How does one learn to pray? What are the biblical and theological
foundations of prayer to be discovered in Martin Luther's Small
Catechism? What is the content of prayer, according to Luther? These
questions originate in the request of the disciples who asked Jesus,
"Lord, teach us to pray . . . "
This paper is a study of the biblical and theological foundations
and pedagogy of prayer in Martin Luther's Small Catechism. In addition
to Luther's pedagogy and "Christian prayer exercises"
in the Small Catechism, the contribution to the literature on prayer
by such 16th century notables as Philip Melanchthon, John Calvin,
Archbishop Thomas Cramner and Thomas Becon2 is acknowledged, though
insufficiently, I regret to say.
However, while the focus of this study is on the prayers of the
Reformers, nevertheless, Luther's teaching about how one learns
to pray is foundational for reading, thinking and praying the prayers
of the Reformers of the 16th century.
The reason for studying Luther's teaching on how to learn to pray
is quite simple: Luther's pastoral interest was to instruct adults
and children on the biblical and theological foundations of faith.
It was Luther's desire was that old and young alike master or learn
thoroughly the sound principles of prayer, so that the prayers they
offered would be at once biblically and theologically sound whether
the prayers were said in private or with the family or during the
In order to achieve this laudable pedagogical and devotional goal,
Luther mined the treasury of Christian devotion and prayer that
came through the Early Church until his time in the 16th century.
Also, as needed but often quite conservatively, Luther refined and
redefined the Christian tradition, releasing parts of it from a
heavy overlay of medieval Roman Catholic theology, especially removing
the element of sacrifice which played such a major role in medieval
Roman Catholic theology and its practical workings on faith, as
we shall see later.
Indeed, as Luther and the other Reformers mastered and renewed the
ancient and powerful biblical vocabulary and reclaimed the concept
of faith through scrupulous study of the Scriptures and the early
Church fathers, in the process, they also reformed and renewed prayer.
Though prayers, including the Lord's Prayer, were used during the
Middle Ages, it was Luther who placed this prayer in several settings:
catechism, home devotion, Churchly prayers and whenever and wherever
In retrospect, though we separated in time by over 450 years in
chronology, many of the prayers of the Reformers, and the doctrinal
basis that supports their prayers, remain timely and relevant for
21st century Christians.
Of course, minor changes in words or phrasing may be necessary,
but the essential biblical vocabulary and theological concepts guiding
the prayers are or remain almost common currency among contemporary
Evangelical Christians. The Reformers' cry at every turn, as should
be ours, was ad fontes ("back to the sources"). And so
with the prayers they prayed.
Therefore, how does one learn to pray? What are the biblical and
theological foundations of prayer in Martin Luther's Small Catechism?
And, finally, what is the content of prayer?
First, how does one learn to pray?
In the Forward of Dr. Martin Luthers kleiner Katechismus mit Erklarung
(1529) or the Small Catechism, Luther speaks directly and firmly
regarding the pattern of prayer and the formation of a Christian
life. Luther states univocally,
Prayer, belief [doctrine], "Our Father" [Lord's Prayer],
baptism and Lord's Supper are given to us, that our sin, O Mankind,
shall be known and [we] learn well as [we] shall move [or know what
Luther further explains, "The five [chief] parts covering
the whole of Christian doctrine"4- - prayer, doctrine, Lord's
Prayer, Sacraments of Baptism and Altar - - are indispensable in
the formation of a life of prayer.
But one may ask, What is the role of faith in learning how to pray?
Indeed, does Luther's bold rediscovery of the doctrine of justification
by faith, transmitted through his reading of the Apostle Paul and
Augustine (354-430 A.D.), possess any relevance for prayer or perform
any indispensable function in Luther's theology of prayer?
The answer is, Yes. The doctrine of justification by faith in Luther
is decisive for his understanding of prayer and in the formation
of the Christian life. Luther's understanding of justification by
faith has implications for worship and its conduct and for prayer,
In anchoring one's belief on a daring doctrine of faith, Luther
was joined by the other Reformers and the Reformation definition
of faith is one thing that sets Luther and the other Reformers apart
from much medieval Roman Catholic theology.
The case can be made if one draws a comparison between sections
of medieval Roman Catholic theology and the theology of the Reformers
of the 16th century.
