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Zurich Catechism from 1792

The catechism has been a manual for instruction on the fundamental questions of the Christian faith since the beginning of modern times . The word catechism was also used to describe the catechesis of baptism for adults and, since the introduction of the baptism of children, the test of faith for godparents.


The word "catechism" comes from the late Latin ( catechismus, catechizare ) as a loan word . Catechism is in turn a loan word from the late Greek κατήχησις katēchesis , κατηχεĩν katēchein . The verb κατηχεĩν (from κατά katá “down” and ἠχεĩν ēchein “to resound , to sound”) literally means “to sound from above” and derived from it “to teach”.

From Baptism Catechesis to Ancient Catechism

The late Greek words κατήχησις katēchesis and κατηχεĩν katēchein as well as the derived late Latin loan words catechism and catechizare denote in Christian antiquity the "oral (initial) instruction" first before and later also after the baptism of an adult, whereby this interpretation of the baptismal catechism of the Apostles' Creed (Symbolum) and the Lord's Prayer . The Latin church father Augustine of Hippo was the first to use the Latin noun catechism for this oral baptismal catechesis in 413 . It was only since the beginning of the Middle Ages that this late Latin noun catechism no longer only encompasses oral baptismal catechesis, but the entire oral instruction of the faithful, including catechetical sermons and confessional catechesis.

History of the Catechism in the Middle Ages

The history of the written catechism begins with the records of oral catechesis on the baptismal pieces of the Symbolum and Our Father, to which since the 13th century the Ten Commandments (Decalogue) as well as the seven sacraments and other pieces have been added. The first catechism was written in the 8th century by the English scholar Alcuin . The catechetical manuscripts in the Middle Ages include the Weissenburg Catechism (after 789) with the Lord's Prayer and Symbolum as well as the Speculum ecclesiae by Edmund of Abingdon (around 1174-1240) with the Decalogue , written for the hand of the confessor . The Opuscula (1256) of Thomas Aquinas on the Symbolum, Our Father and Ave Maria as well as the Decalogue and the sacraments were combined into a catechetical whole by the Synod of Lambeth (1281). The catechetical incunabula in the late Middle Ages include the Aldersbach rhyming catechism (from approx. 1475) with symbol, Our Father, Decalogue, sacraments, etc. The catechism tablets made of wood (1451; Hildesheim, St. Lamberti) and paper ( around 1485; Ulm single-sheet print; Nuremberg), both with Our Father and Ave Maria, Symbolum and Decalogue.

Denominational catechisms of modern times

The actual catechism history begins with the catechisms of the denominations . From the almost incalculable number of catechisms used in the various Christian churches since the Reformation , only the so-called main catechisms should be mentioned here, which have gained outstanding importance for individual denominations over long periods of time and across national borders.

Lutheran catechisms

  • The Great Catechism of Martin Luther with the title Deudsch Catechismus (Wittenberg 1529) - for the teaching of children and the simple - treats the five main parts in the form of a didactic presentation: Decalogue, Symbol, Our Father, Baptism and Last Supper (with confession).
  • The Small Catechism of Martin Luther entitled Enchiridion. The little catechism for the common pastors and preachers (Wittenberg 1529) also includes the five main parts in 44 unnumbered questions and answers: Decalogue, Symbol, Our Father, the sacrament of baptism with confession and the sacrament of the altar.
    • The Württemberg catechism of 1696 largely contains Luther's Small Catechism, which, however, follows the teachings of Johannes Brenz in individual points, especially the understanding of baptism and the Lord's Supper .
  • Evangelical adult catechism . Course book of faith, ed. v. Werner Jentsch and others Gütersloh 1975.

Reformed Catechisms

  • The Great and Small Westminster Catechisms are important confessional writings of the Presbyterian churches . They were brought out by the Synod of Westminster in the 17th century . The Great Catechism contains 196 questions and answers, the Little one 107.
  • The second "Geneva Catechism" of John Calvin , entitled Le catéchisme de l'Église de Genève (Geneva 1542) - for teachers and adults - deals with 373 questions and answers: Symbol, Decalogue, Our Father and the sacraments.
  • The Heidelberg catechism with the title Catechism or Christian Vnderricht as carried out in churches and schools of the Electoral Palatinate (Heidelberg 1563) - intended for pastors and teachers - consists of 128, later of 129 unnumbered questions and answers and is divided into three parts:
    • 1. “Of man's misery” with the double commandment of love
    • 2. “From man's redemption” with the symbol and the sacraments
    • 3. “Of the Dankbarkeyt” with the Decalogue and Our Father

Anglican catechism

  • The Church Catechism (1553, revised 1572) of the Church of England with the title A Catechism that is to say an Instruction to be learned of every person before he be brought to be confirmed by the Bishop with its 25 unnumbered questions or prompts and Answers is divided into: Symbolum, Decalogue, Our Father and Sacraments.

