Kolb, Robert. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.
Introduction to the Small Catechism pp. 347-351.
Introduction to The Large Catechism pp. 377-386.
Luther’s introduction to his Small Catechism reflects on his experience as a church visitor. In his travels he found that pastors were poorly instructed and that they, who barely knew the commandments, creed, or Lord’s prayer, were admitting people into communion even though they, the congregants, were hardly catechised. This was to the shame of the pastors and the harm of the people (Kolb 2000, 348). He urged that pastors should teach using the same text always, especially for those who were not literate. This would avoid confusion. Those who would refuse to learn should be denied communion, sent back “to the pope and his officials and, along with them, to the devil himself” (Kolb 2000, 349). Luther even went so far as to advise that they should be refused employment and even be driven from the country. It was necessary that people in a community which confessed the Evangelical faith should adhere to it themselves. The pastors should explain the things of the true faith, bit by bit, in order, not too quickly. Luther was very adamant that people be given time to develop understanding in good order. As a related topic, rulers and parents should urge adequate education in schools so as to learn how to be good parents and leaders themselves (Kolb 2000, 350). Luther emphasizes the importance of the Sacrament. Christians should desire it. At this point, he states that someone who doesn’t come for the Sacrament at least four times a year apparently “despises the sacrament and is no Christian” (Kolb 2000, 350). Note he does not, as became a popular understanding in some circles, say that communion should be offered four times a year. He says that it should be very frequent. The pastor is to urge participation based on our need for grace and the sacrament’s blessings (Kolb 2000, 351).
In introduction of the Large Catechism, the editors note that it is based on Luther’s catechetical sermons. The days known as “ember days,” “four times of fasting spread throughout the church year, were often designated for this purpose” (Kolb 2000, 377). The Large Catechism was published to instruct clergy so they would be better able to catechize their congregations. Detractors of Luther and Melanchthon in the 1520s and following emphasized repentance coming from God’s love, while Luther insisted that faith would generally follow repentance, which would normally be inspired by God’s law, rather than the Gospel (Kolb 2000, 378). The work on the Large Catechism itself began late in 1528. Luther’s text was largely complete in April of 1529, with an introduction added in 1530. A few corrections were added in a 1538 edition (Kolb 2000, 378).
Luther’s preface observes that many pastors are not adequately concerned with catechesis despite the availability of many helpful books (Kolb 2000, 379). On the contrary, pastors, even the most learned of them, need to read catechetical materials regularly. Luther himself read the precepts and materials of his catechisms daily (Kolb 2000, 380). He says that “it iis highly profitable and fruitful to read it daily and to make it the subject of meditation and conversation. In such reading, conversation, and meditation the Holy Spriit is present and bestows ever new and greater light and devotion, so that it tastes better and better and is digested” (Kolb 2000, 381). This brings forth God’s power against the devil and all our worldly troubles. Those pastors without the desire are being negligent and should be removed from office, by force, if need be. Luther further cites God’s Word calling Christians to meditate on the Scripture and to be protected and armed with it. The Ten Commandments serve as a summary of God’s will and the entirety of Scriptures (Kolb 2000, 382). Luther does not mention specifically how the other portions of the Catechism are also summaries of the Scripture. Not only the pastor, but also every Christian should therefore dedicate himself to the Scripture, especially as described in the Catechism. Luther’s 1529 preface even urges heads of households to teach and examine both children and servants individually in the things of the Catechism (Kolb 2000, 383). At the very least, everyone should learn the Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer as thoroughly as possible.