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Martin Luther's Large Catechism, translated by Bente and Dau online

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The Large Catechism by Dr. Martin Luther

Translated by F. Bente and W. H. T. Dau

Published in:
Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Ev. Lutheran Church.
St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921), pp. 565-773


A Christian, Profitable, and Necessary Preface and Faithful, Earnest
Exhortation of Dr. Martin Luther to All Christians, but Especially to
All Pastors and Preachers, that They Should Daily Exercise Themselves
in the Catechism, which is a Short Summary and Epitome of the Entire
Holy Scriptures, and that they May Always Teach the Same.

We have no slight reasons for treating the Catechism so constantly [in
Sermons] and for both desiring and beseeching others to teach it, since
we see to our sorrow that many pastors and preachers are very negligent
in this, and slight both their office and this teaching; some from
great and high art [giving their mind, as they imagine, to much higher
matters], but others from sheer laziness and care for their paunches,
assuming no other relation to this business than if they were pastors
and preachers for their bellies' sake, and had nothing to do but to
[spend and] consume their emoluments as long as they live, as they have
been accustomed to do under the Papacy.

And although they have now everything that they are to preach and
teach placed before them so abundantly, clearly, and easily, in so many
[excellent and] helpful books, and the true Sermones per se loquentes,
Dormi secure, Paratos et Thesauros, as they were called in former
times; yet they are not so godly and honest as to buy these books, or
even when they have them, to look at them or read them. Alas! they are
altogether shameful gluttons and servants of their own bellies who
ought to be more properly swineherds and dog-tenders than care-takers
of souls and pastors.

And now that they are delivered from the unprofitable and burdensome
babbling of the Seven Canonical Hours, oh, that, instead thereof, they
would only, morning, noon, and evening, read a page or two in the
Catechism, the Prayer-book, the New Testament, or elsewhere in the
Bible, and pray the Lord's Prayer for themselves and their
parishioners, so that they might render, in return, honor and thanks to
the Gospel, by which they have been delivered from burdens and troubles
so manifold, and might feel a little shame because like pigs and dogs
they retain no more of the Gospel than such a lazy, pernicious,
shameful, carnal liberty! For, alas! as it is, the common people regard
the Gospel altogether too lightly, and we accomplish nothing
extraordinary even though we use all diligence. What, then, will be
achieved if we shall be negligent and lazy as we were under the Papacy?

To this there is added the shameful vice and secret infection of
security and satiety, that is, that many regard the Catechism as a
poor, mean teaching, which they can read through at one time, and then
immediately know it, throw the book into a corner, and be ashamed, as
it were, to read in it again.

Yea, even among the nobility there may be found some louts and
scrimps, who declare that there is no longer any need either of
pastors or preachers; that we have everything in books, and every one
can easily learn it by himself; and so they are content to let the
parishes decay and become desolate, and pastors and preachers to suffer
distress and hunger a plenty, just as it becomes crazy Germans to do.
For we Germans have such disgraceful people, and must endure them.

But for myself I say this: I am also a doctor and preacher, yea, as
learned and experienced as all those may be who have such presumption
and security; yet I do as a child who is being taught the Catechism,
and 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,
etc. And I must still read and study daily, and yet I cannot master it
as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and am
glad so to remain. And yet these delicate, fastidious fellows would
with one reading promptly be doctors above all doctors, know everything
and be in need of nothing. Well, this, too, is indeed a sure sign that
they despise both their office and the souls of the people, yea, even
God and His Word. They do not have to fall, they are already fallen all
too horribly, they would need to become children, and begin to learn
their alphabet, which they imagine that they have long since outgrown.

Therefore I beg such lazy paunches or presumptuous saints to be
persuaded and believe for God's sake that they are verily, verily! not
so learned or such great doctors as they imagine; and never to presume
that they have finished learning this [the parts of the Catechism], or
know it well enough in all points, even though they think that they
know it ever so well. For though they should know and understand it
perfectly (which, however, is impossible in this life), yet there are
manifold benefits and fruits still to be obtained, if it be daily read
and practiced in thought and speech; namely, that the Holy Ghost is
present in such reading and repetition and meditation, and bestows ever
new and more light and devoutness, so that it is daily relished and
appreciated better, as Christ promises, Matt. 18, 20: Where two or
three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of

Besides, it is an exceedingly effectual help against the devil, the
world, and the flesh and all evil thoughts to be occupied with the Word
of God, and to speak of it, and meditate upon it, so that the First
Psalm declares those blessed who meditate upon the law of God day and
night. Undoubtedly, you will not start a stronger incense or other
fumigation against the devil than by being engaged upon God's
commandments and words, and speaking, singing, or thinking of them. For
this is indeed the true holy water and holy sign from which he flees,
and by which he may be driven away.

