Why Memorize the Catechism?

The Small Catechism is not just information. It is not a systematic theology. The Catechism does not just say something. The Catechism does something.  It does something to us.

The subtitles of a book sum it up. John Nicholas Lenker gave his book, Luther’s Catechetical Writings, a first subtitle:

GOD’S CALL TO REPENTANCE, FAITH, AND PRAYER

His second subtitle is:

THE BIBLE PLAN OF SALVATION EXPLAINED BY LUTHER

The Catechism calls us to repent. It calls us to believe. It calls us to pray.

After the Word and Sacrament ministries of the Pastor, the Catechism and the Liturgy are most powerful and the most recurring engagements of believers with the truths of Scripture that are able to make one, from childhood, “wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15)

Joseph Stump said, “Catechization … must not be simply mental instruction, but training for a Christian life of faith.”

Albrecht Peters wrote:

The catechism is basic. … [I]t desires to make the center of Scripture … fruitful for daily life. By doing so, it desires to hammer into us what is decisive in life and death for our salvation. … Time and again it remains impressive how little is truly decisive for salvation and, at the same time, how infinitely much this “little” is.

In his preface to the Large Catechism, Luther spoke of many pastors and theologians who were lazy toward the Catechism. By their example they led people to be lazy. They gave reasons why they no longer needed to read the Catechism, to memorize it, to recite it, to pray it. Luther said,

But for myself I say this: I am also a doctor and preacher, yea, as learned and experienced as all those may be who have such presumption and security; yet I do as a child who is being taught the Catechism, and every morning, and whenever I have time, I read and say, word for word, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, etc. And I must still read and study daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, 8] but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and am glad so to remain.

The Catechism keeps teaching. It keeps calling to repentance, faith, and prayer. It is a mine who precious metals never can be fully dug out. That is why we should memorize it. By having a hold on its words, God’s Word gains a hold on us, and we receive the inexhaustible treasures of repentance, faith, and prayer.

7 thoughts on “Why Memorize the Catechism?

  1. Thomas Schmoldt

    I too enjoy the simple language of the Small Catechism as I learned some 60 years ago. When Pastor Tech is leading our Bible classes he will quite often interject, by memory, exerts from it and, quite often others in the class will join in from memory and recite along with him. I find these moments to be a strong in I cat or of the value of memorization and in particular the Small Catechism. It’s also kind of humorous to note the variances in English used from version to version. Good article. Thanks! Peace be with you!

  2. Erich Heidenreich

    I would suggest substituting the word “pray” for the word “memorize.” Committing the catechism to memory is a natural outcome of the proper use of the Catechism. Luther designed the catechism to be a devotional prayer book. We teach the catechism properly by reciting it in daily prayer.

    Memorization is kind of like cramming for a test. Like a crash diet, the exercise rarely has lasting effect on our lives. Instead of treating the catechism as an academic exercise of “memorization”, it should be treated as a prayer book. In this way, it becomes a part of our daily life and continues to instruct us until our dying day. When you listen to your favorite song frequently, you learn it by heart. The same thing happens with proper daily praying of the catechism.

  3. Solveig Peck

    Goodness! I couldn’t have been more than 4 or5 years old when my father would nightly review my Sunday school lessons which were for the most part taken from the Small Catechism. When it came time for confirmation classes I knew a great deal by heart. My blessed father! I still keep a copy on my nightstand for frequent review. ❤️

  4. trh@midrivers.com Post author

    Eric, that sounds like a guest post in the works. Would you consider it?

    For my own part, several different uses of the Small Catechism all are compatible and complementary of each other: reading, praying, memorizing, reciting, meditating, singing, wielding in temptation and spiritual attack.

    Oratio, meditatio, tentatio, anfechtung

  5. Paul Schaum

    I prefer the language of the older Small Catechism. That said, one needs to be aware of the Large Catechism and its great content to better appreciate what we believe. What is frightening is that there are not a few who have never heard of the LC let alone other works that are essential to fully appreciate what “We believe, teach and confess.”

  6. Michael

    Unfortunately, by the time kids reach conformation age memory work is simply boring and meaningless to many. When kids are much younger (even as soon as they can form sentences) is the time for memory work (think ABCs, Pledge of Allegiance,…The Lord’s Prayers, table and morning/evening prayers). They can actually approach it with joy at these earlier ages. Then when they get to confirmation they have the words in their heads and they can begin (or more likely continue) the work of unpacking them (for the rest of their lives) with the pastor. Memory work (teaching in a simple way) is work most any parent can and should do with their children. It also opens the door for great faith/life discussions from an early age between parents and kids. When should parents have “the talk” with their kids? If they are teaching the catechism from early on, it is an ongoing and open conversation from the first time The 10 Commandments are taught.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *