application of Catechesis (§ 5).

Relation of Catechesis to Confirmation (§ 6).

1. Origin and Signification of the Terms.

The education which the Christian Church imparts to its immature members through its chosen servants, and the theory of this education, is called catechesis. The Greek word katēchein means literally "to sound downward." Hippocrates, connecting it with the accusative of the person, signified by it the oral instruction which the physician imparts to the layman concerning the nature and treatment of disease. Lucian applied the word in a similar sense to the relation of the dramatic poet to his audience. Thus it gradually came to denote the making of an oral communication to another (Acts xxi. 21, 24), or the instruction of another. It is used in the sense of religious instruction in Luke i. 4; Acts xviii. 25; Rom. ii. 18; I Cor. xiv. 19; Gal. vi. 6. In ecclesiastical usage it signified preparation of adults for baptism (see Catechumenate). Here instruction was the principal, but not the only factor; heart, will, and conduct were to be influenced. The word catechesis, therefore, properly covers the whole training given by the Church to its children. It is distinguished from Christian pedagogics in that it furnishes only an elementary knowledge of Christian truth, while pedagogics leads to a detailed and scientific knowledge.

In the ancient Church ecclesiastical education began as soon as a heathen announced his willingness to be received into the Church. He was then accepted among the catechumens and bore the name of Christian. Nowadays Christian education is concerned no longer primarily with the heathen, but with the children of Christians. They are baptized in infancy, on condition that their parents promise to give them a Christian education. Moreover, the baptized, when they come to years of discretion, must evince a desire for the blessings of the Church, and give promise of Christian conduct.

2. Divergent Views of the Object of Catechesis.

It is more difficult to define the aim of ecclesiastical education. This can not be intellectual only; for catechesis is to lead to Christian feeling, to a Christian formation of will and conduct. Nor is it merely to inculcate obedience to the teachings and commandments of the Church; for catechesis is intended to lead to personal conviction. Others have considered qualification for the Lord's Supper as its aim, but this definition begs the question; for who is really qualified for the Lord's Supper? Others regard living faith as the aim of Christian education; but children of Christian parents can not be regarded as unbelievers. They come from Christian surroundings and possess already a certain unconscious faith in God and the Savior; ecclesiastical education is rather to confirm this implicit faith and develop it into Christian conviction and conduct. 441Thus faith is the presupposition of ecclesiastical education, but not its aim. As to what this really is, Scripture does not give a definite answer; the distinction, however, between immature and mature Christians (I Cor. iii. 1; Eph. iv. 13; Heb. v. 12) brings nearer to a solution of the problem. There is a childlike faith in the Lord which is still ignorant and without a firm hold, and there is a faith of the adult who has attained a convinced knowledge of Christian truth and a certain perfection in Christian conduct.

3. True Aim of Catechesis.

Whoever of his own will and upon the basis of his faith seeks communion with Christ in the means of grace and in prayer is mature, and ecclesiastical education exists for the purpose of attaining that maturity. It is evident that no definite age can be laid down for such an attainment, because faith and Christian conduct are based upon moral freedom. Maturity depends altogether upon the individual, and can not be armed of any one because the heart can not be read. On that account every person must be considered mature who possesses a sufficient knowledge of Christian truth and who promises to lead a Christian life. Maturity is, therefore, more than a qualification for the reception of the Lord's Supper; a child of ten years may have the faith and knowledge necessary for receiving the sacrament in a becoming manner, but he is not mature. Ecclesiastical education must be continued after the first communion. This further growth may be gradually attained by the continuation of Christian fellowship in the family and in the Church; but since this, under the conditions of modern life, is not always applicable, theologians usually lay down the necessity of special institutions whose educational work shall continue until the attainment of maturity.

4. Methods of Catechesis.

Instruction is the principal although not the only means of education. Religious instruction is first and foremost instruction of the heart, intended to lead to a knowledge of God. But this knowledge is based upon inner experiences, and these experiences again have their foundation in observation. God has revealed himself in nature, but more completely in the spiritual life. This, as manifested in Christ, is the perfect revelation of God; and as the record of this life is found in Holy Scripture, the Bible is the principal book of instruction. Owing to the wealth of material contained therein, it has been considered advisable to condense and select certain stories specially adapted for the young without paying particular attention to their connection as a whole. From this book of stories the pupil is gradually led to the Bible itself. He is to memorize certain passages and read different portions of it in order to penetrate its spirit and attain practise in its use. The Gospels, some historical sections of the Old Testament, and the Psalms are best adapted for this purpose. Another source of material for religious instruction is found in the Church hymns, which awaken religious sentiment and enable the pupil to participate intelligently in public worship. After the pupil has acquired a number of religious truths from the selections or from the Bible itself, it is possible to present these truths in their most concise form and in their connection. This is necessary in order to give the pupil a clear survey of the Christian truths and to strengthen his conviction. Such an epitome is given in the catechism. The part of it longest in use is the Apostles' Creed; next followed the Lord's Prayer, and in the Middle Ages the decalogue was added as a basis of instruction, to give a proper understanding of sin. These three articles form the main portions of the Evangelical catechism; from the law the pupil learns the greatness of his sin, in the creed he professes his faith in the means of salvation from it, and in the Lord's Prayer he expresses his longing for Christian conduct as a disciple of Christ. Since the immediate aim of religious instruction is, participation in the Lord's Supper, the doctrine of the sacrament forms the fourth division of the Catechism. This is the order of the Reformation catechisms; and though objections have been made to it, they may be shown to be unfounded.

