To the most Reverend Fathers in Christ, and Lords,
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York.
And to sundry other wise fathers,
Bishops of the Anglican Church,
most steadfast and watchful shepherds.
I DECIDED that all my effort should be devoted to this pressing issue, and all my exertion: that godly doctrine, so far as is genuinely possible, be taught to children, who are indeed the seeds of the State. Thus so their delicate hearts would not be filled with wicked thoughts, their minds not be distracted and harried by an excess of those ideas, which, although true, dwell too much on the particulars. In keeping with the kindness from which I am looking after the welfare of our country’s youth, I decided that I must strive with all my strength and effort to spark in them some holy zeal, and sound Christian doctrine. And I decided I should lay out an intelligible explanation and somewhat useful summary, clearly and without confusion, for the captive schoolchild. In this Catechism (for that is what we call it) I did not think that I should use little questions and short answers, like bullet points, although I had proposed such. Nor would it be sufficient to explain everything with naked assertions, or quickly and simply to affirm them unilateral statements, unless I could also take some of these ideas and methods and make them my own. So therefore, to lend more credibility and weight to these subjects, I have written in the margin of the text various prooftexts from the Holy Scriptures. So with these anyone can satisfy himself or others, when at a loss. In this Catechism I have also taken care and diligence everywhere to preserve the integrity of Latin style to the extent possible. Thus our children might be able to learn in the one and same task both Latinity and godliness. When it came to choice words, either singly, or in sentences, and to compound verbs – things which are unique to us and peculiar to the Christian faith, even though they may be unfamiliar to Latin speakers of Cicero’s time and of the age nearest him – I decided I would give priority more to the sincerity of our piety than to rigid style. Therefore I have not changed the words which conform to set style. But, for those who wish to speak fluent Latin, I have explained at the back of book wherever I have departed from the traditional style and what words I think could be used to explain these things eloquently, so they do not lack anything in this field. Moreover, I use a wide, flowing style in this Catechism, rather than a narrow, lean one, and in this I follow the counsel and judgement of the most learned of the ancients. Those who think it is possible to nourish children easily with richness of eloquence and style also hold that something arid is harmful to them, no less than barren soil harms young plants. Therefore, I have grafted and transplanted the choicest of words, plucking bouquets of sentences from everywhere, and especially from the gardens of Cicero, noting and highlighting such a phrase with stars. For I thought that I should explain our whole religion clearly and flawlessly, and in specific chapters, fully and magnificently. I did this so that such weighty and important topics, interspersed with flowers of words and sentences, charming to young sensibilities, wafting like pleasing aromas, would fall upon their hearts more sweetly, be understood more easily, and at the same time settle into their memories and chests, drive deep, and thus lodged they remain fixed and steadfast forever. I think, therefore, that there will be some who will be dissatisfied and ask for a bland and uniform style; so these will be pleased by that same kind of tone and elocution. For if they complain that this little book, since these things are able to be learned in few words, has gone far beyond the limits of propriety, overflowing with many words, let them consider that everything must be explained as clearly and as openly as possible to children (for they are accustomed to sit for so many years in school that they almost learn to speak Latin fluently). My choices were to prevent them from disliking to learn piety from Christian books, because before they were accustomed to be taught from the vulgar, fantastical, and sometimes wicked and deceitful stories of the poets. But I decided to give in to these lovers of brevity, and am publishing an abridged version of this Catechism, which shall be as brief as possible, so small that it will be nearly impossible to shorten it in any way. In that version they will find great topics made small, long topics short, broad topics narrow, many topics few. Therefore, those who do not like this book because it is too long will not like the other one because it is too short. But because the chief points of the Christian religion – which are summarized in the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer – are explained in almost all Catechisms, there is not always any great variety in the manner of explanation, and there really cannot be. What novel thought can be found, both righteously and usefully, about the chief precepts of our religion, which has not already been said by someone else, and often by the majority of those who have explained these things before? And he who starts his commentary with the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, he really must follow this order unless he wishes to mangle and botch the whole thing. Some start their commentary first with the law then with faith. Others, to stand out from the crowd, reverse this order for no good reason. Indeed, almost all explain the Lord’s Prayer and the Sacraments after the law and faith. Therefore, there is no possible way anyone one can impose a different order that has not already been adopted by someone else, unless he wants to turn the whole thing inside out. I thought I should note these things here, because I foresee there will be some who will complain about both the way I explained these same things in the Catechism, and indeed the very order, which certain others have previously prescribed. In this all fair-minded men can see these critics are unjust, because they will complain that something has not been changed which is not possible to be changed correctly. I entrust this Catechism to your judgement, O Most Learned Fathers, men distinguished for all learning and virtue, who attain to the highest office in the Church and oversee sacred rites, and preside over church affairs. If this Catechism is approved by the authority of your very high rank, if our youth take it in hand, we shall be afforded the greatest and – as I trust, most certain and true – hope that the greatest benefit will come to the Christian State.
Most devoted to and solicitous of your persons, I remain,