SHORT PREFACE OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER.
We have prepared this little work, with no other view than to adapt it to the instruction of the young and illiterate. Hence among the ancients in the Greek language, it was called Catechism, a word which signifies juvenile instruction. This book necessarily should be perspicuous and plain to all Christians, so that if any one should not have a knowledge of it he might justly not be considered in the number of Christians, nor admitted as a recipient of the Sacraments. Just as any artist, who does not well understand the rules and principles of his profession, is properly reprehensible, and enjoys no favor among men.
Accordingly, the articles relating to the Catechism or juvenile instructor, must be inculcated upon the young with the greatest diligence, and their industry must be exercised upon these articles in no small degree. Hence the duty of a faithful and vigilant father requires, that every seventh day, he hold a careful examination of his children and family, at least once, and accurately inquire what they know or have learned about these matters, compelling them with proper curiousness and severity, to learn their Catechism. For I well remember, and we see it in our daily experience, that there have been men so slow and dull of intellect, in whom, even when they had advanced to an old age, no knowledge at all of this subject was found; nor do they manifest any at this day, although they are recipients with us of the sacraments, and share in all the ceremonies which have been instituted among Christians. Yet, while those who claim the use of the sacraments, ought to know more, they ought not to be endowed with less knowledge of Christian duties, than boys or young students. But we, for the purpose of instructing the common people, shall be content with these three parts, – which have remained in the church through a succession of ages, though very little has been properly and candidly delivered to the people, – until the old as well as the young, and whoever wishes to be a Christian, shall have been well trained and exercised in them. These divisions are those which follow:
I.– THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF GOD.
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not take the name of God in vain.
3. Thou shalt sanctify the Sabbath-day.
4. Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother.
5. Thou shalt not kill.
6. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
7. Thou shalt not steal.
8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's.
II.– THE CHIEF ARTICLES OF THE CREED.
1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty Maker of heaven and earth.
2. And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
3. I believe in the Holy Ghost, in a holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
III.– THE LORD'S PRAYER, OR PRAYER WHICH CHRIST TAUGHT.
1. Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
2. Thy kingdom come.
3. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
4. Give us this day our daily bread.
5. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
6. And lead us not into temptation.
7. But deliver us from evil.
These are the most necessary articles, which we should, in the first place, learn to repeat word by word; and children should be accustomed, daily, on rising up in the morning, on proceeding to table, and on retiring at night, to recite them; nor should they be permitted to eat or to drink, unless they have previously rehearsed these articles. A similar method every father of a family should observe with his domestics, male and female, namely, not to retain them with him, if they do not know, or are unwilling to learn these principles. For such rudeness, incivility, and ignorance, can by no means be tolerated in any person, since all that the Scriptures contain is briefly, plainly, and most simply embraced in these three parts. The beloved Fathers or Apostles, (or whoever they may have been,) have thus also comprised in a summary what the Christian doctrine, life, profession, and wisdom, are, of what they speak and treat, and which they practice.
Now, when these articles are comprehended, it is also necessary for us to be able to rehearse and understand something concerning our sacraments which Christ himself has instituted, – namely, baptism, and the sacred body and blood of Christ, – those texts, for instance, with which Matthew and Mark conclude their gospels, and which Christ gave as his last instructions to his disciples, and then sent them forth:
"Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."
This much is sufficient for the unlearned to know from the Scripture, concerning baptism: and the like concerning the other sacrament, with a few simple words, as for example the declaration of Paul:
OF THE LORD'S SUPPER.
"The Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat! this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me."
"After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the New Testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me."
Thus, then, we would have in all, five parts, comprehending the whole Christian doctrine, which we should continually urge, and require it to be rehearsed word by word. For it cannot be expected, that young people learn and retain in their memory merely from preaching. Now, when these parts are properly understood, certain psalms or hymns adapted to this purpose, may also be proposed as an extension and confirmation of them; in this way introducing the young into the Scriptures, and daily advancing them.
A mere conception and rehearsal of the words alone, should, however, not be considered sufficient; but let the young attend preaching also, especially at the time designed for exercise in the Catechism, in order that they may hear it explained, and learn to understand what each part comprehends in itself, so that they may be able to repeat it, as they have heard it, and give an accurate and correct answer, when interrogated; so that preaching be not vain and ineffectual. For this purpose we are diligent in lecturing frequently on the Catechism, in order that the young may be influenced by it; not in a manner lofty or learned, but very brief and simple, so that they can easily perceive it and retain it in their memories. We shall, therefore, now take up in regular order the divisions just mentioned, and endeavor to treat of them in the clearest manner, so far as it is necessary.