02 May 2002

Since John and Mark have already blogged about this, I thought I might as well say something myself.

When John Calvin was in Strasbourg from 1538-1541, he composed a catechism in the form of a dialogue intended for use with young children. It was entitled "Institution Puerile de la Doctrine Chrestienne" and was probably first used around 1538 or 1539. It was later included in the French Evangelical Psalter of 1542. When Calvin returned to Geneva it is thought that he continued to use this catechism with younger children (the longer Geneva Catechism was not intended for memorization, nor was it intended for use with young children). Only in 1553 did he publish a new shorter catechism, with only 28 questions.

The likely purpose of the catechism for young children was as a post-baptismal catechesis, leading up the time when the children would receive their first communion (as Hughes Oliphant Old argues in his book The Shaping of the Reformed Baptismal Rite in the 16th Century, particularly chapter 8). As such it would serve as a child's first public profession of faith within the church, the conscious manifestation of what had already been given to the child in baptism (as the catechism makes clear).

As far as I know, the catechism has never been translated in its entirety, though a few snippets have appeared in various works of Calvin scholarship (e.g., Old's book on baptism). The text is divided into three parts: the first concerning the Creed and Sacraments, the second the Lord's Prayer, and the third the Ten Commandments. I have translated the first two parts so far and have put them up on the web under the title, "Instruction in Christian Doctrine for Young Children."

I hope to have the third part added by tomorrow at the latest. Translating this text can be a bit tricky since spellings are not always consistent and Calvin's French is to modern French approximately what Edmund Spenser's English is to modern English.

It seems to me that these kinds of historical documents are important for the church at large and so, while I retain the copyright for the translation, I grant free permission for people to make use of the text as they wish for their own edification and the building up of the church.

As a final note, the catechism can be accessed through a webpage of historical documents that I have added to my website, to which I hope to add further texts that are otherwise not easily available (and which already includes a link to the 1615 Irish Articles of Religion).