The Small Catechism is the title of a short book by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, written in 1529. Sometimes nicknamed “the layman’s Bible,” it contains the core pillars of the Christian faith, along with simple explanations by Luther.
These “pillars” are what we refer to as the “six chief parts.” In other words, there are six main sections of this book, each vital to faith in Christ.
Creed (the Apostles’ Creed)
Lord’s Prayer (the Our Father)
Sacrament of the Altar (the Lord’s Supper.)
These are all taken directly from Holy Scripture, except the Creed, which is a compilation of scriptural phrases, placed in an orderly manner.
The Small Catechism is meant to be both a handbook of the faith, placing God’ Word into our memories, as well as a prayer book, providing much substance for our conversations with the Lord.
As a handbook, we look to the biblical truth it teaches, and strive to live Christian lives accordingly. (Yet, all the while we see we cannot do that, and confess our sin, and receive God’s mercy and forgiveness.)
As a prayer book, we glean many thoughts and topics for prayers of confession, thanksgiving, and Christian living.
Each week at St. John’s, we spend time learning by heart a Bible verse and a portion from The Small Catechism. While the book is not familiar to many Christians outside the Lutheran Church, one can see that it is thoroughly biblical and God-pleasing.
From the most ancient times, the entire Church has had a “catechism,” providing a simple order of the Christian faith and prayer-life. (Although it has not always been written or published; sometimes it has simply been passed orally.) The contents have varied from place to place and age to age, but certain elements have always remained, such as the Ten Commandments, Creed, and Lord’s Prayer.
Dr. Luther wrote our Catechism in response to a terrible lack of biblical knowledge of most people (including parish pastors) throughout Germany in the early years of the Reformation.
The Small Catechism was to be taught to all, and learned by heart. By the memorization of these basics of the Christian faith, a framework was in place, so that a person could process and “digest” what the Holy Scriptures teach us about our Lord and the forgiveness, life, and salvation that He freely gives.
A Large Catechism was also written by Luther for deeper understanding, and to aid pastors, teachers, and parents in understanding what they should be teaching their children regarding these topics.