As I am dealing with Christians who profess to understand the Scriptures without any directions from man (and if the fact be so, they boast of a real advantage, and one of no ordinary kind), they must surely grant that every one of us learnt his own language by hearing it constantly from childhood, and that any other language we have learnt,–Greek, or Hebrew, or any of the rest,–we have learnt either in the same way, by hearing it spoken, or from a human teacher…
Let us beware of such dangerous temptations of pride, and let us rather consider the fact that the Apostle Paul himself, although stricken down and admonished by the voice of God from heaven, was yet sent to a man to receive the sacraments and be admitted into the Church;(2) and that Cornelius the centurion. although an angel announced to him that his prayers were heard and his alms had in remembrance, was yet handed over to Peter for instruction, and not only received the sacraments from the apostle’s hands, but was also instructed by him as to the proper objects of faith, hope, and love…
Seeing, then, that these men teach others, either through speech or writing, what they understand, surely they cannot blame me if I likewise teach not only what they understand, but also the rules of interpretation they follow. For no one ought to consider anything as his own, except perhaps what is false. All truth is of Him who says, “I am the truth.” For what have we that we did not receive? and if we have received it, why do we glory, as if we had not received it?
St Augustine of Hippo, On Christian Doctrine (De Doctrina Christiana)
n., oral instruction of the principles of Christian dogma, discipline, and ethics by means of questions and answers, given to catechumens by catechists.
[Late Latin catēchēsis, from Greek κατηχησις, oral instruction, from κατηχειν, to teach by word of mouth]
Of my earliest memories, I recall Vacation Bible School at Ridge Road Baptist Church, my father and grandparents’ church, and an elderly lady futilely encouraging me to remember bible verses. I do not remember which verses these were, for I was about four, maybe five, years old. But from that moment I do remember Sunday school as a large part of my early Christian formation.
Around age twelve, next door at Highland United Methodist Church, when I received my confirmation NRSV Bible, I took it upon myself to read the Holy Scriptures from front to back. I remember doing this at least twice, before settling in a few books which I called my favorites – St Matthew’s Gospel, Jeremiah, St Paul’s Letter to the Romans, the Revelation of St John – and read them even more furiously. I, however, would not call the activity catechesis, as I was doing this on my own, with little guidance from anyone else.
When I attended Hampden-Sydney College, I began studying the faith of the Christian Church, her fathers St Ignatius, St Athanasius, St John Chrysostom, and certainly St Augustine. All this was under the guidance of Dr (now Father) John David Ramsey in History of Christian Thought. I was also attending St. Theresa Parish for daily and Sunday mass with much regularity, twice attending Holy Cross Abbey for a week of prayer and silence as I discerned my place to the Roman Catholic Church.
As with all confirmands, we were required to attend Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), led by the deacons of the parish, as well as Dr. Ramsey. It was an instructive time, learning the finer details of church life, blessings, prayers, etc. Usually, we spoke and shared our thoughts and spent time in prayer
In all, my catechesis lasted right under a year. I feel, however, that I was not properly catechized in a formal manner. I have read that in the early centuries of the Church the catechumens studied for two years before being received in the Church at their Easter vigil baptism. Now, while I feel much of my Christian education prior to college was sufficient for many aspects of Christian life, I feel there is much I can still learn.
The Catechism Lesson, Jules-Alexis Muenier (1890)
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