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§ 72. Catechetical Instruction and Confirmation.


I. Cyril (Κυρίλλος) of Jerusalem (315–386): Eighteen Catechetical Lectures, addressed to Catechumens (Κατηχήσεις φωτιζομένων), and Five Mystigogical Lectures, addressed to the newly baptized. Best ed. byTouttée, § 1720, reprinted in Migne’s Patrol. Gr. vol. 33.

Augustin (d. 430): De Catechizandis Rudibus.

II. Bingham: Antiquities, X. 2.

Zezschwitz (Tüb.):System der christl. Kirchl. Katechetik. Leipzig, vol. I. 1863; vol. II. in 2 Parts, 1869 and 1872.

Joh. Mayer (R.C.):Geschichte des Katechumenats, and der Katechese, in den ersten sechs Jahrh. Kempten, 1866.

A. Weiss (R.C.): Die altkirchliche Pädagogik dargestelit in Katecumenat und Katechese der ersten sechs Jahrh. Freiburg, 1869.

Fr. X. Funk (R. C): Die Katechumenats-classen des christl. Alterthums, in the Tübing. "Theol. Quartalschrift," Tüb. 1883, p. 41–77.

1. The catechumenate or preparation for baptism was a very important institution of the early church. It dates substantially from apostolic times. Theophilus was "instructed" in the main facts of the gospel history; and Apollos was "instructed" in the way of the Lord.445445    Luke 1:4 (κατηχήθης) Acts 18:25 (κατηχημένος); Comp. Rom. 2:18; 1 Cor.14:19; Gal. 6:6; Heb. 5:12. The verb κατηχέω means 1) to resound; 2) to teach by word of mouth; 3) in Christian writers, to instruct in the elements of religion.45 As the church was set in the midst of a heathen world, and addressed herself in her missionary preaching in the first instance to the adult generation, she saw the necessity of preparing the susceptible for baptism by special instruction under teachers called "catechists," who were generally presbyters and deacons.446446    Κατηχηταί, doctores audientium. The term designates a function, not a special office or class.46 The catechumenate preceded baptism (of adults); whereas, at a later period, after the general introduction of infant baptism, it followed. It was, on the one hand, a bulwark of the church against unworthy members; on the other, a bridge from the world to the church, a Christian novitiate, to lead beginners forward to maturity. The catechumens or hearers447447    Κατηχούμενοι, ἀκροαταί, auditores, audientes.47 were regarded not as unbelievers, but as half-Christians, and were accordingly allowed to attend all the exercises of worship, except the celebration of the sacraments. They embraced people of all ranks, ages, and grades of culture, even philosophers, statesmen, and rhetoricians,—Justin, Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cyprian, Arnobius, Lactantius, who all embraced Christianity in their adult years.

The Didache contains in the first six chapters, a high-toned moral catechism preparatory to baptism, based chiefly on the Sermon on the Mount.

There was but one or at most two classes of Catechumens. The usual division into three (or four) classes rests on confusion with the classes of Penitents.448448    Ἀκροώμενοι, or audientes; γονυκλίνοντες, or genuflectentes; and φωτιζόμενοι, or competentes. So Ducange, Augusti, Neander, Höfling, Hefele (in the first ed. of his Conciliengesch., but modified in the second, vol. I. 246, 249), Zezschwitz, Herzog, and many others. Bona and Bingham add even a fourth class (ἐξωθούμενοι). But this artificial classification (as Dr. Funk has shown, l.c.) arose from a misunderstanding of the fifth canon of Neocaesarea (between 314 and 325), which mentions one γόνυ κλίνων, but as representing a class of penitents, not of catechumens. Suicer, Mayer, and Weiss assume but two classes, audientes and competentes. Funk maintains that the candidates for baptism (φωτιζόμενοι, companies or electi baptizandi) were already numbered among the faithful (fideles), and that there was only one class of catechumens.48

The catechetical school of Alexandria was particularly renowned for its highly learned character.

The duration of this catechetical instruction was fixed sometimes at two years449449    Conc. of Elvira, can. 4249 sometimes at three,450450    Const. Apost. VIII. 32.50 but might be shortened according to circumstances. Persons of decent moral character and general intelligence were admitted to baptism without delay. The Councils allow immediate admission in cases of sickness.

2. Confirmation451451    Σφραγίς, χρίσμα, confirmatio obsignatio, signaculum.51 was originally closely connected with baptism, as its positive complement, and was performed by the imposition of hands, and the anointing of several parts of the body with fragrant balsam-oil, the chrism, as it was called. These acts were the medium of the communication of the Holy Spirit, and of consecration to the spiritual priesthood. Later, however, it came to be separated from baptism, especially in the case of infants, and to be regarded as a sacrament by itself. Cyprian is the first to distinguish the baptism with water and the baptism with the Spirit as two sacraments; yet this term, sacrament, was used as yet very indefinitely, and applied to all sacred doctrines and rites.

The Western church, after the third century, restricted the power of confirmation to bishops, on the authority of Acts 8:17; they alone, as the successors of the apostles, being able to impart the Holy Ghost. The Greek church extended this function to priests and deacons. The Anglican church retains the Latin practice. Confirmation or some form of solemn reception into full communion on personal profession of faith, after proper instruction, was regarded as a necessary supplement to infant baptism, and afterwards as a special sacrament.

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