As the catechist has not only to communicate knowledge, but to move the heart and will, the instruction must be oral and personal. No book ought to be used in religious instruction, except the Bible at the time fixed for reading it. Biblical stories, hymn-books, and catechisms are only aids to be used at home. As children like to hear stories, the teacher should begin his instruction with telling them. Verses of hymns, texts and answers from the catechism are to be used mainly in illustration of the Biblical story. As the child's attention is attracted only a short time by the talk of the teacher, his interest has to be retained by asking him questions. There is a distinction made between analytical and synthetical instruction. In analytical instruction the material is ready at hand, as in the Biblical story, in Scripture-reading, and hymns, and the religious truth is developed from it. In synthetical instruction only the theme is given, as in the catechism and Bible texts, and the material has to be gathered elsewhere.

Owing to the amount of material, religious instruction must be spread over several years. In the German system it covers eight, during the first four of which the Bible story forms the basis of instruction. In the fifth year hymns are treated in connection with the church year, and Bible-reading and instruction, in the catechism are begun. The pupils receive practise in the use of the Bible, and some portions of the historical books are read in connection with the Biblical stories. The decalogue, the creed, and the Lord's Prayer are briefly explained and thus stamped upon the memory. The last two years place Bible-reading and the catechism in the foreground. The instruction should be imparted by both pastor and teacher. It is advisable that the pastor should instruct the pupils at least two years; he should confine himself mainly to the catechism in connection with Bible-reading, and leave the Biblical stories and hymns to the teacher. On any arrangement it is essential that pastor and teacher should work in harmony, each with an eye to the special instruction imparted by the other.


5. Practical Application of Catechesis.

As religious education addresses itself to the heart as well as to the mind, the cultivation of the former is not less the duty of the catechist. Common devotional exercises are held, consisting of the singing of hymns, reading of Scripture, and an extempore prayer by the teacher. Moreover, observance of Sunday and regular attendance on the Church services should be required of the children. As the sermons at those services can not be sufficiently grasped by younger children, special services are to be arranged for them. With the religious practise moral practise must go hand in hand. Order, diligence, modesty, obedience, truth, and other virtues must be inculcated.

While the pupil must be taught obedience and respect, the teacher should not be immoderate and unjust in his demands or irascible. If he shows the least partiality or injustice, he weakens his authority. Reproof should come before punishment, and should be made to suffice as long as possible, so that the teacher shall not come too soon to the end of his resources. Older scholars should be won by private exhortation where necessary, and led to self-examination and self-judgment, so that they may find the path of goodness for themselves.

6. Relation of Catechesis to Confirmation.

Christianity as a spiritual religion demands a definite religious conviction and moral sentiment. The Christian Church, therefore, receives as members only those who make their confession of faith and promise Christian conduct. In the early Church a profession of faith and a vow were made before baptism, and the first communion followed after it. When infant baptism became general, the need was felt of bringing in this profession and vow later as a preliminary to the first communion. In this way originated the rite of confirmation in the Protestant churches. Confirmation is not a declaration of maturity. The faith of a child may be of such a kind as to admit him or her to the Lord's Supper, but not yet to a life that may dispense with all further religious aid. The profession and the vow must be spontaneous, they must proceed from the candidate's own moral decision; therefore, the child should not be forced to confirmation at a fixed age. The custom of confirming children as a matter of course at the age of fourteen has led to insincerity and hypocrisy, and it is the duty of the Church to check it as much as possible, which can to a certain extent be accomplished by emphasizing the purely voluntary character of the act, and by having an intervening time between the examination in religious knowledge and the profession of faith.

If the confirmed are still immature in the religious sense, their education must be continued. The influence of the Christian home and of church fellowship are hardly sufficient for this. Our ancestors in both the Lutheran and the Reformed churches demanded that the children should continue to participate, even after their first communion, in the regular catechetical instruction of the Church until their eighteenth year or until their marriage. These customs have disappeared in the last century because confirmed children have been considered mature, but this is a grave mistake, in view of the diminution of wholesome family influence and the observance of Sunday, and the reform of these conditions is an urgent necessity of our modern Church.

(E. Sachsse.)

The preceding article is written from the standpoint of a subject of Germany, where Church and State are united and religious instruction is consequently a part of the curriculum of the schools. A treatment of catechetics from a more general point of view is given by implication in Catechisms.

Bibliography: The bibliographies under Catechisms and Catechumenate should be consulted; C. I. Nitzsch, Praktische Theologie, ii. 133–235 Bonn, 1860; C. Palmer, Evangelische Katechetik, Stuttgart, 1875; R. Kübel, Katechetik, Barmen, 1877; J. G. Wenham, The Catechumen, London, 1881; E. Daniel, How to Teach the Church Catechism, ib. 1882; T. Harnack, Katechetik, Erlangen, 1882; S. J. Hulme, Principles of the Catechism of the Church of England, Stow-on-the-Wold, 1882; N. Hass, Wie soll der Religionslehrer öffentlich katechisieren? Regensburg, 1885; E. Bather, Hints on the Art of Catechising, London, 1888; K. Buchrucker, Grundlinien des kirchlichen Katechismus, Berlin, 1889; J. E. Denison, Catechising on the Catechism, London, 1889; F. A. P. Dupanloup, The Ministry of Catechising, ib. 1891; P. Schaff, Theological Propædeutic, part ii., pp. 500–504, New York, 1893; K. Schultze, Evangelische Volksschulkunde, Gotha, 1893; G. R. Crooks and J. F. Hurst, Theological Encyclopædia, pp. 514–526, New York, 1894; E. Sachsse, Die Lehre von der kirchlichen Erziehung, Berlin, 1897; E. C. Achelis, Praktische Theologie, ii. 1–176, Leipsic, 1898; J. Lütkemann, Anleitung zur Katechismuslehre, Hermannsburg, 1898; R. Staude, Der Katechismusunterricht, Präparationen, 3 vols., Dresden, 1900–01.

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