Aids to Catechesis
In this section you'll find additional writings from church history (especially the church fathers) on the main topics of catechetical instruction—Scripture, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Decalogue, and the Sacraments.
The aim of this resource list is to develop, as George Herbert recommends, a "body of divinity" based on the Catechism, to give the pastor-catechist a number of resources that will help in the work of catechesis.
"The country parson hath read the Fathers ... and the schoolmen, and the later writers, or a good proportion of them, out of all which he hath compiled a book and body of divinity which is the storehouse of his sermons .... This body he made by way of expounding the Church Catechisme, to which all divinity may easily be reduced
— George Herbert, Priest to the Tempel (1632), chap. 5
This will be an ongoing project, so please contact me if you have things to add!
The Story of Scripture
Irenaeus of Lyon's Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching is one of the earliest catechetical teaching aids. He essentially gives the history of salvation, into which he enfolds the narrative of Jesus.
Everett Ferguson has a useful article on the catechetical aim of this work and how instruction on the narrative of Scripture inducts catechumens into the "communal memory" of the church. Highly recommended!
Augustine's On Catechizing the Uninstructed is the classic instance of how to tell the narrative of Scripture in a catechetical audience—see especially section 3.5. Later in the text he gives two examples of this kind instruction, one short and one longer.
This one should be you on your shelf. Raymond Canning's translation is excellent, inexpensive and there's just too much wisdom for the catechist to be missed.
Rufinus of Aquileia (early fourth century) has a Commentary on the Creed, where he tells of an ancient oral tradition of the creed or "symbol" being the joint formulary of the 12 Apostles:
To this formulary, for many and most sufficient reasons, they gave the name or Symbol. For Symbol (κύμβολον) in Greek answers to both Indicium (a sign or token) and Collatio (a joint contribution made by several) in Latin. For this the Apostles did in these words, each contributing his several sentence.
Ambrose of Milan has an Exposition of the Creed. He entrusted the Creed to catechumens a week before their baptism (the traditio symbolum), and they would memorize it—they weren't allowed to write it down—and recite it back to him before the baptism (redditio symbolum).
Also, a famous account of the catechumenate in Jerusalem during this Cyril's time is found in the so-called Journal of Egeria — section VII (on Baptism) in this translation has a rare depiction of the fourth-century catechumenate in Jerusalem.
Augustine wrote On Faith and The Creed in 391 (shortly after ordination to the priesthood) as a simple explication of the creed for catechumens.
He also has a sermon to catechumens on the creed.
Thomas Aquinas has an Exposition on the Creed (Latin, with English translation)
J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (1950; 3rd. ed., New York: Longman, 1972).
A classic and still standard on the history of the creeds.
John Burnaby, The Belief of Christendom: A Commentary on the Nicene Creed (London: S.P.C.K., 1959).
Karl Barth, Credo (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1962).
Hans Urs Van Balthasar, Credo: Meditations on the Apostle's Creed (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990).
Alister McGrath, I Believe: Understanding and Applying the Apostles’ Creed (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991). (See also a more recent book, Faith and Creeds)
Frances M. Young, The Making of the Creeds (London: SCM Press, 1991).
More on the historical development of the creeds than a commentary on the creeds, but this is an excellent concise resource by one of the best patristic scholars. A more detailed account of the historical origins—and the many local variants—of the creeds can be found in Liuwe H. Westra, The Apostles’ Creed: Origin, History, and Some Early Commentaries (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2002).
Luke Timothy Johnson, The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters. New York: Doubleday, 2003.
Jaroslav Pelikan, Credo: Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003).
Michael F. Bird, What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine through the Apostles’ Creed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016).
Specifically on teaching the creed in catechesis: Michael Novak, “The Presentation of the Creed: A Significant Detail in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults,” Catechumenate: Journal of Christian Initiation 32, no. 2 (March 2010): 28–33.
Ben Myers, The Apostle's Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism (Lexham Press, 2018).
The Lord's Prayer
From the pre-Nicene period, we have three expositions of the Lord's Prayer from Tertullian (ca. 160–225), Origen (ca. 184–253), and Cyprian (ca. 200–265).
St. Cyril of Jerusalem (ca. 313–386) addresses prayer at the end of his Mystagogical Catecheses 5.11–5.18. Text. A recent translation by Maxwell Johnson is available with the Popular Patristics series.
