22 April 2009

To Clarify My Points on Catechesis and the Holy Communion

Setting aside the particular case that I previously mentioned, and taking up the question put to me concerning Dr. Luther's Catechisms, here is a more general summary of my understanding of catechesis in relation to the Holy Communion:

In the past, as a prerequisite for First Communion, I required that catechumens memorize (and recite from memory) the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Our Father, all but the longest of Luther's questions and answers on Holy Baptism, as well as the first two questions and answers concerning the Office of the Keys and the Sacrament of the Altar.
In more recent years, I have not required that a catechumen have all of this material memorized prior to First Communion. Rather, I have taken into account the context of ongoing catechesis that a young catechumen is receiving, both in the home and within the life of the church. I have tried to distinguish between the purpose and blessing of memorizing the Word, and the Word of God itself, which alone brings about and sustains repentance and faith. That is to say, it is not memorizing per se that catechizes the child and prepares him or her for the Holy Communion; it is the Word of God, alive with Christ and His Spirit, which does that divine work of catechization. Memorization serves and supports that Word of God; but so does a familial context of daily prayer and faithful church attendance.
Some children can memorize the Word very easily, without necessarily being engaged in the Word through daily prayer and catechesis. I rejoice in their knowledge and confession of the Word, to be sure, but I do not consider such a child to be better prepared than another child who may find memory work a constant struggle, but who is daily and richly immersed in that Word of God within the family and in the life of the Church.
In the Preface to the Large Catechism, Dr. Luther teaches (and, with him, we teach and confess) that fathers are required by God to catechize their families and households; in doing so, they are to expect their children and other members of the household to repeat the primary texts of the chief parts word for word, and that any servant who is unwilling to do so should be dismissed (and any child who refuses to do so sent to bed without any supper). Repeating things word for word is an effective pedagogical method of catechesis, and it certainly does lead to memorization of the text being repeated. However, it is the process of teaching through repetition that is fundamental, rather than the sooner-or-later outcome of verbatim memorization. The primary burden, in such a case, is on the catechist rather than the catechumen.
Dr. Luther indicates that one should know the texts of the first three chief parts before receiving the Holy Communion; but I do not equate "knowledge" with memorization (nor memorization per se with knowledge). Children are taught to know these texts by their parents and families praying them and confessing them and putting them into practice in the home. Again, this very process will foster and facilitate the memorization of these texts, but that will happen at different paces and intervals of progress, depending on the individual’s intellectual capacity and ability.
In Luther's Preface to the Small Catechism, he deplores the fact that people who are supposed to be Christians, who have been baptized and are receiving the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, do not even know the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments. He faults the bishops and pastors, in particular, because they have not been catechizing the people even in these most basic, fundamental matters of God's Word. Thus, Luther urges his brother pastors to have compassion for the people, and to "inculcate this Catechism in the people, especially the young." It is clear from the context that what Luther means by "this Catechism" is the primary texts of the first three chief parts. His own explanations are described as these "tables and charts," which are offered as a means of assisting in the instruction of the Catechism itself.
Luther then outlines a plan for the process of catechesis, by which the people (including those already receiving the Holy Communion) are to be drilled in the basics and taught to understand them. It is evident from Luther's comments and examples that he envisions this to be a pattern for ongoing, lifelong catechesis, which serves both young and old, each age according to its own circumstances.
When Luther speaks of the necessity of a fixed text, it is again clear that he has the primary texts of the first three chief parts in mind: "The honored fathers understood this well, and therefore they all consistently used one form of the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments." Of course, the same principle applies to the explanations that Dr. Luther provides in the form of charts and tables, but he is not referring to his explanations at this point.
With the young, in particular, Dr. Luther urges that their pastors "keep to a single, fixed, and permanent form and wording, and teach them first of all the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, etc., according to the text, word for word, so that they can repeat it after you and commit it to memory." I do note the "etc." But I also note the distinction between "repeating it after you" and "committing it to memory." The repeating, as I have indicated, is a pedagogical method that aims toward memorization.
Luther goes on to say that "those who refuse to learn . . . are not to be admitted to the Sacrament." He does not say, "those who have not yet memorized," but "those who refuse to learn." There is a big difference between these things. It is one thing to be in the process of learning, repeating things word for word, and thereby beginning to commit them to memory; and quite another thing to refuse any part in this process. In any case, it is interesting that Dr. Luther mentions only here, at this first step in the process, anything about refusing to admit someone to the Sacrament. He makes that comment here, and connects it specifically to the process of learning (not to the completion of memorization). Only afterwards, in describing the next stage in the process of ongoing catechesis, does he advise, "after they have well memorized the text, then explain the meaning so that they understand what they are saying." Here is where Luther's simple explanations are brought to the fore. But nothing more is said about refusing anyone admission to the Holy Communion.
Indeed, what Luther does go on to say, in his description of ongoing catechesis, is that the people should be taught to yearn for the Sacrament of the Altar. He writes that, "if anyone does not seek or desire the Lord's Supper at the very least four times a year, it is to be feared that he despises the Sacrament and is no Christian." "For a person not to prize highly the Sacrament is tantamount to saying that he has no sin, no flesh, no devil, no world, no death, no danger, no hell." Therefore, without setting up any law about it, the pastors should "emphasize clearly the benefit, need, usefulness and blessing connected with the Sacrament, and also the harm and danger of neglecting it."
So, are the little children not in need of this Sacrament also? Do they not have flesh and blood, and live in the world, and face the assaults of the devil? Are they not Christians, who ought to be taught to seek and desire the Lord's Supper? Although their catechesis is just beginning, and may be at a very elementary stage, they should in fact be brought to such a hunger for the Body and Blood of Christ, the Medicine of Immortality.
Exactly as Dr. Luther writes in his Large Catechism, at the conclusion of his teaching of the Sacrament of the Altar: "Let this serve as an exhortation, then, not only for us who are old and advanced in years, but also for the young people who must be brought up in Christian teaching and a right understanding of it. With such training we may more easily instill the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer [again, the first three chief parts] into the young so that they will receive them with joy and earnestness, practice them from their youth, and become accustomed to them. For it is completely useless to try to change old people. We cannot perpetuate these and other teachings unless we train the people who come after us and succeed us in our office and work, so that they in turn may bring up their children successfully. In this way God's Word and a Christian community will be preserved.
"Therefore let all heads of a household remember that it is their duty, by God's injunction and command, to teach their children or have them taught the things they ought to know. Because they have been baptized and received into the people of Christ, they should also enjoy this fellowship of the Sacrament so that they may serve us and be useful. For they must all help us to believe, to love, to pray, and to fight against the devil." (Kolb-Wengert, 475-476)
Earlier, in his Preface to the Large Catechism, Dr. Luther has similarly stated: "As for the common people, we should be satisfied if they learned the three parts that have been in Christendom from ancient days, so that all who wish to be Christian in fact as well as in name, both young and old, may be well trained in them and familiar with them." He then goes on to identify specifically what he means by this, citing the primary texts of the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, and the Our Father. "These are the most necessary parts that we must first learn to repeat word for word. The children should be taught the habit of reciting them daily, when they arise in the morning, when they go to their meals, and when they go to bed at night." (Kolb-Wengert, 383-385)
Here we have, not only a pedagogical method for memorization, but, more importantly, the discipline of daily prayer and confession. Again, it is not those who have failed to memorize, but those who "refuse to learn these things," who should not be tolerated. Praying and confessing them several times a day with the head of the household will certainly result in memorizing them. Yet, again, it is not the accomplished fact of memorizing, but the reciting of the texts that is expected of children and all other members of the household. Once more, the texts that Dr. Luther is here referring to, as in each case above, are the primary texts of the first three chief parts. That is made explicitly clear in what he says. "For in these three parts everything contained in the Scriptures is comprehended in short, plain, and simple terms" (Kolb-Wengert, 385).
"When these three parts have been understood, it is appropriate that one ought also to know what to say about our Sacraments, which Christ Himself instituted, Baptism and the Holy Body and Blood of Christ," according to St. Matthew and St. Mark. "Thus we have, in all, five parts covering the whole of Christian teaching, which we should constantly teach and require recitation word for word." This daily recitation, coupled with sermons, Psalms and hymnody, constitutes the ongoing rhythm of lifelong catechesis; not as a pre-requisite before receiving the Sacrament, but as the life of the Christian who has been baptized and is receiving the Sacrament. "The reason we take such care to preach on the catechism frequently is to impress it upon our young people, not in a lofty and learned manner but briefly and very simply, so that it may penetrate deeply into their minds and remain fixed in their memories." (Kolb-Wengert, 385, 386)
Memorization is an important and salutary aim, one that is accomplished by the tried and tested pedagogical method of repeating fixed texts, word for word, on a regular basis. Repetition is the mother of learning. That remains true and necessary, not only prior to First Communion, but all life long. For, as Dr. Luther writes in his longer (later) preface to the Large Catechism:
"I am also a doctor and a preacher, just as learned and experienced as all of them who are so high and mighty. Nevertheless, each morning, and whenever else I have time, I do as a child who is being taught the catechism and I read and recite word for word the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc. I must still read and study the catechism daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the catechism — and I also do so gladly. These fussy, fastidious fellows would like quickly, with one reading, to be doctors above all doctors, to know it all and to need nothing more. Well this, too, is a sure sign that they despise both their office and the people's souls, yes, even God and His Word. They do not need to fall, for they have already fallen all too horribly. What they need, however, is to become children and begin to learn the ABCs, which they think they have long since outgrown. . . .
"And what else are these bored, presumptuous saints doing — people who will not read and study the catechism daily and have no desire to — except thinking that they are more learned than God Himself and all His holy angels, Prophets, Apostles, and all Christians? God Himself is not ashamed to teach it daily, for He knows of nothing better to teach, and He always keeps on teaching this one thing without proposing anything new or different. And all the saints know of nothing better or different to learn, although they cannot learn it to perfection." (Kolb-Wengert, 380-381, 382)
In all of the above, Dr. Luther distinguishes the primary texts of the first three chief parts as uniquely fundamental and foundational, and as the minimum that any Christian ought to know, including those "common people" who are already receiving the Sacrament of the Altar. These texts are to be read and recited daily, prayed and confessed morning, noon and night. A refusal to learn them in this fashion is tantamount to denying and despising the Christian faith altogether. Though these are the ABCs of the faith, they are not easily mastered — no, they are never perfectly mastered by anyone, of any age, in this life on earth — but they are the touchstone of ongoing, daily and lifelong catechesis for each and every Christian. They are an especially deep well, because all of Holy Scripture is summarized in these three chief parts; yet, they are also prayed and confessed by even the very young children.
In addition to these first three chief parts, the primary texts of the Sacraments should properly be learned, as well. And all of these things should be the object of preaching and teaching on a regular basis. To this end, Dr. Luther offers his Smaller and Larger Catechisms as means of assistance. The Psalms and Hymns of the Church also contribute to increased knowledge and understanding of all these things. So that Christians of every age are always growing from and into these chief parts of the Christian faith and life.


Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

but I do not equate "knowledge" with memorization And there's the fundamental presuppositional error you are making, Rick.

The text of the Confessions is clear, you impose on them your assumption that Luther does not mean, "able to recite" or "memorize."

The fact is that Luther clearly does assume, expect and assert that children are to be able to repeat these texts, hence his emphasis on "word-for-word."

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I will counter here. If memory itself is a requirement for communing, I would not be able to commune but one or two adult members of my congregation. If they don't have the meaning to the 3rd Article of the creed down pat, however, that does not mean that they should be kept from the altar.

(In fact, how many of us here would recite it word for word. . . I'd flub up somewhere. . . I learned on the old text, not this newfangled text. It's "Thou"! And Before Me!)

Now, while I do encourage even my adults to work on the text of the Catechism (in fact, my "children's sermon" has consisted of making the whole congregation say a chunk of the Catechism each week), we do need to make a differentiation between the tool of learning and the goal of learning.

The Catechism is not the goal of catechesis - rather it is a tool to aid in the teaching of the Christian faith that also serves as a rule of faith. The Catechism provides a clear structure for the ways in which topics can be rightly approached - and also a basis upon which theological statements can be examined (does this jive with the Catechism).

This can be accomplished even if a student does not have the Catechism memorized word for word - especially with the declining focus on memory skills in school.

Now, this is not to say that memorizing the Catechism isn't the ideal or laudable goal, but to say "Memory = Knowledge" is not quite accurate -- memory is a part of knowledge - not it's sum.

However, I would also submit that if we want to encourage memory work in the Catechism, we should do our confirmation classes in 2nd Grade or so - back when we used to memorize things, like the pledge of allegiance or our multiplication tables. . . and when kids now are learning to use calculators.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

It is a fundamental proposition, but obviously I disagree with your assesssemtn of it.

I have affirmed, repeatedly, that the little children -- as well as the rest of the household -- should recite the Catechism word for word. To recite does not require memorization; though it does lead to memorization.

It is interesting that Dr. Luther, in describing the way that he goes back to the Catechism even as a doctor of theology, speaks not of rehearsing it from memory, but of "reading and reciting it." Even he does not rely on his memory, but lays his trust upon the Word of God. Which is where we all had better place our hope. I don't know about you, but my own memory isn't what it used to be. Perhaps we best give up on trying to evangelize those who are no longer able to memorize things, since they are no longer able to know anything. Hmmm.

But, no, knowledge is not the equivelant of memorization; nor vice versa. I know a good many hymns, for example, that I don't have memorized. I know them even though the LSB tinkered with their translations and versifications. Because knowledge of the Word of God is larger than memorization and does not depend upon it. I know large portions of the Holy Scriptures that I could not recite from memory. I know all sorts of things that I don't have memorized and could not recite from memory.

On the other hand, there are plenty of people that can commit certain things to memory without having knowledge of what they are repeating. The older generation that memorized the Catechism in German, even though they didn't know or speak German, is one example of that. But so is the child who spends fifteen minutes in the car on the way to catechesis class, memorizing the week's memory work, and is then able to say it for class, even though he won't think of it or look at it again; in contrast to the young person who struggles with memory work, but prays and confesses the Catechism with his family on a daily basis.

If your presupposition is correct, Brother McCain, then you must say that anyone who has not yet memorized this or that text of the Catechism has no knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, even the baptismal rite calls upon the candidate to pray the Our Father and confess the Creed. Do you take the Calvinistic position that infants are baptized in view of a hoped-for future faith, rather than in the confidence of their own faith in the Word of God?

(No, I am not advocating infant communion; I am addressing the topic of knowledge vs. memorization.)

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

For the record, my youngest catechumens and communicants know their catechism -- by memory -- better than almost any of the adults in the congregation.

If we were to impose Pastor McCain's criteria that a person cannot commune unless he knows and recites the Catechism from memory, it isn't the little children who would have to stop communing. It would, indeed, as Pastor Brown has also said, be most of the adult members.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

The issue, gentlemen, of course, is proper catechesis for admission to the Sacrament, a public confession required in order to determine if in fact a person is capable of self-examination and actually does know what the Lord's Supper is and what one receives.

Anyone who is not capable of such things should not be communed.

We can always jump to the exceptions, the "buts" and "what ifs."

The issue here is Brother Stuckwisch's assertion that the Large Catechism does not indicate that admission to the Sacrament assumes a person is able to recite the Commandments, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer and the instituting texts of Baptism and Holy Communion. [I won't quibble over Confession].

I believe the text of the LC clearly does assume such. Rick does not, hence, he is trying to build a case for not only earlier first communion, but preschooler and even three year old communion. Why not two year olds? Why not a child who could perhaps nod piously and give assent to the most basic propositions?

I believe we do well to stick with the pattern of sound words in our Confessions and go with the wisdom and practice of our Lutheran Fathers. Ten year olds? Sure. Seven year olds? Perhaps.

I believe Rick's premise is wrong, hence the whole argument is incorrect. It is a matter of reading of the Confessional texts and I find nothing in Rick's arguments that is compelling enough to assume that the Confessional texts do not in fact say, what they say, and mean, what they mean.

We know that memorizing and reciting the texts, learning them by heart was the practice of our fathers and I see no good reason to change our understanding to accommodate a novelty among us of communing three year olds, or two year olds.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I have said nothing about two-year-olds, but neither have I approached this topic from the standpoint of age. I have not made any blanket statements about "three-year-olds" in general, either. I previously shared the circumstances of one particular three-year-old.

While I HAVE affirmed that a person should know and confess the chief parts of the faith before being admitted to the Sacrament, Pastor McCain continues to play a shell game by insisting that I do not. His premise appears to be that "knowledge" is coterminous with "memorization." I disagree.

