Dear Saints of Grace,
Following The Treatise of the Power and Primacy of the pope, The Small Catechism is the next writing to be found in the Book of Concord. The Small Catechism is one of the most beloved pieces of literature within all of confessional Lutheranism. It was written in 1529 and contains what Luther would call the six chief parts of the Christian faith: The Ten Commandments; the Apostles’ Creed; the Lord’s Prayer; Holy Baptism; Confession; and the Sacrament of the Altar.
Although most of us are familiar with these from going through catechesis leading to a Profession of Faith or Confirmation, sadly, most have also abandoned keeping it to heart through just a little bit of review each day. Luther himself said, “Let me always remain a student of the Catechism.” And this from the man who wrote the book; that’s saying something!
More insightful information can be gathered from the editors’ introduction to The Small Catechism in the Book of Concord. It is here that one will find out from where it is that the word Catechism (an ‘echo’) originated. In understanding this, one will then be able to grasp the whole idea of what happens in the catechetical process.
The learning of Luther’s different writings (i.e. Personal Prayer Books) from 1522 -1525 is also revealed in the introduction. These would be the writings that would eventually aid him in shaping The Small Catechism in 1529. Luther would go on to make some fine tunings to it later, adding a brief discussion of confession of sins with an order for private confession, and adding an explanation to the introduction of the Lord’s Prayer as well.
The Book of Concord also includes the Preface to The Small Catechism, which was also written by Luther. It is within this Preface that one discovers why it is that Luther found it necessary to write a Catechism. Briefly, he wanted to know what the
spiritual condition of the everyday common lay person was, so he went on what were called visitations throughout the German land.
In usual Martin Luther fashion, his response doesn’t pull any punches. He writes, “The deplorable, wretched deprivation that I recently encountered while I was a visitor has constrained and compelled me to prepare this catechism, or Christian instruction, in such a brief, plain, and simple version. Dear God, what a misery I beheld! The ordinary person, especially in the villages, knows absolutely nothing about the Christian faith, and unfortunately many pastors are completely unskilled and incompetent teachers…As a result they live like simple cattle or irrational pigs and, despite the fact that the Gospel has returned, they have mastered the fine art of misusing all of their freedom.” What do you think he would say today?
From here, Luther goes on to exhort the pastors to boldly take up their God-given Office and have pity on the people entrusted to them. He wants them to help bring The Small Catechism to them; especially the young! And finally he gives them instruction as to how they should read it to the people.
I encourage everyone to read in the Book of Concord, not only Luther’s Preface to The Small Catechism, but the editors’ Introduction to the Catechisms as well. May we all re-discover the pastoral care and love that was poured out by God to the Church through Martin Luther. And may we always remain students of the Catechism as well.
With you IN Christ!