AskDefine | Define catechism

Dictionary Definition



1 a series of question put to an individual (such as a political candidate) to elicit their views
2 an elementary book summarizing the principles of a Christian religion; written as questions and answers

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. a book, in question and answer form, summarizing the basic principles of Christianity
  2. a basic manual in some subject
  3. a set of questions designed to determine knowledge


book summarizing the principles of Christianity


Extensive Definition

A catechism (; ) is a summary or exposition of doctrine, traditionally used in Christian religious teaching from New Testament times to the present. Catechisms are doctrinal manuals often in the form of questions followed by answers to be memorized, a format that has been used in non-religious or secular contexts as well (see FAQ).
As defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 5, "Catechesis () is an education in the faith of children, young people and adults which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted, generally speaking, in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life". A catechist is one who engages in such religious instruction. Typically, it is a lay minister trained in the art of catechesis. It might also be a pastor or priest, religious teacher, or other individuals in church roles (including a deacon, religious brother or sister, or nun). The primary catechists for children are their parents. A catechumen is one who receives catechetical instruction.

Traditional format

Catechisms have, historically, typically followed a dialogue or question-and-answer format. This format calls upon two parties to participate, a master and a student (traditionally termed a "scholar"), a parent and a child. The famous Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) is an example:
Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. To glorify God and enjoy him forever!
Q. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The word of God contained in the Old and New Testaments is the only rule that is to direct us how we may enjoy him.

Catholic catechisms

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (see below) is the catechism that is most widespread use among Catholics today. It is the official Catechism of the Church.
For Catholics, all the canonical books of the Bible (including the Deuterocanonical books), the Tradition of the Church and the interpretation of these by the Magisterium (which may be outlined in a catechism, a compendium or a declaration) constitute the complete and best resource for fully attaining to God's revelation to mankind. Catholics believe that Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition preserved and interpreted by the Magisterium are both necessary for attaining to the fullest understanding of all of God's revelation.
The term catechist is most frequently used in Catholicism, often to describe a lay catechist or layperson with catechetical training who engages in such teaching and evangelization. This can be in both parish church and mission contexts.

Roman Catechism

The Roman Catechism (also called, the Catechism of the Council of Trent) was first published in 1566 under the authority of the Council of Trent. It was not intended for common use by the laity, but as a general use reference book for priests and bishops.

Catechism of Saint Pius X

Saint Pope Pius X intended a Catechism, that all Catholic faithful could relate to and understand. The Catechism of Saint Pius X, issued first in 1908, at the beginning of the twentieth century in Italian, Catechismo della dottrina Cristiana, Pubblicato per Ordine del Sommo Pontifice San Pio X, deals in less than 50 pages with all questions of faith and morality in a simple but comprehensive form, which is one reason for its continued popularity.

Baltimore Catechism

Various editions of the Baltimore Catechism were the de facto standard Catholic school text in America from 1885 to the late 1960s. It was often taught by rote. The most common edition has a series of questions with their answers, which are followed by explanations in more depth. These are often accompanied by Biblical quotes. There is a test at the end of every chapter.

Dutch Catechism

The hotly debated Dutch Catechism of 1966 was the first post-Vatican II comprehensive Catholic catechism, and reflects the Magisterium of the Dutch bishops. It was commissioned and authorized by the Catholic hierarchy of the Netherlands, “to make the message of Jesus Christ sound as new as it is” The Catechism, which sold record number of copies thoughout the world, contains controversial views, which were reviewed by a group of Cardinals. They pointed to several errors but decided to “nonetheless leave by far the greatest part of the New Catechism untouched. So too, they support the praiseworthy intention of the authors".

Catechism of the Catholic Church

The current Catechism of the Catholic Church is the first complete rewrite since the Council of Trent in 1566. It contains articles on the classical topics of the official teaching of the Catholic Church on all matters of faith and morals. Since the official language of the Catholic Church is Latin, official teaching documents distributed in Latin are unlikely to change in perceived meaning over time. The Latin language version of the Catechism, published September 8, 1992, is the editio typica—the normative and definitive text. The principal source materials for this work are the Sacred Scriptures, the Church Fathers, the liturgy, and the Magisterium. This Catechism is intended to serve "as a point of reference for the catechisms or compendia that are composed in the various countries." - Extraordinary Synod of Bishops 1985, Final Report II B a, 4.
Fidei depositum is an Apostolic Constitution which states that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is for the laity in its address to all the people of God.

Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

It originated with a request of Pope John Paul II in February 2003 and was issued by his successor Pope Benedict XVI June 28, 2005. The English version was printed at Libreria Editrice Vaticana in 2006. Unlike the larger catechism, the Compendium is similar in format to the Baltimore Catechism with 598 questions and answers, providing an easier format with only the "essential" contents of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as the title suggests.

United States Catholic Catechism for Adults

The 1992 Vatican catechism had several aims, among them to be an "authentic reference text for teaching Catholic doctrine and particularly for preparing local catechisms". The American bishops responded with the 2006 United States Catholic Catechism for Adults(USCCB, 2006) - similar in format to a college text book, targeting adults, contain seven elements that bring more depth to the material than the 'Compendium', providing more flexibility for diverse groups of people to study its contents. Each section or chapter contains the following: Story or lesson of faith, foundation and application, sidebars, relationship to culture, discussion questions, doctrinal statements, and meditation and prayer. The lessons of faith stories are about individuals from the United States and allow the U.S. reader to better relate to these individuals. This version of the Catechism is available on Audio CD-ROM as well.

Enchiridion symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum

The Enchiridion symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum also known as Enchiridion or Denzinger, is a compendium of all basic texts of Catholic dogma and morality since the Apostles. Commissioned by the blessed Pope Pius IX, it has been in use since 1854, and has been updated periodically. Is is a compendium of faith, like a Catechism. By including all relevant teachings throughout history, it is at the same, more than a Catechism. It is a search instrument for theologians, historians and anybody interested in Christian religion. The latest updates of the Enchiridion extend to the teachings of Pope John Paul II.
The Archbishop of Baltimore James Cardinal Gibbons is quoted in ealier versions of the Enchiridion, that every theologian should have always two books at hand, the Holy Bible and this Enchiridion.

Reformation catechisms

The catechism's question-and-answer format, with a view toward the instruction of children, was a form adopted by the various Protestant confessions almost from the beginning of the Reformation.
Among the first projects of the Reformation, was the production of catechisms self-consciously modelled after the older traditions of Cyril and Augustine. These catechisms showed special admiration for Chrysostom's view of the family as a "little church", and placed strong responsibility on every father to teach his children, in order to prevent them from coming to Baptism or the Lord's Table ignorant of the doctrine under which they are expected to live as Christians.


Luther's Large Catechism (1530) typifies the emphasis which the Churches of the Augsburg Confession placed on the importance of knowledge and understanding of the articles of the Christian faith. Primarily intended as instruction to teachers, especially to parents, the Catechism consists of a series of exhortations on the importance of each topic of the Catechism. It is meant for those who have the capacity to understand, and is not meant to be memorized but to be repeatedly reviewed so that the Small Catechism could be taught with understanding. For example, the author stipulates in the preface:
Therefore it is the duty of every father of a family to question and examine his children and servants at least once a week and to ascertain what they know of it, or are learning and, if they do not know it, to keep them faithfully at it.
The catechism, Luther wrote, should consist of instruction in the rule of conduct, which always accuses us because we fail to keep it (Ten Commandments), the rule of faith (Apostles' Creed), the rule of prayer (Lord's Prayer), and the sacraments (Baptism, Confession, and Communion). Luther adds:
However, it is not enough for them to comprehend and recite these parts according to the words only, but the young people should also be made to attend the preaching, especially during the time which is devoted to the Catechism, that they may hear it explained and may learn to understand what every part contains, so as to be able to recite it as they have heard it, and, when asked, may give a correct answer, so that the preaching may not be without profit and fruit.
Luther's Small Catechism, in contrast, is written to accommodate the understanding of a small child or an uneducated person. It begins:
The First Commandment
You must not have other gods.
Q. What does this mean?
A. We should fear, love, and trust God above all things.


