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  • The Agency for Evangelisation Newsletter

The Roots of Teaching the Faith

Modern day religious instruction (catechesis) can be traced to early Judaism in which the head of the Jewish household taught his family about the ancient prophets and their prophecies. Much later, when Christ said "Go and teach all nations, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19), He was speaking not only to His apostles in the first century, but to everyone from each successive Pope to the most humble lay person.

These word-of-mouth forms of teaching the message of Christ were soon followed by hand-written forms. The evangelists began with the Gospels.

Later, the catechisms of St Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386) and St Augustine (354-430) were handwritten links between the Gospels and the invention of printing in the fifteenth century. The first printed catechisms were John Gerson's ABC of Simple Folk, followed by three successive catechisms written by St Peter Canisius.

But the catechism which was to become a standard by which future catechetical development took place was the Catechism of the Council of Trent (1545-1563). This detailed analysis of the official teachings of the Church was originally meant for the clergy to use for religious instruction of the faithful. Its four parts were structured on the Creed, the Sacraments, the Commandments and the Lord's Prayer. This basic form has been implemented in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church as well as in many important intervening catechisms, namely the Penny Catechism and the Pius X Catechism.

After Vatican II, two forms of teaching the Catholic Faith were identified: evangelisation or the teaching of the Faith to the unbaptised, and catechesis, which is directed towards those who have received the first sacrament of initiation, Baptism.

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