Of Catechetical Instructions
Antiquities of the Christian Church
XIII. Of Catechetical Instructions
Of Catechetical Instructions.
No very clear distinction can be drawn between the homilies and catechetical lessons of the fathers. The terms are applied interchangeably, in some instances, to the same productions. The catechetical lessons were familiar instructions given to candidates for baptism, or to persons who had just received that ordinance; and varied very much according to the age, character, and circumstances of the catechumens. Sometimes they were of a doctrinal, and at others of a popular character; and again, they were adapted more especially to the young; just as the instructions of the missionary are necessarily qualified by the circumstances of the people to whom he goes, or the particular class whom he may chance to address. But in either case they are strictly catechetical.
The nature of these instructions in the ancient church was greatly modified by the general introduction of infant baptism, in consequence of the corresponding change of the relations and institutions which attended this change in the ordinance.
The catechetical discourses of Cyril of Jerusalem, contain the most ancient and authentic summary of the doctrines of primitive Christianity. These the catechumens were expected to commit to memory and habitually to study as a compend of the Scriptures, and a substitute for them, to such as had not a Bible. Such was also the nature and interest of all subsequent formularies of this kind. They have a close analogy to the ancient symbols of the church, and were in many respects the same.
The principal points of catechetical instruction, even when no catechism in form was used, was:
- The Decalogue. The fathers in the church unitedly agreed in regarding this as essentially a summary of the Old Testament, and obligatory upon Christians. They were accordingly diligently taught this compend of the moral law. Pliny, in his famous epistle, has clearly declared how faithfully the primitive Christians observed this law, and the same is known from many authorities.
Many of the fathers disagreed in the division of the law of the two tables, some making ten, others seven, etc. In regard to their different views, see references.
- The Symbols, or Confessions of Faith, particularly that which is styled the Apostles' Creed. In relation to these which have been the subject of so much discussion, it may be sufficient briefly to remark, that from the earliest organization of the church, some confession and rule of faith must evidently have been necessary. This rule of faith must have been derived from the teaching, either oral or written, of the apostles; and may have been earlier than the writings of the New Testament in their present form. Luke 1:1–4, Gal. 1:11. As the preaching of the apostles preceded their written instructions, so an oral confession may have preceded a written one, comprising an epitome of the gospel. From such a source may have sprung the great variety of forms which were known previous to the council of Nice. The various creeds and symbols which have been framed since that period, are only so many modifications of the apostles' creed. For a notice of these creeds see reference.
- The Lord's Prayer comprised a part of the catechetical instructions. This was used in baptism, and, after Gregory the Great, at the sacrament of the Lord's supper. It was regarded as a summary of the proper topics of prayer.
- While the secret mysteries of the church were continued, instructions respecting the sacrament could not have been publicly given. But from the time when the introduction of infant baptism changed the style of catechetical instructions, they must have included the subjects of baptism, absolution, and the Lord's supper.
Mich. Walcker de Catechisatione Veterum: J. C. Walch de Apostolor. Institutione Catechetica: Conf. Ejnsdem Miscellanea Sacra: G. T. Zachariae de Methodo Catechetica: G. Langemack Historia Catechetica: J. G. Walch Eirdeiiung in die Catecheiische Historic alterer, mittelerer, und neuerer Zeiten: J. G. Kocher Einleitung in die Catecheiische Theologie.
Tertull. Apol. c. 2: De Anima, c. 37: Adv. Marc. v. c. 14: De Pudicit. c. 4: Clem. Alex. Strom, vi. c. 16: Iren. adv. heares. iv. c. 3, 10, 26, 31: Orig. Horn. viii. in Exod. etc.
Orig. viii. in Exod. Opp. torn. v. p. 419. ed. Oberth.: Augustin Quaest. 71.in Exod.: Ep. cxix. c. 11, 12: Contra. Faust. 15. 7: De decern, chordis. c. 5, 6: Serm. De Temp. 95. 481.
1 Pet. 3:21: I Tim. 6: 12: Tertull. De Cor. mil. c. 3, 48: De vel. irg. c. 1: De Praescript. haer. c. 13: Iren. adv. haer. i. c. 2, 70: Apost. Constit. Op. c. 41: Socrat. h. e. i. c. 8.
Cyril. Hieros. Catech. v. § 5: August. deSyrnb. Ser. l.De tract: Symb. S. 112, 114.
Bingham, Vol. iv. 79–119: Walch. Bibl. Symb.
The most ancient creed extant is that of Irenaeus. This venerable document is here inserted for the gratification of the curious inquirer. "The church, though it be dispersed over all the world, from one end of the earth to the other, has received from the apostles and their disciples the belief in one God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and all things in them: and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was incarnate for our salvation: and in the Holy Ghost, who preached by the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advent (rag I'kn'astg, adventum, Jnt. vet.), nativity of a virgin, passion, resurrection from the dead, and bodily ascension into heaven of the flesh of his beloved Son Christ Jesus our Lord, and his coming again from heaven in the glory of the Father, to restore (* ad recapitulanda uni versa, Int. vet.) all things, and raise the flesh of all mankind; that, according to the will of the invisible Father, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in the earth, and things under the earth, to Jesus Christ, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King; and that every tongue should confess to him; and that he may exercise just judgment upon all, and may send spiritual wickednesses, and the transgressing and apostate angels, with all ungodly, unrighteous, lawless, and blaspheming men, into everlasting fire; but having granted life to all righteous and holy men, that keep his commandments, and persevere in his love, some from the beginning, others after repentance, on these he may bestow the gift of immortality, and invest them with eternal glory."
The famous Nicene creed, first framed in the year 325, and completed A. D. 381, is given in the liturgy of the Episcopal church.
(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)