Catechetics is that part of the science of theology which treats of catechetical religious instruction (under Church authority), both with regard to theory and practice. It belongs to the department of Practical Theology.
I. Name and Scope. — The term is derived from κατηχέω, to sound out aloud; to sound into one's ears; and hence, in N.T., to instruct orally (1Co 14:19; Ga 6:6, et al). In the N.T. the word applies to all kinds of oral instruction; but its derivatives, in later use, acquired a special application to instruction given to proselytes seeking baptism. Still later, the same terms came to apply to elementary instruction in Christianity, whether given to proselytes seeking baptism, or (and this chiefly) to baptized children in the Church. The act of giving such instruction is called catechizing, or catechization. The person instructing is called a catechist (q.v.); the persons taught are called catechumens (q.v.); the substance of the instruction (in later times a small book) is called The Catechism (q.v.). It belongs to Catechetics, as a branch of theology, to treat of all these heads; but, for convenience of reference, we treat the three latter in separate articles, in their alphabetical order.
II. History. — The science of Catechetics, as such, can hardly be said to have taken its rise until after the Reformation. But as the necessities of the case gave rise to oral instruction in Christianity from the very beginning, and to the subsequent development of this instruction into a systematic branch of Church activity, we find indications of Catechetics at all periods.
(1.) Before the Reformation. — The first teaching of Christ and his apostles was necessarily oral, and partly homiletical, partly catechetical. But we find no mention in the N.T. of catechists as Church functionaries. In the second century we find mention of catechists and catechumens (e.g. in the Clementines, q.v.). Under the catechetical system of the fourth century, the catechumens were taught the Ten Commandments, a creed, or summary confession of faith, and the Lord's Prayer, with suitable expositions; but, prior to baptism, the nature of the sacraments was carefully concealed. SEE ARCANI DISCIPLINA; SEE CATECHUMEN. The Apostolical Constitutions (q.v.) not only mention the catechumens, but fix three years as the period of instruction (8:32). SEE ALEXANDRIA; SEE ANTIOCH (SCHOOLS OF). In Gregory of Nyssa's († 394) λόγος κατηχητικὸς ὁ μέγας (ed. Krabinger, Monac. 1835), and in Cyril of Jerusalem's († 386) Κατηχήσεις (Catechetical discourses), we find catechetical instruction for both proselytes and newly-baptized persons. Augustine wrote a tract, De Catechizandis rudibus (opp. ed. Bened. t. 6). After the Church had become established, and its increase was obtained by the birth and baptism of children rather than by conversions from heathendom, the idea of catechetical instruction passed from being that of a preparation for baptism to being that of a culture of baptized children. When confirmation became general, catechetical instruction began to bear the same relation to it that it had formerly done to baptism. In the missions to heathens, in the Middle Age, it became usual to baptize converts at once, and the ancient catechumenate fell into disuse. Nor was great attention given to the catechizing of baptized children in the Roman Church up to the time of the Reformation; the confessional took the place of the Catechism. SEE CATECHISM. The names of Bruno, bishop of Würzburg (11th century), Hugo de St. Victore, Otto of Bamberg, and John Gerson, are to be mentioned as active in restoring catechetical instruction. The Waldenses, Wicliffites, and other reforming sects gave attention to the subject. On the Waldensian Catechism, see Zezschwitz, Katechismen der Waldenser und Böhm. Brüder (Erlangen, 1863); Jahrbücher für deutsche Theologie, 9:2, 385.
