Catechisms: More than Remembering - Kevin Donlan

While the church in the West has often stated through resolution that a catechetical imperative for all is a priority, the church in the West has often has failed to fully resonate what the early Christian community had as the benchmark for the nurturing of discipleship. The significance of the principles of formation must reflect the affective and the cognitive dimensions so as to demonstrate to the unevangelized and unchurched that Anglicans are serious about faith formation in a time of spiritual uncertainty.

Some might suggest that catechisms are passe, something may have been useful in a previous day but not be today. Such a dismissal often stems from a lack of  understanding about them. Catechism is a word which the ancient Greeks used in reference to the theatre and which means "to make resound like an echo". This word,  which does not appear in the Old Testament   does have a heritage that is mindful of   Hebrew roots as there is some usage of the Greek word "didaché" which is given the meaning of “transmitting  the Word of God as a teaching of life”. Thus,  in Deuteronomy 4:10 ("Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children so" and in Deuteronomy 11:19-20: "And you shell teach them to your children, talking of them…  And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house".) we encounter some of the biblical foundations for catechesis . In the New Testament  Gospels one could argue that  the Gospels are the first great "Catechism" which was transmitted orally and eventually put to writing containing the essentials of all that   Jesus "teaches" and "preaches" (Matthew 9:35; Mark 1:21; Luke 21:37). The Beatitudes certainly would qualify as classic catechetical teaching topic The spirit of this was certainly taken up by  the nascent Church to indicate the primordial duty to make disciples (cf. Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline Letters). The proclamation of salvation was to be consolidated into the words and deeds of Christ, so as to provoke an "echo" in the mind and in the heart of the listeners, and transform  their lives.

A “source book” of teaching evolved from Gospel preaching and teaching so that by the  end of the first century, the "Didaché" or "Doctrine of the Apostles" was compiled.1 It was a guide to instruct those who were preparing to be baptized as well as to inform about the nature of the life in the community. By the end of the first century the seed was sown for a structure to be put in place that offered the fundamental Christian truths,  formulated in a clear way so that tunderstanding, apprehension and application could be appropriated. As time went by, became the normal aid for this duty was called Catechism.

Effectively a catechism was intended to affect the Great Commission of the Church (Matthew 28:18-20). Coming to know Christ and the power of his resurrection mean one would come to know the mystery of living in his community, which found its greatest expression in the liturgical and ritual actions. This opportunity to journey with Christ and his Church gave birth today as the Rite of Christian Initiation where ritual action and cognitive Instruction was an integral part of the coming into the life of the church. This process became known as the Catechumenate, which was adaptation of the term used (catechumen) for the candidate seeking to be part of the body of Christ.2  This is balanced process of ritual action and intense instruction for those seeking Baptism, Eucharist and Chrismation is readily evident in the Pre-Baptismal catechetical instructions offered by Saints Cyril, Augustine and John Chrysostom. Hippolytus of Rome.

Given the time and technology these the instructions may not have been printed for study by the candidates, they did offer a significant contribution to the Christian journey as they explained the core values of the catholic faith which were linked with rich liturgical experiences; as well as very specific demands and expectations to be admitted to the community. In ancient times and in the Middle Ages, to make good for the lack of manual copies, the system of "tablets" was used; on these " tablets " the truths of the faith and the prayers were inscribed and were put in a place in the house or Church where they could be easily seen, so that everybody could understand their content. In other times, they were "illustrated catechisms"  which served not only the illiterate but also the whole community as didactic aids. The entirety of this journey formed a deep and abiding Christian mythic consciousness. However, once the RCIA fell into disuse this mythic consciousness was very difficult to recapture.