Drawing a comparison between the teachings of medieval Roman Catholic
theology and Luther's understanding of faith, Charles P. Arand,
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and chairman of the department
of Systematic Theology at Concordia Seminary and a former pastor,
discusses the role of faith in Luther's theology.
Luther's focus on faith signaled a paradigm shift 5for the Christian
view of life. The Middle Ages regarded faith as an important component
of faith of the Christian life, but would never put it at the center.
At best, faith was seen as knowledge of history and its events.
Faith alone was only an initial intellectual assent to the data
of revelation made by one who was still far from pure and godly.
"Sola fides, all agreed, was a fides informis, even a fides
mortua - - an unformed, dead faith which even the demons could have
. . . Love, not faith, was the religious glue."6 Faith as historical
knowledge could not provide confidence of salvation.
Dietrich Kolde's catechism provides an excellent example of
the uncertainty that had been considered essential. In the conclusion
of his Mirror of a Christian Man,7 Kolde writes, "There a three
things I know to be true that frequently makes my heart heavy. The
first troubles my spirit, because I have to die. The second troubles
my heart more, because I do not know when. The third troubles me
above all. I do not know where I will go [Italics added]."8
The reason for this uncertainty was that life was anything but
certain. Fellowship with God could only happen when the sinner becomes
"like God" since God cannot have fellowship with the unrighteous.
This is based on the premises that like attracts like. Since God
is love, human beings must become like God, that is, love. Ozment
has pointed out that for the medieval theologian the central religious
concept was 'caritas - - love - - not faith.'"
But for this to happen, the heart must be purified through love,9
and this could only be through the habitual practice of love. And
so salvation was a process that took place "within us as we
perfect ourselves."10 Thus the answer given to the uncertainty
expressed by Kolde was 'When I doubt, try harder!' Ironically, though,
that answer was at the same time the cause of much anxiety, because
it raises the question, 'Have I done my best?'
Luther makes faith the central theme of the catechism because he
identifies it as the locus of our relationship with God. This is
due to his radically different understanding of faith from the way
the Middle Ages understood it. Faith is no longer conceived merely
in terms of intellectual knowledge. Faith is instead defined as
the reception of God's gifts.
Furthermore, as Arand explains:
Luther announces this new definition of faith in his Short Form
of 1520. In his introduction to the Creed, he distinguishes between
believing something about God and believing in God.
He calls the former Wissenshaft (cognition, knowledge, scholarship)
or Merkung (observation, taking notice of something, maybe even
memorizing). The latter by contrast involves not only believing
that what the Creed says about God is true, but it means to trust
and "without any doubt believe God will be to me . . . as it
is being said" he will be.
In order words, faith trusts that God is my Father and acts toward
me as a father acts. It means to trust that God is our Father regardless
of the external circumstances in which I may find myself -- regardless
whether I live or die.
If Arand's interpretation of Luther is correct, and I believe
it is, then, Luther's definition of faith becomes decisive for his
understanding of prayer, too. The clearest exposition of faith and
prayer is to be found in the Small Catechism. And this assertion
leads to the second question, namely, "What are the biblical
and theological premises of Luther concerning prayer?"
In Martin Luther's Small Catechism (1529), the Reformer demonstrates
how learning to pray requires the discipline of regular prayer,
an organized mind, a sense of order in the teaching the catechism
in the formation of a Christian, who lives a life of authentic faith
But discipline, an organized mind and a sense of order in the teaching
of the catechism are only beneficial if one is prepared to build
a life of prayer on the foundations of the Scripture and the hearing
of the Gospel or the Word of God.
Because Scripture and the Gospel or the Word of God are formative
for Luther, he naturally speaks to the substance of learning how
to prayer in a section of the Small Catechism, the "Christliche
Gebetsubung" ("Christian prayer exercises"). But
this section comes toward the end of the Small Catechism, as one
would expect, but the first order of business is to understand what
Luther teaches about prayer. A catechumen must master the essential
sections of the Small Catechism in order to learn to pray well.
In the First Book of the Small Catechism, Luther presents in this
order the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer,
the Sacraments of Baptism and the Altar (Lord's Supper). This is
the short form. It acts as a first round, an introduction to what
follows, and is the first Main Point.
In the Second Book or Second Main Point of the Small Catechism,
Luther plunges the reader or communicant into deeper water where
the communicant learns to swim in the biblical and theological waters.
These deeper waters become the foundation for belief and prayer.
As in the First Book, in the Second Book, Luther restates the questions
he originally asked, but in the Second Book, he expands the answers
by including more scripture and interpretation. It is in this section,
the Second Main Point, Luther sets the pedagogical table with an
abundance of meat, milk, potatoes and bread to build strong Christians.
For instance, the meaning of each one of the Ten Commandments, utilizing
a question and answer format in order to teach young and old alike,
including the household servants or guests the foundation elements
of Christian faith.
Once the Ten Commandments have been presented for a second time
and strengthened with additional biblical and theological resources,
Luther turns to a brief exposition of the three articles of the
The three articles of the Apostles' Creed are explained separately,
of course, and illustrated by Luther's biblical commentary and theological
comments. The Creed is Trinitarian in nature - - God the Father,
Jesus Christ the only Son, and the Holy Spirit.
In the article on the Holy Spirit, the Creed also mentions briefly
"the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness
of sins, the resurrection of the flesh, and the life everlasting.
As Luther begins to interpret the Lord's Prayer, he engages the
learner with a repetition of - - "Was ist das?" or "What
is that?" This little question becomes yet another entrée
on the table that offers theological cuisine a la Luther.
After breaking the Lord's Prayer into an address, there follows
of seven (7) requests and a closing. The seven requests cite one
phrase of the Lord's Prayer, ask the question, "What is that?"
and conclude with these words about prayer, according to Luther's
Then follows a rather detailed explanation of the Sacraments of
Baptism and the Altar (Lord's Supper).
A series of prayers are then offered and presumably these prayers,
to be offered or said daily, will be learned by heart. Thus, the
daily repetition of prayers in the home or in the worship of the
church will recall the remembrance of God's grace and mercy and
lodge it permanently in the mind and heart of the hearer and believer.
The Third Book of the Small Catechism opens with a reminder of the
grace of God and the Word of Christ. In this section, Luther again
rehearses the five main points that he presented earlier in the
Small Catechism. The five points are, in this order, the Ten Commandments,
Apostles' Creed, Lord's Prayer, the holy Baptism and the holy Lord's
Once again, a receptive communicant is guided through repetitive
five points that provide the essential biblical and theological
foundations for prayer. Luther's pedagogical methods benefit the
communicant because the student gains confidence in praying.
Why? Simply, the communicant understands what he or she believes,
the foundations of Christian faith and why.
Luther's pedagogical strategy is sound. The repetitive nature of
the learning the substance of the Small Catechism, and the faith
it presents, is guided learning toward an end or goal. In the process
of teaching catechism, one learns to pray, to worship and to live
the pattern of a Christian life by thinking and knowing what ones
believes, why one believes the substance of the Christian faith
and thus this leads to what and how one is to pray.
If one truly understands or perhaps masters the Small Catechism,
section by section, one is then adequately prepared to pray and,
more importantly, to pray rightly. That, of course, does not mean
that one who prays cannot pray well before mastery, but it suggests
that if one begins early in life, as Luther did in his humble Roman
Catholic home, the life of prayer becomes woven into the fabric
of life itself. But there are other resources are available to aid
in formation of authentic Christian prayer?
Maundy Thursday or Good Friday observance comes to mind as examples
that Luther would approve of, because the biblical and historical
events, recorded in Scripture, warrant their use constructively.
In the interest of clarity and understanding of Luther's rationale
for including the Christian year or the Church year in learning
how to pray, one must listen carefully to Luther explanation of
what prayer is in order to observes how one learns to pray. In twelve
questions and answers, he delivers his mind and heart on the subject
of prayer in the section of the Small Catechism, called "Christliche
Gebetsubung" or "Christian prayer exercises."
Question 1. "Is it also important that we learn the prayers?"
Answer 1. "Prayer is necessary; for are by nature not inclined
to offer prayer, but prayer is a delicate and holy art of the children
Question 2. "How do we learn to pray?"
