Perhaps longer Catechisms have a troubled history in Anglicanism? Their absence certainly is not due to any penchant for ambiguity or aversion to scientific theology. Early catehcisms, like Necessary Doctrine, were established, as Henry says, for “the abolition of controversy”. Their intent was not only to educate baptismal candidates but also clergy. The 1928 BCP short catechism (probably the longest of the Anglican short catechisms) has kept traction, especially amongst Anglo-Catholics, but the longer varieties seem to have fallen by the wayside, where length is identified with ‘puritanism’. There are a number of Anglican Longer Catechisms which not only prove valuable for seminary students but nurture growing faith by expounding questions sprouting from baptismal and eucharistic creeds.
Binding Standards Together:
Catechisms, both short and long, have an earlier history in England than most Anglicans suspect. The first Anglican catechism was the 1537 Bishop’s Book, and this, in some sense, was partly owed to Henry’s 1521 Defense of the Seven Sacraments contra Luther. Not only this, but the ordering of catechetical subject-matter came from medieval primer which Henry reformed from 1535-1545. The 1543 King’s Book reconciled some of these differences. The Henrician period is often viewed as archetypical catholic, yet during Henry’s reign three Larger Catechisms were published. After Henry’s death, Cranmer’s 1548 Shorter Catechism carried forward Henrician doctrine with the exception of replacing transubstantion with a moderate Realism. Nonetheless, it was enough to justify suppressing carnality in the Mass.
Binding Catechisms together with various other standards was not uncommon–their combinations illustrating the intertextuality of Anglican thought. The 1536 Ten Articles were included in Henry’s Great Bible. The 1553 Convocation continued the same, binding together Poynet’s Larger Catechism with Cranmer’s 42 Articles (see first chapter, Edward VI’s Catechism). Once Geneva bibles began to arrive in England (with Calvin’s catechism inside, sic. 1560), English Bishops reciprocated. In 1562 Elizabeth restored Henry’s project, commissioning Nowell’s Larger Catechism along with Appointed Bibles (the Bishop’s Bible). In 1578 the Articles, Jewel’s Apology, and Nowell’s Catechism was proposed to be printed in single volume. Thus, the idea of binding standards together is not new. Indeed, as Fr. John Hollister notes, the BCP itself binds together several books that were originally separate,
“Allied to this is the concept that the set of covers we are accustomed to think of as “the Book of Common Prayer” actually binds together several books that were historically distinct: a Breviary (the “Common Prayer”); a Missal; a Psalter; a Manual (for the various other services that a Priest normally takes, such as Baptism, Matrimony, Burial, etc.); a Pontificial (for the various services that only a Bishop takes, such as the Ordinal, Confirmation, Institution of a Rector, Consecration of a Church, etc.); and the remnants of a Primer (the “Family Prayer” section in the 1928 BCP)”. Continuum Blog, Sept. 18 2007
King James commissioned Bishop Overall to close discrepancies in subject-matter between larger and shorter catechism by adding a section on sacraments. Against Puritan wishes, Overall purposely preserved the brevity of Cranmer’s cacheticism, admitting tenderness for confirmands by not “taxing withal the number of ignorant Catechisms [as] set out in Scotland”. Even with additions Overall’s catechism remained shorter even than medieval primers. Nonetheless, while shorter catechism was used for mostly for children, the larger catechism alongside the Articles continued mandatory for aspiring “ministers” training in the University– those liable to teach or touch doctrine by courts of law or elected office (so university grads were compelled to subscribe, pledge assent, etc.).
Prayer Book Usage:
Percy Dearmer’s Parson Handbook has an entire chapter devoted to frequent catechizing. Catechism is treated as a regular part of Anglican public worship. Percy makes two very important points. First, Catechism is a liturgical. The Prayer Book requires it not only every Sunday and Holy Days (if possible) as part of Common Worship but exclusive to the end of Evening Prayer, “The Minister of every Parish shall diligently, upon Sundays and Holy Days, or on some other convenient occasions, openly in the Church, instruct or examine”. Evening catechism comes from the Injunction. When these were neglected, the habit of Sunday School thereby arose, introduced by Methodists for want of Anglican clergy performing their duties.