(2.) Since the Reformation. — As the Reformation was a revival of religion for the human intellect -as well as for the heart, it naturally followed that the training of children soon came to demand new methods, or the restoration of old methods, of grounding them in the faith. Luther was the father of modern catechetics, both by the Catechisms (q.v.) which he himself prepared, and by the writings in which he explained Catechetics and gave an impulse to their pursuit. The principal points of Luther's Catechisms are the Decalogue, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Sacraments (1529). Luther, with true insight, however, taught that catechization should not merely include the hearing of a recitation from the book, but also an explanation and an application of it to the hearts of the pupils (see prefaces to his larger and smaller Catechisms, and also Brüstlein, Luther's Einfluss auf das Volksschulwesen, etc., Jena, 1852). Calvin also published Catechisms (1536, 1541), and in the preface to the Catechismus Ecclesiastes Genevensis he gave his views of the nature and design of Catechisms and of catechetical instruction at length. He defines the Catechism to be "formula erudiendi pueros in doctrina Christi" (Augusti, Corpus. Libror. Symbolicor. p. 460-464). The Reformed churches generally followed: e.g. the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) for the German Reformed; the Church of England Catechism (1553, 1572), etc. The Helvetic Confession (brevis et simplex) makes catechization a duty of positive obligation in the Church: ". . . pastores, qui juventutem mature et diligenter catechisant, prima fidei fundamenta jacientes, explicando Decalogum mandatorum Dei, Symbolum item Apostolorum, Orationem quoque Dominicam, et Sacramentorum rationem, cum allis ejus generis primis principiis, et religionis nostrae capitibus praecipuis" (Caput 24). See also the preface to the Heidelberg Catechism (Augusti, Lib. Symb. 532 sq.), and the article CATECHISM SEE CATECHISM . In Germany, after the fervor of the Reformation period had passed, and the scholastic theologians reigned, the catechetical instruction degenerated into a mere formal routine of preparation for confirmation, and the same thing happened in the Church of England. Indeed, this result appears to be inevitable where baptismal regeneration is believed, and confirmation is made to follow as a matter of course. Spener and the Pietists gave new life to catechetical instruction by connecting it with spiritual teaching and life (see Hurst, History of Rationalism, p. 90; Thilo, Spener als Katechet, Berl. 1840). The Church of Rome was compelled to follow the Reformers in catechetical instruction; the Catechismus Romanus (1566) became the basis of numerous Catechisms — those of Canisius, Bellarmin, Bossuet, and Fleury attaining the widest circulation. As any bishop can authorize a Catechism for his diocese, the Romanists have now a great variety, and they are still increasing (see Theolog. Quartalschrift, 1863, p. 443).
The theory of catechization in the Protestant Church grew up gradually from the germs in Luther's teaching, through the period of decay and dry scholasticism, and finally shot up into full bloom in Pietism. Its principles are,
1. That the Catechism of the Church, stamped with its authority, shall be used in instruction;
2. That the instruction is not Socratic, i.e. does not aim to draw out what is in the mind of the pupil, but rather to convey revealed truth to the mind in a way which it can appreciate and understand;
3. That while the pupil is to learn the words of the Catechism by heart; the teacher is to explain and illustrate them from the Bible, and to enforce them on the heart and conscience of the catechumen — i.e. catechization is to be not merely didactic, but practical. It is farther well settled that the Catechism of each particular church should be taught to the children of that church (1) by parents or guardians in the family; (2) by the Sunday-school teacher, who should always be a constant catechist; and (3) by the pastor, whose catechization should not only be a test of the proficiency of the children under home and Sunday-school instruction, but should include exhortation, illustration, and application also. It was one of Spener's glories that he introduced public catechization; and the pastor who fails, at fixed times, to catechize the children in presence of the congregation, loses one of the most important means of Christian culture within the sphere of Church life.