I have not disagreed with or disregarded what our Confessions say, but have tried to deal with them seriously and conscientiously.

I have not taken a position against memorization. In my practice, both as a father and a pastor, I work very hard toward memorization (with good results). But I do not believe that knowledge and confession of the faith begin with or depend upon memorization.

And for the record, once more, I have not advocated that anyone should be communed who does not know and confess the faith, as summarized in the chief parts of the Catechism.

The baptized faithful who do know and confess the faith, who are not guilty of unrepentant sin or persisting in false doctrine, should be given the Holy Communion at the Word of Jesus. In the case of little children, they should be assisted in examining themselves by and with the Word of God, and so partake of the Sacrament. And they, along with their parents and every other Christian, should continue to return to the chief parts of the faith daily and throughout their lives; not as proudly intelligent and educated adults, but like little children.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

We are getting a strawman here with even the thought of the "child who could perhaps nod piously" being put forth as an example. This is an unjust argument technique and is close to being deceitful, for it is not rightly to be ascribed to a side in this argument, and applying to a side in this argument comes close to lying about ones position. Not once in either post has Rev. Stuckwisch separated communion from a clear, verbalized confession of the faith. This was made clear even in the previous blog post in response to questions and objections were raised.

The legitimate questions as I can see them are as follows:
1) At what age might an individual be able to examine themselves and discern our Lord's Body in the Supper?
2) Is the memorization of the text of the Small Catechism of necessity in making a proper confession of the faith?

There is a third that I would guess that Rev. Stuckwisch would like just on the basis of his approach to education, which would be 3) Should the age of Communion be made earlier and thus separated from the end or conclusion of youthful instruction.

Right now, infant Baptism is a red herring. Yeah, one of my friends jumped east this very month, but still, that specter isn't the point here, and pointing at it in terror is not apropos to this discussion.

Now, answering my own questions:
1) Depends upon the kid. I think as a good rule of thumb, 2nd graders or so should be able to be aware of their wrong doings. Some would be able at a younger age - perhaps as young as 3 in a few (most likely very, very few) circumstances. Children do mature at different rates.

2) I do not believe that it is safe to mandate memorization chief standard of knowledge. First, the knowledge of doctrine can be present without the specific words memorized. Can be. Second, other than being a requirement for (sadly only) some of our pastors, memorization is not the standard of whether or not an adult is allowed to the altar. When a member transfers, we accept a profession of faith - we do not ask them to recite the Catechism. It is understood in practice that the Catechism serves as a tool of learning. This does not mean that memorization is to be ignored - but it ought not be viewed as the sum of all learning. Rather it is merely a part which leads to understanding. Understanding is the important part, much more than the mere memorization.

This is especial apt giving the topic of Luther's preface to the Large Catechism, where in paragraphs 26 and 27 Luther notes: "However, it is not enough for them simply to learn and repeat these parts verbatim. The young people should also attend sermons, especially during the times when preaching on the catechism is prescribed, so that they may hear it explained and may learn the meaning of every part. Then they will also be able to repeat what they have heard and give a good, correct answer when they are questioned, so that the preaching will not be without benefit and fruit." Note here that from simple memory work the movement is towards sermons and other instructions so that they will remember - not the text of the Catechism but that which is taught therein. And the teaching is to be clear, brief, and simple, so that "it may penetrate deeply into their minds and remain fixed in their memories." The point is that they remember what they have been taught, not bear words.

That the import is given to the understanding of the Catechism can be shown from the 4th Section of the Small Catechism itself. Luther gives his 20 questions to be given after one has confessed and been instructed. The only part of the catechism that is quoted verbatim are the words of institution - and then as the evidence showing that Christ has died for the person.

Or we could consider Chemnitz' Enchridion, question 280, which speaks to examination. The requirements given are:
1) Knowing what the Supper is.
2) Knows sin and desires to amend his life.
3) Desire to flee God's wrath and receive forgiveness.

Again, this is the standard - not a recitation. Memory work is a tool that makes things easier. Knowing your multiplication tables makes doing math easier, but it is not the summation of mathematics. Likewise, the Catechism and the memorization thereof is a tool, but it is neither the total sum of what it means to be prepared for the Supper nor what it means to be Catechized in the Christian Faith.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

No, in fact, infant communion is a very real aspect of these "very young children" communion conversations, always brought up, as in these conversations here. I'm glad Rick made it very clear he believes that force-feeding Holy Communion to infants is wrong. Glad to have that clear clarification.

Communing three year olds? I'd like to see evidence that this in fact was done by our Lutheran fathers.

Can somebody provide that evidence?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I call dodge and evasion! Where is anyone saying that communion at such a young age was done by our Lutheran forefathers? That wasn't a statement I heard made. Misdirection! Foul! (Excuse me my moments of melodrama, it's been a long, busy month, and I'm losing my weekend off to the Oklahoma District Convention) Rather. . . let us consider an issue that you do raise.

We do not base everything solely on the basis of what our forefathers did (nor councils or popes for that matter)- and as major evidence of this fact -- behold a theological conversation in English, generally understood 150 years ago to basically be a language incapable of proper theological discussion.

(Hmmm, maybe Blogging does nothing but prove Walther right. . . maybe we should just blame all the guys who are in the English district)

Rather - let's consider the issue of communion age. There is agreement by all who have posted that there needs to be discernment and understanding. There can be debate and thought on when that ought to occur - without firing broadsides insinuating crypto-eastern plottings or abject disrespect of the Confessions.

Now, if one wanted to argue that it would be a safer practice to wait until an older age (which some have argued) that's standard position. If you wanted to make an appeal to the idea of synodical uniformity in practice - good. If you wanted to appeal to Synodical custom, fine (in fact, that was why, though I was deemed eligible for communion prior to confirmation by my congregation, I myself waited until I was confirmed.) If you wanted to appeal to the rubrics in the LSB Agenda (isn't there a rite for First Communion in there?), superb. But just saying, "Well, what Lutheran forefather said that?" -- I'll buy that one when you recant every English work CPH has done and go back to speaking Auf Deustch (or however it's spelled).

I'm not recommending that, by the by. That would be silly.

Rev. Gifford A. Grobien said...

Rev. Stuckwisch has provided in this post a detailed, thoughtful consideration of the Catechisms' requirements for admission to the Lord's Supper, specifically what they say regarding the role of memorization. One who would disagree with him owes him not merely repeated assertions that he is mistaken, but a response of similar thoughtfulness and scholarship, specifically and in detail treating the texts.

I wonder also if it would not be helpful to recall portions of the Book of Concord that are very specific regarding worthy admission to the Lord's Supper. I quote the Formula, Epitome VII, at length, for ease of reference for this discussion:

"8. We believe, teach, and confess also that there is only one kind of unworthy guests, namely, those who do not believe, concerning whom it is written John 3,18: He that believeth not is condemned already. And this judgment becomes greater and more grievous, being aggravated, byt the unworthy use of the Holy Supper, 1 Cor. 11,29.

"9. We believe, teach, and confess that no true believer, as long as he retains living faith, however weak he may be, receives the Holy Supper to his judgment, which was instituted especially for Christians weak in faith, yet penitent, for the consolation and strengthening of their weak faith.

"10. We believe teach, and confess that all the worthiness of the guests of this heavenly feast is and consists in the most holy obedience and perfect merit of Christ alone, which we appropriate to ourselves by true faith, and whereof we are assured by the Sacrament, and not at all in [Latin: in nowise does this worthiness depend upon] our virtues or inward and outward preparations."

Also, AC XXIV notes that "none are admitted except they be first examined."

These are the clearest sections in the Confessions regarding requirements for admission. Unless we are going to say that memorization of the primary texts of the five chief parts is the sole and indubitable evidence of repentance and faith, Rev. Stuckwisch's analysis is correct.

At the same time, none of this denies the salutary and even fundamental role that learning the Small Catechism by heart plays, and that such learning by heart should serve as the core of any catechesis.

This is why, precisely, we have pastors who serve as stewards of the mysteries of God. Self-examination is not something one does by oneself, but he does it according to the Word preached and taught to him from outside of himself (from his pastor and father). The Word comes from the outside, guarding its objective, divine nature.

Pastors then also hear the confession of the faithful, "however weak he may be" and judge that, admitting some and excluding others. This is an examination and admission/exclusion done according to the catechism, to be sure, but not merely on the basis of rote repetition (for repetition, as others have pointed out, does not assure true knowledge and faith in the words).