Calvin's 1545 preface to the Genevan catechism begins with an acknowledgement that the several traditions and cultures which were joined in the Reformed movement, would produce their own form of instruction in each place. While no effort should be expended on preventing this, Calvin argues, he adds:
We are all directed to one Christ, in whose truth being united together, we may grow up into one body and one spirit, and with the same mouth also proclaim whatever belongs to the sum of faith. Catechists not intent on this end, besides fatally injuring the Church, by sowing the materials of dissension in religion, also introduce an impious profanation of baptism. For where can any longer be the utility of baptism unless this remain as its foundation — that we all agree in one faith?
Wherefore, those who publish Catechisms ought to be the more carefully on their guard, by producing anything rashly, they may not for the present only, but in regard to posterity also, do grievous harm to piety, and inflict a deadly wound on the Church.
The scandal of diverse instruction, is that it produces diverse baptisms and diverse communions, and diverse faith. However, forms may vary without introducing substantial differences, according to the Reformed view of doctrine.

Genevan Catechism

John Calvin produced a catechism while at Geneva (1541), which underwent two major revisions (1545 and 1560). Calvin's aim in writing the Catechism of 1545, was to set a basic pattern of doctrine, meant to be imitated by other catechists, which would not affirm local distinctions or dwell on controversial issues, but would serve as a pattern for what was expected to be taught by Christian fathers and other teachers of children in the Church. The catechism is organized on the topics of Faith, Law, Prayer and Sacraments.
1. Master. What is the chief end of human life?
Scholar. To know God by whom men were created.
2. M. What reason have you for saying so?
S. Because he created us
and placed us in this world
to be glorified in us. And
it is indeed right that our life,
of which himself is the beginning,
should be devoted to his glory.
3. M. What is the highest good of man?
S. The very same thing.

Heidelberg Catechism

After Protestantism entered into the Palatinate, in 1546 the controversy between Lutherans and Calvinists broke out, and especially while the region was under the elector Otto Heinrich (1556-59), this conflict in Saxony, particularly in Heidelberg, became increasingly bitter and turned violent.
When Frederick III, Elector Palatine, came into power in 1559, he put his authority behind the Calvinistic view on the Lord's Supper, which denied the local presence of the body of Jesus Christ in the elements of the sacrament. He turned Sapienz College into a school of divinity, and in 1562 he placed over it a pupil and friend of Luther's colleague, Philipp Melanchthon, named Zacharias Ursinus. In an attempt to resolve the religious disputes in his domain, Frederick called upon Ursinus and his colleague Caspar Olevianus (preacher to Frederick's court) to produce a Catechism. The two collaborators referred to existing catechetical literature, and especially relied on the catechisms of Calvin and of John Lasco. To prepare the Catechism, they adopted the method of sketching drafts independently, and then bringing together the work to combine their efforts. "The final preparation was the work of both theologians, with the constant co-operation of Frederick III. Ursinus has always been regarded as the principal author, as he was afterwards the chief defender and interpreter of the Catechism; still, it would appear that the nervous German style, the division into three parts (as distinguished from the five parts in the Catechism of Calvin and the previous draft of Ursinus), and the genial warmth and unction of the whole work, are chiefly due to Olevianus." (Schaff, in. Am. Presb. Rev. July 1863, p. 379). The structure of the Heidelberg Catechism is spelled out in the second question, and the three-part structure seen there is based on the belief that the single work of salvation brings forward the three persons of the Trinity in turn, to make God fully and intimately known by his work of salvation, referring back to the Apostles' Creed as an epitome of Christian faith. Assurance of salvation is the unifying theme throughout this catechism: assurance obtained by the work of Christ, applied through the sacraments, and resulting in grateful obedience to the commandments and persistence in prayer.
Lord's Day 1.
Q. What is thy only comfort in life and death?
A. That I with body and soul,
both in life and death,
am not my own, but
belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ;
who, with his precious blood,
has fully satisfied for all my sins,
and delivered me
from all the power of the devil;
and so preserves me that
without the will of my heavenly Father,
not a hair can fall from my head;
yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation,
and therefore, by his Holy Spirit,
He also assures me of eternal life,
and makes me sincerely willing and ready,
henceforth, to live unto him.
Q. How many things are necessary for thee to know,
that thou, enjoying this comfort,
mayest live and die happily?
A. Three;
the first, how great my sins and miseries are;
the second, how I may be delivered from
all my sins and miseries;
the third, how I shall express
my gratitude to God for such deliverance.
The Heidelberg Catechism is the most widely used of the Catechisms of the Reformed churches.

