Catechumen: Wikis


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In ecclesiology, a catechumen (pronounced /ˌkætəˈkjuːmən/; from Latin catechumenus, Greek κατηχούμενος, instructed - from κατά (kata), “‘down’” + ἠχή (ēkhē), “‘sound’”) is one receiving instruction from a catechist in the principles of the Christian religion with a view to baptism. The title and practice is most often used by Orthodox Christians and by Roman Catholics.


Historic Christian practice

Although Catechumens existed by the time of the Letter to the Galatians (Strong's G2727), which mentions them, the practice slowly developed, from the development of doctrine and the need to test converts against the dangers of falling away. The Bible records (Acts 19) that the Apostle Paul while visiting some people who were described as "disciples", established they had received the baptism of John for the repentance of sins but had not yet heard of or received the Holy Spirit. Further, from the second century it appears that baptisms were held only at certain times of year, indicating that periods of instruction were the rule rather than the exception. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes: "As the acceptance of Christianity involved belief in a body of doctrine and the observance of the Divine law ("teach, make disciples, scholars of them"; "teaching them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you", Matthew 28:20 [see Great Commission ]), it is clear that some sort of preliminary instruction must have been given to the converts." See also Council of Jerusalem. Justin Martyr, in his First Apology, cites instruction as occurring prior to baptism:

As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated.

The "persuasion" would be carried out by the preaching of an evangelist; but since belief must precede baptism, the person concerned should be prepared spiritually to receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit through baptism. That person would receive the sign of the Cross and possibly aspersion with holy water from a minister, indicating their entry to the state of Catechumen.

Catechumens were limited as to their attendance in formal services. As unbaptized, they could not actively take part in any service, for that was reserved for those baptized. One practice permitted them to remain in the first part of the mass, but even in the earliest centuries dismissed them before the Eucharist. Others had them entering through a side door, or observing from the side, from a gallery, or near the font; while it was not unknown to bar them from all services until baptized.

Their desire for baptism was held to be sufficient guarantee of their salvation, if they died before the reception. In event of their martyrdom prior to baptism by water, this was held to be a baptism by blood, and they were honored as martyrs.

In the fourth century, a widespread practice arose of enrolling as a catechumen and deferring baptism for years, often until shortly before death, and when so ill that the normal practice of immersion was impossible, so that aspersion or affusion -- the baptism of the sick—was necessary. Constantine was the most prominent of these catechumens. See also Deathbed conversion.

Cyril of Jerusalem wrote a series of sermons aimed at catechumens, outlining via passages of scripture the main points of the faith, yet dividing between those merely interested and those intending baptism then continuing with certain sermons aimed at those who had been baptized.

St. Augustine was among those enrolled as a catechumen as an infant, and did not receive baptism until he was in his thirties. He, and other Fathers, fulminated against the practice.

Christian practice during the Middle Ages

(Stub to include the development of the Roman/Greek catechisms, relationship to forced conversion, and conversion from one part of Christianity to another).

Present Christian practice

In no case is a catechumen absolutely bound to be baptized, preserving the principle that the person concerned must be drawn spiritually to the faith rather than being intellectually persuaded.

The Roman Catholic Church revived the catechumenate with its Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) wherein being a catechumen is one of a number of stages leading to receiving the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist). This was a result of the Second Vatican Council, explicitly stated in point 64 of the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium:

The catechumenate for adults, comprising several distinct steps, is to be restored and to be taken into use at the discretion of the local ordinary. By this means the time of the catechumenate, which is intended as a period of suitable instruction, may be sanctified by sacred rites to be celebrated at successive intervals of time. [1]

The Neocatechumenal Way of the Roman Catholic Church takes as its inspiration the old catechumenate of early Christianity (the "primitive church") as the basis for its goal of adult faith formation for Roman Catholics.

In many Protestant churches, particularly those preferring not to baptise infants, the catechumenate status may be considered the norm amongst the young. This is especially true amongst young Christadelphians, although they never use the specific term catechumenate.