Finally, I must continue to iterate with Rev. Stuckwisch that this is not a question of age, 14, 10, 7, 3, or infancy. The Bible does not speak of age when referring to age or admission; the Confessions do so only indirectly, referring to their particular conditions. This is a question of repentance, faith, confession, and examination, primarily by the minister. It does not matter the age of the person. If he repents, has faith, confesses it, and is so examined and absolved, he is admitted.

At what age does this occur? It occurs by the work of the Spirit according to His means, baptism and the Word. The Bible does not speak in terms of age, but in these terms of the operation of the Holy Spirit through means. Nevertheless, to remind ourselves that the Spirit is not theoretically limited by age, let us consider again the very clear texts, this time from Scripture, that apply:

"Out of the mouths of children and sucklings you have established strength" (Ps 8:2), or, as Our Lord recites it, "Out of the mouths of little children and sucklings you have prepared praise" (Mt 21:16).

"Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it" (Luke 18:17, et. al.).

It is the very weak in faith, as the Formula says, for whom this wonderful sacrament has been prepared, precisely because it is received through the perfect merit of Christ alone.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Again, I would welcome a presentation of the evidence that the Lutheran Church has communed three year olds, or younger children.

And I had another thought as considering Pr. Stuckwisch's presentations on this issue.

Can a child who can not yet speak, commune? Could we not assume from the fact that a "suckling" may reach out his/her hand to receive the elements to be a Holy Spirit wrought act of faith, accepting the gifts of Christ under the element?

And then how would, or why would, that child not be communed?

Since Ps. 8 and Mt. 21 have now been cited as having something to do with this issue, it got me to thinking about this question.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


Excellent post, by the by.

What McCain does illustrate here is how many people will continually move beyond what you have said and attribute more to your position than you intend (indeed, even to things you have denied), and also establish artificial criteria (establish a historical practice? Aren't we discussing a potential change in when we begin to commune. . . change. . . history. . . change. . . history. . .)

But as the pressing has continued, I will go out on a limb. (Hand me my rope in a nice noose to fit my neck, thank you if you please).

I am not willing to condemn the East for the practice of Infant Communion, because people are made prepared for the Supper by faith. More over, if you want to point to historical practice, well, they've got any Lutheran practice beat by a few hundred years. I cannot conclusively say that an infant receives unpreparedly.

However, I cannot say that they do receive in a worthy manner. . . and therefore I will not advocate the introduction of this practice into American Lutheranism. It is uncertain - therefore not to be introduced.

This is one of the difference between the East and Lutheranism. Where as the East tends to be quite comfortable with mystical uncertainty and unknowability, Lutheranism is based upon concrete statements. Hence, any communion practice in and amongst Lutheranism, to be self-consistent, would require concrete, verbal, confession of sin and examination (where verbal would also include sign language for those who are mute - and I'm not referring to baby talk stuff, I'm referring to deaf ministry as we are used to it - also the elderly who have gone mute but have been examined and are aware enough to give nodded assent would be considered in most cases safe as well).

Note that McCain continually deals with uncertainties here - what about a kid who just does ________? But the idea being put forth is not about communing children whose confession of the faith we are uncertain about - but those who have demonstrated a clear understanding of the Supper, sorrow for their sins, and a desire for forgiveness. Rev. Stuckwisch has repeatedly moved beyond the specious assertions feared by McCain - let's move on, especially as there are other practical matters with a younger communion age that become problematic. Some of these off the top of my head are:

1. Communion at other congregations - how do we denote that one has been examined, and should a pastor who has communed, let us say a 7 year old, expect that member to be welcomed at other altars?

2. What standard of knowledge should be considered the level of knowledge/confession to be expected?

3. What sort of public rite would be appropriate for this - for the welcoming of one into the list of communicants is a public thing?

Some of these are present to a certain extent and have been for a while - but if the age moves even younger, the gaps between practice among congregations will increase - things will become. . . messier . . . if we are not all on the same page on this.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Gifford is the one who referenced texts that refer to sucklings. I'm trying to understand how they apply to Rick's posts on this subject.

Further, frankly, I'm left scratching my head over what, precisely, Brother Rick is saying.

Memorizing does not equal knowing. Agreed.

Knowing does not requiring memorizing. OK, agreed.

Faith is not cognition.

But, apparently some cognition is required in order to communion? Is that cognition speech?

How much cognition is required?

Is this all simply an exercise in trying to convince oneself that giving the Sacrament to a three year old is kosher?

And, again, though Eric B. would like simply to poo-poo the point, I think it would be helpful to see examples in our Lutheran Church of communion being given to three year olds. Why? Why not?

I'm not too keen on doing things in a novel way, no matter how well intentioned. I would like to understand how such practices either were, or were not, a part of previous Lutheran Church practice and tradition.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Faith is not cognition, but cognition is necessary for a confession of the faith.

As a steward of the Mysteries of God, and as a Lutheran pastor, I commune those who are catechized AND who confess the Word of God.

My point is not to make an argument for the communing of three-year-olds, per se, nor of any other age group, per se, but to consider what belongs to a faithful confession of the Word of God; that I might know how to faithfully examine, absolve and commune the sheep entrusted to my care, irrespective of their ages.

In the past, I relied upon memorization as the line in the sand, but I have been compelled by my study of the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, and by my actual experience of pastoral care, to think about catechesis and admittance to the Holy Communion on the basis of a different criteria than memorization. Not that I have taken a posiiton against memory work; not at all! But I view memorization as a consequence of faithful catechesis, rather than a ground of catechesis and confession of the faith. Memory work is one of many ways by which Christians are served by and supported in the Word of God, the Law and the Gospel, as beautifully summarized in the six chief parts. As important, or more so, is the ongoing catchesis provided by parents and pastors, within the home in daily prayer, and in the liturgical life of the congregation.

It is perhas the case that most three-year-olds may not be ready or able to confess their faith in the Word of God; but I think it is sinful to ban a three-year-old from the Altar of Christ solely on the basis of his or her age; just as it would be sinful to admit anyone to the Altar of Christ solely on the basis of his or her age. The criteria of admittance to the Holy Communion are catechesis and confession of the Word of God, not age or grade level.

That is what I have been trying to say.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Rick, I can appreciate your thinking on this, but I'm discomforted that you are striking out on your own here, without, frankly, much support from Scripture, the Lutheran Confession and precedent in our Lutheran tradition and practice.

Do you have some examples of the communion of three year olds in the practice of the Lutheran Church to this point?

Thanks for whatever you can provide along these lines.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

No, I don't have any examples of Lutherans communing three-year-olds.

But it is precisely to the point of my thinking and my posts, that the Holy Communion should not be administered (or withheld) on the basis of anyone's age, but rather on the basis of catechesis and confession of the Word of God.

None of my comments have been aimed at the blanket admission of three-year-olds as such to the Holy Communion. I used the example of one particular three-year-old because she happens to be a real case in point, entrusted to my care by the Lord, her Good Shepherd. There are a few older children in my congregation who are not yet communing, and other three-year-olds who are not yet asking for the Supper; so each of those cases is dealt with differently, according to the particular circumstances of their life in the Gospel of Christ (in particular, their familial context and the God-given authority of their own fathers and mothers).

I fear that we have allowed the typical practice of eighth-grade confirmation to become the norm by which everything is measured; and that, I believe, is not only quite mistaken, but quite at odds with the confessional teaching and practice of our Lutheran fathers. There the emphasis, as I have said and tried to demonstrate, is on the need for ongoing catechesis in the basics of the faith; for the young people, surely, but also for the old and well-educated. Every Christian is to be daily returned to and immersed in the chief parts of the Christian faith and life, especially the Apostles' Creed, the Our Father, and the Decalogue. There never is a "point" at which anyone has this "mastered," except in the resurrection at the last!

The purpose in pointing to the rites and blessings of Holy Baptism, and to the passages of Holy Scripture which testify to the faith of babes and nursing infants, is not to argue for infant communion, but to demonstrate that what we are "waiting for" is not the arrival of faith, but only for the confession of that very faith which has already been given to and is already at work in the baptized.

When a little child, of whatever age, begins to confess the faith and life that he or she has been granted in Holy Baptism; when he or she verbalizes the Creed and the Our Father, which are the special inheritance of all the baptized; when he or she confesses sin, and yet also confesses Jesus as the precious Savior of sinners; then we do not question whether this is a real confession of a real faith, but rather rejoice in the Word of God that is so manifested in the child of God.

