THE SMALLER CATECHISM.
PREFACE OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER.
Martin Luther to all the faithful and pious curates and ministers, grace, mercy, and peace, in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The deplorable moral wretchedness which I recently witnessed, when I visited your parishes, has impelled me to publish this Catechism, drawn up in a very simple and brief form. Eternal God! what distress did I behold! – The people, especially those who live in the villages, and even curates for the most part, possessing so little knowledge of the Christian doctrine, that I even blush to tell it. And yet all are called by the sacred name of Christ, and enjoy the sacraments in common with us, while they are not only totally ignorant of the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Decalogue, but cannot even repeat the words. Why need I hesitate to say, that they differ in nothing at all from the brutes; even now, while the Gospel is widely disseminated, and they enjoy the greatest liberty of Christians?
Ye bishops, upon whom heaven has enjoined that duty, what apology will ye make to Christ for this? Ye are the men, to whom alone this decline of the Christian religion must be ascribed. Thus shamefully have ye permitted men to stray – yours is the fault, who have never done one thing which it was your duty to do. I do not wish to invoke evil upon you. But is it not great impiety, – nay, the highest presumption, to press your traditions and a single element of the Sacrament so far? Utterly careless and indifferent are you, whether those entrusted to your spiritual care and instruction understand the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostolic Creed, or the Decalogue, or not! Alas, alas, for you! In the name of God, then, I beg and entreat you all, curates and ministers, to discharge your duty seriously, and to watch over the people whom heaven has commended to your care. This ye will have accomplished most successfully, when, in conjunction with us, ye shall inculcate this Catechism upon the people, and especially upon the young. If any of you are so illiterate as not to possess any knowledge at all of these matters, be not ashamed to read the form prescribed by us, word by word, before your hearers, in the following order:
First of all, the ministers will be careful not to pronounce the Decalogue, or the Lord’s Prayer, or the Apostolic Creed, or even the sacraments, occasionally in one way and then in another, but to use continually the same forms in pronouncing and explaining them to the people. I give this advice because I know, that the young and uneducated cannot be successfully instructed, unless the same forms of expression be frequently pronounced and repeated. If you deliver your instructions now in one manner, and then in another, untutored minds will easily become embarrassed, and all the labor which you have expended in teaching them, may be lost.
The holy Fathers kept this in view, as they desired the form of the Decalogue, of the Creed, and of the Lord’s Prayer, to remain in the church, couched in the same unalterable terms. It becomes us to imitate their prudent example; and we must endeavor to deliver those instructions to the young and uneducated, without even changing a syllable; how frequently soever you may teach the Catechism, let your method be always the same. Whatever mode, then, of teaching the Catechism, you may adopt, retain it uniformly, and never depart from it. But the case is different when you teach the Gospel to an assembly of learned men; – there you may exhibit your learning; nor do I forbid you to vary your forms of expression among them, and occasionally in speaking, to assume the manner and gesture of the orator. But among the uneducated you must continually use the same forms, expressed in definite terms. And it ought to be your first exertion, to touch the Decalogue, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, word by word, in their naked and pure simplicity, so that the same expressions being frequently heard, your hearers themselves may learn to repeat them.
Should there be any who despise religion so much as to refuse to learn these things, let them be advised that they are denying Christ, and that they are any thing rather than Christians. They must not be admitted to the Sacrament of the Altar, nor to the duties of catechists, nor to the privilege of being sponsors at infant baptism; and if they wish to enjoy the right of Christian liberty, when it happens to suit their convenience, let the favor not be granted them, but let them rather be commended to the Pope and to those whom they call officials, even to Satan himself. It will be the duty of parents and heads of families, to refuse food to such men; and they will act commendably, if they declare to these licentious men, that the prince will expel them from their country, and drive them into banishment.
For although I agree that no one can or ought to be forced to believe, yet this menace ought in every instance to be pronounced, in order that the people may know what is right, and also what is opposed to the right of those with whom they live and procure their subsistence. For it is desirable that each one, whether he truly believes, or is involved in the mists of doubt, should understand and observe the laws of the state, which he wishes to have the privilege of enjoying.
In the second place, – when the uneducated have learned to repeat the words of the Catechism, an explanation must afterwards be delivered, in order that they may also understand it. And you can either employ the forms which you see here prescribed, or any other. But, as the Catechism itself should always be pronounced to the people in the same words, as I have already advised, so in the explanation of the Catechism, I could wish that the same method of instruction be continually followed, not changing even a single syllable. And for this purpose you may take sufficient time; for it is not necessary that the whole be delivered at once; but let a certain system be pursued, and one part follow the other in proper order. When the people have learned accurately what the first commandment requires, you may then pass on to the second. In this manner let the whole be learned in regular succession; for otherwise the mind, being burdened and confused with too great an abundance, can retain nothing at all.