Answer 2. We learn to pray "though the Holy Spirit, when we
let him rule over us; but [our role] however [is] we must live and
Question 3. "Where does one learn to prayer and its practice
Answer 3. "We begin with our desire to pray in our daily life
and we must seize fixed orders of prayer" in order to learn
Question 4. "Where do we learn these fixed orders of prayer?"
Answer 4. "In the morning and evening prayers [and] also in
the table prayers of the catechism."
Question 5. "How shall we be bound in this training [practice
or exercise] in our Christian homes?'
Answer 5. "Through the service of God [Gottesdienst] in the
home, in which the father of the house daily gathers the family
together to make a knowledge of the prayers and the Word of God
known, so that they [one and all] are built up into a godly and
Question 6. "How does the Church organize all the days [of
the year] in a holy order of prayer and exercise in godliness/piety/devoutness?"
Answer 6. "She [the Church] divides the day and hallows it
by means of the bell calling [the faithful] to prayer, though the
Lord's Day and a number of [observances of] the week's worship,
the year through the celebration of the Lord's great deeds for our
redemption, according to the other days of the ecclesiastical year."
Question 7. Luther asks, "What then is the church year?"
Answer 7. "It is the procession of the Sunday and Festival
days and in the annual observance of the festival days that begin
with the First Sunday in Advent [the first of four Sundays before
Christmas Day] to the last Sunday of the Festival of the Trinity."
Question 8. "How is the Church year divided?"
Answer 8. "After the high festival of Christmas Day and the
Resurrection of the Lord and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit
[the Day of Pentecost], which together with the other festivals
and the Sundays of the year, these together shape the holy time
of the Church year."
Question 9. "But how shall we deviate from the laws regarding
Sunday and the festival occasions?"
Answer 9. "We live under the New Covenant, in which the acts
of God in Christ have become our festivals and no one, for conscience
sake, may make [or command] us [to] drink or eat, [or worship] as
on a New Moon or Sabbath, which is a shadow of the old [covenant],
but recall [we are] the Body of Christ [Colossians 2].
Question 10. "What is the meaning of all of this?
Answer 10. Praying "is well done when we have opportunity in
all our work and in life to pray and to practice as [God's] people
in order to build up ourselves and others and our whole life into
a holy life."
Question 11. "What do we take as instructions for this?"
Answer 11. To accomplish this, we rely on "the gift of the
Holy Spirit in the Word of God and since a spirit of pray is in
his Church, the Spirit weaves and teaches us in the art of prayer."
Question 12. "How shall we learn to pray?"
Answer 12. By praying "the Lord's Prayer, that is the Christian
foundation and model [for prayer], and also for all times and under
all circumstances [and] is a blessing.'"
Question 13. "How shall we prayer according to Christians
Answer 13. "The following prayers show how prayer is done."
It is at this point, the answer to the third question - - "What
does one pray?" - - unfolds in the Small Catechism. Luther
prescribes a set order of learning how to pray.
1. "Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen."
2. Creed "I believe . . . "
3. Lord's Prayer.
4. Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer.
At other appropriate times and in addition to morning or evening
prayers he recommends, mealtime prayers are printed as Table Prayers,
and there are numerous other prayers for a variety of occasions
are referred throughout his voluminous writings.
What of adults who come later in life? In response to a question
from Peter, his barber, Luther explains, "an ordinary person
could pray without being disturbed by worldly thoughts and occupations."
Peter, Luther writes, should pray "the Lord's Prayer, read
or recite the Ten Commandments, and the Apostles' Creed."
Further illumination on praying is offered in this lengthy pastoral
Dear Master Peter: I tell you as best I can what I do
personally when I pray. May our dear Lord grant to you and to everybody
to do it better then I. Amen.
First, when I feel that I have become cool and joyless in prayer
because of other tasks or thoughts (for the flesh and devil always
impede and obstruct prayer), I take my little psalter, hurry to
my room, or, if it be the day and hour for it, to the church where
a congregation is assembled, and, as time permits, I say quietly
to myself word-for-word the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and, if
I have time, some words of Christ or of Paul, or some psalms, just
as a child might do.
It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning
and the last at night. Guard yourself carefully against those false,
deluding ideas which tell you, "Wait a little while. I will
pray in the first hour; first I must attend to this or that."
