The term catechism comes from the Greek word kata-echo, which means, "to repeat back" and long before Jesus' time the oral tradition of passing information down from generation to generation goes as far back to Homer's Iliad. Four centuries after the death of Christ, Latin-speaking Christians were using the word catechism to explain the central teaching given to new Christians. As they studied, they rehearsed what their teachers taught them. This became widely practiced and by the Middle Ages when people used the word Catechism most people understood this as the three things that all Christians studied and used to practice their faith with: the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. "By the time Martin Luther was growing up in central Europe during the 1490s," says Timothy J. Wenqea, "pastors were required to teach these three things to all adults and children and to preach on them during weekday services four times a year. When Martin Luther became an assistant preacher in 1514, he preached on these three chief parts. Some of his sermons were copied down and published. In 1528, during the absence of Wittenberg's head pastor, John Bugenhagen, Luther preached again on the three chief parts. The Small and Large Catechisms came from these sermons."
By 1529 the was not only a pastor, he was also a teacher at the university in the German town of Wittenberg. It was around this time that he published his explanations to the chief parts of the Christian faith. Initially they were printed on small sheets of paper and sold for a few pennies and by summer the printers in Wittenberg and elsewhere had gathered them into a small handbook called an enchiridion. Since most of the population could not read at the time, the assistant pastor of Wittenberg added a preface as an explanation to other members of the clergy on how to use the book. "He also attached several other sections to the end of it, "adds Wenqea. "By the end of the year printers had given this handbook a subtitle by which we know it today, The Small Catechism of Martin Luther. They gave it this name because in the same year Luther published a set of his sermons on the same topics. This book of sermons, then called The German Catechism, is now known as the Large Catechism."
The Small Catechism of Martin Luther
Part Two: The Apostles' Creed
I. The First Article: On Creation
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
Q. What does this mean?
A. I believe that God created me, along with all creatures. God gave to me: body and soul, eyes, ears and all the other parts of my body, my mind and all my senses and preserves them as well. God gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and land, spouse and children, fields, animals, and all I own. Every day God abundantly provides everything I need to nourish this body and life. God protects me against all danger, shields and defends me from all evil. God does all this because of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, not because I've earned it or deserved it. For all of this, I must thank, praise, serve,and obey God. Yes, this is true!
II. The Second Article: On Redemption
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Q. What does this mean? A. I believe that Jesus Christ is truly God, born of the Father in eternity and also truly human, born of the Virgin Mary. Christ is my Lord! Christ redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, bought and won me from all sins, death, and the authority of the Devil. It did not cost him gold or silver, but his holy, precious blood, his innocent body -- his death! Because of this, I am Christ's very own, will live under Christ in his kingdom and serve Christ righteously, innocently and blessedly forever, just as Christ is risen from death, lives and reigns forever. Yes, this is true!
III. The Third Article: On Becoming Holy (Sanctification)
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
Q. What does this mean?
A. I believe that I cannot come to my Lord Jesus Christ by my own intellegence or power. But the Holy Spirit called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with her gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as she calls, gathers together, enlightens and makes holy the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus in the one, true faith. In this Church, she generously forgives each day every sin committed by me and by every believer. On the last day, she will raise me and all the dead from the grave. She will give eternal life to me and to all who believe in Christ. Yes, this is true!
Wenqea ,Timothy J. About Lutheranism - Luther's Small Catechism:
Accessed October 27, 2005.
Originally translated by the Reverend Robert E. Smith; language significantly altered. Public domain. Apostles' Creed proper is ELLC translation, with traditional ``descended into hell'' replacing ``descended to the dead.''
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