Catechumen and Catechesis

catechism and catechist

In the early Christian Church, there existed a practice known as “catechesis.” This involved the instruction of individuals in the basics of Christianity, particularly before they were baptized. Although the words “catechumen” and “catechesis” do not appear in the New Testament, the verb “katēcheō” is used multiple times to describe the act of instructing. Examples include Acts 18:25, which describes APOLLOS’ Christian instruction as accurate but basic, and Acts 21:21, where it simply means “to inform.” Other references, such as Rom. 2:18, 1 Cor. 14:19, and Gal. 6:6, highlight the formal teaching given within the church community.

Initially, baptism closely followed the profession of faith, as seen in passages like Acts 2:38–41; 8:13, 38; 9:18; 10:47; and 16:15. Most of the recorded baptisms are of Jews, proselytes, or “God-fearers” who already possessed knowledge of monotheistic worship and the avoidance of idolatry and immorality. However, this is unlikely to apply to the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:33). As time went on and more individuals with varying levels of doctrinal and ethical knowledge sought baptism, it is not surprising that Christians began to adopt the Jewish practice of pre-baptismal instruction for converts.

References to a “catechumenate,” a period of instruction for those preparing for baptism, begin to appear in the second century. For example, 2 Clement discusses receiving commandments to guide individuals away from idolatry and instruct them in the faith. Hippolytus’s Apostolic Tradition, although uncertain in its accuracy, appears to require three years of preparation. It is evident from passages like 1 Cor. 3:2 and Heb. 5:12–6:2 that rudimentary instruction was indeed provided within the early Christian community.

There are indications that early catechists used common forms and patterns in their teachings. Examples include the fourfold pattern of “put away,” “subject,” “watch,” and “resist” found in Colossians, Ephesians, James, and 1 Peter. Other scholars find evidence of doctrinal instruction in passages like Phil. 2:5–11 and 1 Tim. 3:16. However, there is no suggestion that rudimentary instruction was limited to only those preparing for baptism. Hebrews 6:1–2 implies otherwise, and even pagans noted the Christian practice of gathering to renew their moral commitments.

In summary, within the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, it has been a longstanding practice to provide instruction to catechumens, ensuring they are prepared to partake in the sacraments in a worthy manner. This practice is rooted in early Christian traditions and serves to deepen the individual’s faith and commitment to the teachings of Christ.

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