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An Explanation of Luther's Small Catechism   By:

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A Handbook for the Catechetical Class: an Outline and Analysis for the Pastor's Oral Instruction, and a Summary for the Catechumens' Study and Review at Home




This book aims to present both an analysis of Luther's Small Catechism and a clear, concise, yet reasonably full explanation of its contents. It is an attempt, upon the basis of twenty years' experience and a study of the literature of the subject, to meet the peculiar wants of the catechetical class in our Lutheran Church in America. The object of the book is twofold: first, to furnish an outline of teaching which the pastor may use as a guide in his oral explanation and questioning; and secondly, to furnish a sufficiently complete summary by means of which the catechumens may review the lesson and fix its salient points in their minds. No text book can, of course, adequately supply the parenetical side of the catechetical instruction or take the place of the living exposition by the pastor. But it can and should support his work, so that what he explains at one meeting may not be forgotten before the next meeting, but may be fixed in the minds of the catechumens by study at home.

Since the task of the pastor in catechization is not only to impart religious instruction, but to impart it on the basis of that priceless heritage of our Church, Luther's Small Catechism, the explanation here offered follows the catechism closely. The words of the catechism are printed in heavy faced type and are used as headings wherever possible; and thus the words of the catechism may be traced as a thread running through the entire explanation.

Wherever he deemed it necessary, the author has added a fuller explanation of the text of the catechism than that which Luther gives, and has supplemented its contents with such additional matter as the needs of our catechumens require. He does not agree with those catechetical writers who maintain that the pastor, in his catechization, must confine himself to an explanation of Luther's explanation . Such a principle would exclude from the catechetical class much which our catechumens should be taught. But all such additional matters are introduced under an appropriate head as an organic part of the whole explanation, thus preserving its unity.

This book is written in the thetical form instead of the traditional form of questions and answers. There is nothing in the nature of catechization which would require the use of the interrogative form in such a text book, and accordingly the thetical form has for years been employed by numerous writers of text books for the catechetical class in Germany. While questions have an important place in catechetical instruction, the matter and not the form is the vital thing. Catechization is not a method of instruction by means of questions and answers. Neither the original meaning of the word nor the history of catechization justifies such a definition. (See my article, "A Brief History of Catechization," in the Lutheran Church Review, January, 1902; comp. v. Zezschwitz: System der christl. kirchl. Katechetik, vol. i. pp. 17 seq., and vol. ii., 2. 1., pp. 3 seq.) And since Christian truth is not something to be brought forth from the mind of the child by means of questions, but something divinely revealed and hence to be communicated to the child, the most natural form in which to set it before him in a text book is the thetical. Luther's catechism itself is, indeed, in the form of questions and answers. But his catechism is confessional as well as didactic, and its words, memorized by the catechumen, are to become a personal confession of faith. The explanations of a text book, on the other hand, are not to be memorized, but are meant to aid the catechumen in grasping the thoughts of the catechism. For this purpose, the thetical form is better than the interrogative, because the explanation is not continually broken by questions, and is thus better adapted to give the catechumens a connected idea of the doctrines taught... Continue reading book >>

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