The Protestant churches who baptize infants, for instance Anglican/Episcopalian and Lutheran, tend to follow a catechumenate which can be likened to a course in the fundamentals of the religion, lasting typically six months and ending with baptism at Easter. However, this is at the discretion of the local minister, and times may be varied. The 9th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Cape Town, January 1993, stated among other points in Resolution 44:

"that the Provinces be encouraged to restore the Catechumenate, or discipling process, to help enquiries move to Christian faith, using the witness and support of lay people, and liturgically celebrating the stages of growth;" [2]

Jehovah's Witnesses require a catechumenate of adherents prior to baptism by means of a Bible Study program led by a baptized minister, with the aid of a Bible Textbook. [3] Students of all ages progress initially to becoming an "Unbaptized Publisher" of the faith, preaching while continuing further biblical instruction - akin to a catechumen, although the term is not specifically used. After demonstrating sufficient comprehension and application of The Bible's teachings, the student qualifies to be baptized as one of Jehovah's Witnesses.[4]

The catechumenate and the religious education of the young baptized

A catechumen has not been baptized, and is undergoing training in the principles of the faith; one who was baptized as a child has an equal need of education, but this does not start from the same foundation, since baptism has already occurred. The theological basis is common to all sects and taken from the Gospel:

No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him (John 6, 44)

- from which the working of God on the catechumen is presupposed. Once baptized, the relationship with God is of a different order.

Since the schisms between the parts of the Church, conversion between the denominations is also possible. Education in the specific doctrines of the sect is therefore seen as necessary, as well as a thorough grounding in the first principles of the faith. This latter may already have occurred when the convert is mature, and the status of catechumen is then usually not implied.

The three cases - baptized as an infant, come to the faith in maturer years, and conversion from one denomination to another - seem outwardly similar. This has led to discussions on their differentiation, notably the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation which, at its meeting in Toronto in 1991, stated that [1] the catechumenate for those about to be baptized as infants was to be absolved by their parents and sponsors, thus defining the catechumenate as necessary for all, whether directly or by proxy. The status of the "converted" was dealt with at the same time, but in a way that cannot be considered typical of general Christian thinking, when it was declared that rebaptism was not to be thought of; as a consequence the previously baptized cannot become catechumens.

The remark in the foregoing section on "stages of growth" is important to understand this confusion, and happily this can also be seen as typical of the thinking outside the Anglican church. While all parts of the Church promote the growth from catechumen to novice to full member of the communion, the Protestant churches align it with the education of the young who are already baptized, whereas the Orthodox and Roman parts of the church keep this separate. Various terms are used to describe this process: "alpha courses", "nursery courses", "starter groups", among others. The main difference between denominations is whether these courses include or exclude those who are baptized, and an overlap with youth ministries and even to an extent with evangelism is observable. For further discussion not directly related to the state of catechumen, see other Wiki articles.

The form of education varied, though the earliest recorded methods were lists of questions and answers (Catechism). Sermons were also used (Cyril of Jerusalem). Most catechisms were divided into parts, aiming to follow the spiritual growth of the catechumen. There were certain differences between catechisms for the young baptized and for the unbaptized catechumen.

Catechumens and conversion

The divergence between Christian practice as regards catechumens (a formalised, gradual approach) and the idea of conversion (a sudden, overwhelming event) as the entry into the Church, is one of appearance rather than substance. It is recorded in the Bible that Paul the Apostle, who started out as a Jewish persecutor of the Church, underwent sudden conversion on the way to Damascus when Jesus Christ appeared to him in a vision. Regarded as the type of sudden conversion, this event was followed by baptism, with, however, a period of study and learning following, lasting a number of years. While there are examples of people being immediately baptised after having declared their faith, it seems that this was the exception rather than the rule (see above). It is therefore debatable if the idea of sudden conversion, promulgated by many evangelical parts of the Church, is in any way incompatible with the catechumenate.