Roman Catholic Catechisms

  • Thomas Aquinas : Catechism of St. Thomas Aquinas or Declaration of the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, Hail Mary and the Ten Commandments of God . Kulmbach 2016, ISBN 978-3-943506-30-3 .
  • The larger catechism of Petrus Canisius with the title Summa doctrinae christianae (Vienna 1555) - intended for students - comprises two main parts with 213 questions and answers, whereby the first part, "On Christian Wisdom", brings faith with the symbol, hope the Lord's Prayer and Ave Maria, love with the Decalogue and the Church Commandments as well as the sacraments.
  • Petrus Canisius : Catechism of St. Peter Canisius in 113 pictures. Orderly and accompanied by sayings from Father Gall Morel. (Small historical-catechetical library), Kulmbach 2015, ISBN 978-3-943506-23-5 .
  • Robert Bellarmin : Small Catechism or short epitome of Christian teaching. With fifty engravings by old masters. (Small historical-catechetical library), Kulmbach 2015, ISBN 978-3-943506-29-7 .
  • The Catechism Romanus (Rome 1566), written on the basis of a decree of the Council of Trent and intended for pastors, treats the four main parts in a didactic form: Symbolum, Sacraments, Decalogue and Our Father.
  • P. Johann Jakob Scheffmacher SJ: Controversial Catechism for instruction for Catholics and Protestants . Kulmbach 2015, ISBN 978-3-943506-24-2 .
  • Compendium of Christian Doctrine (Rome 1906) - Pius X.
  • Small Catechism of the Catholic Religion (1932) - Wilhelm Pichler .
  • Catholic Catechism of the Dioceses of Germany (1955, 288 pages). According to the preface, it is addressed to children. It conveys the teaching content in question and answer form and is provided with explanatory texts and pictures. Often referred to as the Small Catechism or popularly known as the Green Catechism because of its binding .
  • Dutch Catechism (Nijmegen 1968); German proclamation of faith for adults , for which the bishops of the Netherlands are the publisher, has a structure according to Christian salvation history.
  • Adult Catholic Catechism . Volume 1 (1985), ed. from the German Bishops' Conference.
  • Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992, 800 pages), published by Pope John Paul II. This world catechism, intended for bishops, theologians and church workers, is divided into the four main catechetical chapters Symbolum, Sacraments, Decalogue and Our Father. It encompasses the entire binding Catholic doctrine and is supposed to be the second basis of faith orientation alongside Holy Scripture. In addition, the acceptance of the teaching set out in it is considered the standard for belonging to the Roman Catholic Church.
  • Adult Catholic Catechism. Volume 2: Life from Faith n (1995), ed. from the German Bishops' Conference.
  • Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2005), translation from Italian on behalf of the German Bishops' Conference, rights by Libreria Editrice Vaticana. A “catechism for everyone” with only 250 pages, developed from the large catechism of the Catholic Church from 1992. John Paul II had it drawn up by a commission since 2003 headed by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger . It is in question and answer form and provided with explanatory pictures. The compendium was published in time for World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne and is intended to explain the indispensable doctrines, the essential texts and prayers and the ethical and moral demands of the Roman Catholic Church to a broad public in order to counter the widespread uncertainty in questions of faith and life.
  • The youth catechism Youcat (2011) was created on the initiative of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn from Vienna and aims to present the most important contents of the catechism of the Catholic Church in question and answer form and in a youth-oriented language. 30 speech outputs are planned.
  • Marie-Barthélemy Couissinier: picture catechism . (Small historical-catechetical library), Kulmbach 2015, ISBN 978-3-943506-26-6 .
  • Youtube channel for 3MC (72 episodes in 10 languages)

New Apostolic Catechism

In 2002 the church leadership of the NAK decided to also create a comprehensive basic work on the New Apostolic doctrine of the faith. This was finally achieved ten years later with the Catechism of the New Apostolic Church published on December 10, 2012 . This finally replaces the textbook Questions and Answers about the New Apostolic Faith, which was last updated in 1995 .


The text by Robert Barclay Catechism and Confession of Faith from 1673 is one of the most important catechistic writings of the Quakers to this day .


The racovian catechism of 1605 is the summary of the of Lelio and Fausto Sozzini initiated radical Reformation theology of Socinianism . To this day it is one of the most important confessions of Unitarianism .

Catechism as a book title

Only since the beginning of modern times has the Portuguese bishop Diogo Ortiz de Vilhegas adopted the Latin noun catechism as the old Portuguese loan word cathecismo and was chosen for the first time as the book title for his written catechesis, the Cathecismo Pequeno (Lisbon 1504). Soon afterwards, both the Latin word catechism and the corresponding loan word, adapted to the respective language, found their way into the Romance, Germanic and Slavic languages. The Latin book title was chosen by Martin Luther (1529), by the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), but also for the catechism Romanus , the French Catéchisme was by Johannes Calvin (1542) and the English catechisme (1553) by the Church used by England. However, such manuals were called differently during the time of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation . Martin Luther titled his Small Catechism as Enchiridion (1519), and Petrus Canisius used the title Summa (1555). It was not until later that the word catechism became almost exclusively the title of the manual for basic knowledge that served as a guide for catechesis in the church and at home - later in school.