Such thoughts get you away from prayer into other affairs which
so hold your attention and involve you that nothing comes of prayer
for that day.
It may well be that you have some tasks which are as good or better
than prayer, especially in an emergency. There is a saying ascribed
to St. Jerome that everything a believer does is prayer and a proverb,
"Those who work faithfully pray twice." This can be said
because believers fear and honor God in their work and remember
the commandment not to wrong anyone, or to try to stead, defraud,
or cheat. Such thoughts and such faith undoubtedly transform their
work into prayer and a sacrifice of praise.
On the other hand it is also true that the work of unbelievers
is outright cursing and so those who work faithlessly curse twice.
While they do their work their thoughts are occupied with a neglect
of God and violation of his law, how to take advantage of their
neighbors, how to steal from them and defraud them. What else can
such thoughts be but out-and-out curses against God and humanity,
which may such persons' work and effort a double curse by which
they curse themselves. In the end they are beggars and bunglers.
It is of such continual prayer that Christ says in Luke 11, "Pray
(I Thess. 5:17. See Luke 11:9-13), because one must unceasingly
guard against sin and wrong-doing, something one cannot do unless
one fears God and keeps his commandment in mind, as Psalm 1[:1,2]
says, "Blessed are those . . . who meditate on his law day
Yet we must be careful not to break the true habit of prayer and
imagine other works to be necessary which, after all, are nothing
of the kind. Thus at the end we become lax and lazy, cool and listless
toward prayer. The devil besets us is not lazy or careless, and
our flesh is too ready and eager to win and is disinclined to the
spirit of prayer.
When your heart has been warmed by the recitation to yourself [of
the Ten Commandments, the words of Christ, etc.] and is intent upon
the matter, kneel or stand with your hands folded and your eyes
toward heaven and speak and think as briefly as you can:
O heavenly Father, dear God, I am a poor unworthy sinner. I do
not deserve to raise my eyes or hands toward you or to pray. But
because you have commanded us all to pray and have promised to hear
us and through your Son Jesus Christ have taught us both how and
what to pray, I come to you in obedience to your word, trusting
in your gracious promise. I pray in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ
together with all saints and Christians on earth as he taught us:
Our Father in heaven . . .
In conclusion, the three questions with which the inquiry began
-- "How does one learn to pray? What are the biblical and theological
foundations of prayer in Martin Luther's Small Catechism? What is
the content of prayer? -- originate in the request of the disciples
of Jesus who asked, "Lord, teach us to pray . . . Luther's
answer is found in the Small Catechism.
If one still insists, Why pray?, Lutheran Pastor Hans P. Ehrenberg
answers the question in Luther Speaks. "Luther was a man of
prayer because first of all he was a man of faith," Pastor
For Luther and for the Reformers of the 16th century, prayer is
nothing more and nothing less than an expression of believing and
trusting faith in the Triune God.
James A. Glasscock
First Presbyterian Church - PC [USA]
James A. Glasscock
1708 Morningside Drive
Garland, TX 75042-8352
This paper was originally presented to the Spring meeting of the
Evangelical Theological Society, meeting at Criswell College, Dallas,
Texas, on March 1, 2002.
1 Inspiration for this paper comes from reading a remarkable essay
by Clyde Leonard Manschreck, "The Meaning of Prayer for the
Reformers." The original essay was included with a selection
of prayers for all times and seasons of the 16th century Reformation,
with the title of original work being Prayers of the Reformers,
compiled by Manschreck. The book of selected prayers and Manschreck's
little essay was published by Muhlenberg Press, 1958.
2Thomas Becon (c. 1513-1567) is not a well-known figure in Reformation
history. A native of Norfolk, Becon was educated at Cambridge, perhaps
at St. John's College. He studied with Hugh Latimer, and was ordained
a priest in 1533. About 1540, he was arrested for preaching Protestant
doctrines a Norwich, and forced to recant.
He retired to Kent, but began an active writing career, taking the
name of Theodore Basille. The succession of King Edward VI (1547)
brought him an appointment as Chaplain to the Lord Protector. He
was made by Archbishop Thomas Cramner one of the Six Preachers of
Canterbury, and was a chaplain of Cramner's own household. During
this time Becon was invited to contribute to the "Book of Homilies."