Jewish practice

Quoting Shaye J. D. Cohen: From the Maccabees to the Mishnah (1987) "The Sadducees were the aristocratic opponents of the Pharisees. The Essenes were a group of religious and philosophic virtuosi, living a utopian life of the sort that would provoke the admiration of Jews and non-Jews alike. Josephus mentions their three-year catechumenate, their oath of loyalty to the group, their separation from their fellow Jews, their emphasis on purity and ablutions, but he regards them not as a "sect" but as a pietistic elite." See also Proselyte.


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Laying a Foundation for the Right Kind of Ministers", The Watchtower, March 1, 1969, page 139.
  4. ^ "Why Be Baptized", The Watchtower, April 1, 2002, pages 13.

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CATECHUMEN (Lat. catechumenus, Gr. KarflxouµEvos, instructed, from KarrJXEiv, to teach orally), an ecclesiastical term applied to those receiving instruction in the principles of the Christian religion with a view to baptism. As soon as Christianity became a missionary religion, it was found necessary to make arrangements for giving instruction to new converts. At the beginning the Apostles themselves seem to have undertaken this duty, and the instruction was apparently given after baptism, for in Acts ii. 41, 42, we are told that "they that gladly received the word were baptized. .. and they continued stedfastly in the Apostles' teaching." There are two instances in the New Testament where reference is made to individual instruction in this technical sense. Luke (i. 4) in dedicating the third Gospel to Theophilus tells him that his aim in writing the book was "that thou mightest have certainty in the things in which thou has been instructed" (Karnx1)07/s), and we are told that Apollos was instructed (KarrtXrtpEvoi) " in the way of the Lord" (Acts xviii. 25).

With the development of Christianity the instruction became more definite and formal. It is probable that the duty of instructing converts was assigned to "the teachers," who are ranked by Paul immediately after the Apostles and prophets (1 Cor. xii. 28), and occupied an important position in the Christian ministry. In the Didache, or Teaching of the Apostles, we have an excellent illustration of the teaching which was given to candidates for baptism in early times. There can be little doubt that the Didache was used as a manual for catechumens for several centuries. Athanasius (Festal Epistles, 39), for instance, says that "it was appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who are just recently coming to us, and wish to be instructed in the word of godliness" (ear'XEiaOat rr P Ti)s €iio-e3E1as Xo'yov). The instruction prescribed by the Didache is very largely ethical, and stands in striking contrast to the more elaborate doctrinal teaching which came into vogue in later days. The Shepherd of Hermas too is another book which seems to have been used for the purpose of catechesis, for Eusebius says that it "was deemed most necessary for those who have need of elementary instruction" (Eccles. Hist. iii. 3-6).

With the rise of theological controversy and the growth of heresy catechetical instruction became of vital importance to the Church, and much greater importance was attached to it. After the middle of the 4th century it was regarded as essential that the candidate for baptism should not only be acquainted with the spiritual truths and ethical demands which form the basis of practical Christianity, but should also be trained in theology and the interpretation of the creeds. Two books have been preserved which throw a striking light upon the transformation which had taken place in the conception of catechesis; (I) the Catechetical Lectures of Cyril of Jerusalem; (2) the De rudibus Catechizandis of Augustine. Cyril's Lectures may be termed the Pearson on the Creed of the 4 th century. He takes each article separately, discusses it clause by clause, explains the meaning of each word, and justifies each statement from Scripture. Augustine's treatise was written at the request of a catechist, named Deogratias, who had asked him for advice. After replying to the question of Deogratias, and giving sundry counsels as to the best method of interesting catechumens, Augustine concludes by giving a model catechetical lecture, in which he covers the whole of biblical history, beginning from the opening chapters of Genesis, and laying particular stress on the doctrinal parts of Scripture. Cyril and Augustine differ, as we should expect, in the doctrines which they select for emphasis, but they both agree in requiring a knowledge of sound doctrine on the part of the candidates.

In spite of the numerous references to catechumens in Patristic literature, our knowledge of the details of the system is often very deficient, and upon some points there is considerable diversity of opinion amongst experts. The following are the most important questions which come under consideration.

