Large Catechism

Much of what Luther preached on the catechism—the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayers and the Apostles’ Creed— forms his Large Catechism. It reads like a sermon and shows how Luther preached: “To have a God, as you can well imagine, does not mean to grasp him with your fingers, or to put him into a purse, or to shut him up in a box. Rather, you lay hold of God when your heart grasps him and clings to him. To cling to him with your heart is nothing else than to entrust yourself to him completely” (Ten Commandments).

One reason for publishing this material was to help poorly trained clergy in the basics of the faith. Luther complained that many preachers and pastors “are better suited to be swineherds and keepers of dogs than guardians of souls” (Preface). He offers himself as an example in catechetical discipline, “Each morning, and whenever else I have time, I do as a child who is being taught the catechism and I read and recite word for word the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc” (Preface). He urges other pastors to follow his example rather than to be “fussy, fastidious fellows [who] would like quickly, with one reading, to be doctors above all doctors, to know it all and to need nothing more” (Preface).

In addition to pastors, Luther looks to parents, saying, “It is the duty of every head of a household at least once a week to examine the children and servants one after the other to ascertain what they know or have learned of it.” “This sermon has been designed and undertaken for the instruction of children and the uneducated” (Preface). Specifically, regarding the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Our Father, Luther urged, “The children should be taught the habit of reciting them daily, when they arise in the morning, when they go to their meals, and when they go to bed at night. Until they recite them they should be given nothing to eat or drink” (Preface). Luther urged Christians to require their employees to learn these same basics or be fired. Within this same preface Luther outlines traditional Lutheran confirmation for young people: Learn the Catechism, attend worship and answer questions “so that it may penetrate deeply into their minds and remain fixed in their memories” (Preface). The Large Catechism came out the same year as The Small Catechism and is three times as long its shorter counterpart.

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About Ben Unseth

Executive Director at Project Understanding (2014-2017), social service agency in Ventura, CA
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