The Small Catechism

Near the time of His death Martin Luther was speaking to some of his close followers, knowing that the end was near Luther offered something of a last will concerning his writings. Luther requested that upon his death those who survived him would gather up everything he had written and burn it all, except for two documents. The first was his Small Catechism and the second Bondage of the Will. Thankfully Luther’s desires were not respected in this matter, but the desire of the reformer does give us insight into the writings he found most valuable.

So why these two books? What makes them so special? The conversation concerning the Bondage of the Will is quite a long one and perhaps its value will be covered in the future, but I would like to focus today on the much more popular and well known Small Catechism.

The Small Catechism or more pretentiously known as The Enchiridion of Dr. Martin Luther for Ordinary Pastors and Preachers is a short concise summary and foundation of the Christian faith. Its purpose is to serve as a guide for teachers and students alike to learn Law and Gospel, the saving work of Christ, and the good gifts God offers His people.

Luther writes concerning the importance of this document in his introduction, (a wonderfully colorful and fascinating introduction). Luther tells of how he was prompted to write the Small Catechism because he had been visiting churches and was flabbergasted by the rampant ignorance of the Christians he met. Inspired Luther took to writing down the basics of the Christian faith and their meanings.

It is this foundational nature of the Small Catechism and its value in teaching Christians of all ages and levels of knowledge that prompts Luther to claim it as one of his most important works. It is the catechism that enumerates the solid foundation upon which faith is built. It is because of its nature as a foundation that makes the catechism so critical in the lives of Christians. However it is also this foundational nature that leads many to assume that they can “graduate” from the Small Catechism, can somehow get to a point where there is no value in reading, studying, and pondering the contents of such a small and basic book. In fact one of Luther’s own children, Hans Luther once brought this up to his father telling him that he no longer wished to study the catechism because he already knew it. Luther then told his son that it was interesting that Hans had already mastered the catechism, because Martin Luther himself read it every day and had yet to become a master.

Luther’s point here is that while it is always good to build on the foundation of our faith to ever more advanced and intricate understandings of God we should never deceive ourselves into believing that we have ever, or will ever completely understand even the most foundational truths about God. No matter how advanced or knowledgeable about God you are there is always value in returning to your foundation and taking yet another look, exploring the roots just one more time before you continue to another area of study.

In this 500th anniversary year, as we all return to our Lutheran roots, to look once again at the glorious rediscovery of the Gospel, let us also return to the roots of our common faith, let us return once again to the Small Catechism.

Come quickly Lord Jesus,


Written By: Vicar Jacob Berlinski 

For those who wish to once again return to their roots Holy Trinity is hosting a Reformation 500 Speaker Series. The series features a different event each month with speakers from across the country. Click the link below to learn more about the series.