Our most basic Catechism confesses that he or she is "truly worthy AND well-prepared" to receive the Sacrament who has faith in the Words of Jesus with which He gives His Body and Blood to His disciples for the forgiveness of sins. As a man of flesh and blood, I cannot read hearts, nor do I attempt to; hence, I do not administer the Sacrament to the invisible faith of the heart. But when I hear a faithful confession from the lips of the baptized, no matter what their age, on what basis would I withhold the Lord's Supper from them?

Seriously. I'm not hyperbolizing here. On what basis would I deny the Body and Blood of Christ to one of His baptized faithful, who confesses the Law and the Gospel, the Creed and the Our Father, and the very Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament?

There certainly are reasons for not giving the Sacrament to someone who has been baptized, even to one who has (or may have) saving faith in Christ Jesus. If a person belongs to another confession, to another communion fellowship, then he or she is not communed from the Altar of Christ to which He has attached me. And if a person persists in immoral or scandalous living, refusing to repent, then he or she must be disciplined and excommunicated. So, too, if a person stubbornly persists in false doctrine. But where none of these circumstances pertain, then, again, on what basis would I refuse to commune one of the baptized faithful of my own congregation who confesses the Word of God and asks me for the Body and Blood of Christ? At that point, what difference would the person's age make at all?

The burden in such a case is upon any argument against communing the person. We know that Jesus gives His Body and His Blood to His disciples; and we know that such disciples are made by the means of Holy Baptism and the catechesis of Christ's Word. We already believe and confess that the little children are disciples of Christ Jesus, by virtue of His Word and and the gift of His Spirit in Holy Baptism. When, therefore, as disciples, those little ones who believe in Him confess the Word they have been taught, and in the holy faith they ask for those gifts which Christ freely gives by His Word, they should be given those gifts; according to His promise, "whoever asks shall receive"; and again, "let the little children come to Me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these."

Those are compelling Words, dear brother, and my conscience is bound by the Word of God to give the Sacrament to those faithful, baptized little ones who confess the faith and ask me for the Body and Blood of Christ.

Rev. Gifford A. Grobien said...

....you are striking out on your own here, without, frankly, much support from Scripture [and] the Lutheran Confession.... .

Rev. McCain, with due respect and fraternal charity, I appeal to you please to help the conversation progress by addressing arguments and material that have been presented. Rev. Stuckwisch and I have provided rather thorough support from the Scripture and Confessions for our positions. If you disagree, please treat the substance of the disagreement.

As for the historical examples of communing young children, ancient and medieval liturgical manuscripts and other testimony from pastors beginning with those such as Cyprian and Augustine indicate that young children were communing in many places from at least the third century until the fourteenth century. Several factors contributed to the diminishing of this practice, primarily the Lateran IV reference to an age of discretion. Such a concept, however, at least as applicable to repentance, faith, confession, and examination for the Lord's Supper, is the novelty in the Christian tradition, not what Rev. Stuckwisch is suggesting.

Now, one may say that these are not "Lutheran" examples. However, as catholic examples, they nevertheless are part of our heritage.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Rick, if I could summarize where I believe we agree and where we do not:

I believe we agree that:

(1) Tying first communion to the rite of confirmation administered to eighth grade students, or seventh grade students. NOT good. I would think a post on all the negatives associated with this practice would find us both saying virtually the same thing.

(2) Earlier age of first communion is a very good idea. As far as I can tell, from the sources, first communion in the Lutheran church was for children 7-10 years old.

(3) Automatically assuming that simply because something is memorized means it is "known" or "learned" is false.

(4) There is no precise "age" at which we can say, with certainty, a person should be, or should not be, communed.

Where we disagree:

(1) Three year old children may be communed based on their expression of knowledge of the Catechism, that is, an understanding of the meaning of the words, not necessarily knowing the words.

(2) Knowing the words of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer and the instituting texts of Baptism and Supper does not mean they are memorized, necessarily, as part of that knowing.

(3) The fact that three year olds, to our mutual knowledge, were not communed in the Lutheran Church, post-Reformation and through the age of Orthodoxy is of no great concern in this conversation.

(4) The text of the Large Catechism does not suggest, imply, or teach that knowing the core texts includes reciting them by memory, and learning them by heart.

That's how I understand our agreement and disagreement at this point. Would you say that is a fair summary?

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Oh, one more thing, we both agree on, based on this conversation:

It is wrong to commune infants since they are incapable of making public confession of their faith and understanding of God's Word and what the Supper is and what there they seek.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

The reason I kept poo-pooing (I prefer "harping on) historic Lutheran examples of 3 year old communion was because it was a red herring. The 3 year old was an extreme exception - why then should we jump up and down trying to find a historical rule?

This is especially apt because the contention is that communion ought not be based on an artificial age standard (sort of what we have defaulted to with per forma Confirmation at 8th grade) but rather on the basis of confession. Is age alone a reason to deny or doubt a person's confession? I would submit that in the time of the Reformation, the consideration wasn't AGE -- in which case there wouldn't be discussion about specific ages and outliers wouldn't draw attention. Looking for a modern category on the topic is. . . artificial. . . just like someone demanding historical proof from the reformation of the ability to elect district presidents. . . as they didn't think along those lines the absence says nothing either way. An implied argument from silence serves as a red herring.

I will posit another question. If memorization is a requirement for first communion, is it to be considered a requirement for every time one communes?

Now, back to the convention.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thank you for the helpful summary of our discussion, Paul. That moves the conversation forward in a way that is beneficial, not only to the two of us, but hopefully to others who are following this thread.

On the points of agreement that you identify, I would say, yes, that sums up much of it very well. Christ be praised.

On the points of disagreement, I think that you come close to describing my position, but perhaps not entirely with clarity.

With respect to the first two points of disagreement, I would prefer to speak more concretely of "a three-year-old child," rather than "three-year-old children," simply because, again, I have not been aiming at a blanket "permission" based on age. That is a small quibble. Otherwise, I think you have accurately represented me in the first two points of disagreement.

I have not intended to say or suggest that the practice of our Lutheran forefathers is of no account or consequence. If I have said such a thing or given that impression, I stand corrrected and would ask forgiveness from my readers. I hold the history of the Church in high regard, though not as an inviolate norm of faith and life. And of course I have a special interest in what the Lutheran Reformers were actually doing, as the context in which they were confessing the faith. I do think the prior history of the Church catholic, such a Brother Grobien has pointed to in part, is also of importance to the discussion. But as much as I value and respect the history of the Church, I do not harbor the assumption that everything that has happened is without error or entirely as it should be. So we are constantly returning to the fount of true knowledge, to the rule and norm of faith and life, in the Word of God.

Along with that, I would want to explore whether the practice of our Lutheran forefathers was actually driven by the sort of assumptions and considerations that we, in retrospect, have perceived and supposed. In some respects, I think the whole thinking about and discussing of this topic has been skewed by the recent "tradition" of eighth-grade confirmation, etc.

Finally, with respect to the fourth point of disagreement, I would want to clarify this: Of course the Large Catechism envisions and extolls the memorization of the chief parts -- as do I! But I do not believe the Large Catechism equates that memorization with "knowledge," but rather aims at the memorization of the chief parts through constant exposure to them, by "reading and repeating" them on a daily basis.

Although I honor and emphasize all six chief parts, it does also seem very clear to me that the first three chief parts are given unique and special attention and significance in what Luther has to say about them in the prefaces to both of his catechisms.

As a point of information, the three-year-old I described in my initial post does know and pray the Our Father and the Creed, as I indicated initially; and does also know and repeat the Verba Domini (as her pastor at the Altar does) at the Divine Service. She knows also the Name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit, into which and with which she was baptized. I do not know if she yet has all of the Ten Commandments memorized.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Hi Rick,

Thanks, and glad the summary was helpful.

One thing you wrote is giving me pause: I do not believe the Large Catechism equates that memorization with "knowledge,"It does, not of course, but I believe it is very clear that Blessed Martin Luther does expect people will be able to recite, with understanding, the texts.

I, frankly, would like to know why the Lutheran Church did not, as far as we both know, commune three year olds.

And, to be clear, as I'm sure you would agree, the practice of first communion tied to confirmation and eighth grade students has nothing to do with the Reformation era Lutheranism about which I'm speaking when I'm asking what the Lutheran Church's historic practice was. This was a later novum, which well deserves serious reconsideration.