By the Fifth Century, St Augustine of Hippo at the request of a catechist, writes Twenty Seven chapters in which he tries to help deepen the faith of those Christians who, though educated in profane knowledge, were "rude" in the religious one. This work is entitled De Catechizandis Rudibus.3 He begins with the history of salvation which culminates in the charity brought by Jesus Christ, who through his Resurrection gives joy to the catechist and the one being catechized. After the church becomes aligned with the state Christendom was born and with that changes in how the people came to life in the Church. Slowly but surely the Rites of Initiation Disappear and new formats begin to emerge. In the Ninth century,  Alcuin of York, the great promoter of the cultural Renaissance during the time of Charles the Great, is attributed the redaction of Disputatio Puerorum Per Interrogationes et Responsiones (an exposition for children in questions and answers). It includes sacred history and the doctrine on the Sacraments, the Creed and the Our Father. The title indicates already its method and is a forerunner of modern catechisms as the vernacular language was used for the catechesis. The evolution of  an Anglican catechism, like other medieval/reformed catechisms contained a number of different formularies.  While much credit is given to the influence of the Continental Reformers on Anglican Catechisms, there is some evidence that some catechetical tools were available in parts of England.  In the York there was used published what was known as a Lay Folks Catechism,4 which included the Creed, the Sacraments, the two precepts of charity, the seven capital sins and the seven cardinal virtues. For the first time the name Catechism was explicitly used. It was published in two languages, Latin and English, for popular use. Already several other times catechetical works were written in the vernacular language for those people who did not normally use Latin. On the eve of the Reformation, Martin Luther, in 1529, using the material of his catechetical sermons wrote his first catechism as a guide to those who would  preach and teach the goals of his reform of his reforms. This was followed by one he authored for "children and simple people", which he even called Enchiridion. 5 The influence of these works were significant   and probably felt no more significantly outside of Germany than by Thomas Cranmer. The works of Luther  found  effected   Cranmer so greatly that the very scope   of what was being taught (i.e.   Eucharistic Presence) in the new catechism of 1548 ran contrary to what the English Church had come to revere Church. This caused a less than favorable initial reception on the part of many in the church  to an what was thought to be an authentically English Catechism. There were also  other reformers, such as John Calvin, who made use of this genre to teach people their new doctrines and whose influence would be felt catechetically. When the Reformation dust settled, most reformation traditions had some example of a catechism, as did the Roman Catholic Church in response. Irrespective of where one found one’s self on the theological fault line, few could dispute the efficacy of these "books in the effective dispensation of  religious information/propaganda at all levels.   Lutherans, Calvinists, Presbyterians and Roman Catholics produced definitive catechisms intending to instruct members and offer a sense of identity and purpose amidst a pluralistic religious landscape. Each had distinct nuances relative to a reformed or catholic expression of faith;  nonetheless the purpose was to offer clarity of understanding in the basic tenets of the Christian faith as understood in that religious tradition. Ian Green suggests in his study on Post Reformation catechizing that there were three levels of catechesis: 1) Elementary 2) Intermediate 3) University. Which mirrored many of Augustine’s principles. “At its simplest level catechizing was a means of ensuring that all members of the church could say by heart a number of formulaic answers, usually including the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and Ten Commandments . . . which was the minimum knowledge for those who were going to receive the Lord’s Supper, get married or act as god-parents.”6 The significance of the catechesis finds its basis in the efforts of St.  Augustine’s instructions as Augustine framed the basic format of catechism in offering an expository analysis of all aspects of the faith (i.e. the Creeds, sections of Sacred Scripture and various prayers. It was this particular style that influenced all printed catechisms and those in the Anglican tradition were no exception. The ritual actions of the catechumenate however, proved to be the missing component to effective formation. The Anglican tradition was no exception and the use of a formal catechism officially promulgated is traced to 1549. While the Book of Common Prayer offered a framework for catechesis to occur in a liturgical context that was rarely the case. The origins the catechism was as part of the Order of Service in its appearance in the Book of Common Prayer, however it was functionally separated from the rites of initiation. Green notes that the catechism dominated the church early one was the "church catechism," which originally appeared in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. This catechism featured thirteen questions and answers, and took up only seven pages in the Prayer Book. Its length was doubled in 1604, when revisers added a section on the sacraments. Because this catechism was printed in not only the Book of Common Prayer, but two other best-selling works, The ABC with the catechisme, and The primer and catechisme, it has claim to being one of the most pervasive works of the era. As Green suggests,  "it is likely that the first text on which the majority of people who learnt to read practiced their new skills was the catechism of 1549". 7 Dean Alexander Nowell of Saint Paul’s London in his catechism of 1562 e writes that the catechism was intended “for the bringing up of the youth in godliness.”8 The catechism once extracted from the role of Christian Formation became a tool for social order and decency under the Crown and Almighty God. Catechisms expanded their scope beyond the Apostles Creed, Ten Commandments and Lord’s Prayer to include sacraments, scripture, church identity and social relations. While some of the topics contained in the catechism have been developed and expanded, the central tenet of the catechism has not. The continued focus of the catechism is to encourage members of the church to grow in a personal understanding of the faith that results in the living of a godly life through both corporate and inidual’s means. By the 16th century, the catechism was seen as a tool to be used with the young and the ignorant. The only relevance it had to formation was the requirement of knowing the catechism as a test to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, as stated in the Canons of the Church of England in 1604:

Every minister that hath cure and charge of souls, for the better accomplishing of the orders prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer concerning confirmation, shall take such especial care as that none may be presented to the bishop for him to lay his hands upon, but such as can render an account of their faith according to the Catechism.(Canon LXI) 9
While the formulae in the catechisms that evolved after the reformation were helpful in the task of memorization, they did not form iniduals. This genre of simple question and answer failed to present the Christian message in such a manner that hearts and souls were stirred up. If one reads the catechisms of the past,  or even the Outline of Faith as presented the present Book of Common Prayer,  one would be hard pressed to suggest that the ordinary believer or inquirer comprehends with heart, mind and soul the catholic faith that this church says it professes. How can the identity and vocation of the church catholic be appreciated and articulated if holistic and organic opportunities in formation are not afforded to seeker and believers alike? The patterns of the 16th and 17th Century as contained in the Books of Common Prayer have been the models we have utilized with very little success. The problem would not be style or content but context. The part of focus and meaning, the community of faith was excluded in the formation process and the ritual actions of the church were not seen as part of the process but as a reward for successfully navigating your way.

