Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Anglican Catechism

As Anglicans and others consider Anglican identity, it seems to me that a key expression must always be a catechism. Catechesis or instruction goes back to the beginnings of the biblical tradition. Such instruction is, to give one Old Testament example, cited in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. "Hear, O Israel..." Basic instruction permeates the New Testament and abounds in the ancient Church Fathers. It continued in the Middle Ages, although in many times and places the quality of the instruction was poor.

During the Renaissance and Reformation, there was a renewal of interest in sound basic instruction among Christians of various perspectives. Many of them used the question and answer format that people have often come to associate with catechisms. Martin Luther in particular produced two Catechisms: a longer one as a basic theology manual for pastors and teachers, and a shorter one for the instruction of ordinary Christian children and adults. So it is not surprising that from shortly after Henry's break with Rome Anglicans started to produce basic forms of instruction. The Bishops' Book (1537) and The King's Book (1543) both contained sections on the Creed and the Commandments.

Thomas Cranmer produced a very short Catechism which was included with the Confirmation rite of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. This simple instruction is on the Creed, the Commandments and the Lord's Prayer. Later, two Deans of St. Paul's, Nowell and Overall, worked on expanded Catechisms and some of their material on the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper was included in the 1604 revision of the BCP. With a few modifications, this brief Anglican Catechism has remained the same over the centuries. Some people have continued to call for further additions, and these tendencies have been seen in newer catechisms among some Anglicans.

While I recognize that much more should be considered in a modern confirmation or inquirers class, I have always admired the relative simplicity and brevity of the traditional Catechism. It focuses on the core material of Christian teaching which most people can remember over a long period of time. Much of the phraseology needs commentary or modification for contemporary Anglicans [for updated language, one might consult the online source An English Prayer Book, or one might get a copy of An Anglican Prayer Book,]. In whatever way Anglicans and other Christians decide to approach the mechanics of instruction, people still need to learn the Creed, the Commandments, the Lord's Prayer and basic concepts about the two Gospel Sacraments. In fact, the need for basic catechesis is probably greater now than at any point since the start of the Reformation.


  1. After I posted my blog on catechesis, I came across two very different perspectives on "The Lost Art of Catechesis": one from an Anglo-catholic perspective-

    and the other from an evangelical perspective-

    While coming from opposing viewpoints, both stress the need for basic instruction.

  2. If we are to make disciples, then, instruction seems to be a fundamental part of the ministry of the Church. Certainly, the Catechism is the starting point for new members. It is also good review for those who have been in the faith for decades.