It strikes me that you are willing, in fact, to tie first communion to a certain age level, in that, if I understand you correct, a child must be able to speak, in order to confess the faith and thereby indicate some level of knowledge about the Lord's Supper.

Is that correct? Am I understanding you correctly? Is speech a criteria for the young children whom you would consider communing?


Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I believe that with catechetical texts, as with hymnody, too, there can be a real knowledge and great familiarity that does not necessarily mean (or require) the ability to recite such a text verbatim from memory.

In particular, in the case of such things as the Creed and the Our Father, I have never assigned these as "memory work," but have always simply prayed and confessed them with my catechumens, and so also encouraged their parents and families to pray and confess them daily. Even the littlest children know these fundamental texts and are able to pray and confess them with their families and their congregation; but I don't put them on the spot to recite them as "memory work" on their lonesome. I don't do that with older catechumens, either; although I do expect my confirmands to know and recite from memory the explanations of the Creed and the Our Father.

I don't believe it is correct to say that I have an "age" standard, but it would be right to say that a certain measure of "ability" is necessary for the verbal confession of the faith. So, granted, yes, in a way I do look for that measure of "ability," to the extent that I look for that confession, upon which I administer the Holy Communion. But such ability differs from individual to individual; and the confession itself differs, irrespective of ability, depending on the context of catechesis in which a person lives. That's why I have said from the beginning that the life of the family in the Word of God and prayer, at home and with the congregation, is a major factor. So I don't begin by looking for ability, and I don't look at age as a criterion at all, but I look for catechesis and confession of the Word and faith.

As far as "knowing" the six chief parts is concerned (because I'm happy to include Confession and Absolution, even though Luther doesn't mention it in his preface to the Large Catechism), this has less to do with having the texts memorized than it does with actually living by them, praying and confessing them.

That is to say, "knowing" the Ten Commandments means measuring one's life by them; living accordingly, by grace through faith, and confessing sins against them in seeking absolution for those sins. All of that can and does happen apart from memorization.

So, too, "knowing" the Creed and the Our Father has far more to do with actually praying and confessing these fundamental texts than having them memorized (though, again, even the littlest children usually know them by heart, precisely because they pray and confess them with the Church and in the home).

"Knowing" the Sacrament of Holy Baptism is a matter of invoking the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and living day-by-day in repentant faith, as a child of God within one's proper station.

"Knowing" the Fifth Chief Part -- well, here's the one that nails most Lutherans; so it's just as well that Dr. Luther doesn't mention it in the preface to the Large Catechism -- but "knowing" the Fifth Chief Part has far more to do with actually going to confession and receiving the pastoral care of Holy Absolution, than with memorizing Dr. Luther's questions and answers about it. That is why, for example, despite the old 1943 Catechism, what Dr. Luther chiefly provides is a model for how Confession and Absolution should actually be practiced.

I have little children, as young as five or six years old, who regularly come to me for Individual Confession and Absolution; not because they are forced, but because they want to be there, to receive the Gospel from their pastor as from Christ their dear Lord Himself. How many confirmed Lutheran adults do so, whether they have the Catechism memorized or not? That is a particularly compelling question in this conversation, because the "examined and absolved" of our Confessions was, in fact, tied to the practice of Individual Confession and Absolution. (I should say, though, that I don't think it was helpful for that context to become, as it did over time, the place for "memory work.")

Finally, "knowing" the Sacrament of the Altar certainly does look to the Verba Domini; but the child of God can know and love those Words, and cling to them, without having them memorized (yet), because they are clearly chanted or spoken at each Divine Service. In fact, as with the Creed and the Our Father, I find that the little children tend to know the Verba Domini by heart; if not to recite them from memory by themselves, then to say them without difficulty along with their pastor when he consecrates the Sacrament.

Anyway, "knowing" the Sacrament of the Altar is far more a matter of hearing the Verba Domini and, on the basis of the Verba, in faith, to desire and receive the gifts Christ freely gives with those Words.

How many confirmed adult Lutherans, especially in years past, had the Verba Domini memorized for their confirmation, but then went most of the year without receiving the Sacrament? Data from the early twentieth century, up until the 1960s or so, indicates that the average LCMS communicant received the Lord's Supper barely more than twice a year. Barely more than twice a year! Is such a practice really "knowing" the Sacrament?

By contrast, when a little child, one of the baptized faithful, hears the Words of Jesus: "Take, eat; this is My Body. Drink of it, all of you; this is My Blood, for the forgiveness of sins," and the little one desires to receive what Jesus thereby gives, and asks to be given His Body and His Blood at His Word, then how is that not knowing the Supper?

"Suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" (St. Luke 11:11-13)

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Rick, as I read through your lengthy response, I may have missed it, but did you answer my question about the ability to speak?

Do you consider the ability to speak to be a criteria for the little children who you are admitting to the Lord's Supper? If a child is not old enough to speak, is he/she old enough to come to Holy Communion?


Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I guess I'm not entirely sure how to answer your question about the ability to speak, Paul. I would say that some verbal ability is necessary to a confession of the Word (Verbum), but I'm reluctant to attach that to speaking per se. Zacharias, for example, was able to confess his faith by writing, "His name is John." So, if a person suffers an infirmity of the flesh that prevents him or her from speaking, but he or she is otherwise able to confess the Word, I don't see how that would make any significant difference.

If you're still fretting about "pious nodding" on the part of an infant, you need to stop supposing that I am being coy or unforthcoming. It is not my goal to circumvent the role of confession, as I have tried to make clear. I wonder, though, whether you would accept the pious nod of an adult who is recovering from surgery, for example, or suffering from some ailment of throat or speech. The difficulty in laying down rules that go beyond catechesis and confession, is that one can hardly envision every circumstance. When catechesis and confession are clearly identified as the norm and criteria, than any situation or circumstance can be evaluated and addressed on that basis, without ruling out worthy and well-prepared communicants.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Rick, I'm simply trying to understand how you deal with very young children who, if I understand you, "know" but can't necessarily recite the words of the Ten Commandments, Creed and the Lord's Prayer, or the instituting texts of Baptism and Lord's Supper.

They might not be able to recite them but they apparently explain what they are to your satisfaction.

I asked about speech, for you appear to have some criteria for their knowing, and I was wondering is speaking is one of those things? Would you conceive of a situation where you would feel comfortable communing a child who could not yet speak and articulate?

You have made clear your position on infant communion. I'm not referring to infant communion.

I'm trying to stick to the subject you raised when you first posted about your decision to give communion to a three year old child.

Thanks for the conversation.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Actually, for the sake of clarification, I did not commune the young lady who asked me for the Body and Blood of Christ; but I was piqued in my conscience by her explicit request. She will receive her First Communion soon, but not on the spur of the moment at the Altar. I'm in conversation with her and her parents, and we'll do things in good order.

As far as speaking is concerned, I'm not sure where I have confused you. The fact that a person may not yet be able to recite the chief parts verbatim from memory does not imply that he or she is not able to confess them at all. It means, rather, that the chief parts are not only confessed in the particular words of the Small Catechism, but can also be confessed in either shorter and simpler or more elaborate and more fully developed ways. Would you, for example, say that Dr. Luther's Catechism hymns are not a confession of the chief parts, simply because they do not follow the text of the Small Catechism verbatim? I'm sure you would not.

What I am looking for in the examination of a young child is not a mastery of memory work, but a confession of the Law and the Gospel, of sin, of faith in Christ and His forgiveness, of prayer to the Father, and a desire for the Body and Blood of Christ in the Supper. (I'm simply summarizing off the cuff here, so bear with me if I'm being too general.)

Anyway, my main point has not been that little children should not say the six chief parts as we know them from the Catechism, but that they need not do so by themselves from memory. They can hear and repeat them with their parents, or pray and confess them with their parents and families and congregations; just as Dr. Luther speaks of daily "reading and repeating" the chief parts. If little children are thus assisted in confessing their faith, is it any less their own confession than in the case of someone who has already memorized the texts?

With respect to the Creed and the Our Father, I have indicated that, not only the three-year-old I described, but most of the little children in my parish know these texts and pray and confess them with their families and with the congregation. They probably do have them memorized, but I'm not pressing them on that point, and I'm not requiring them to say from memory them by themselves as though it were a test.