  A Global South Catechism :An Ancient/future Possibility The time has come for a catechism that can work in concert with the, preaching, Anglican Liturgical Rites and a process of initiation can affirm a faith that is evangelical and catholic in scope and experience. The ancient model of the catechism, employed so brilliantly by St. Cyril of Jerusalem, used a three-fold structure of Creed, Ten Commandments and Lord’s Prayer that served as a springboard for discourse and instruction on the catholic faith. I propose that, as Anglicans,  a three-fold structure of the catechism also be employed; mirroring the depth and scope of St. Cyril, but using the categories of Scripture, Reason and Tradition as the context whereby all questions and reflections can be addressed. This “three-fold cord not easily broken” has not been easily identifiable. It has been suggested that if anyone wants to know what Anglicans believe, all one needs to do is turn to the Book of Common Prayer and see these three elements interplay with one another, as best evidenced in worship. In a culture that is attuned to the concepts of Scripture, Reason and Tradition as part of an ongoing story with distinctive signs and symbols that give meaning and purpose to those who believe, one will find a rich resource of who Anglican-Christians are. However,  that is not the world we live in. These terms are without direct meaning to the vocation of church. When seekers open up the Book of Common Prayer today they are in need a document that inspires hearts and imaginations to participate in a living faith that has a particular identity and vocation; one that lays claim to the past so it can see its future. However, without adequate formation, that truth is lost. When a commitment to authentic formation is undertaken   the concepts of Scripture, Reason and Tradition as part of an ongoing story that has distinctive signs and symbols will give meaning and purpose to those who are seeking to believe. When that occurs people will make a significant discovery and learn what a rich resource of what Anglican Christianity is. Thus the pressing task is to create opportunities and use resources that will allow people to make this discovery and for those who already belong to make a re-discovery. Otherwise Anglicanism will be left with terms and ceremonies that are without direct meaning to the lives of people.  Anglicanism is in need of a resource that inspires hearts and imaginations to participate in a living faith that has a particular identity and vocation.  Certainly the success of the ALPHA Program at Holy Trinity Church in Brompton, England illustrates this. The categories of Scripture, Reason, Tradition, Faith and Order creates a context for exploring the deep questions, which mirror the many questions that are shared by those who desire to be marked with the sign of faith.  In studying the Catechism and participating in a ongoing formation experience, Anglican Christians and those who are curious about the same can understand and experience the church as a continuous tradition that is one, holy, catholic and apostolic with a distinctive identity that is both evangelical and catholic.  While Anglicanism’s claim to ambiguity and comprehensiveness has received much applause in the West  the fact is that it does not adequately reflect the identity and vocation that has been handed on since the Patristic   Church. The Global South Catechism contained  seeks to reclaim that gift for future generations in a way that is accessible to them and yet challenges them at the same time. In this reconstituting of catechism categories, a synthesis of what is essential to being an Anglican-Christian should emerge. The questions of Scripture introduce one to the story, Tradition demonstrates how that story continues and Reason offers insight as to how we live into this faith experience. If Scripture is to be a tool to rouse faith, Tradition a way to experience that faith through Christian living and worship and reason the examination and integration of our beliefs, then such a document is needed if the church is going to change to meet the formation needs of a Post-Christian Society. Through such an approach, Anglicanism can have the identity it needs and the fluidness it enjoys, once that identity has been apprehended. The format is designed to provide a complete presentation of the story of faith that "hands on" fundamental theological truths and the possibility of practical spiritual living of these ageless truths within a post-modern context. An annotated catechism does not offer absolute answers to the great questions of life and faith. It does offer a way to understand those questions in the context of how the mystery can be lived, as opposed to attacking life as a series of problems to be solved. Given this scope, the catechist and the catechumen can begin with a heading or a subtopic that is of concern to them and go to other areas from there. The design of this project is create a  well researched resource intended to meet the present demand for catechetical formation resources in the  life of the Anglican Communion; utilizing a discussion or didactic model in concert with the Rites of the Church. Q: Why a catechism? A:  The "catechism is primarily intended for use by parish priests, deacons and lay catechists to give an outline for instruction. It is a commentary on the creeds, but is not meant to be a complete statement of belief and practice;  rather it is a point of departure for the teacher, and it is cast in the traditional questions and answer form for ease of reference. The second use of the catechism is to provide a clear summary of the Church’s teaching for an inquiring person. The sharing and handing on of the faith is a vocation that all baptized Christian have a special claim to by virtue of the promises made at baptism. Increasingly, are not certain what they are supposed to hand on and those who are curious about our Anglican tradition are not sure what we stand for. While such admission is painful and may contribute to questions about the clarity of Anglican identity; it is also an opportunity to transform what some believe is this catechetical crisis into a catechetical renaissance. It seems that the advent of a crisis has many in a panic seeking to emulate educational and spiritual models that have been successful for other religious traditions.  