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

By Ian Green | Go to book overview

3
Catechizing in Theory and Practice: In Church

IN this chapter and the next, we will turn to different questions: who was catechized and by whom; how often and in what way; and where and when did this catechizing take place? The verb 'to catechize' was regularly used to cover at least five operations: teaching catechumens to remember the set answers to set questions; testing their memory of those answers by oral examination; explaining to catechumens what the answers meant; testing how much they had understood of what they had learnt; and encouraging catechumens to put their new knowledge and insights into practice. For more advanced catechumens, in the higher forms of a grammar school and at university, catechizing also regularly took on other functions, such as helping them to acquire and understand extra information about the faith and to master classical languages. Moreover, catechizing could take place in church, in the home, or in school, or any combination of these, and it could take place in large groups of mixed age, ability, and origin, or in small cohesive ones, or even on a one-to-one basis. In this chapter and the next, it will be suggested that the best way to get to grips with catechizing is by sorting these different operations and venues into three types or levels of activity. These three levels were not totally separate, and techniques were never static. Nevertheless, some kind of division seems advisable, and so in the next few paragraphs the three levels will be described in broad terms, and then in the rest of this chapter and the next they will be examined in more detail in each of the three main locations of catechizing: church, school, and home.

At its simplest level, catechizing was a means of ensuring that all members of the church could 'say by heart' a number of formulaic answers, usually including the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. Elementary catechizing thus embraced the first two of the five operations mentioned above: teaching a set of answers, and checking on catechumens' capacity to remember those answers. Comprehension of what had been memorized and application of the same, for example by trying to keep the Commandments or examining oneself for faith and repentance before participating in the Lord's Supper, were greatly desired by catechists; but practical considerations and (as we shall see in Chapter 5) the educational theory of the day both suggested that the indispensable first step towards understanding and commitment was the rote learning and regular testing of a certain number of answers. Because catechizing at this level was targeted at the largest numbers of

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