Concordia Publishing House celebrated his 150th anniversary yesterday. Although CPH now offers some 10,000 products, its foundational publication has always been that of Luther Small Catechism, one of the most succinct and eloquent explanations of Christianity in all of Christendom, designed both to teach the faith to the young and old, and to serve as an inexhaustible manual of devotion.
In honor of this celebration and as an example of both the continuity and the innovations that have characterized the ministry of CPH for 150 years, I want to draw your attention to the new edition of Small catechism of Luther with explanations, now also available as an app for your phone!
Historically, the catechism used to teach Christians consisted of three main texts: the Ten Commandments, the Symbol of the Apostles and the Our Father. Then, various explanations and questions-answers used in the teaching of these texts were attached or even took the place of these primary documents, finally leading to various “catechisms” according to the various Christian traditions.
Medieval catechisms tended to follow the order of the Creed, Prayer, and Commandments, emphasizing that obedience to the Law is the primary goal of Christian life. Luther put the elements in a different order: First Law (the Ten Commandments); then the Gospel (the Creed); then the relationship with God in Christian life (the Our Father). Luther also added the biblical texts concerning baptism, confession and absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. He also attached a “Table of duties”, made up of biblical passages on vocation. The catechumens learned the Word of God, Luther’s catechism helping them to understand and apply this Word personally, so that they could answer the repeated question: “What does this mean?
that of Luther Small Catechism is, indeed, “small” – it was printed in a leaflet of only 24 pages– which makes it a marvel of theological brevity, but richness. But it was often accompanied by commentaries, evidence texts and other documents.
Lifetime Lutherans will remember the blue book and later the brown book they used to confirm, the Small catechism with explanations which go back to the work of Heinrich schwan (1819-1905), the third president of the Synod of the Lutheran Church of Missouri (which is credited by Wikipedia – incorrectly [see comments]–With the installation of the first American Christmas tree in a church).
In 2017, CPH published the Catechism with new explanations. Reverend Schwan would never have thought that Christians would face controversies over abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, cohabitation, etc. The new explanations apply the catechism – as well as an abundance of biblical passages – to these questions, as well as to other concerns of the 2nd century.
What strikes me the most is the organization of the new edition. Each part of Luther’s Catechism is followed by an explanatory section “The Central Thinking” followed by “A Deeper Reading of the Small Catechism,” giving further explanation and biblical support for what Luther was teaching. Then follows a section “Connections and applications”, which applies teaching our lives today. Because the purpose of the Catechism is not only educational and doctrinal but devotional, the treatment of each part ends with a Psalm, a hymn and a prayer.
Notice the structure: we move from learning the content, to understanding the content, to applying the content. This follows the principles of classical education (grammar, logic and rhetoric) and allows for exceptionally deep learning. Small catechism of Luther with explanations thus works autonomously study programme to teach faith. In addition to being a doctrinal and moral reference work and a manual of devotion.
I know, I know, this new edition came out two years ago, but we just discussed it in a reading group of church workers in the area that I attend. , I haven’t really studied the final product until now.
We also read two articles from a special issue of Concordia Journal on the Catechism I would recommend: Knowing “How to Live and Die: Luther and the Teaching of the Christian Faith” by Gerhard Bode (on the writing and use of the Catechism by Luther) and “Why Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanations Is a Tool “by Pete Jurchen Uniquely Adapted for Parish Education” (by one of the editors, explaining how this edition was designed and how it can be used to teach the faith).
And just as the original Catechism made good use of the media technology of its day, namely the printing press, this new version also makes good use of today’s media technology. The app for Luther’s Little Catechism, updated last month, includes additional study and devotional material. It also makes it easy to share passages on social networks and by e-mail. It also includes translations in various languages.
The Luther Catechism app itself is free, but if you want the new explanations and accompanying material for the 2017 edition, which is 429 pages in print, it costs $ 7.99.