Anglicans have models that have worked and can continue to work providing those of us in leadership can present them in new and accessible casings. One of the tools to enrich the life of the faith community has been the catechism. One cannot question that historically catechisms have been a useful tools in aiding people on the journey of faith. This is true in a number of religious traditions and no less so in the Anglican ethos. Q: What exactly is a "catechism? A:  The word catechism comes from the Greek word  kathcew, which means to hear or instruct. Thus, in the early church, catechumens were iniduals who would receive instruction for the Rite of Christian Initiation and the catechism was the tool of oral instruction on the foundations of the Christian faith.  Eventually this term was used to describe a book of instructions that began to appear in the Middle Ages. As the topics the catechism addresses continues to expand, the central principle of the catechism has not.  The continued focus of the catechism is to encourage members of the church to grow in a personal understanding of the faith that results in the living of a Godly life through both corporate and inidual’s means. In short it is to be an accessible tool in the work of Christian Formation. Q: Why an Global South catechism A:  The Question and Answer method as found in most Books of Common Prayer was a popular pedagogical tool stemming from the Socratic method of learning. As a formation resource this method is very helpful in absorbing information for one’s own personal understanding. It also states very clearly the basic tenets as they have been traditionally held.  However, given the world we live in, where questions beget more questions and set answers are received with some suspicion. An annotated approach to a catechism, can make accessible for catechist and catechumen alike, material that can facilitate deeper discussion and offer a developmental flow to the process of a faith formation in accord with the long standing teaching of the church. In countless, parishes large and small, priest and Christian education commissions struggle to find a cohesive presentation that offers the ongoing teaching of the church, with thoughtful articles and practical exercises that can illumine the mind and soul of those involved in the catechetical process. While the catechism offers an outline for instruction, an annotated catechism from the Global South is an attempt to fill in the outline by arranging in a thoughtful way the Anglican celebration of the catholic faith. Anglicanism is not as nebulous and as vague as many perceive it to be. If those who are seekers can be exposed to an in depth examination of the history and evolution of Anglicanism since the third century; they would discover that there is a definite depth, beauty and conviction to this ongoing experience of the catholic faith. A Global South Catechism is designed provide for a complete presentation of the story of faith that "hands on" fundamental theological truths and the possibility of practical spiritual living of these ageless truths with the post-modern context. This work does not offer absolute answer to the great questions of life and faith. It does offer a way to understand those questions in the context of how the mystery can be lived as opposed to trying to attack life as a series of problems to be solved! The future of a 21st Century catechism should be based in the three traditional thematic of Anglican identity, that is oft  termed the "three-legged stool". These are: Scripture, Reason and Tradition. As the Anglican foundations have not changed; how they may be lived out in a dynamic way does and will. The Global South catechism is an invitation to shape that dynamism of lives in such a way that can offer people direction and meaning and serves as an excellent complement to the  liturgical Rites of the church and will assist in the reclamation of an Anglican Christian mythic consciousness as had occurred during the great catechetical periods in the Church. Rev. Dr Kevin Donlon is one of the Corresponding Members of the Global South Theological Formation and Education Task Force

1 Stuart G.  Hall., Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church.,(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmanns Publishing Co.,1991)p.29-31

2 William  Harmless., Augustine and the Catechumenate., (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press/Pueblo Books,1995) p.24-25

3 Joseph Christopher., (trans,) St. Augustine The First Catechetical Instruction.,  (New York :Newman Press, 1966)

4 T.F. Simmons and H.E. Nolloth (ed)  The Lay Folks Catechism or The English anl Latin Versions of Archbistop Thoresby’s Instruction for the People,  (London : The  Early English Texts Society, 1901) Series N. No. 118

5 B.Lohse.,, Martin Luther: An Introduction to His Life and Writings., (Philadelphia: Fortress Books, 1986)

6 Ian Green., The Christian’s ABC., p.93-94

7 Ibid., p.66

8 Alexander Nowell, A Catechism (  Cambridge: The Parker Society Series, 1840) p.143

9 Edward Cardwell.,  Canons of 1604 (London : Synodalia, 1842) vol. 1, p.281

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