Westminster Catechisms

Together with the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), the Westminster Assembly also produced two catechisms, a Larger and a Shorter, which were intended for use in Christian families and in churches. These documents have served as the doctrinal standards, subordinate to the Bible, for Presbyterians and other Reformed churches around the world. The Shorter Catechism shows the Assembly's reliance upon the previous work of Calvin, Lasco, and the theologians of Heidelberg. It is organized in two main sections summarizing what the Scriptures principally teach: the doctrine of God, and the duty required of men. Questions and answers cover the usual elements: Faith, the Ten Commandments, the Sacraments, and Prayer.
Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God,
and to enjoy him forever.
Q. What rule hath God given
to direct us how we may glorify
and enjoy him?
A. The Word of God,
which is contained in the Scriptures
of the Old and New Testaments,
is the only rule to direct us
how we may glorify and enjoy him.
Q. What do the scriptures principally teach?
A. The scriptures principally teach, what
man is to believe concerning God, and
what duty God requires of man.

Other Reformed catechisms

Oecolampadius composed the Basel Catechism in 1526, Leo Juda (1534) followed by Bullinger (1555) published catechisms in Zurich. The French Reformed used Calvin's Genevan Catechism, as well as works published by Louis Cappel (1619), and Charles Drelincourt (1642).

Anglican Catechism

The Anglican Book of Common Prayer includes a brief catechism for the instruction of all persons preparing to be brought before the bishop for Confirmation. The baptized first professes his baptism, and then rehearses the principal elements of the faith into which he has been baptized: Apostles' Creed, Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, and the Sacraments.
Catechist: What is your Name?
Answer: N. or M.
C. Who gave you this Name?
Answer: My Godfathers and Godmothers
in my Baptism;
wherein I was made a member of Christ,
the child of God,
and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.

Socinian and other sectarian catechisms

Besides the manuals of instruction that were published by the Protestants for use in their families and churches, there were other works produced by sectarian groups intended as a compact refutation of "orthodoxy".
For example, Socinians in Poland published the Rakow Catechism in 1605, using the question and answer format of a catechism for the orderly presentation of their arguments against the Trinity and the doctrine of Hell, as these were understood by the Reformed churches from which they were forced to separate.
Baptist affiliations of congregations have at times adopted the Reformed catechisms, modified to reflect Baptist convictions, especially concerning the nature of the church and the ordinances of baptism and communion. The Anabaptists have also produced catechisms of their own, to explain and defend their distinctives.

Non-Christian catechisms

Catechisms represent an obvious, practical method of passing on instruction, and as such examples can be found in many traditions. For example, Asiatic schools of esoteric learning also used a catechetical style of instruction, as this Zodiac catechism shows:
Q. "Where is the animal, O Lanoo?
and where the Man?
A. Fused into one, O Master of my Life.
The two are one.
But both have disappeared
and naught remains
but the deep fire of my desire.
Judaism does not have a formal catechism as such, but there are a set of Jewish principles of faith that religious Jews believe that all Jews should hold.

Secular catechisms

In the past, for example as in the case of the Catechism of the History of Newfoundland (c1856), catechisms were written to rehearse the basic knowledge of a non-religious subject. In recent times, a catechism that rehearses a secular topic, especially one of a technological nature, is more commonly called a FAQ, ("Frequently Asked Questions").
The 17th episode of James Joyce's novel Ulysses, known as "Ithaca", is written in the form of a catechism.
Ted Hughes' poem Examination at the Womb Door , from the collection Crow, is written in the form of a catechism.
In Henry IV Part 1: Act V, Scene I, Line 141 Falstaff refers to his monologue as a his catechism , explaining his view of the virtue honor.



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Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Weltanschauung, articles of religion, bone of contention, credenda, credo, creed, cross-interrogatory, cross-question, cult, debating point, demand, doctrinal statement, faith, feeler, formulated belief, gospel, ideology, inquiry, interrogation, interrogative, interrogatory, ism, issue, leader, leading question, moot point, point at issue, point in question, political faith, political philosophy, problem, query, question, question at issue, question mark, quodlibet, religion, school, system of belief, topic, trial balloon, vexed question, world view
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