Small Catechism


Martin Luther To All Faithful, Pious Pastors And Preachers: Grace, Mercy, And Peace In Christ Jesus, Our Lord!

The deplorable destitution which I recently observed, during a visitation of the churches, has impelled and constrained me to prepare this Catechism or Christian Doctrine in such a small and simple form. Alas, what manifold misery I beheld! The common people, especially in the villages, know nothing at all of Christian doctrine; and many pastors are quite unfit and incompetent to teach. Yet all are called Christians, have been baptized, and enjoy the use of the Sacraments, although they know neither the Lord’s Prayer, nor the Creed, nor the Ten Commandments, and live like the poor brutes and irrational swine. Still they have, now that the Gospel has come, learned to abuse all liberty in a masterly manner,

O ye bishops! how will ye ever render account to Christ for having so shamefully neglected the people, and having never for a moment exercised your office! May the judgment not overtake you! You command communion in one kind, and urge your human ordinances; but never ask, in the meantime, whether the people know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, or any part of God’s word. Woe, woe unto you everlastingly!

Therefore I entreat you all, for God’s sake, my dear brethren who are pastors and preachers, to devote yourselves heartily to your office, and have pity upon the people who are committed to your charge. Help us to inculcate the Catechism upon them, especially upon the young. Let those who are not able to do better, take these tables and forms and set them word for word before the people, in the manner following:—

First, the minister should above all things avoid the use of different texts and forms of the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Sacraments, etc.

Let him adopt one form and adhere to it, using it one year as the other; for young and ignorant people must be taught one certain text and form, and will easily become confused if we teach thus today and otherwise next year, as if we thought of making improvements. In this way all effort and labor will be lost. This our honored fathers well understood, who all used the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments in one and the same manner. Therefore we also should so teach these forms to the young and inexperienced as not to change a syllable, nor set them forth and recite them one year differently from the other.

Hence choose whatever form you think best, and adhere to it forever. When you preach among the learned and judicious, you may show your art, and set these things forth with as many flourishes, and turn them as skilfully as you wish; but among the young, adhere to one and the same fixed form and manner, and teach them, first of all, the text of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, etc., so that they can say it after you word for word, and commit it to memory.

But those who are unwilling to learn it should be told that they deny Christ and are no Christians; neither should they be admitted to the Sacrament, accepted as sponsors at baptism, nor be accorded the exercise of Christian liberty; but they are simply to he remanded to the pope and his officials, yea, to the devil himself. Parents and employers should also refuse them meat and drink, and give them to understand that the prince will drive such rude fellows from the country. For although we cannot and should not force anyone to believe, yet we should lead and urge the masses to perceive what those consider right and wrong, among whom they live and find their sustenance. Whoever would live in a city and enjoy its privileges, should know and observe its laws, whether he believe or be at heart a rogue or knave.

Secondly, when they have well learned the text, teach them the sense also, that they may know what it means. Again take the form of these tables or some other short fixed form of your choice, and adhere to it without the change of a single syllable, as was said of the text; and take your time to it; for it is not necessary to take up all the parts at once, but take one after the other. When they well understand the first Commandment, proceed to the second, and thus continue; otherwise they will be overburdened, and be able to retain nothing well.

Thirdly, after you have taught them this short Catechism, take up the Large Catechism, and impart to them a richer and fuller knowledge; dwell on each commandment, petition, and part, with its various works, uses, benefits, dangers, and harm, as you may find these abundantly pointed out in many books treating of these subjects; and especially give most attention to the commandment or part, which is most neglected among your people. For example, the seventh Commandment, which forbids stealing, you must particularly enforce among mechanics and merchants, and also among farmers and servants; for among such people all kinds of unfaithfulness and thieving are frequent. Again, you must urge the fourth Commandment among children and the common people, that they may be quiet, faithful, obedient, peaceable, always adducing frequent examples from the Scriptures to show how God punished or blessed such persons.

Especially should you here urge civil rulers and parents, to govern well and educate children for service in schools, showing them their duty in this regard, and the greatness of their sin if they neglect it; for by such neglect they overthrow and destroy both the kingdom of God and that of this world, and show themselves to be the worst foes both of God and man. Dwell on the great harm they do, if they will not help to educate children for the ministry, clerkships, and other offices, etc., and on the terrible punishment God will visit upon them for it. It is necessary to preach of these things; for parents and rulers sin unspeakably in them, and the devil has a horrific object in view.

Lastly, since the people are freed from the tyranny of the pope, they no longer desire to go to the Sacrament, but despise it. It is necessary to be urgent on this point, remembering, however, that we are to force no one to believe, or to receive the Sacrament, nor to fix any law, time, or place for it; but so to preach, that they will be urged of their own accord, without our law, and will, as it were, compel us pastors to administer the Sacrament. This is done by telling them that if a person does not seek nor desire the Lord’s Supper at least some four times a year, it is to be feared that he despises the Sacrament and is not a Christian, just as he is not a Christian who refuses to believe or to hear the gospel. For Christ did not say, Omit this, or, Despise this; but, This do ye, as oft as ye drink it, be. Truly, He wants it done, and by no means neglected or despised: “This do ye”, is His command.

Whoever does not highly prize the Sacrament, thus shows that he has no sin, no flesh, no devil, no world, no death, no danger, no hell; that is, he does not believe that they exist, although he is in them over head and ears, and is doubly the devil’s. On the other hand, he needs no grace, life, Paradise, heaven, Christ, God, nor anything good: for if he believed that he has so much that is evil, and needs so much that is good, he would not thus neglect the Sacrament, by which such evil is remedied and so much good is bestowed. Neither would it be necessary to force him to the Sacrament by any law, but he would hasten to it of his own accord, and constrain himself and compel you to administer it to him.

Therefore you need not make any law in this matter, as the pope does; only set forth clearly the benefit and harm, the necessity and use, the danger and blessing, connected with this Sacrament, and the people will come of themselves, without your compulsion. But if they do not come, let them alone, telling them that they are of the devil, as they do not regard nor feel their great need, and God’s gracious help. Should you, however, fail to urge this matter, or make a law or a bane of it, it is your fault if they despise the Sacrament. How could they be otherwise than slothful, if you sleep and keep silence? Therefore look to it, ye pastors and preachers; our office is a different thing now from what it was under the pope; it has now become earnest and salutary. Hence it involves much more trouble and labor, danger and trial, and secures but little reward and gratitude in the world. But Christ Himself will be our reward, if we labor faithfully. To this end may the Father of all grace help us, to whom be praise and thanks in eternity, through Christ our Lord!

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