“Canon 59 not only insists upon this catechism on Sundays and Holy-days, and orders parents and master to send those in their charge, but also orders the Bishop to inflict excommunication, for a third offence, on any Minister that neglects his duty therein…The prayer book knows nothing of Sunday schools, which became a necessity owing to the want of ‘diligence’ on the part of the clergy… One lesson of the rubric is the main part of the teaching should be given by the clergy, whose duty it is to become experts in catechizing, and not by Sunday-school teachers, who in the nature of things are not generally experts”.
The later 1604 injunction ran the same:
‘Item: That ye shall every Sunday and Holy Day throughout the year openly and plainly recite to your parishioners, twice or thrice together, or oftener, if need require, one particle or sentence of the Pater Nosier, or Creed in English, to the intent that they may learn the same by heart: and so from day to day to give them one little lesson or sentence of the same, till they have learned the whole Pater Nosier and Creed in English, by rote, And as they be taught every sentence of the same by rote, ye shall expound and declare the understanding of the same unto them, exhorting all parents and householders to teach their children and servants the same, as they are bound in conscience to do. And that done, ye shall declare unto them the Ten Commandments, one by one, every Sunday and Holy Day, till they be likewise perfect in the same.”
Second, Percy advises Catechism not only for young people but also matured communicants. Deeper expositions of catechetical faith, which Percy calls, the “Catechisms of Perseverance”, ought not be avoided. This, perhaps, is where medium and longer catechisms have purpose, suggesting not only spiritual nurture for those after Confirmation, but additional clerical self-discipline and education. Dearmer says,
“Indeed, the strict interpretation of the rubric can be carried out with excellent results by making a ‘catechism of perseverance’ of those young men and women who have passed through the ordinary catechism– the members of this catechism of perseverance can come to Evensong, sit in the front seats near the pulpit, take notes, and write analyses; and, when it is well established, questions of an intelligent nature might well be put to the members…these young people (the ‘servants and prentices’ of the rubric) round the pulpit would tend to keep the parson from our besetting sin of ‘talk’, and, at the same time, his instructions would be quite up to the level of the older members of the congregation, and — he would have to prepare his work carefully.”
Dearmer believes the restoration of England’s faith hinges upon careful observance of prayer book rubrics and prayer. Catechism is liturgical. Whether bound or not, shorter and longer versions are implicitly part of the Prayer Book. The Offices of Instruction were included in the 1928 Prayer Book for with post-confirmandees in mind. Notice the extra appendage not in the short Catechism regarding the polity of church and her bishops. Not only are both An Instruction and Catechism tied into Evening Prayer but also many collects specific to perseverance. Hall says, “the Church Catechism has the double value of embodying officially expressed teaching, and of containing language which once effectually memorized, will grow in meaning with the increase of the learner’s years and experience”. Liturgical repetition for years before confirmation (Bishop visitations seldom were frequent) enabled memorization. The overall idea is for the church to produce men–by public prayer, preaching, and sacrament– not only capable of intellectually comprehending and living their baptism but, as Grafton says in his chapter on sacraments, to produce “soldiers for Christ”. For Hall this cycles back into apologetics, retention, and mission.