Dr. Ashbel Green (Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, vol. 1), in his Introductory Lecture, thus speaks of the advantages of catechization: "The catechetical or questionary form of religious summaries renders them most easy and interesting to children and youth, and, indeed, to Christians of all ages and descriptions. For myself, I have no reluctance to state here publicly what I have frequently mentioned in private, that in the composition of sermons one of the readiest and best aids I have ever found has been my Catechism. Let me add, farther, that long observation has satisfied me that a principal reason why instruction and exhortation from the pulpit are so little efficacious, is, that they presuppose a degree of information, or an acquaintance with the truths and doctrines of divine revelation, which, by a great part of the hearers, is not possessed, and which would best of all have been supplied by catechetical instruction. It is exactly this kind of instruction which is at the present time most urgently needed in many, perhaps in most of our congregations. It is needed to imbue effectually the minds of our people with "the first principles of the oracles of God," to indoctrinate them soundly and systematically in revealed truth, and thus to guard them against being "carried about with every wind of doctrine," as well as to qualify them to join in the weekly service of the sanctuary with full understanding, and with minds in all respects prepared for the right and deep impression of what they hear." The duty of catechization is enjoined in the laws of almost all branches of the Church. In the Church of England, by Canon 59, "every parson, vicar, or curate, upon every Sunday and holyday, before evening prayer, shall, for half an hour or more, examine and instruct the youth and ignorant persons of his parish in the Ten Commandments, the articles of the belief, and in the Lord's Prayer; and shall diligently hear, instruct, and teach them the Catechism set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. And all fathers, mothers, masters, and mistresses shall cause their children, servants, and apprentices, which have not learned the Catechism, to come to the church at the time appointed, obediently to hear, and to be ordered by the minister until they have learned the same. And if any minister neglect his duty herein, let him be sharply reproved upon the first complaint, and true notice thereof given to the bishop or ordinary of the place. If, after submitting himself, he shall willingly offend therein again, let him be suspended. If so the third time, there being little hope that he will be therein reformed, then excommunicated, and so remain until he be reformed. And likewise, if any of the said fathers, mothers, masters, or mistresses, children, servants, or apprentices, shall neglect their duties as the one sort in not causing them to come, and the other in refusing to learn, as aforesaid, let them be suspended by their ordinaries (if they be not children), and if they so persist by the space of a month, then let them be excommunicated. And by the rubric, the curate of every parish shall diligently, upon Sundays and holydays, after the second lesson at evening prayer, openly in the church, instruct and examine so many children of the parish sent unto him as he shall think convenient, in some part of the Catechism. And all fathers and mothers, masters and dames, shall cause their children, servants, and apprentices (who have not learned their Catechism) to come to the church at the time appointed, and obediently to hear, and be ordered by the curate, until such time as they have learned all that therein is appointed for them to learn." These careful rules, however, have become nearly a dead letter. In the Protestant Episcopal Church, the 28th Canon (of 1832) enjoins that "the ministers of this Church who have charge of parishes or cures shall not only be diligent in instructing the children in the Catechism, but shall also, by stated catechetical lectures and instruction, be diligent in informing the youth and others in the doctrines, constitution, and liturgy of the Church." The Methodist Episcopal Church makes it the "duty of preachers to see that the Catechism is used in Sunday-schools and families, to preach to the children, and to publicly catechize them in the Sunday-schools and at public meetings appointed for that purpose" (Discipline, part 5, § 2). "It shall also be the duty of each preacher, in his report to each Quarterly Conference, to state to what extent he has publicly or privately catechized the children of his charge" (part 2, chap. 2, § 17). "At the age of ten years, or earlier, the preacher in charge shall organize the baptized children of the church into classes, and appoint suitable leaders, male or female, whose duty it shall be to meet them in class once a week, and instruct them in the nature, design, and obligation of baptism, and the truths of religion necessary to make them wise unto salvation" (part 1, ch. 2, § 2). The Presbyterian Church makes catechizing "one of the ordinances in a particular church" (Form of Government, ch. 7), and enjoins the duty in its Directory for Worship, ch. 1, § 6; also ch. 9, § 1:" Children born within the pale of the visible Church, and dedicated to God in baptism, are under the inspection and government of the Church, and are to be taught the Catechism, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer." In the Reformed Dutch Church each pastor is bound to expound the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Classis is bound to see that "the catechizing of children and youth are faithfully attended to" (Constitution, ch. 1, art. 3, § 8). The Lutheran and German Reformed churches, not only by their traditions, but also by Church law, are bound to fidelity in catechization.