Under King Henry VIII, the Six Preachers were commissioned to represent
the new learning, that is, Protestant teachings.
Unfortunately, with the accession of Queen Mary (1553), he was expelled,
and went to Strasbourg (1554) and later to Frankfurt (1555). From
1556 to 1559, he appears to have taught at Marburg University. After
that date, he returned to England soon after the accession of Elizabeth
I, and was installed as Canon of Canterbury Cathedral in 1559. In
his last years, Becon held a succession of benefices.
His writings enjoyed a wide popularity. When he began to write,
his writing "was moderate in tone, devotional in intent, and
much under Lutheran influence." During and after his exile,
a Zwinglian note enters his work. He appears as willing to compromise
on less important points, perhaps under the influence of Cramner.
For information on Thomas Becon, I acknowledge my debt to The Oxford
Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F.L. Cross. London:
Oxford University Press, 1958,147.
3 From the Foreward of Dr. Martin Luthers . . . 7. In connection
with a study of Luther's Small Catechism, I recommend interested
and serious readers find M. Reu's
An Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther's Small Catechism. It is guided
by the author's conviction that "any explanation of Luther's
Small Catechism should merely lead the pupil into the wealth of
evangelical truth contained in the Reformer's own words." See
An Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther's Small Catechism. Columbus,
Ohio: Wartburg Press, 1943 [5th printing], 3.
4 Charles P. Arand, That I May Be His Own: An Overview of Luther's
Catechisms. Saint Louis: Concordia Academic Books, 2000. Arand's
estimation of the importance of Luther's catechism is correct. "The
simplicity of the Small Catechism's language and the brevity of
its words may initially conceal from the catechumen the profound
world of thought that lies within. Like a small inlet of water that
leads to the ocean, so Luther's catechism opens up the entire world
of biblical thought. The doctrine of faith, far from being an isolated
teaching limited to the article on salvation, provides the key for
centering the Christian life upon all the gifts of God in every
sphere of human life. In doing so, it becomes the narrative theme
of Christian existence and living." Ibid, 183.
5 Ibid. 183. Arand's definition of a paradigm is this: "A
paradigm is the conceptual framework, presuppositions, or underlying
pillars of a person's point of view of the world so firmly in place
that a person doesn't have to think about it. The catechism is an
excellent summary of the paradigm shift that took place in the Reformation."
6 Steven E. Ozment, Age of Reform: an Intellectual and Religious
History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe. New Haven: Yale
7 This manual was printed in 1470, and was one of many manuals
in use in the Roman Catholic Church in Germany during this time.
8Arand, op. cit., 148-149. Original citation to be found in Denis
Janz, Three Reformation Catechisms: Catholic, Anabaptist, Lutheran.
New York: Edward Mellin Press,
9 Arand, op. cit., 149. Original citation and comment in Ozment:
"Ozment notes that Luther was criticized for permitting 'a
foul and dirty bride to enter spiritual matrimony with Christ. When
faith and trust alone are the agents of union, righteousness and
iniquity intermingle and embrace. The man who is still peccator
in re [sometimes in sin] becomes one with Christ.'" Steven
E. Ozment, Homo Viator: Luther and Late Medieval Theology, in The
Reformation in Medieval Perspective. Ed. with introduction by Steven
E. Ozment. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971, 151.
10 Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations. (Cambridge, Mass.:
Blackwell Publishers, 1996), 63
Ibid, 149. (1) Quotation from Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform:
An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation
Europe. New Haven: Yale University, 1980, 242.
Dr. Martin Luthers kleiner Katechismus mit Erklarung (1529], pp.
172-177. I confess that I am a novice in learning Luther's Small
Catechism. However, any person who spends time with Luther's Small
Catechism will benefit immensely. I urge readers to spend time with
Charles P. Arand, That I May Be His Own: An Overview of Luther's
Catechisms. Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 2000.
In this important work, Arand, who has spent many years to reading
and thinking about the role of the Small and Large Catechism, demonstrates
these catechisms have played such an important role in the development
of and maturation of Christians. The nuggets of insight Arand offers
cause the pure gold of Luther's Small Catechism to the surface and
tumble along the rippling stream of theology. Any wise prospector,
who intentionally pans for theological gold, will be amply rewarded
with a "poke" of pure gold if he reads Luther's Small
Catechism. The Large Catechism is merely an expansion of the Small
Luther is not the first in church history to utilize the question
and answers of catechical instruction. The Greek philosophical schools
did as much, as did the Christians, who followed them.