St. Gregory of Nyssa (ca. 335–c. 395) has five homilies On the Lord’s Prayer (De oratione dominica), trans. Hilda C. Graef in Gregory of Nyssa: The Lord’s Prayer, The Beatitudes, Ancient Christian Writers 18 (New York: Paulist Press, 1954. (pp. 21–84).
St. Ambrose of Milan (ca. 337–397) addresses prayer in his mystagogical homilies, On the Sacraments (De sacramentis) 5.4.18–5.4.30. They can be found in Ambrose: Theological and Dogmatic Works, trans. Roy J. Deferrari, Fathers of the Church 44 (CUA Press, 1963), 314–318)
Evagrius Ponticus (345–399) has a Commentary on the Lord’s Prayer (Expositio in orationem dominicam), which can be found in Evagrius Ponticus, ed. and trans. Casiday Augustine, The Early Church Fathers (Routledge, 2006), 150–152.
St. John Chrysostom (c. 347–407) deals with prayer in his Homilies on Matthew 19.6–19.12. Homilies on Matthew, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 10 (NPNF1-10). pp. 134–140. (Text)
St. Augustine (354–430) wrote a letter (Ep. 130) to a Roman noblewoman named Proba—one of the only substantive treatments we have from him on prayer.
But he also has a sermon On the Sermon on the Mount, where he expounds the Lord's Prayer. See Book 2, sections 4.15–11.39
And he has catecheses on the Lord's Prayer in Sermons 56–59. Interestingly, Augustine employed a traditio/redditio orationis with the Lord's Prayer, where he had catechumens memorize it a week before baptism, and then recited at their baptisms, possibly immediately upon emerging from the fount.
St. John Cassian (ca. 360–435) Conferences 9.18–9.25 touch on the Lord’s Prayer. See Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Vol. 11 (NPNF2-11) New York, Christian Literature Co., 1894. (pp. 393–396). Text
St. Peter Chrysologus (ca. 380–ca.450) Sermons 67–72. Sermons 67 and 70 are in Saint Peter Chrysologus: Selected Sermons; and Saint Valerian: Homilies, trans. George E. Ganss, Fathers of the Church 17 (CUA Press, 1953), 115–123). Sermons 68, 69, 71, 72 are in Peter Chrysologus: Selected Sermons, Volume 2, trans. William B. Parlardy, Fathers of the Church (CUA Press, 2004), 274–296).
St. Maximus the Confessor (c. 580–662). A Brief Explanation of the Prayer Our Father to a Certain Friend of Christ (Orationis Dominicae expositio) in The Philokalia, Volume 2, ed. and trans. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (Macmillan, 1982), 285–305; and Selected Writings of Maximus Confessor, trans. George Charles Berthold (New York: Paulist, 1985), 99–126).
Contemporary SCHOLARShip ON THE LORD'S PRAYER IN PATRISTIC LITERATURE
John Uebersax, on his website Christian Platonism, has compiled many of the above texts, with links to the original languages and translations.
Karlfried Froehlich, "The Lord's Prayer in Patristic Literature," in A History of Prayer, 59–78. (Brill, 2008).
William Harmless, "'Recieve Today How You Are To Call Upon God': The Lord's Prayer and Augustine's Mystagogy," in Seeing with the Eyes of Faith, ed. Paul van Geest (Leiden Brill, 2016), 349–373.
Roy Hammerling, The Lord’s Prayer in the Early Church: The Pearl of Great Price (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)
Warren Smith, The Lord's Prayer: Confessing the New Covenant (Wipf & Stock, 2015).
Kenneth W. Stevenson, The Lord's Prayer: Text in Tradition (Minneapolis, 2004).
D. H. Williams, Matthew, The Church's Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2018), 124–140.
The Catechetical Instructions of St. Thomas Aquinas, trans. Joseph P. Collins (Veritatis Splendor, 2012). Contains a compilation of St. Thomas' teaching on the Lord's Prayer.
Nicholas Ayo, The Lord’s Prayer: A Survey Theological and Literary (1992, repr., Rowman & Littlefield, 2002).
The Ten Commandments/ Moral Formation
Readings in Christian Ethics: A Historical Sourcebook, edited by J. Philip Wogaman Douglas M. Strong (1996). Gives selections of primary source reading on ethics from through the Christian tradition.