In the third place, – after you have finished this short explanation of the Catechism, you will enter the Larger Catechism, in order that your hearers may understand the whole more completely. Here you will illustrate the several commandments, the distinct parts of the Creed and of the Lord’s Prayer, in their appropriate colors; you will enumerate the different duties which they enjoin, the various results and advantages which arise from them, and likewise the dangers and the losses which we incur, if we fail to discharge them. These points you will find amply unfolded every where in the writings of pious men. You will most earnestly enforce these commandments which you perceive are more likely to be violated by the people of your parish. To give an example of this, – you will press the seventh commandment most especially upon merchants, and upon those who perform manual labor. With great propriety too, this commandment may be urged upon farmers, and upon male and female servants, for they act very unfaithfully with men, and in various ways commit dishonest deeds. So it is proper to urge the fourth commandment especially upon the young and the uninstructed, that they may be quiet, observe good faith in all things, be obedient to magistrates and to parents, and not disturb the public peace. These instructions must also be illustrated by examples from sacred history, – showing where God exacted severe punishments from the violators of this commandment, or wonderfully promoted all the enterprises of those who observed it.
In this place you should make it your primary object to warn the magistrate and parents of their duty, that they may discharge their public functions with great diligence, and devote their children to the study of letters. And they ought to be urged to feel themselves bound by divine authority to attend to these duties; for should these fail to be observed, it will be a most grievous offence. What else indeed are they doing, but rejecting at the same time divine and human government, in no sense different from the most implacable enemies both of God and of men!
And here you can exhibit as it were in a table, what serious losses those bring upon their country, who do not devote their children to the acquisition of knowledge, since these very children may at some time be chosen curates or ministers of the Word, as well as to other offices, of which the world cannot be destitute without incurring very great distress. You will also add, that God will inflict the severest punishments upon parents for this neglect. Indeed I do not know that any other subject merits such special attention as this. For it cannot be told how much, in the present age, magistrates and parents have offended in this respect. And there is no doubt that it may chiefly be attributed to the influence of Satan, who designs to bring some great calamity upon Germany.
Lastly, – since the tyranny of the Pope has been weakened and diminished, you will find many every where who never approach the Sacrament, but evidently despise it as useless and unnecessary. These also must be persuaded and urged, but with this consideration, that I am unwilling, however, in this way, to force any one either to believe or to take the Sacrament; and those act very injudiciously, who prescribe rules, certain times, and certain places for such purposes.
Those, however, who are engaged in the administration of the Word, ought to teach them, that without our rules, influenced by their own voluntary choice, they should come as hearers to us, and as it were compel us, the ministers of the Word, to extend the Sacrament to them. This will assuredly happen, if you teach that they incur the risk of not being regarded as Christians, who do not commune at the Lord’s table at least four times a year; just as those who do not believe, or who will not hear the Gospel, are not reckoned in the number of Christians. For when Christ instituted the Sacrament, he did not say, “omit this or despise this,” – but, “This do as often as ye drink,” &c. By this he certainly wishes us to do so, and not entirely to neglect or to despise it, for he says, “This do.”
For, if any one despises the Sacrament, it is a certain evidence, that in his estimation there is neither sin nor flesh, nor Satan, nor world, nor death, nor danger, nor hell; that is, he has no belief whatever in any of them, although he is overwhelmed in sin, and bound completely captive in the kingdom of Satan; on the other hand, he has no need of grace, nor life, nor of Paradise, nor of heaven, nor of Christ, nor of God, nor of any thing else that is good. For if he could believe himself covered with sins, and very far off from grace, doubtless he would not despise the Sacrament, in which a remedy against all sins, and a rich abundance of all good things are extended to us. Such a man would require no law to compel him to receive the Sacrament; – he would come of his own accord, driven by the weight of his sins, and rather compel you to administer the Sacrament to him.
Here you must not act by laws of compulsion, as the Pope does. But strive in your discourse, as far as you can, to portray the utility and the dangers, the necessity and the benefits, and the advantages of this sacrament, as well as the disadvantages of those who do not receive it. Then they will hasten to you voluntarily, – they will compel themselves. And if some are not influenced by these means, permit them to live in their own way, – only say this to them, that those who cannot be moved, either by necessity, or by the kindness and grace of God, which he exhibits to them in the Sacrament, may remain unmolested in the kingdom of Satan. Those, indeed, who do not stir their hearers in this way, but would prefer to force them by legal restraint, actually furnish them a pretext for despising the Sacrament. For when the ministers of the word are so wavering, it is no wonder if the hearers also become more negligent. Curates and ministers should, therefore, consider this seriously, that their present duty is far different from what it was formerly under the Papacy. Now it is the ministration of salvation and of grace; it has therefore become more difficult and laborious. And though very distressing dangers and temptations must be encountered in the ministry, yet there is neither reward nor gratitude in this world for our labors. But this ingratitude of the world, as it is connected with great impiety, cannot affect us. Christ himself has set rewards before us sufficiently noble, if only we labor with honest fidelity in his vineyard. And that we may be able to do this with greater success, may the Father of all grace vouchsafe, to whom be all praise and glory forever, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.