Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Reformed Irenicism

Why Is Catechesis Used in the Church? (Part 2)

At long last, we come to the end of Chytraeus’ prefatory material before the first locus, de Deo (part 1 here). There are a number of points in here about the utility, both practical and spiritual, of the catechetical form that are still worth pondering. One of the most suggestive of these is that Chytraeus sees earthly catechesis as an anticipation of the “heavenly school,” in which we shall learn from our Teacher face to face and converse with the Prophets and Apostles (and recite our lessons!).

Chytraeus notes near the end that the catechetical method is useful in other disciplines as well–we may not consider this often because we are so accustomed to associating catechesis with religious doctrine, but it is true nonetheless.

Finally, there are two ancient (?) quotations in this passage, on which see the notes.

Postea totum cursum studiorum examina intra certas metas continent, ne vagentur & aberrent. Adigunt ad discenda necessaria et utilia, omissis non necessariis & inutilibus. Plerunque enim, ut Seneca ait, necessaria ignoramus, quia non necessaria didicimus. Corrigent errores prius animo conceptos. Augent acumen ingeniorum & formant iudicium. Alunt & augent facultatem loquendi, & facundiam extemporalem. Adiuvant memoriam, ut ea, quae percepit, prompte & celeriter, ubi res poscit, reddere possit. Tollunt superbiam & inanem persuasionem doctrinae ac sapientiae. Adsuefaciunt ad communicationem sermonis & humanitatem in omni vita. Formant pronunciationem seu actionem, in moderanda voce, vultu, & vitandis gestibus ineptis. Denique Colloquia de doctrina salutari, dulcis consolatio sunt bonarum mentium, in doloribus & aerumnis, ut in veteri versu dicitur ψυχῆς νοσούσης εἰσιν ἰατροὶ λόγοι, & sunt imago coelestis illius scholae in qua coram audiemus Doctorem Filium DEI, & cum praeceptoribus nostris, Prophetis & Apostolis colloquemur, & dictata reddentes plura ab eis discemus.

Has utilitates recitavi, cum plerique adolescentibus, vel ignavia, vel superbia fugiant examina ut aliquas bonas mentes ad amorem κατηχήσεως, seu examinum, cum in caeteris artibus, tum vero praecipue in doctrina Christiana exuscitem.

Nunc singulos doctrinae Christianae locos, eo ordine, quo propositi sunt, breviter & perspicue exponemus.

Next, examinations by question and answer enclose the whole course of studies between fixed points, in order that [students] may not wander and go astray. They drive [them] to learn things necessary and useful, while omitting things unnecessary and useless. For frequently, as Seneca says, we are ignorant of things necessary because we have learned things unnecessary.1 [Examinations] will correct errors before they have been conceived in the mind. They increase the keenness of their natural abilities and form their judgment. They nourish and increase their faculty of speaking and ex tempore eloquence. They aid the memory, such that it is able, when the matter demands it, to give in answer, readily and swiftly, the things that it has perceived. They take away pride and the empty conviction of [one’s own] learning and wisdom. They accustom [students] to the shared intercourse of speech and to humane conduct in all of life. They form expression and bearing [in delivering a speech], in regulating the voice, the face, and in avoiding improper gestures. Finally, conversations about saving doctrine are a sweet consolation of good minds in sufferings and tribulations, as it is said in an ancient verse: “words are the physicians of suffering souls”;2 and are an image of that heavenly school in which, face to face, we shall hear the Teacher, the Son of God, and shall converse with our instructors, the Prophets and Apostles, and, giving in answer our lessons (dictata), we shall learn more from them.

I have listed these uses, since a good many young men, either through laziness or pride, flee examinations by question and answer, in order to stir up some good minds to a love of catechesis, or examinations by question and answer, both in other disciplines and especially in Christian doctrine.

Now I shall set forth, briefly and clearly, the topics (locos) of Christian doctrine one by one in the order in which they were laid out above.

  1. Though this sententia is attributed to Seneca, I have not found its source. In any event, the sentiment was popular, and popularly attributed to him. Richard Baxter quotes it in almost this exact form here, as does Luther here; the editor there includes a references to Seneca, Ep. 45.4: Nam illi quoque non inventa sed quaerenda nobis reliquerunt, et invenissent forsitan necessaria nisi et supervacua quaesissent. Melcanchthon, in his comments on Vergil, Georgics 3.4, cites it in exactly this form. It is also in the preface of Comenius’ Orbis pictus. Cf. also Seneca, Ep. 88.37: Quid quod ista liberalium artium consectatio molestos, verbosos, intempestivos, sibi placentes facit et ideo non discentes necessaria quia supervacua didicerunt? I may return to this quotation in a future post.
  2. Again, I have not found an ancient source with this pithy sentiment in exactly these words, though a colleague points out to me a couple of places in the comic playwright Menander that are very similar. Beyond that and a quick Google search, I have not investigated the matter further.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.