Content with structure and form of presentation

The structure of the content in the catechisms follows either the course of Christian salvation history as in the Dutch catechism or the systematics, and in the latter case especially in connection with the main catechetical parts such as the Symbolum, Our Father, Decalogue and sacraments. Although all of the denomination catechisms mentioned offer the four main sections mentioned above, they nevertheless reflect the self-understanding of their respective denominations, with the main section determining the sacraments being the main differences between the denominations. While the catechisms of the Lutheran, Reformed and Anglican churches only deal with baptism and the Lord's Supper, those of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches contain seven sacraments or mysteries. The arrangement and, at the same time, the structure of the catechetical curriculum in the various catechisms vary. In the order chosen by Martin Luther in his two catechisms (1529), the Decalogue precedes the symbol and the Our Father precedes the two sacraments. The Geneva Catechism of John Calvin and the Church Catechism offer the order: Symbolum and Decalogue as well as Our Father and two sacraments. Petrus Canisius chose the sequence: Symbolum, Our Father, Decalogue and seven sacraments. Both the Heidelberg Catechism and the Catechism Romanus offer the sequence Symbolum, Sacraments, Decalogue and Prayer, the former with two sacraments and the latter with seven sacraments. According to the different forms of representation, one speaks of a “Lehrstück catechism”, as in the Great Catechism of Martin Luther and the Catechism Romanus, or of a “question-and-answer catechism” (or “in the classic catechism form”) as with the Small Catechism of Martin Luther, the Geneva Catechism of Johannes Calvin, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Church Catechism, the Catechism of Petrus Canisius, the KKK Compendium or a large number of catechisms published for religious instruction.

Target group

Depending on the addressees of this catechetical manual, a distinction can be made between a textbook for educational mediators or a learning book for educational recipients, between a catechism for children or young people - for example, Petrus Canisius wrote his large catechism for student youth - or a catechism for Adults - for example, the Geneva Catechism of Johannes Calvin is intended for teachers, the Heidelberg Catechism and Martin Luther's Small Catechism for the clergy and the Catechism Romanus for the parish clergy.

Extra-catechetic and extra-Christian catechisms

Since 1760, the book title Catechism has also been chosen for handbooks from other areas - both non-catechetical and non-church - such as:

  • Health catechism (1792), an early health guide that was explicitly aimed at school teachers and children, was the health catechism for use in schools and for home teaching by Bernhard Christoph Faust , of which 150,000 copies have already been sold eight years after the first draft in 1800 were. At that time it had already been translated into Dutch, Danish, Bohemian, Hungarian, English, Moravian, Swedish, Polish, Latvian, Slovak and Latin and introduced as a textbook in many schools. The successor to the tradition of health catechisms was the Pfennig-Magazin , published from 1833 .
  • Catechism of Music (1853-1857)
  • Catechism of International Law , Leipzig 1877
  • Catechism of the good tone and the fine custom , Leipzig 1892
  • Buddhist Catechism , Braunschweig 1888
  • Small Islamic Catechism , Ankara 1960

There is also a Sherlock Holmes detective story called The Catechism of the Musgrave Family .

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Catechism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Catechism  - Sources and Full Texts
Commons : Category: Catechisms  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual catechisms

Individual evidence

  1. DUDEN Etymology - Dictionary of Origin of the German Language, p. 335
  2. ^ Licensed edition of the publishing house Herder, Freiburg i. Br., Published sample edition of the German Standard Catechism, complete production by Herder, 1955
  3. Vatican Radio ( Memento of January 10, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) - On the establishment of personal ordinariats for Anglicans willing to transfer and the conditions for such a transfer.
  4. ^ APA announcement In: , March 25, 2011
  5. YOUCAT website ( Memento of October 16, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  6. Detailed appreciation of the project group work on the catechism
  7. Cf. also Gundolf Keil : The health catechisms of the Breslau city doctor Martin Pansa (1580–1626). In: Klaus Garber : Cultural history of Silesia in the early modern period. 2 volumes, Tübingen 2005, volume 1, pp. 287-319.
  8. Bernhard Christoph Faust, Dr., gräfl. Schaumburg-Lippischer Hofrath and personal physician, the royal. Märkischen oekonom. Society of Potsdam, the Helvetian Society. Correspond. Doctors and surgeons, and the king. Churf. Agricultural Society of Celle Member: Health catechism for use in schools and for home teaching. 8th, improved and increased edition Leipzig 1800, by Paul Gotthelf Kummer.
  9. ^ Gundolf Keil : The health catechisms of the Breslau city doctor Martin Pansa (1580-1626). In: Klaus Garber: Cultural history of Silesia in the early modern period. 2 volumes, Tübingen 2005, volume 1, pp. 287-319.
  10. ^ Johann Christian Lobe : Catechism of Music .