The father of the household (der Hausvater), be he prince or pauper,
is expected to lead the family, including wife, children, guests,
servants and any who are present, in these daily exercises and rounds
of prayer and service. These services are no substitute for the
worship in the parish or castle Church. As the father and household
work their way through the sections and pages of the Small Catechism
time and time again, individually and collectively, their understanding
of the meaning of the questions and the answers must surely increase.
The form of address (die Anrede) is straightforward, "Vater
unser, der du bist im Himmel." And for reasons that will become
clear, the question prefacing each of the three sections is identical:
"Was ist das?" or "What is that?"
Arand suggests the function of "What is that?" does not
anticipate an esoteric meaning. Rather the purpose of "Was
is that?" is the answer to the question and the question and
its accompanying answer are linked inseparably. Why?
"The question and the answer look backwards and forwards"
simultaneously, Arand claims. The word 'Antwort' indicates that
the text which follows (namely, Luther's explanation) is a statement
that is not open for discussion.
Luther's 'answer' is less an explanation in the modern sense than
a restatement of what was just said. What follows in the text, according
to Luther, is intended as the response the catechumen is to give
without deviation. By so doing, the response of the catechumen takes
on the characteristics of a confession.
The Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper play major roles
in Luther's theology and pastoral understanding, because he saw
them as means of grace. But Luther also claimed preaching, prayer,
worship and other resources to strengthen Christian faith was equipment
of the saints and means of grace. Until his death in 1546, Luther
preached frequently on the meaning of these sacraments, especially
the Lord' Supper. Luther preached and taught that the formation
of a Christian life required at least weekly and more frequently
(if possible) participation in and understanding of the meaning
of baptism and the Lord's Supper and reception of both kinds, that
is, bread and wine. See The Holy Week and Easter Sermons of Dr.
Martin Luther. Translated by Irving L. Sandberg, annotated with
an introduction by Timothy J. Wengert. Saint Louis: Concordia, 1999.
Teaching the catechism is essential if one expects children and
youth to mature or grow up as intelligent Christian folk. But, in
Protestantism, we have neglected or ignored the teaching role when
it comes to the instruction of children, youth and adults in the
basic fundamentals of the Christian message, and now the consequences
are upon us, as the Albert C. Outler explains.
"The sin for which we may not be forgiven (since we are so
far unrepentant of it!) is that, in such a time and amidst all the
heroic struggles to make the Christian message relevant to a world
in convulsion, we have despised, as indoctrination, the task of
grounding the people in our churches in the substance of historic
Christianity. It could scarcely be more ironic that just when we
have come to be so clear and emphatic about the urgency of the Church's
'witness' in and to the world, more and more Christians know less
and less about the historic content of that 'witness.' When someone
says that traditional Christianity has had it, there is a hearty
assent (and book buying!) by people with only the foggiest notion
of what it is they are 'discarding.' And so they are more and more
inclined to the thesis that, in the beginning, man created God to
serve the human cause." Albert C. Outler, Who Trusts in God:
Musings on the Meaning of Providence. New York: Oxford University
Press, 1968, 18.
Though memorization or rote memorizing is generally believed offensive
and generally not recommended in modern educational circles, yet
one recognizes the benefits of memorizing scripture, quotations,
prayers, psalms, poetry or any worthwhile material has. Learning
by rote the multiplication table is a practical and useful exercise.
One does not always have a handheld computer or calculator handy
and memorization is valuable for two other reasons.
First, as the body and its muscles need exercise, so does the brain
Second, if Christians expect their young master the catechism by
heart, it means those same children will have the opportunity, as
adults, to call upon their early training in seasons and times of
praise and greatest need.
It is interesting to this reader to note that in the contemporary
German edition of Dr. Martin Luthers kleiner Katechismus mit Erklarung,
"Das Ein mal Eins [One times One]" is printed on the inside
page of the back cover.