I've also mentioned that the three-year-old I described, and many of the other young children in my parish, know the Verba Domini and say them along with their pastor as they are chanted in the Divine Service each week (not because I ask them to, but because they know and love the Verba Domini). It is in response to those Words of Christ that little children ask for His Body and Blood; because they hear what He says in faith and take Him at His Word when He says, "This is My Body. Eat. This is My Blood. Drink."

With respect to the Ten Commandments, here is where the real issue of memorization most comes into play. Learning the Commandments by heart and reciting them verbatim from memory is a more challenging cognitive and verbal achievement than confessing the Creed and praying the Our Father; not only because the Decalogue is longer and far less linear in its structure, but because it isn't a liturgical text. However, the Ten Commandments can be simplified and summarized, in the way our Lord Himself does, as the Law of love for God and love for the neighbor. A little child can certainly know, understand and confess that; and, perhaps more to the point at hand, a little child can acknowledge and confess where he or she has failed to love God and the neighbor. Not without help, of course, but then again, none of us can know his sin or confess it rightly without the help of the Word and Spirit.

The knowledge and use of the Ten Commandments, as I suggested earlier, is located especially in confession and absolution. Likewise, the knowledge and "use" of Holy Baptism is located, not only in confession and absolution, but in confessing the Creed and in praying the Our Father. To pray to the Father with the Word of Christ and the help of His Spirit, is to invoke the one true God who has named us with His Name in Holy Baptism. And to confess the Holy Triune God, who He is and what He has done, as in the Apostles' Creed, is to confess the One who has baptized us in His Holy Name.

All of these things are done -- and this would be my point -- not only by individual memorization, but as well or better by personal participation in the daily prayer of the home and family, and in the liturgical life of the congregation. Not only do I know and observe these things in the members and families of my parish, but I also discern them and take note of them in my pastoral care for individuals and in my pastoral conversation with members, young and old.

Perhaps that helps to clarify what I am saying and doing. Or maybe it muddies the waters further. In any case, I am finding the conversation helpful and clarifying, so thank you for that.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Rick, you do yourself a disservice in these conversations with your extensively excessive verbiage.

I'm asking you simply if a little child being able to speak is a criteria you have for determining if they have enough knowledge of the Catechism.

By what means would you determine a child's knowledge of the Catechism apart from some verbal communication?

I know you have bristled at Pastor Schaibley's conversations about childhood cognition, but would you at least say that a little child should be able to speak in order for you properly to examine and absolve him/her?

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Since my excessive verbiage has gotten in the way of what I said:

Whether in the case of a little child or an adult, there needs to be a verbal confession of the faith (i.e. with words).

At no point in this conversation have I suggested or indicated anything to the contrary.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

In light of the very serious accusation that you have leveled at me on your Facebook page, I do not believe further constructive conversation on these issues is possible. I leave this conversation with the following remarks and observations.

If you would point out where I have ever advocated communing anyone without proper catechesis, I will gladly repent of any such remark. If however you can not, then I will thank you to retract your accusation, which stands now as a slander, without evidence.

Your decision to give the Sacrament to a three year old stands outside the practice of the Lutheran Church. The burden of proof is not on anyone to prove such practice to be inconsistent with our doctrine and practice, but rests squarely on you to demonstrate how the practice is rooted and grounded in the Lutheran Church's practice. You have admitted there is no precedent for such practice in the Lutheran Church.

You have chosen to engage in practices that have not been studied carefully by the fellowship of your colleagues, that has no sanction, approval or endorsements from your Synod. I do not believe it is wise or helpful to strike out on our own in such matters.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Brother McCain, I have not leveled any accusations against you; but I am sorry that I misintepreted your remark and responded inaccurately. You seemed to identify yourself with the "some people" I described in my Facebook note. in that note, I indicated that "some people are comfortable with communing adults, because of their age and 'maturity,' even apart from ongoing catechesis and confession." I took your response to that note as an indication that you saw yourself so described. And I remarked, with some surprise, that you would evidently see yourself in that description. I retract whatever implications were thereby leveled against you; and I rejoice that you take no such position. It was not my goal to castigate you.

It does leave me wondering: What is your standard for admittance to the Holy Communion? But I guess you are withdrawing from the conversation; so perhaps I'll never know. From what you have said, or rather, from the way you have reacted to the case of one particular three-year-old, you not only have a different standard in place for little children, but a much higher, more difficult and demanding criteria for children than for adults. If that, too, is a false impression, I would be pleased to understand differently.

Since you have continued pressing me on whether or not I have documented evidence of Lutherans communing "three-year-olds" (which has never been the point of my post), I would press you to present documented evidence that our Lutheran forefathers withheld the Holy Communion from every baptized three-year-old who confessed the faith and requested the Body and Blood of Christ.

Do we have any documented evidence to suggest that our Lutheran forefathers ever gave or withheld the Holy Communion on the basis of a person's age, irrespective of their catechesis and confession? If that is the case, then bring foreward that evidence, and then we can consider on the basis of the Holy Scriptures and our Lutheran Confessions whether it was right for them to do so.

When the case of the Bohemians was brought to Luther's attention, as I understand it (working here from memory, which is never completely certain), he was not willing to condemn their practice of infant communion. Though I have not been arguing for infant commmunion here, as I have made clear (more than once, for those who have been paying attention), that historical circumstance does seem to bear upon the question put to me.

Paul, if you were inclined to answer, I really wonder how many three-year-olds you actually know and interact with on a regular basis. I wonder, because your image of "three-year-olds" seems quite off. You seem to be hung up on that age for some reason, in such a way that you appear to forget the rest of our discussion and keep returning to that point. I could have said everything else I said to begin with, in exactly the same way, only without mentioning the young lady's age, and I suspect it would have changed your response altogether. I wish that you would or could tell me why that might be. Or, if there is something else in what I have said, other than the young lady's age, that seems amiss or unfaithful to you, what is it?

Maybe our Lutheran forefathers simply never had any three-year-olds as pious and faithful and verbally articulate as my congregation does.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Didn't the Hussites advocate (and practice) communion of very young children?

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Maybe someone else will help us out, but I'm thinking the Bohemians may have been Hussites.

Anyone? Anyone?

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

The Bohemians did have a connection to Hus. I read an article once at sem about the Hussites and their communion practice. It may have been an old CTQ article. Luther highly praised John Hus, according to a Higher Things article I just read, even saying of themselves: "We are all Hussites." I think that they were the founders of the Moravian church. I seem to remember reading that they practiced very early communion.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Here is something I found doing a search on the Hussite movement: http://books.google.com/books?id=_EPW0kVFjBoC&pg=PA345&lpg=PA345&dq=Hussites+Communioin&source=bl&ots=DF8zfd8hB3&sig=FFxQNyRcGoHrXpfy1L5GSPzv9go&hl=en&ei=8D_1SaHxE6WxmAem_diYDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9#PPA345,M1

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Not sure if it is wise to add anymore to this discussion, but I'm going to anyway. As I have been thinking about this topic, the proper age to commune children, I was thinking about the fact that when adults are baptized, they are immediately admitted to the altar. For them, the Lord's Supper is the meal for the Baptized. With children, we separate baptism and admission to the altar, in most cases, by 14 years. If a child is not ready to receive the Lord's Supper, are they really ready to be baptized?

One wonders if we shouldn't bring admission to the altar as close to baptism as possible.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

What does this mean?

Teach them, first of all, these parts: the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and so on, according to the text, word for word, so that they, too, can repeat it in the same way after you and commit it to memory. But those who are unwilling to learn the catechism should be told that they deny Christ and are not Christians. They should not be admitted to the SacramentI'm having a hard time understanding how Blessed Martin Luther's words would not be the normal course for what we require of those who seek to commune, at any age. Maybe that is as radical a suggestion as the one Brother Stuckwisch is making about giving the Sacrament to a three year old.

Yes, the "Bohemians" were the heirs of Jan Huss.

And I hope we would all agree that a quip from Luther's Table Talk does not a doctrine establish.

Rick, you take "daddy of the new century award" and I won't quibble with you about your expertise with three year olds. I do however find myself regularly in the company of three year olds. They happen to live next door and love to ride over my freshly mowed front lawn with their Barbie battery powered vehicles. I try my best to offer safe driving tips and suggestions. They giggle and go on their merry way.

The reason I keep referencing the three year old child is because you seemed particularly interested in three year old children in the post that started this conversation. You obviously recognize that giving communion to a three year old is something a bit novel for us.

