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Catechisms: Whatsoever a Christian Child Ought to Know by Patricia Demers Prescriptive lsts and codes have falen upon hard times. The parroting of "precept upon precept" (Isaiah 26.10) has become as quaint as a strict adherence to Leviticus's Innumerable "commandments" (27.34). The most famRiar type of catechesis and the one cited in the New Testament (Luke 1.4; Acts 18.25, 21.21; Romans 2.18; Galatians 6.6) Is religious. And it is in the field of religious instruction in particular, so the charge Is levelled, that the reductive and deadly aspects of mere memorization are most damaging. Graham Greene has described the catechism's catalogue of "preposterous" questions and answers as 'smug and explanatory: mystery like a butterfly kiled by cyanide, stiffened and laid out with pins and paper-strips" ("A Visit to Morin" 71). In his play The Uvlnc Room Greene emphasizes Father Brown's inability to help a girl in the throes of an affair with a married man by having the priest admit that his "tongue Is heavy with the Penny Catechism' (58). Yet my own response to reading, and often discovering, catechisms leads me to look upon them as more than dusty relics or Imprisoning codification. At times they resemble the declension and conjugation paradigms that al of us have probably struggled with in second-language classes: a necessary grid by which to translate and interpret. For a conference on the theme of cross-culturalism they represent the ways in which the practices of the early church were transposed and adapted; they also reflect some of the possible variations on the founding moral tenets of children's literature. Catechetical instruction, in the printed English tradition at least was aimed at children who were never too young to leam-or, to sin. Unlike the lengthy baptismal preparation of adults in the catechumenate of the first six centuries, catechesis in the Renaissance and later was a duty shared by parents and pastors. In A Shorte and frultefuil treatise of the profite and necessltie of Catechizing (1580) Robert Cawdray proved his thesis not only by citing the Book of Common Prayer and the curate's duties to "instruct and examine" but also by quoting from the promulgation of the Queen's high commissioners issued at Lambeth, May 15, 1576, to the effect "that al fathers and mothers, maisters and dames, shal sende their children and servants to the Churche every Sunday and hotyday, with their Catéchismes to bee instructed in the same." Thomas White's A Manual for Parents (1660) advised the gifts of the Bible and Catechism as "fittest to bee given" ("Epistle Dedicatory'), advice still endorsed a century later by the preacher-engraver George Burder, whose Early Pietv (1777) held the "entertaining history of Master Billy and Miss Betsey Goodchild" whom the schoolmistress Mrs. Lovegood rewards because of their diligence "in learning their catechism" (12). Predictably supporting the validity of an unordained ministry, John Bunyan underscores the need for parents to catechize their children through various exhortations. His A FamHiar Catechism: or. instruction for the ignorant (1875) devotes a chapter to the discussion "of seeking salvation young," in which the answerer cites Biblical texts both to insist that God does indeed "punish little children for sin against him" and to clarify the grim option: "Either go on in your sins; or 'remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evH days come.' Eccies. xii.1" (16). Positive and negative examples of parental guidance abound in his work; one of the most poignant scenes in The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680) is the deathbed catechizing of her children by the virtuous wife of Mr. Badman-whose continuous vilainy contrasts with her piety and duty. Although the abundance of Greek and Latin terms bandied about by the unknown author of The Father's Spectacles to Behold his Children and the Child's ... to Kneel Before his Parents (1895) suggests an audience very different from Bunyan's, their directives are remarkably alike: "1st, To educate them in good discipline, as the word paideia signrfieth. 2dly. To instruct them in divine knowledge* (3). Catechizing that was closely linked to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-1201
Print ISSN
0885-0429
Pages
pp. 41-48
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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