III. Literature. — The science of Catechetics was treated by Hyperius, De Catechesi (1570; ed. Schmidt, Helmst. 1704, 8vo) ; Dietrich, Institt. Catechet. (1613); Alstedius, Theoloqga Catechetica (Hanover, 1616, 4to); Rambach, Wohlunterrichteter Catechet (Jena, 1727, and Lips. 1736, 8vo). Dr. Watts gave an impetus to Catechetica by his Discourse on Instruction by Catechism (London, 1728; Works, ed. of 1812, vol. 5), in which he explained the Catechism of the Westminster Assembly, and gave two smaller Catechisms. A thorough work on this branch of theology, in English, is yet a desideratum. The relation of the Catechism and of catechetical instruction to the Church and to baptism has not been made so prominent in the English-speaking churches as in the German. On minor points, especially relating to the ancient Church, Bingham and other English writers have done well. Both for the history and theory of Catechetics in general, our chief references must be to German writers. Among them are, besides those already mentioned, Langemnack, Historia Catechetica (3 vols. 1729-40); Walch, Einleitung in die catechetische Historie, etc. (1752); Kocher, Einleitung in die catechetische Theologie (1752); the same, Kat. Geschichted. päpstlichen Kirche (1753); the same, Kat. Gesch. d. sref. Kirche (1756); the same, Kat. Geschichte d. Wallenser, u. a. Secten (1768 — the four books constituting a body of Catechetical science). Of more or less Rationalistic tendencies are the following: Schuler, Geschichte de: kat. Religionsunterrichts unter den Protestanten bis 1762 (Halle, 1802); Gräffe, Lehrbuch der allgem. Katecheti, (on Kantian principles, Getting. 1799, 3 vols.; 1805, 1 vol.); Griffe, Grudriss der allgen. Katechetik (1796, 8vo). Of the same school: Schmid, Katechet. Handbuch (Jena, 2d ed. 1799-1801); Miller, Lehrbuch d. Kaitechetik (Altona, 2d ed. 1822, 8vo). More evangelical, but yet resting on the Kantian philosophy in its Fichtean form. is Daub, Lehrbuch der Katechetik (Frankfort, 1801, 8vo); and more practical are Schwarz, Katechetik (Giessen, 1819, 8vo); Harnisch (Halle, 1828); Hoffmann, Katechetik (1841). Since the modification of German theology through Schleiermacher's influence, a still better class of works has appeared, among which are Palmer, Evangel. Katechetik (1844; 4th ed. 1856, 8vo); Kraussold, Katechetik (1843); Plato, Lehrbuch d. Katechetik (Leipz. 1853, 12mo); Puchta, Handbuch der prakt. Katechese (1854); Zezschwitz, System der christlich-kirchlichen Katechetik (Lpz. 1864-66, 2 vols. 8vo, the fullest treatise on the subject, but not yet finished). In books of practical theology, Catechetics, of course, is treated in its place. Among Roman Catholic writers we name Galura, Grundsätze d. wahren Katechese (Freiburg, 1795); Winter, Katechetik (Landshut, 1816, 8vo); Gruber; Muller; and especially Hirscher, Katechetik (1831, 4th ed. Tubing. 1840), whose comprehensive mind grasped the subject in all its bearings, but especially in its true relations to the pastoral work. Among writers in English, see Cannon, Pastoral Theology, Lecture 31; Baxter, Reformed Pastor; Vinet, Pastoral Theology; Baxter, The Teaching of Families (Practical Works, vol. 19); Orme, Life of Baxter, 2:140 sq.; Gilly, Horae Catecheticae (London, 1828, 8vo); Doddridge On Preaching, Lecture 17; Farindon, Sermons, 4:201; Quarterly Review, March, 1843; Princeton Review, 21:59; Evangelical Review, 1:221; Arden, Manual of Catechetical Instruction (High-church; London, 1851, 12mo); Green, Ashbel, Lectures on the Shorter Catechism (Phila. 1841, 2 vols. 8vo); Alexander, A., Duty of Catechetical Instruction (Presbyter. Tract Soc.); Ramsay, Catechetical Instruction (Church of England; Lond. 1851,18mo); Aids to Catechetical Teaching (Lond. 1843, 12mo); Bather, Art of Catechizing (revised by author, N. Y. 1847). Catechetical hints may be found in many books on Sunday-school and Bible-class teaching; in periodicals, such as The Catechumen's Reporter (Lond.); and in the various expositions of the different Church Catechisms. Also Clarisse, Encyclopaedia Theologica, § 99; Siegel, Handbuch der christ.-kirch. Alterthümer, 1:340 sq.; Hagenbach, Encyklopädie, § 99; Pelt, Theolog. Encyklopddie, § 103; Herzog, Real-Encyklopddie, 7:441; Winer, Tlreolog. Literatur; Walch, Bibliotheca Theologica, vol. 1, ch. 4.