A Catechism: 1604 Redux. Edited by Fr. Ben Jefferies. Nashotah, WI: Nashotah House Press, 2021. 55 pp. $10.00 (cloth).
Fr. Ben Jefferies’ recent work, A Catechism: 1604 Redux, is a happy addition to the recent scurry among academics for Anglican Ressourcement. I was delighted when I was asked to review it for you all here. I am, however, often intimidated by “Book Reviews” because I believe that such a review would need to be at the very least twice the length of the text in order to be a faithful evaluation. Perhaps this is just my repressed Thomism drifting toward something akin to the Medieval commentaries on Master Lombard’s Sentences – however – the 1604 Church Catechism of which Fr. Jefferies’ work is an adaptation is just short enough to almost accommodate this unfortunate instinct of mine. Even more favorably, it is so short that I believe that I will be able to give a faithful review without exhausting my poor readers here at The North American Anglican – a fact to which I am sure both earthly and heavenly voices erupt in praise.
What’s more, to its credit, the little catechism does not presume to be anything more than this: A Shorter Catechism. Fr. Ben writes in the preface:
The Lutherans and the Reformed Churches all have two catechisms of different lengths–a shorter and a longer–and it is hoped that this reissuing of the 1604 Catechism may be a useful “shorter version” [of the ACNA Catechism].
In this regard, he has succeeded. The book measures roughly 4.5×7” and fits comfortably in a pair of jeans, cassock pocket, or – as was obviously intended – a proper clerical frock coat (rest assured that I checked). This is all to say that its unassuming size is, in fact, a feature. Anyone who has used the Anglican Church in North America’s Catechism, To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism, will be the first to tell you that it is a substantially lengthier document than Anglican Catechisms tend to be. Now this is ultimately because the ACNA Catechism serves a radically different purpose than historic Church Catechisms have, namely the instruction of those who have not yet been baptized. The older Catechisms had the benefit of assuming that all who were instructed resided within Christian homes, an assumption which becomes less true every day.
To that end, the ACNA Catechism is good for what it intended: to instruct those within and without Christian homes in the details of the Catholic Faith. Such an endeavor requires a considerable amount of material. That being said, however, it requires a total of 368 Questions that often require a catechist the better part of a year (if not more) to lead students through – and that is if instruction takes place regularly. As Fr. Jefferies says: “Its great length makes it an unwieldy tool for the ordinary catechesis of youth and new members in a parish setting.” As someone who has used the ACNA Catechism many times, I give my firm agreement. The Catechism Redux, however, is designed so that a catechist can lead the students through the most important aspects of the faith as required by the Prayer Book – Creed, Commandments, and Our Father – in a matter of nine weeks. Once more, the succinct brevity is the selling point for those of us who labor in this kind of ministry.
While working through the Catechism Redux, those of you familiar with other Catechisms will immediately notice that it is reminiscent of the famous Heidelberg Catechism belonging to our Reformed brothers and sisters. For those unaware, the Heidelberg Catechism (truly the most pastoral of the Reformed catechisms) is divided into weeks to accommodate for its reading every Lord’s Day. Much to my delight, Fr. Jefferies has included the same (or very nearly the same) structure within the Redux. Surprisingly, when I mentioned this in passing to Fr. Ben, he informed me that he had no idea that this was the structure of the Heidelberg Catechism. Whatever the case, I am happy to say some of the best of the Reformed genius has now (by divine decree no doubt) made its way into our branch of the Church through this little book. This is excellent for those priests within our Province who take their Presbyterial Duty seriously. The Canons of 1604 require the clergy to faithfully instruct the laity with the Catechism every Sunday and Holy Day before Evening Prayer. Though not as explicitly worded in our own Constitution & Canons, Priests within the Anglican Church in North America are required to:
Take care that all within their cures are instructed in the doctrine, sacraments, and discipline of Christ, as the Lord has commanded and as they are set forth in the Holy Scriptures, in the Book of Common Prayer, and in the Church Catechism.
Fr. Ben’s Catechism Redux, then, is a wonderful way for priests to fulfill the obligations placed upon them by our Patrimony, Canons, and Prayer Book. Three birds with one stone is all right in my book.
The historicity of the Catechism Redux does not stop here, however. As I said above, the book itself is a contemporization of the 1604 Church Catechism later found appended to the Prayer Book in the form of the 1662 Catechism. In addition to this, Fr. Ben has added a likewise contemporized selection of discussion questions derived from Bishop William Beveridge’s The Church Catechism Explained with several scriptural passages for guided reference. Alongside these questions are several devised by Fr. Ben himself to aid in the Socratic nature of Catechesis. In the words of Fr. Jefferies, these questions are intended to be used “viva voce,” and may be utilized as the catechist sees fit. These additional questions allow for teacher and student to sit and discuss a single topic over the course of a few weeks.
Finally, Fr. Jefferies includes an appendix containing the preface to the 1552 Catechism discussing the nature of Confirmation. It is an excellent go-to for when the new parishioner inevitably asks the poor catechist, “What is Confirmation?” It is a worthwhile resource. Alongside it is placed the Athanasian Creed.
Now that I have done my due diligence and expressed the worthwhileness of the Catechism Redux, I would be remiss as a fellow catechism enthusiast if I did not take the liberty to make several suggestions for when and if Fr. Ben ever releases a Second Edition:
- The questions are not numbered. The pages and weeks are, but numbering the questions themselves would make for easier reference.
- Fr. Ben stresses his conformity to the standards of the ACNA, including its catechism. I believe that references to corresponding sections of the ACNA Catechism would have been an excellent way to highlight this, as well as without a doubt establish the Redux as the de facto shorter catechism of the Province. For that matter, references to the 2019 BCP and 39 Articles would be an excellent addition as well.
- The 2019 Book of Common Prayer says in its Confirmation Rite: “Dearly beloved, it is essential that those who wish to be Confirmed or Received in this Church…know and affirm the Nicene Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments.” Fr. Ben writes in his Preface that it is the Apostles’ Creed which ought to be memorized. Fr. Ben is correct historically speaking, but the vows of the 2019 – for whatever reason – expect the Nicene Creed. Once more, conformity to the standards of the ACNA would make for a splendid Second Edition.
- I was sad to see that the Office of Instruction was missing from the Catechism Redux, just as it is from the ACNA Catechism. It is easily one of the best bits of the 1928 BCP – and the American Patrimony for that matter – that is altogether absent from the 2019. What’s more, the Constitution & Canons of the Anglican Church in North America require that the Clergy be formed according to “The Church’s teaching set forth in the Creeds and the Offices of Instruction.” Strangely enough, as far as I am aware there is no office of instruction to be found anywhere in ACNA documents, liturgies or otherwise. The only thing that comes close is the rite for entering the catechumenate found at the end of the ACNA “Larger” Catechism. To me, this was a missed opportunity to bring more historicity into our province as well as bring coherence to our own canons.
All in all, Fr. Jefferies’ Catechism Redux represents the best kind of Anglican Ressourcement: the kind that can actually be used in the parish. It is exceptionally practical and easy to wield. I believe that it represents an opportunity for the Anglican Church in North America to return to its very robust catechetical heritage. It provides some of the very best of our tradition in a way that is easily accessible for teacher and student alike – and did I mention it fits in your pocket?
- A Catechism: 1604 Redux, 6 ↑
- A Catechism: 1604 Redux, 5 ↑
- Canon LIX. ↑
- ACNA Constitution & Canons, Title II, Canon 4 §2 (emphasis my own) ↑
- 2019 Book of Common Prayer, 176 ↑
- Title III, Canon 4 §2 ↑