Paul Grimley Kuntz, The Ten Commandments in History: Mosaic Paradigms for a Well-Ordered Society (Eerdmans, 2004). Argues that "the Ten Commandments are universal principles of social order that have to be applied in concrete circumstances in order for their meaning to be fully understood." Has chapters on the Decalogue from lesser known ancient historical figures like Philo, Gregory of Palamos, and Richard Rolle, as well as Reformation and Modern figures, including Hobbes, Lock, Kant, the Rationalists, and Nietzsche.
The Decalogue through the Centuries, edited by Jeffrey Greenman and Timothy Larsen (John Knox Press, 2012).
A collection of essays on the ways in which the Ten Commandments have been understood and appropriated from biblical times until today, providing theological, ethical, moral, and devotional reflection throughout many facets of religious thought.
Includes chapters on the Decalogue in the Old Testament (Daniel Block), New Testament (Craig Evans), the patristic church (Alison Salvesen), Aquinas (Matthew Levering), Maimonides (David Novak), Luther (Timothy Wengert), Calvin (Susan Schreiner), John Owen (Carl Trueman), Lancelot Andrewes (Jeff Greenman), John Wesley (D. Stephen Long), Christina Rossetti (Timothy Larsen), Barth (George Hunsinger), and John Paul II and Benedict XVI (William May).
Though it's not specifically on the Ten Commandments, the Didache is one of the earliest catechetical documents (late first/early second century), and it provides an outline of the kind of moral living requisite for baptism and the Christian life.
Augustine's Homilies on 1 John can't be beat for their rich exposition of the "Law of Love." These homilies were given during Easter Week of the year 407. While there's debate about whether they are "mystagogical" homilies per se (i.e., explaining the sacraments and rites of initiation).
The Catechetical Instructions of St. Thomas Aquinas, trans. Joseph P. Collins (Veritatis Splendor, 2012). Contains a compilation of St. Thomas' teaching on the Decalogue.
Klaus Bockmuehl, The Christian Way of Life: An Ethics of the Ten Commandments (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1994).
I Am the Lord Your God: Christian Reflections on the Ten Commandments, edited by Carl Braaten and Christopher Seitz (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).
Explores the place of the Ten Commandments in contemporary society and for catechesis. Features introductory contributions from Philip Turner and Christopher Seitz on the Decalogue in church and society, followed by these essays on the Ten Commandments: Thomas Oden ("No Other Gods"), David Bentley Hart ("God or Nothingness"), Ephraim Radner ("Taking the Lord's Name in Vain"), Markus Bockmuehl ("Keeping it Holy" [on Sabbath in NT and OT]), William Cavanaugh ("Killing in the Name of God"), Bernd Wannenwetsch (Killing), Robert Jenson ("Male and Female He Created Them"), Reinhard Hütter (Bearing False Witness), Carl Bratten "Sins of the Tongue" [Bearing False Witness]), R. R. Reno ("God or Mammon"). Concludes with essays by Robert Louis Wilken ("Keeping the Commandments") and Gilbert Meilaender ("Hearts Set to Obey").
Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon, The Truth About God: The Ten Commandments in Christian Life (Abingdon, 1999).
In classic Hauerwas/Willimon fashion, the Ten Commandments are not presented as guidelines for humanity in general, but "a countercultural way of life for a certain people to know know a certain God, the God of Jesus Christ" (from the Backcover).
Reinhard Hütter, "The Ten Commandments as a Mirror of Sin(s): Anglican Decline–Lutheran Eclipse," Pro Ecclesia 14, no. 1 (2005).
J. I. Packer, Keeping the Ten Commandments (Crossway, 2008).
The best treatments of the Sacraments in the Patristic period come from the genre of literature called “mystagogical treatises.” These were sermons delivered to the newly baptized, usually during the week after Easter.
We are fortunate to possess a number of these texts, which is somewhat surprising, since in this period the so-called “discipline of secrecy” (disciplini arcani) prevented Christians from divulging what went on during sacraments of baptism and Eucharist. In the early church, non-Christians and catechumens were “dismissed” after the Scripture readings and prayers in order to guard the sacred mysteries for the faithful (baptized).
Nonetheless, a number of texts were written down or recorded and passed on:
Cyril of Jerusalem, Mystagogical Catechesis (Catechetical Lectures 19–23)
John Chrysostom, Baptismal Instructions (“Instructions to Catechumens”)
Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on the Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and Baptism
See also the fine treatment of Theodore’s catechesis by Daniel Schwartz, Paideia and Cult: Christian Initiation in Theodore of Mopsuestia, Hellenic Studies Series 57 (Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies, 2013) — available in online form here.
Maximus the Confessor, Mystagogy