“But the mental preparation thus prescribed is only the beginning of a Christian layman’s religious education, which should be continued under cempetent and orthodox teachers, pari passu, and in intelligible connection, with his secular education. The reasons for this are threefold. In the first place, one cannot cease to advance in religious knowledge without gradually losing vital hold upon what he has previously learned– a law observable in every sphere of education…Thirdly, with advancing years and widening experience many religious problems come to the fore, both theoretical and practical, which require for successful handling a more mature religious education than can be received during the years of childhood. Many instances of falling away from true religion are due to the fact that religious knowledge is so generally neglected by professed Christians. Because of this neglect they are quite unable to discern the obvious fallacies of the anti-Christian and anti-catholic arguments which eager controversialists thrust upon their attention. They readily become victims of secular and critical propaganda, and are lost to the Church of God…To be an intelligent Christian one must have learned why he is a Christian and Churchman. He must know what his churchmanship involves in faith and practice”
Articles and Larger Catechism are dubbed ‘puritanical’ or ‘precisionist’. The want of definition is often requested by liberal and Papist. While Puritan confessions often represent the worst and most crude of biblicist prejudice, doctrine expounded by necessary deduction or ‘scientific’ rigor (original languages and logic) is not uncatholic. Indeed, the Creeds themselves arose on the same basis as confessions– i.e., to silence heresy– and, in so far as this is true, they are likewise ”negative definitions’. Also, like the Creeds, confessional statements build upon one another (e.g., from Trinity to Christology to incarnation to atonement, etc.). If we understand our homilies, prayer book, catechisms, articles (etc.) as based soundly upon ancient Creeds (and vice-versa), then how can we say neither Articles nor long Catechisms are Liturgical (no less so than the Athanasian…?). JI Packer pointedly remarks,
“Theologically, and in terms of themselves, both have the same nature. For the creeds are confessions of Christ against views that in some way deny Him, just as the Reformation statements are; and the Reformation statements are standards of evangelical orthodoxy, just as the ecumenical creeds are. Both exist to safeguard and express the unity and purity of Christian faith against the depredations of heresy. Both were formally received in the church as means of discharging the church’s responsibility to proclaim and preserve the gospel. The basic relation between the creeds and confessions is not one of contrast, but of continuity and development: the confessions supplement the creeds by drawing out the soteriology which they imply, just as the Athanasian Creed supplemented the Nicene, and the Nicene the Apostles’, by amplified statements on the Trinity and incarnation.” (The Thirty-Nine Articles, Latimer Press)
In a similar apology regarding the fundamental nature of Articles to Creed, Rev. R. Meredith notes,
I noted earlier that it is completely wrongheaded to divorce the Thirty-Nine Articles from their immediate context, the Prayer Book. This is an important consideration, for the Prayer Book states clearly its commitment to the three Creeds: The Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian. This is germane to the present discussion, for the Articles follow very closely with The Creeds. Just as all three Creeds begin by confessing the Trinity, so the Thirty-Nine articles begin the same way. In fact, the first five Articles are essentially a restatement of the Church’s confessional standards. But why is this so important? It is important because one of the chief strengths of the Thirty-Nine Articles is their firm grounding in the tradition of the Church: a tradition which is rooted in her understanding of The Holy Scriptures. It is a strong point, for it states for us clearly that the Protestant Churches’ understanding of Sola Scriptura was never meant to undermine or ignore tradition. This is a concept that needs hearing today as perhaps never before. A proper view of tradition is necessary as a weapon against postmodern thought, and is a necessary corrective for those who would twist Scripture beyond the bounds of its historical interpretations.
Ecumenicalism with both East and Rome has done much damage. Often we engage it from very weak and self-castigating positions, asymmetrically enjoining ‘foreign’ episcopates (as the Supremacy Oath would call them) without a sense of our own identity. Identity is not reducible to ornament but more importantly is the faith received by a distinct patrimony shaped by history, race, law, custom, and language (see Bicknell on Article 34). Our grievances and prohibitions against both Roman idolatry and Protestant enormity is irrevocably part and parcel. While we tie our hands behind our back, the latter come in the ring slinging rather bare-fisted. With respect to foreign episcopates both East and Rome have their really massive Longer Catechisms. Rome’s established hers under Pope Pius V in parallel with the Reformation. The present-day RC longer catechism is, of course, 72 Article tomb which even catechumens study. Even the Orthodox, who hide in mystic silence, have Longer and Shorter catechisms. Here is the 1823 Longer Russian Orthodox Catechism.
All this reminds me of Bp. Grafton who flattered St. Tikhon in vain hopes of someday winning ecclesialistical recognition. Grafton was sorely disappointed when Tikhon held firm to Cyprian ecclesiology, chrismating an English priest against Grafton’s pleas. Read about this rather obscure yet important affair between Tikhon & Grafton here.
Next: 1604 Canons