1. The Classification of Catechumens. - Bingham and many of the older writers held that there were four classes of catechumens, representing different stages in the process of instruction: (a) " The inquirers" whose interest in Christianity had been sufficiently aroused to make them desire further information, and who received private and individual instruction from the teachers before they were admitted into the second class. (b) " The hearers" (audientes), who were admitted into the Church for the purpose of listening to sermons and exhortations. (c) The prostrati or gene flectentes, who were allowed also to take part in the prayers. (d) The electi or competentes, who had completed the period of probation and were deemed ready to receive baptism. Modern scholars, however, for the most part, deny that there is sufficient basis to justify this elaborate classification, and think that its advocates have confused the catechumenate with the system of penance. The evidence does not seem to warrant more than two classes, (a) the audientes, who were in the initial stages of their training, (b) the competentes, who were qualified for baptism.

2. The Relation of Catechumens to the Church. - Catechumens were allowed of course to attend church services, but at a certain point were dismissed with the words "Ite catechumens, missa est." The moment at which the dismissal took place cannot be exactly determined, and it is not clear whether the catechumens were allowed to remain for a portion of the Communion service, and if so, whether as spectators or as partial participants. A passage in Augustine seems to imply that in some way they shared in the Sacrament, "that which they (the catechumens) receive, though it be not the Body of Christ, is yet an holy thing and more holy than the common food which sustains us, because it is a Sacrament" (De peccatorum meritis, ii. 42). The explanation of these words has occasioned considerable controversy. Many scholars hold (and this certainly seems the most natural interpretation) that consecrated bread was taken from the Eucharist and given to the catechumens. Bingham, however, maintains that the reference is not to the consecrated bread, but to salt, which was given to them as a symbol "that they might learn to purge and cleanse their souls from sin." 3. The Duration of the Training. - Various statements with regard to the duration of the catechumenical training are found in ecclesiastical authorities. The Apostolical Constitutions, for instance, fix it at three years; 1 the synod of Elvira at two. 2 The references in the Fathers, however, imply that for practical purposes it was limited to the forty days of Lent. Very probably, however, the forty days of actual instruction were preceded by a period of probation.

4. The Relation between the Catechumenate and Baptism

Catechetical instruction was designed as a preliminary to baptism. There were two directions, however, in which this purpose was enlarged: (a) We have no reason to suppose that when infant baptism was introduced, those who had been baptized in infancy were excluded from the catechetical training, or that instruction was deemed unnecessary in their case, though as a matter of fact we have no definite reference to their admission. The custom of postponing baptism, which was very general in the 4th and 5th centuries, probably made such cases more rare than is generally supposed, and so accounts for the absence of any allusion to them 1 A post. Constit. viii. 2. Canon 42.

in connexion with the catechumenate. (b) We have no reason to suppose that the instruction given in the famous catechetical schools of Alexandria and Carthage was restricted to candidates for baptism. There is no doubt that "catechetical" is used in a much wider sense when applied to the lectures of Origen than when used of the addresses of Cyril of Jerusalem. The "instruction" of Origen was given to all classes of Christians, and not merely to those who were in the initial stages.

5. Characteristics of the Catechumenical Training

Besides instruction there were some other important features connected with the catechumenate. (a) The duty of confession was impressed on the candidates. (b) The ceremony of exorcism was often performed in order to free the catechumen from evil spirits. (c) At a certain point in the training the creed and the doctrine of the Sacraments were delivered to the candidates by the bishop with much impressive ceremonial. This teaching constituted the "holy secret" or "mystery" (disciplina arcani) of Christianity, and could only be imparted to those who were qualified to receive it. The acquisition of this arcanum was regarded as the most essential element in the catechetical discipline, and marked off its possessors from the rest of the world. There can be little doubt that this conception of the "Holy Secret" came into the Church originally from the Greek mysteries, and that much of the ceremonial connected with the catechumenate and baptism was derived from the same source. Authorities. - Cyril, Catecheses; Gregory of Nyssa, Oratio Catechetica; Chrysostom, Catecheses ad illuminandos; Augustine, De rudibus Catechizandis; Mayer, Geschichte des Katechumenats. in den ersten sechs Jahrhunderten (1868); S. Cheetham, The Mysteries, Pagan and Christian. (H. T. A.)

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