I was reading through the small catechism of Martin Luther again & was struck again by the genius of this small document & wonder why there is no catholic equivalent?
I’ve read the YouCat & Compendium of the Catholic Catechism but they’re huge in comparison & requires individual dedication to get through whereas Luther’s catechism can be read through in under an hour.
Luther’s catechism has very brief, to-the-point explanations of the Ten Commandments, Apostle’s Creed, Lord’s Prayer & Sacraments. It concludes with very simple morning & evening prayers. It was kind of a devotional prayerbook with which the believers could review their consciences & become versed in the fundamentals of christianity.
Has anyone read it? Is there a catholic response to it? I know catholic theologians responded to Luther’s various writings & find it strange that it wasn’t immediately corrected to be in-line with the church’s teaching.
The usefulness of this small document was such that it was the instrument with which the priests converted the whole population of Scandinavia to Lutheranism: every household would get a small catechism from the local church to study & each year the village priest would interrogate each household to make sure whether they knew the catechism or not. It was by this document that Scandinavia became literate.
If you consider the number of years that the Lutheran Church had existed up until that time with the number of years that the Catholic Church had been around the Catholic Church has had more to say, much more history to draw upon.
St. Peter Canisius published a large Catechism in 1555 called the Sum of Christian Doctrine. A year later, in 1556, he published his Minor Catechism, and two years after that, in 1558, his Little Catechism for Catholics.
Archive.org has an English edition of the larger Catechism from 1622 and an English edition of one of his smaller Catechisms from 1633. source The latter is called An Introduction to the Catholic Faith in the English edition, and it appears to be easily readable in under an hour with simple explanations of the faith.
There have been many little catechisms and prayer books over the centuries, long before Luther, mostly at the local level, some with imprimatur, some without; some before imprimatur was a thing. Some are heretical (e.g. the infamous 1966 Dutch Catechism); some have the endorsement of the Holy See (e.g. the Catechism of St. Pius X). If you go back far enough it’s going to be in a foreign language and you’ll need a good translation.
A relatively recent catechism in English that I recommend based on your criteria is the early 20th c. British “Penny Catechism” (originally sold for a penny). It has the Imprimatur and has been widely distributed in English-speaking countries. You can read it online or get a paperback copy for a few dollars. Just Google ‘penny catechism’.
Another solid choice, somewhat lengthier, is Pope Benedict XVI’s Compendium of the Catechism, which shortens the Catechism and puts it in Q & A format. You can order a hardback edition online for around $10 to $15.
After looking at the Latin editions of the Minor Catechism and the Little Catechism for Catholics, they appear to be basically the same document. They are both q-and-a documents with some material for memorization. The questions and answers appear to be idenitical. The main difference appears to be that the Minor Catechism has some additional material under most questions, including quotations from Scripture and Tradition that back up what St. Peter Canisius says, and examples of how each teaching has been lived out in the lives of the saints. Under the article on Faith, for example, St. Peter Canisius cites a few Scriptures about faith, and under the “example” section he includes some remarks about how St. Thomas the Apostle was called Unbelieving even though he only doubted one fact of the faith (the Resurrection) and how Jesus told him “Do not be unbelieving but believe.” John 20:27.
The English translation linked in my previous post, called Introduction to the Catholic Faith, contains some initial memorization material such as the 10 Commandments and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Then it translates the q-and-a section of the Little Catechism for Catholics, i.e. the edition without the supplementary material found in the Minor Catechism.
(Ryan Grant, the translator, self-publishes numerous works, so do keep in mind that this one may be less professional than what various other publishers could accomplish. I mention this, of course, not to poke fun at him, but just to make sure people understand what they’re potentially buying.)
Luther also released a Large Catechism for those who wanted to read more. I don’t argue against a large catechism. But a catechism that is 300 pages is not really a small catechism that anyone can just skim through easily.
The small catechism of just a few pages of the bare essentials was a very powerful tool of evangelization of the laity. Sure the monastics, priests, bishops & committed laypeople want to read the exact exposition of why the such & such a doctrine is true but the working man & woman should be given something for them as well: this is what you need to believe & these are the commandments you ahold examine yourself against & these are the prayers yiu should say every day.
If you want to find out more you can go to the real catechism, which is what I did when researching the Filioque & the immaculate conception.
If you think about it, the Apostles Creed is a kind of catechism in that it explains the revelation of Christ.
I just found a Swedish catechism from the 1940’s translated from St Charles Borromeo but wherein some points have been removed on the order of the Lutheran archbishop because it was offensive to Lutheranism.
The intent of Luther’s Small Catechism was to provide the head of the house a means with which to educate his family in the faith. That is the reason for its small, concise, and straightforward description if the faith. It is not small because of the newness of the Lutheran tradition within the Church, as some here have ridiculously claimed.
I have a copy of a book called, * Basic Catechism *by a group called The Daughters of St. Paul. It is rather concise, as well, and seems to present Catholicism in a way for youth or new Catholics.
Personally I’m fine with the Compendium of the Catechism (which is very clear) & the large catechism when I want further study. But I sometimes read the small catechism of Luther anyway & I think a catechism such as this would be the best way to catechize converts when spreading the gospel in places like Africa, Mideast, India etc, where they perhaps don’t know the basics as well.
It has become a devotional book for Lutherans worldwide & I think every prayer book should include something similar.
It has some information concerning catechisms in Sweden
In an essay by Erik Neander (Erik Neander: catholic church in Stockholm’s oldest devotional books and catechisms, Richard Wehner (ed.): S: ta Eugenia church from 1837 to 1937: Contribution to the Stockholm catholic parish history, Stockholm, 1937, pp. 142 -155) noted that “Roman catholic catechism for young people to use in the catholic church in Sweden, Stockholm, 1800” represents “the first printed catholic work in swedish since the days of the Reformation.”
Neander notes further that this small and extremely brief catechism goes back to an original written by none other than Cardinal St. Robert Bellarmine, SJ (1542-1621) and was translated into Swedish by Laurentius Ignatius Thjulén (1746-1823), a swedish catholic priest living in Bologna, who in his youth had converted to catholicism and entered the Jesuit order, which, at the time of the translation, was dissolved as a result of the papal brief Dominus ac Redemptor issued by Pope Clement XIV in 1773.
The publication took place in spite of stiff Lutheran resistance, which was overcome by a petition to King Gustaf IV Adolf, who through his gracious resolution under certain conditions allowed the printing since the Lutheran Archbishop von Troil had consented. The work, which is greatly shortened compared to the original and omits parts which are anathema for the Lutheran theologians such as the catholic doctrine of the Holy Sacrifice and indulgences. It was commissioned by Father Paolo Moretti (1759-1804), the then Apostolic Vicar of Sweden, and was printed in 1500 copies, which, however, the Church itself was not allowed dispose of, but which instead was handed out by the Consistory of Stockholm in exchange for a certificate.
In 1834 a more comprehensive catechism was provided at the initiative of the Apostolic substitute Studach and followed for years by several different editions of catechisms…
Also, for an older one, here’s a nice simple one by St. Robert Bellarmine. Here it is complete with scans of the original illustrations. Just click the corresponding picture in the Table of Contents section to see each section in full: