The Christian's ABC: Catechisms and Catechizing in England C.1530-1740

By Ian Green | Go to book overview

Introduction

IN 1578 Lancelot Andrewes initiated a series of catechetical lectures at Pembroke College, Cambridge. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons at three o'clock he lectured the undergraduates on a staple item of catechetics, and so popular did these lectures prove that they were said to have attracted students from other colleges and lay people from the surrounding area. It was also later claimed that notes of his lectures on one of those staples, the Ten Commandments, had 'ever since passed from hand to hand in manuscripts, and been accounted one of the greatest treasures of private libraries'. Certainly when these notes were published, in three slightly different versions, they quickly passed through several editions in the 1630s, 1640s, and 1650s.1 Andrewes's purpose was not merely to impart to the undergraduates in his care his own understanding of the full implications of the Decalogue, but also to prepare them for the day when they too would be catechizing the young; and among his preliminary observations on the necessity and best methods of instructing children was the claim that 'By our catechizing the papists have lost ground of us, and can never recover it again unless by a more exact course of catechizing than ours'.2

This bold claim was probably an echo of the admission in the preface of the catechism of the Council of Trent that the Protestants had done great 'mischief' to the church 'especially by those writings called catechisms',3 and it was in turn echoed by the 'godly' Richard Greenham late in Elizabeth's reign, by Thomas Fuller in the early 1640s, and half a century later by a future archbishop of Canterbury, John Tillotson, when he said that 'catechizing and the history of the martyrs'--John Foxe's Actes and monuments--'have been the two great pillars of the Protestant religion'.4 Many other contemporary testimonies to the benefits of catechizing could be cited, for example that of John Syme in his rural parish in Essex in 1617 who wrote that the question-and-answer form of instruction was 'without question' (probably no pun was intended) 'the most profitable way for the simpler sort of people' to learn the basics of the faith.5 There were also, it is true, a number of contemporary

____________________
1
H. Isaacson, "'An exact narration of the life and death of . . . Lancelot Andrewes'", in Andrewes, Works, vol. xi, p. vi; P. A. Welsby, Lancelot Andrewes, 1555- 1626 ( 1958), 22-3; see also Appendix 1, s.v. L. Andrewes.
2
Andrewes, Works, vi.10.
3
The Tridentine preface is cited in A. J. Stephens, The Book of Common Prayer ( 3 vols.; 1849-54), 1475.
4
R. Greenham, Second part of the workes ( 1600), 75; Fuller's claim, in The holy and profane state ( 1642), is cited in T. Wood (ed.), Five Pastorals ( 1961), 158-9; J. Tillotson, Six sermons . . . preached in the church of St Lawrence Jewry ( 1694), 162; and cf. Samuel Bourn II, Lectures to children and young people ( 1738), p. vi, and C. Ellis, The scripture catechist ( 1738), p. vii.
5
J. Syme, The sweet milke of Christian doctrine ( 1617), sig. A3r; and cf. R. Cawdrey, A short and

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