Catechesis, I (Early Christian)

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In the New Testament the word catechesis (κατηχε[symbol omitted]ν) is used to signify teaching or instruction in the law of God (Acts 18.25; Rom 2.18; Gal 6.6). It differs from the kerygma, or announcement of the kingdom of God, and from the didascalia, or doctrinal teaching of the homily for the baptized. The practice of catechesis is referred to by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (5.1214; cf. 1 Cor 3.13) as feeding children with milk rather than the solid food of justice.

The primitive catechesis as revealed in the Epistles of Paul, Peter, and James in particular seems to have developed in two forms. The first, addressed to converts from Judaism, was based on the Holiness Code of Leviticus (1719) and followed the lines of the Jerusalem apostolic decree that had prescribed Baptism and abstention from uncleanliness and idolatry (Acts 15.1921) as essential for entrance into the Church of Christ. This early catechesis emphasized adherence to the Word of God as truth in contrast with idolatry and stressed the requirements of fraternal charity. It contained an instruction on worship and was completed with an exhortation that, as children of light (Lk 16.8), Christians should excel in virtue. There are numerous indications in the NT of the use of catechetical formulas based on Christ's Sermon on the Mount and of lists of vices and virtues (Mt 5.311; Lk6.2023) that seem to have been formed into groups of texts for teaching.

With the expansion of the Church to Syria, Asia Minor, and Greece, a different emphasis appeared, directed toward the Hellenistic proselytes and converts from paganism. Although the title of the early 2nd century work didache suggests it is a summary of the evangelical preaching of the Apostles, it is in fact a compendium of moral precepts, directives for the organization of Christian communities, and instructions regarding Baptism and Eucharist. The moral instruction, based on Jewish teaching in the Psalms and Proverbs, introduced along with it catalogues of virtues that were common to both the Hellenistic (Aristotle, Eth. Nic. 2.7) and Jewish ethical codes (Deuteronomy ch. 30). Both the Didache and the Letter of barnabas supply examples of the primitive catechesis in the guise of the two ways, of life and of death (Did.), or of light and darkness (Bar.), and were based on Jewish synagogue practice. The Didache proclaimed the law of the love of God and of neighbor taken by Christ from the Old Testament (Dt 6.5; Lv 19.18) and the golden rule (Did. 1.2). It described the virtues (1.34.14) and vices (56.3) that characterize respectively life and death by way of preparation for Baptism (7), and described participation in the Eucharist (9.15).

The Letter of Barnabas inculcated the virtues of wisdom, prudence, understanding, and knowledge (2.15), and described the two ways (1820) on an eschatalogical background (4.114), insisting on the imitation of Christ in His Passion (5, 6). It explained the significance of Baptism in connection with the cross (9.111), and exhorted to familial and social virtue (19.412), encouraging its hearers by a reminder of the Resurrection and final retribution (21.1).

Catechesis along the line of the Didache became standard in the 2nd century in the preparation for Baptism and was accompanied by exorcisms and the scrutiny of sponsors as well as fasting. On polycarp's letter to the Philippians, irenaeus remarked (Adv. haer. 3.3, 4) that "those seeking salvation can apprehend the nature of the faith and the teaching of the truth." On a background of hope in the Resurrection and of Our Lord's commands (2.13), Polycarp stressed the imitation of Christ in His patience (8.2, 9.1) and inculcated the virtues that lead to holiness (9.112). Christians must flee avarice (2.1,11.23); husbands, wives (2.2), widows (2.3), deacons (5.2), young men, virgins (5.3), and priests (6.13) are to practice kindness, forgiveness of injuries, and moderation toward the culpable (6.2), praying for all, particularly civil rulers (12.3).

The apologists of the 2d century combined the kerygma and the catechesis in the enunciation of the christian way of life (justin, athenagoras, theophilus of antioch). With the rise of the catechetical schools toward the end of the century, the bishops prepared the candidates for Baptism (catechumenoi ) by a series of moral instructions accompanied by exorcisms and fasting. This took place in the house churches and followed a pattern leading to the handing over of the creed (traditio ). With the emancipation of the Church (313), these instructions assumed a more formal character as is exemplified in the Catechetical Lectures of cyril of jerusalem, am brose's De Sacramentis and De Mysteriis, and the Catecheses of theodore of mopsuestia. augustine discussed the method in his De catechizandis rudibus, linking it with salvation history, which leads the catechumen from faith to hope and from hope to charity. With the spread of infant Baptism, the formal structure of the early catechumenate gave way to more informal catechesis by way of liturgical homilies in church and instruction in the home.

Bibliography: p. carrington, The Primitive Christian Catechism (Cambridge, Eng. 1940). g. sloyan, ed., Shaping the Christian Message (New York 1958) 337. f. x. murphy, Studia moralia, v.1 (Rome 1963) 5472. l. bopp, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 6:2729. c. h. dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments (London 1936; repr. 1963); Gospel and Law (New York 1951). j. daniÉlou, La Catéchese aux premiers siècles.(Paris 1968). j. i. h. mcdonald, Kerygma and Didache: The Articulation and Structure of the Earliest Christian Message. (Cambridge/New York 1980). o. c. edwards and j. h. westerhoff, eds., A Faithful Church: Issues in the History of Catechetics. (Wilton, CN 1981).

[f. x. murphy/eds.]