for Parish Pastors and Preachers
Preface by Dr. Martin Luther
Martin Luther to all faithful and godly pastors and preachers:
Grace, mercy, and peace in Jesus Christ, our Lord.
The deplorable, miserable conditions which I discovered during a recent visitation of the parishes has forced and pressed me to prepare this catechism, or statement of Christian doctrine, in very brief and simple terms. God help us! What miseries I beheld! The ordinary people, especially in the villages, know nothing at all of Christian doctrine, and, alas, many pastors are altogether inept and incompetent to teach. Nevertheless, all maintain that they are Christians, have been baptised and receive the holy Sacraments. Yet they know neither the Lord’s Prayer nor the Creed or the Ten Commandments; they live like mere cattle and irrational hogs. And now that the Gospel has come, they have finely mastered the abuse of every kind of freedom.
You bishops, how will you answer to Christ for having neglected the people so shamefully and never for a moment discharged your office? May you avoid all misfortune! You command the Sacrament in one kind only and insist on your human laws. Yet at the same time you do not care in the least whether the people know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, or any part of the Word of God. Woe to you forever!
Therefore, I plead with you all for God’s sake, my dear sirs and brother pastors and preachers: devote yourselves whole-heartedly to your office, have pity on the people entrusted to you, and help us instil the Catechism in the people, and especially in the young. And those of you who cannot do better, at least take these charts and forms and impress them on the people, word for word, as follows:
First, the preacher should above all beware of and avoid a variety of changing wordings and forms of the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Sacraments, etc. Instead, he should choose just one form, keep to it, and keep using it year after year. For young and uneducated people must be taught by single, settled texts and forms. Otherwise, they are easily confused when the teacher teaches them one way today, and next year in some other way, as if to make improvements—and in this way all the effort and labour is wasted.
Our blessed fathers understood this well; for they all used the same form of the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments. Therefore, we too should teach the young and uneducated people these parts without changing a syllable, or presenting and repeating them differently from year to year.
Therefore, choose whatever form you please, and always keep to it. But when you preach in the presence of learned and intelligent men, you may demonstrate your skill and present these parts with as colourful and masterly turns of phrase as you are able. But with the young people, stick to one fixed, permanent form and wording. Teach them, first of all, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, etc., according to the text, word for word, so that they, too, can repeat it after you and commit it to memory.
But those who are unwilling to learn it should be told that they deny Christ and are not Christians. They should not be admitted to the Sacrament, accepted as sponsors at baptism, or exercise any part of Christian liberty, but should simply be sent back to the Pope and his officials, indeed, to the devil himself. Moreover, their parents and employers should refuse them food and drink, and let them know that the prince is minded to drive such rude people from the country, etc.
For although we cannot and should not force anyone to believe, yet we should insist and urge the people towards the knowledge of what is right and wrong according to those among whom they live and wish to make their living. For whoever desires to reside in a town must know and observe the town laws, the protection of which he wishes to enjoy, no matter whether he is a believer or a rogue or scoundrel at heart.
Secondly, after they have learned the text well, teach them also its meaning, so that they understand what they are saying. Again, use these charts or some other brief, uniform method—whichever you choose—and keep to it. Do not change a single syllable, just as with the text. And take your time with it. It is not necessary that you deal with all the parts at once, but rather one at a time. After they understand the First Commandment well, then take up the Second, and so on. Otherwise, they will be overwhelmed, and will not be able to retain anything.
Thirdly, after you have thus taught them this short Catechism, take up a larger catechism to give them a richer and fuller understanding. Explain every commandment, petition and article together with the various works, uses, benefits, dangers, and hurts connected with it. You will find plenty of material in many books written about these matters. And emphasise especially the commandment or part that is most neglected among your people. For example, the Seventh Commandment, concerning stealing, must be strenuously emphasised among craftsmen and merchants, and even farmers and servants, for among these people there are all kinds of dishonesty and thieving. Likewise, among the children and ordinary people you must really emphasise the Fourth Commandment, so that they are quiet and faithful, obedient and peaceable, and you must always point out many examples from the Scriptures to show how God has punished or blessed such persons.
Here, you should especially urge magistrates and parents to rule well and to send their children to school. Show them why they are obliged to do so, and what a damnable sin they are committing if they fail to do it. For that makes them the worst enemies of both God and humanity, because by such neglect they overthrow and destroy both the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. Make it very clear to them what awful harm they are doing if they will not help to train children to be pastors, preachers, clerks, and such like, and that God will punish them terribly for it. There is a great need for preaching about these things. Parents and magistrates are now sinning unspeakably in this matter. The devil, too, has something dreadful in mind.
Finally, because the tyranny of the Pope has been abolished, people are no longer willing to go to the Sacrament but despise it. Here again, exhortation is needed, though with the understanding that no one is to be forced to believe or to receive the Sacrament. Nor should we set any law concerning it, or set a fixed time or place for it. Rather, we should preach in such a way that, of their own accord and without any law of ours, people will urge themselves, and indeed compel us pastors to administer the Sacrament. This is done by telling them: it is to be feared that anyone who does not seek or desire the Sacrament at least four times a year despises the Sacrament and is no Christian, just as whoever does not believe or hear the Gospel is no Christian. For Christ did not say, “Omit this”, or, “Despise this”, but rather, “This do, as often as you drink it, etc.”. He certainly does want it done, and not completely neglected and despised. “This do”, is what He says.
Now, if people do not value the Sacrament highly, that is a sure sign that they have no sin, no flesh, no devil, no world, no death, no danger, no hell. In other words, they believe in none of these things, even though they are up to their ears in them and are the devil’s own twice over. Then again, they need no grace, life, paradise, the kingdom of heaven, Christ, God, or anything good. For if they believed that they were experiencing so much evil, and needed so much that is good, they would not so neglect the Sacrament, where there is help against such evil and so much good is given. It will not be necessary to compel them by some law to come the Sacrament. Instead, they will come running and rushing and compel themselves, demanding that you must give them the Sacrament.
Therefore, you must not set up any law about this like the Pope does. Just set out clearly the benefit and the harm, the need and the use, the danger and the blessing connected with this Sacrament, and the people will come of themselves without your compulsion. But if they do not come, then let them go their way and tell them that people who do not appreciate or feel their great need and the gracious help of God belong to the devil. But if you do not urge this, or if you make a law and a poison out of it, it is your fault that they despise the Sacrament. How could they not be lazy if you sleep and keep silence? Pay attention, therefore, pastors and preachers! Our office has now become something different from what it was under the Pope; it has now become serious and wholesome. Therefore, it now involves much more toil and labour, danger and trials, and, moreover, little reward and gratitude in the world. But Christ Himself will be our reward if we labour faithfully.
The Father of all grace help us do that. To Him be praise and thanks forever through Christ, our Lord. Amen.