Now, for this reason alone you ought gladly to read, speak, think and
treat of these things if you had no other profit and fruit from them
than that by doing so you can drive away the devil and evil thoughts.
For he cannot hear or endure God's Word; and God's Word is not like
some other silly prattle, as that about Dietrich of Berne, etc., but as
St. Paul says, Rom. 1, 16, the power of God. Yea, indeed, the power of
God which gives the devil burning pain, and strengthens, comforts, and
helps us beyond measure.

And what need is there of many words ? If I were to recount all the
profit and fruit which God's Word produces, whence would I get enough
paper and time? The devil is called the master of a thousand arts. But
what shall we call God's Word, which drives away and brings to naught
this master of a thousand arts with all his arts and power? It must
indeed be the master of more than a hundred thousand arts. And shall we
frivolously despise such power, profit, strength, and fruit - we,
especially, who claim to be pastors and preachers? If so, we should not
only have nothing given us to eat, but be driven out, being baited with
dogs, and pelted with dung, because we not only need all this every day
as we need our daily bread but must also daily use it against the daily
and unabated attacks and lurking of the devil, the master of a thousand

And if this were not sufficient to admonish us to read the Catechism
daily, yet we should feel sufficiently constrained by the command of
God alone, who solemnly enjoins in Deut. 6, 6 ff. that we should always
meditate upon His precepts, sitting, walking, standing, Lying down, and
rising, and have them before our eyes and in our hands as a constant
mark and sign. Doubtless He did not so solemnly require and enjoin this
without a purpose; but because He knows our danger and need, as well as
the constant and furious assaults and temptations of devils, He wishes
to warn, equip, and preserve us against them, as with a good armor
against their fiery darts and with good medicine against their evil
infection and suggestion.

Oh, what mad, senseless fools are we that, while we must ever live and
dwell among such mighty enemies as the devils are, we nevertheless
despise our weapons and defense, and are too lazy to look at or think
of them! And what else are such supercilious, presumptuous saints, who
are unwilling to read and study the Catechism daily, doing than
esteeming themselves much more learned than God Himself with all His
saints, angels [patriarchs], prophets, apostles, and all Christians For
inasmuch as God Himself is not ashamed to teach these things daily, as
knowing nothing better to teach, and always keeps teaching the same
thing, and does not take up anything new or different, and all the
saints know nothing better or different to learn, and cannot finish
learning this, are we not the finest of all fellows to imagine, if we
have once read or heard it, that we know it all, and have no further
need to read and learn, but can finish learning in one hour what God
Himself cannot finish teaching, although He is engaged in teaching it
from the beginning to the end of the world, and all prophets, together
with all saints, have been occupied with learning it and have ever
remained pupils, and must continue to be such ?

For it needs must be that whoever knows the Ten Commandments perfectly
must know all the Scriptures, so that, in all affairs and cases, he can
advise, help, comfort, judge, and decide both spiritual and temporal
matters and is qualified to sit in judgment upon all doctrines,
estates, spirits, laws, and whatever else is in the world. And what,
indeed, is the entire Psalter but thoughts and exercises upon the First
Commandment? Now I know of a truth that such lazy paunches and
presumptuous spirits do not understand a single psalm, much less the
entire Holy Scriptures; and yet they pretend to know and despise the
Catechism, which is a compend and brief summary of all the Holy

Therefore I again implore all Christians, especially pastors and
preachers, not to be doctors too soon, and imagine that they know
everything (for imagination and cloth unshrunk [and false weights] fall
far short of the measure), but that they daily exercise themselves well
in these studies and constantly treat them; moreover, that they guard
with all care and diligence against the poisonous infection of such
security and vain imagination, but steadily keep on reading, teaching,
learning, pondering, and meditating, and do not cease until they have
made a test and are sure that they have taught the devil to death and
have become more learned than God Himself and all His saints.

If they manifest such diligence, then I will promise them, and they
shall also perceive, what fruit they will obtain, and what excellent
men God will make of them, so that in due time they themselves will
acknowledge that the longer and the more they study the Catechism, the
less they know of it, and the more they find yet to learn; and then
only, as hungry and thirsty ones, will they truly relish that which now
they cannot endure because of great abundance and satiety. To this end
may God grant His grace! Amen.


