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

By Marthaler, Berard L. | The Catholic Historical Review, October 1998 | Go to article overview

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


Marthaler, Berard L., The Catholic Historical Review


The Christian's ABC Catechisms and Catechizing in England c.1530-1740. By Ian Green. (New York: Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press. 1996. Pp. xiv,767. $125.00.)

It has been two decades since Jean Delumeau drew attention to the parallel efforts made by Protestants and Catholics in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to raise the level of religious knowledge and spiritual awareness among their co-religionists. Although he does not endorse all of the Frenchman's sweeping generalizations, Ian Green, reader in modern history at Queen's University in Belfast, has compiled and collated an enormous amount of data that support Delumeau's principal argument. He draws on Prayer Book rubrics, royal injunctions, visitation articles, episcopal circulars, sermons, pamphlets, and a variety of treatises of the time. Green's principal source, however, is "the several hundred" Protestant catechisms composed between the Reformation and the early eighteenth century that come in a "bewildering variety" from multi-volume works to booklets of a few pages, from question-and-answer-form to lengthy treatises.

Green divides his study into three parts. The five chapters in Part One describe the "medium," that is, the catechetical tradition(s) and theory, the tasks and techniques as they were practiced in church, school, and home. Green argues convincingly that catechizing "was not one but a series of activities and was not set in tablets of stone but forever adjusting to new situations and ideas:' The Book of Common Prayer, metrical psalms, hymns, and preaching are some of the means that reinforced the memorization and retention of catechetical formulae.

Part Two concentrates on the "message" found in a selection of "best-selling or influential catechisms." Most focus on the four "staples" of catechesis-the Apostles' Creed, the Decalogue, the Lord's Prayer, and the Sacraments (baptism, holy communion). While some offer tell-tale clues to the theological leanings of their authors, for the most part the catechisms eschew polemics and deal cautiously with controversial points or simply omit them as in the cases of church government and forms of worship. In chapters 8 ("Predestination") and 9 ("Assurance,Justification, and the Covenant of Grace"), Green explores the most divisive issues of the time, and notes that the conformists and "godly" authors parted ways when it came to the role of the visible church vis-a-vis a theoretical ordo salutis. …

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