Obviously, contemporary German ecclesiastical authorities believe
that memory work or rote learning has value for school and also
in mastering Luther's Small Catechism. No doubt some clever German
lads and lassies continue to learn verbatim the Small Catechism
even yet, but most students or adults will be content, as Luther
foresaw in The Larger Catechism, that they would need frequent refreshers
courses in basic Christian doctrine and instructions in prayer.
So Luther prescribed for himself and presumably others who fell
into that category of frequent updates that one could read two pages
or so each day to brush up on what, why and how one believes the
Christian message. The result of reading or memorizing the words
of the catechism, so Luther taught, is that it leads to the focus
of prayer and becomes, also, another act of devotion in and of itself.
The value of prayer and devotion, to say nothing of reading the
Bible daily, is that one makes deposits in a memory bank on which
one may later draw funds of faith and devotion in times of need
Memory work or rote learning, as an old friend once remarked, is
like a shaggy dog walking though a cockle-burr patch and getting
cover with those cockle-burrs. The late Dr. Stuart Curry, Professor
of New Testament, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, contributed
this charming thought during a conversation several years ago.
The reader will profit greatly from reading Manschreck's essay,
"Praying with the Reformers." The range of prayers in
the Reformers' vocabulary of faith is truly astonishing, but hardly
surprising, as Manschreck's essay makes clear. The Reformers were
learned men whose firm knowledge of scripture and theology supported
their conviction and sense of pastoral duty and obligation.
See Dr. Martin Luthers kleiner Katechismus, op. cit., 172-174. My
translation is rough but adequate enough to get to the heart of
Luther's teaching on prayer.
Elsewhere in the Small Catechism, Luther states those who gather
for the prayers in the home include the servants and any houseguests
who may be present. Of course, the members of what we call the nuclear
family are expected to be present except for illness perhaps, but
the father is to lead the prayers or "Gottesdienst" in
I am indebted to Herrn Klaus W. Rubenstrunk, of Fulda, Germany,
for this marvelous translation.
The German word is "Andachten." This word means devotions.
What did Luther have in mind with these presumably written guides
Philip Melanchthon's "Rede uber das Gebet" (1522). Melanchthon
deutsch Band II, "Theologie und Kirchenpolitik," Herausgegeben
von Michael Beyer, Stefan Rhein und Gunther Wartenberg. Leipzig:
Evangelische Verlagsanstalt GmbH, 1997, pp. 102-115. In conjunction
with this question, Melanchthon's first point in his essay on prayer
is the celebrate the great acts of God in prayer. If one reads just
a few prayers of Melanchthon, the reader sees what those great acts
of God are.
See Small Catechism, "Christliche Gebetsubung," p. 173.
"According to Luther's understanding, the Word of God is not
simply to be equated with the written text of the Scriptures, for
it goes much deeper than historical description or moral precept.
Rather, it is a uniquely life-imparting power, a message communicated
to men in whom the Scriptures had become alive. The church, therefore,
is for Luther 'not a pen-house but a mouth-house,' in which the
living Word is proclaimed."
Luther's Works, 35 "Word and Sacrament." Philadelphia:
Augsburg, 1958, xi. Introduction to Word and Sacrament. The expression
"not a pen-house but a mouth-house" is taken from the
German original and is listed as WA 10A,2, 48.
Small Catechism, op. cit., 174.
Ibid. 175. Table prayers include a prayer before eating and a prayer
following the meal.
But Luther was unwilling to prescribe prayers and leave it at that.
To learn how to pray rightly and faithfully required for more of
him as a pastor than leaving a catechism for reading did. In a conscientious
fashion, Luther preached sermons on a variety of practices and subjects
that deal with liturgy, worship, prayer, the Lord's Supper, Baptism
and other pertinent topics that dealt with the life of his parishioners.
Luther was a preacher, educator, pastor, musician, university professor,
prolific writer, talker, conversationalist, letter writer, biblical
commentator, a husband, father, confident, and friend to countless
hundreds and perhaps thousands.
Luther's Prayers, ed. by Herbert F. Brokering. Minneapolis: Augsburg,
1967, reprint 1994, 41-41.
Luther Speaks: Essays for the fourth centenary of Martin Luther's
death written by a group of Lutheran ministers from North and Central
Europe at the present in Great Britain. London and Redhill: Lutterworth
Press, 1947, 41.