Catechist, i.e. catechizer, in the ecclesiastical sense, one who teaches religion to children, or neophytes, catechetically. For the derivation, SEE CATECHETICS, 1.
(1.) At first it was the office of the bishop to prepare the catechumens for baptism, as well as to admit them into the Church by that sacrament. But in course of time it became impossible for the bishops to devote the requisite attention to this part of their work, and consequently they transferred it to such presbyters and deacons as they deemed competent to the undertaking. They were called catechetae; and their employment was considered peculiarly honorable, as requiring the possession and use of eminent talents and qualifications. But there never was a separate office or order of catechists in the Church; the work was only a function, assigned, as need arose, to persons capable of it. Cyril of Jerusalem and Chrysostom (Hom. 21 ad popul. Antioch.) were originally catechists. They were sometimes called by a figurative name, ναυτολόγοι, that is, those whose office it was to admit passengers to the ship, and contract with them for the fare. The Church, by a well-known figure, was compared to a ship; the bishop was ὁ πρωρεύς, the pilot; the presbyters, οἱ ναύται, the mariners; the deacons, οἱ τοίχαρχοι, the chief rowers; the catechists, οἱ ναυτολόγοι. It was properly the catechists' duty to show the catechumens the contract they were to make, and the conditions they were to perform, in order to their admittance into the Christian ship. The deaconesses were also catechists to the more ignorant and rustic women-catechumens, which proves that catechists were not necessarily of the clerical order. Origen, when only eighteen years of age, and consequently when incapable of being ordained a deacon, was appointed a catechist (Eusebius, Hist. Ecclesiastes 6:3).
(2.) In the modern churches, ministers are generally required by Church law to be catechists (i.e. for the instruction of children); and since the growth of the Sunday-school (q.v.), the Sunday-school teachers are, Ior ought to be, all catechists. — Farrar, Ecclesiastes Dict. s.v.; Bingham, Orig. Ecclesiastes bk. 3, ch. 10; Coleman, Christian Aintiq. ch. 4, § 8; Krause, De Catechetis primitivce ecclesice (Lips. 1704); Siegel, AIterthümer, p. 340.