This sermon is designed and undertaken that it might be an instruction
for children and the simple-minded. Hence of old it was called in Greek
catechism, i.e., instruction for children, what every Christian must
needs know, so that he who does not know this could not be numbered
with the Christians nor be admitted to any Sacrament, just as a
mechanic who does not understand the rules and customs of his trade is
expelled and considered incapable. Therefore we must have the young
learn the parts which belong to the Catechism or instruction for
children well and fluently and diligently exercise themselves in them
and keep them occupied with them.

Therefore it is the duty of every father of a family to question and
examine his children and servants at least once a week and to
ascertain what they know of it, or are learning and, if they do not
know it, to keep them faithfully at it. For I well remember the time,
indeed, even now it is a daily occurrence that one finds rude, old
persons who knew nothing and still know nothing of these things, and
who, nevertheless, go to Baptism and the Lord's Supper, and use
everything belonging to Christians, notwithstanding that those who come
to the Lord's Supper ought to know more and have a fuller understanding
of all Christian doctrine than children and new scholars. However, for
the common people we are satisfied with the three parts, which have
remained in Christendom from of old, though little of it has been
taught and treated correctly until both young and old who are called
and wish to be Christians, are well trained in them and familiar with
them. These are the following:



1. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain [for the
Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain].

3. Thou shalt sanctify the holy-day. [Remember the Sabbath-day to keep
it holy.]

4. Thou shalt honor thy father and mother [that thou mayest live long
upon the earth].

5. Thou shalt not kill.

6. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

7. Thou shalt not steal.

8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his man-servant, nor
his maidservant, nor his cattle [ox, nor his ass], nor anything that is



1. I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

2. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by
the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell; the third day
He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on
the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to
judge the quick and the dead.

3. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy Christian Church, the
communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the
body, and the life everlasting. Amen.



Our Father who art in heaven.

1. Hallowed be Thy name.

2. Thy kingdom come.

3. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

4. Give us this day our daily bread.

5. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass
against us.

6. And lead us not into temptation.

7. But deliver us from evil. [For Thine is the kingdom and the power
and the glory, forever and ever.] Amen.

These are the most necessary parts which one should first learn to
repeat word for word and which our children should be accustomed to
recite daily when they arise in the morning when they sit down to their
meals, and when they retire at night; and until they repeat them, they
should be given neither food nor drink. Likewise every head of a
household is obliged to do the same with respect to his domestics,
ma-servants and maid-servants and not to keep them in his house if they
do not know these things and are unwilling to learn them. For a person
who is so rude and unruly as to be unwilling to learn these things is
not to be tolerated, for in these three parts everything that we have
in the Scriptures is comprehended in short, pain, and simple terms. For
the holy Fathers or apostles (whoever they were) have thus embraced in
a summary the doctrine, life, wisdom, and art of Christians, of which
they speak and treat, and with which they are occupied. Now, when these
three arts are apprehended, it behooves a person also to know what to
say concerning our Sacraments, which Christ Himself instituted, Baptism
and the holy body and blood of Christ, namely, the text which Matthew
[28, 19 ff.] and Mark [16, 15 f.] record at the close of their Gospels
when Christ said farewell to His disciples and sent them forth.


Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. He that believeth and is
baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. So
much is sufficient for a simple person to know from the Scriptures
concerning Baptism. In like manner, also, concerning the other
Sacrament in short, simple words, namely the text of St. Paul [1 Cor.
11, 23 f.].


Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took
bread; and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and gave it to His
disciples and said, Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you:
this do in remembrance of Me.

After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, gave
thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; this cup is
the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the remission
of sins: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.

Thus, ye would have, in all, five parts of the entire Christian
doctrine which should be constantly treated and required [of children]
and heard recited word for word. For you must not rely upon it that the
young people will learn and retain these things from the sermon alone.
When these parts have been well learned, you may, as a supplement and
to fortify them. lay before them also some psalms or hymns, which have
been composed on these parts, and thus lead the young into the
Scriptures, and make daily progress therein.

However, it is not enough for them to comprehend and recite these
parts according to the words only, but the young people should also be
made to attend the preaching, especially during the time which is
devoted to the Catechism, that they may hear it explained and may learn
to understand what every part contains, so as to be able to recite it
as they have heard it, and, when asked, may give a correct answer, so
that the preaching may not be without profit and fruit. For the reason
why we exercise such diligence in preaching the Catechism so often is
that it may be inculcated on our youth, not in a high and subtle
manner, but briefly and with the greatest simplicity, so as to enter
the mind readily and be fixed in the memory. Therefore we shall now
take up the above mentioned articles one by one and in the plainest
manner possible say about them as much as is necessary.

Part First. The Ten Commandments.

The First Commandment.

Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

That is: Thou shalt have [and worship] Me alone as thy God. What is the
force of this, and how is it to be understood? What does it mean to
have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are
to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress,
so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him
from the [whole] heart; as I have often said that the confidence and
faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and
trust be right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if
your trust be false and wrong, then you have not the true God; for
these two belong together faith and God. That now, I say, upon which
you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.

Therefore it is the intent of this commandment to require true faith
and trust of the heart which settles upon the only true God and clings
to Him alone. That is as much as to say: "See to it that you let Me
alone be your God, and never seek another," i.e.: Whatever you lack of
good things, expect it of Me, and look to Me for it, and whenever you
suffer misfortune and distress, creep and cling to Me. I, yes, I, will
give you enough and help you out of every need; only let not your heart
cleave to or rest in any other.

This I must unfold somewhat more plainly, that it may be understood and
perceived by ordinary examples of the contrary. Many a one thinks that
he has God and everything in abundance when he has money and
possessions; he trusts in them and boasts of them with such firmness
and assurance as to care for no one. Lo, such a man also has a god,
Mammon by name, i.e., money and possessions, on which he sets all his
heart, and which is also the most common idol on earth. He who has
money and possessions feels secure, and is joyful and undismayed as
though he were sitting in the midst of Paradise. On the other hand, he
who has none doubts and is despondent, as though he knew of no God. For
very few are to be found who are of good cheer, and who neither mourn
nor complain if they have not Mammon. This [care and desire for money]
sticks and clings to our nature, even to the grave.

So, too, whoever trusts and boasts that he possesses great skill,
prudence, power, favor friendship, and honor has also a god, but not
this true and only God. This appears again when you notice how
presumptuous, secure, and proud people are because of such
possessions, and how despondent when they no longer exist or are
withdrawn. Therefore I repeat that the chief explanation of this point
is that to have a god is to have something in which the heart entirely

Besides, consider what in our blindness, we have hitherto been
practicing and doing under the Papacy. If any one had toothache, he
fasted and honored St. Apollonia [lacerated his flesh by voluntary
fasting to the honor of St. Apollonia]; if he was afraid of fire, he
chose St. Lawrence as his helper in need; if he dreaded pestilence, he
made a vow to St. Sebastian or Rochio, and a countless number of such
abominations, where every one selected his own saint, worshiped him,
and called for help to him in distress. Here belong those also, as,
e.g., sorcerers and magicians, whose idolatry is most gross, and who
make a covenant with the devil, in order that he may give them plenty
of money or help them in love-affairs, preserve their cattle, restore
to them lost possessions, etc. For all these place their heart and
trust elsewhere than in the true God, look for nothing good to Him nor
seek it from Him.

Thus you can easily understand what and how much this commandment
requires, namely, that man's entire heart and all his confidence be
placed in God alone, and in no one else. For to have God, you can
easily perceive, is not to lay hold of Him with our hands or to put Him
in a bag [as money], or to lock Him in a chest [as silver vessels]. But
to apprehend Him means when the heart lays hold of Him and clings to
Him. But to cling to Him with the heart is nothing else than to trust
in Him entirely. For this reason He wishes to turn us away from
everything else that exists outside of Him, and to draw us to Himself,
namely, because He is the only eternal good. As though He would say:
Whatever you have heretofore sought of the saints, or for whatever
[things] you have trusted in Mammon or anything else, expect it all of
Me, and regard Me as the one who will help you and pour out upon you
richly all good things.

Lo, here you have the meaning of the true honor and worship of God,
which pleases God, and which He commands under penalty of eternal
wrath, namely, that the heart know no other comfort or confidence than
in Him, and do not suffer itself to be torn from Him, but, for Him,
risk and disregard everything upon earth. On the other hand, you can
easily see and judge how the world practices only false worship and
idolatry. For no people has ever been so reprobate as not to institute
and observe some divine worship; every one has set up as his special
god whatever he looked to for blessings, help, and comfort.

Thus, for example, the heathen who put their trust in power and
dominion elevated Jupiter as the supreme god; the others, who were bent
upon riches, happiness, or pleasure, and a life of ease, Hercules,
Mercury, Venus or others; women with child, Diana or Lucina, and so on;
thus every one made that his god to which his heart was inclined, so
that even in the mind of the heathen to have a god means to trust and
believe. But their error is this that their trust is false and wrong
for it is not placed in the only God, besides whom there is truly no
God in heaven or upon earth. Therefore the heathen really make their
self-invented notions and dreams of God an idol, and put their trust in
that which is altogether nothing. Thus it is with all idolatry; for it
consists not merely in erecting an image and worshiping it, but rather
in the heart, which stands gaping at something else, and seeks help and

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