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From the Confessions: The Small Catechism
Luther’s Preface to the Small Catechism
Martin Luther to all faithful and godly pastors and preachers:
Grace, mercy, and peace in Jesus Christ, our Lord.
The deplorable and sad conditions which I recently discovered when I visited congregations, have compelled and driven me to prepare this small, plain, and simple catechism of Christian teaching. Mercy! Good God, what assorted wretchedness I beheld. The common people, especially in the villages, have no knowledge of Christian doctrine whatsoever, and regrettably, many pastors are altogether incapable and incompetent to teach. Nevertheless, all insist that they are Christians, have been baptized, and receive the holy Sacraments. Yet they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments. They live like oafs and irrational swine. Although the Gospel has been restored, they have mastered instead, the abuse of their emancipation.
Pulling It Together
Luther visited the parishes of Saxony and Meissen from October 22, 1528, through January 9, 1529. Years before this visitation, he had spoken of writing a catechism for the instruction of children. His inspection of the congregations required its publication. Indeed, he worked on two catechisms. The Small Catechism was not intended for children alone, as earlier imagined, but for families. The Large Catechism was meant for instructing the clergy.
This instruction utilized a simple and ancient principle: memorization. The Greek word katecho means to sound again, to repeat. In learning The Small Catechism, we begin with memorizing it so that it is handy, a ready reference, as near as the heart’s remembrance. I hope that, if you have not already done so, you will take the time during our study of The Small Catechism, to learn it by heart. I will provide several tools in the course that I hope will aid you in the effort. Click here for resources to begin memorizing the Ten Commandments.
Prayer: Lord God, put your commandments within my heart. Amen.
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The Sola 2010 edition of Martin Luther's Small Catechism is a faithful, word-for-word translation from Luther's German Catechism. It also includes the section on the Office of the Keys, added later to Luther's Catechism. This pocket edition includes quotations from the English Standard Versions (ESV) of Scripture and the traditional ICET liturgical texts (as used in the Lutheran Book of Worship).