An Excerpt from Luther’s Preface to the Large Catechism
But for myself I say this: I am also a doctor and preacher; yes, as learned and experienced as all the people who have such assumptions and contentment. Yet I act as a child who is being taught the catechism. Every morning—and whenever I have time—I read and say, word for word, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, and such. I must still read and study them daily. Yet I cannot master the catechism as I wish. But I must remain a child and pupil of the catechism, and am glad to remain so.
In the name of + Jesus.
There are some 60 volumes of Luther’s Works published in English, and these are only about a third of those which are available in Luther’s native language of German. As Luther says above, he was a learned and experienced Christian. He was a called and ordained preacher. He was also a doctor of the church, having earned the highest degree, and serving as lecturing professor in Wittenberg. But none of Luther’s experience in the church, none of the knowledge he gained as a student of theology, not even his mastery of the biblical languages could ever keep him from seeing himself a child of God. And because Luther saw himself chiefly as a baptized child of God, he saw himself a pupil, a disciple, one who would need to learn.
It might strike us as odd when we read Luther writing that “I cannot master the catechism.” After all, he wrote it, right? Well, yes…and no.
It is true that when Luther saw the situation in the churches in Germany, he was appalled at the pastor’s own lack of understanding of the faith. It is true that when he saw this lack of pastoral understanding, he wrote the Small Catechism, and later, would write the Large Catechism to further unpack what the Pastors needed to know and have in common, in order to faithfully shepherd God’s people. But it is also true that, for Luther, the catechism was not so much the meanings he would write for each of the Ten Commandments, and each of the articles of The Apostles’ Creed, and each of the petitions of The Lord’s Prayer. For Luther, the catechism was the very text itself.
To be sure, Luther’s meanings help fathers to teach their children, and pastors to teach the people. But the meanings don’t begin to unpack everything contained in biblical text itself. The Ten Commandments, given through Moses, and unpacked by Jesus in places like the Sermon on the Mount, are enough to keep us busy for a lifetime. The Creed, which unpacks the mystery of the Holy Trinity, can never be fully grasped, but always sends us diving deeper and deeper to consider the fullness of God. And the text of the Lord’s Prayer itself can serve as the basis for an entire course of prayer, not to mention what it says about our relationship with the Father, how He promises to provide, and what sort of forgiveness we have in Christ.
If we see ourselves as the Children of God, like Luther, we will desire to learn the Father’s voice. We will be His children who go where they can hear His voice. And even though the Father’s Word is simple enough for a child to know and trust, it is also deep enough that when we dive in, we will never find the bottom. But all the while, as we’re diving deeper and deeper, like a drain at the bottom of a pool, there will be one thing which will always be before our eyes—and that, is the love of Christ.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, without Your help our labor is useless, and without Your light our search is in vain. Invigorate our study of Your holy Word that, by due diligence and right discernment, we may establish ourselves and others in Your holy faith; through Jesus Christ, our Lord (LSB, p 312 #203)