And that's why I keep asking you where in our Lutheran historical practice can you find examples of a similar practice. You have now countered with the old, "Show me where they didn't" trick. Which is kind of silly. I mean, honestly, Rick. The point is that our fathers were not the silly dopes some think they were [not you, of course], so I do regard it is helpful and instructive to understand why they did some things, and not others.

I find no precedence in the early Reformation era for tying first communion to confirmation, so that's not something even worth talking about.

My position is simply that I find nothing in our Lutheran Confessions that would grant that we give the Sacrament to people, of any age, who can not recite with cognition and knowledge the core texts of the Catechism. The quote at the beginning of this comment is the evidence I put forward for this position. I think the words are plainly said and not subject to misinterpretation, and so do not really deserve to receive the kind of redefinition you are trying to give them.

And, thank you for your apology for suggesting that I was somehow taking the position that we give the Sacrament to people who are not catechized.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Were Luther's instructions meant to be a pre-requisite to first communion, or simply a statement of what every communicant ought to know who is already communing? As I recall, the situation in Germany at the time was such that people were already communing who had no knowledge of these things. Luther's intention with the Catechism was to instruct those who were already communing. Those who refuse to learn it should be excommunicated, and told that they are no Christians, and can *no longer* be admitted to the altar.

Should there be any additional pre-requisites for Communion than there are for Baptism?

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

each them, first of all, these parts: the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and so on, according to the text, word for word, so that they, too, can repeat it in the same way after you and commit it to memory. But those who are unwilling to learn the catechism should be told that they deny Christ and are not Christians. They should not be admitted to the Sacrament
Since these words are in the Small Catechism, I can not think of any reason to assume that Luther did not regard his comments as meaning that people who are admitted to the Sacrament are those to whom the texts have been taught, word for word, and that they know them by heart and can recite them with understanding. "They should not be admitted to the Sacrament" seems, to me at least, to be a clear assertion and quite final. So, prerequisite? Yes.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Of course, Luther was picking up the pieces at the time, and yes, we do too. But I do not think we want to base our catechesis and admission to the Sacrament on the basis of "worst case scenarios."

Like I said, I suspect that we we required adults to recite, from memory, these texts, the controversy over separating first communion from the rite of confirmation would pale in comparison.


But...well, seems this is what Blessed Martin Luther is saying. I've never known him to mince his words.

I find the prefaces to the Small Catechism to be very instructive, if you would pardon the pun please.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks for continuing the conversation, Paul, and for your follow-up comments and questions.

On my counter-question concerning the case of a three-year-old, read what I've said a little more carefully. I didn't say, "show me where they didn't." That would have been a "foul" on the play, but I wasn't trying to be silly. I'm saying, "Where do we find the Lutheran fathers refusing the Sacrament to a baptized three-year-old (or someone of any age) who confesses the faith and requests the body and blood of Christ?" Of course, I make no claims that they were communing "three-year-olds" in general, but my point has been, and I think we basically agree on this, that people were admitted to the Sacrament on the basis of the catechesis and confession of the Word of God. So, if one is going to make and discuss an argument from our Lutheran history, it would need to be addressing that point; not simply someone's age. I'm not aware of the Lutherans communing "three-year-olds," but neither am I aware of them turning away baptized and catechized three-year-olds who were confessing the faith and asking to be communed. Do you see the difference?

I'm glad that you have three-year-olds nearby to interact with. They are a joy and delight. I was mainly wondering because of your eearlier reference to "toddlers," and then your repeated questions about the ability to speak. I know a few very shy three-year-olds who are reluctant to speak, but have not met any three-year-olds who are unable to do so. My own three-year-olds are chatterboxes!

Okay, to the main point at hand, which is the quote from the Large Catechism. First of all, you should know that for a very long time I read it, understood it, and applied it in exactly the way that you are, Paul. But various things in my pastoral practice and pastoral care kept driving me back to consider whether those words of Luther really mandated memorization as a pre-requisite to First Communion. I didn't move away from that position, however, until I noticed, that's not what Luther says.

This is why I've distinguished "knowing" from "having memorized" (and reciting from memory), on the one hand; and why I have also distinguished the process of learning (and the process of committing to memory) from the completed achievement of having things already memorized. The latter distinction is the same as that between a journey and a destination.

Look at what Luther says. It is not those who have failed yet to memorize, but those who refuse to learn, who should not only not be given the Sacrament, but not be employed as servants or given any supper at home, either. And that pertains, not only to First Communion, but to those who are already communing. And not only little children, but adults, yes, even doctors of theology, such as Luther himself. Even in his case, he doesn't say that he reviews the Catechism from memory every day, but that he "reads and repeats" the chief parts daily, praying them like a little child.

What Luther describes in the quote is precisely not a recitation from memory, but a process of the father speaking and the household repeating after him, word for word, what he has spoken. And by this process, they do learn and do commit to memory the texts at hand. This is exactly what I encourage my people to do, and do everything I can to help them do. But, again -- and I'm not trying to engage in sophistry or semantic games; this is what I was driven to by my reading of the text -- it is a refusal to learn, not a failure to have already memorized, that places a person under discipline (whether they have already been communing or not).

I make these points, not only in the interest of communing younger children (when they are being catechized and are confessing the faith, even apart from having things memorized and reciting them from memory verbatim), but also in the interest of stressing that catechesis is ongoing for everyone, young and old alike. This, I believe, is Dr. Luther's main point in the preface to his catechisms; or one of his main points, anyway. Not only that the little children should be catechized by their fathers and mothers at home, but that everyone else should also be returning to these basics of the faith every day. Repeating them daily, committing them to memory by that process -- these things are only the beginning of a lifetime of catechesis; a beginning to which one keeps returning, while also continuing to grow in faith and knowledge through hearing the preaching, singing the hymns and praying of the Psalms, etc. That is why I stress ongoing catechesis so strongly, and why I continue catechizing my young communicants, myself, as their pastor, in formal catechesis classes, for yet another four or five years beyond their First Communion.

Having said all that, I will simply reiterate that, in most cases, even my youngest communicants DO know the Creed, the Our Father, the baptismal Invocation, and the Verba Domini by heart; and they pray and confess these primary texts along with their families and the Church (or their pastor). The Decalogue is more of a struggle, granted; but, as I have pointed out, even our Lord Himself and St. Paul the Apostle summarize and simplify the whole Law into the one or two commandments of "Love."

When I have spoken about not insisting on memorization, it has more often been in the case of an older child (relatively speaking) who simply struggles academically with the committing of things to memory. Having had several such children in catechesis classes over the years, I struggled with how to rectify those situations, especially where the child was in church faithfully and regularly, and also being catechized in the home by his parents and family, in contrast to other young people who could memorize their assignment for the week in the car on the way to class, but who weren't in church as faithfully and weren't being catechized in the home.

The three-year-old I described to begin with is being catechized very faithfully in her home and family, and she is in church every week (sometimes several times); she knows and confesses and prays the primary texts, though not yet the Ten Commandments, even if she would be too shy to stand up and say them in front of the entire congregation by herself. So when she looks me in the eye and asks me point blank for the body and blood of Jesus, then I have to ask myself, as her pastor, on what basis I can conscientiously say no.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

A hearty "Amen" to what Dr. Stuckwisch has said in this last comment. That is a great question: on what basis can one say "no" to a child of God who is (1) catechized and (2) asking for the life-giving food of the Supper? This is a serious question for ALL of us to ask ourselves. What shall we tell the child, or the parents for that matter? Shall we simply say: "You're just not old enough yet."?

I can find absolutely no fault with what Dr. Stuckwisch is saying here. None whatsoever. He is not speaking about someone who is not well grounded in the Faith. He is not speaking about someone whose parents are not themselves faithful and catechized members of the Church. He is speaking about a baptized Christian, who has learned by heart the primary texts of the Catechism, who has faith in the Words of the Sacrament, and wants to receive it. What's the big deal? I have eighty-year olds who were baptized as infants and have been life-long members of the Church that do not even want to receive the Sacrament when it is offered.

Dr. Stuckwisch, I for one cannot see how you would be going against the Command and Institution of our Lord in admitting such a person to the Holy Sacrament.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

The quote I've offered in the last several posts is from the Small Catechism.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Rick, I've grown tired of this conversation, though it has been interesting. I really am baffled that you found a way to understand the following words in a way that does not mean what they say:

Teach them, first of all, these parts: the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and so on, according to the text, word for word, so that they, too, can repeat it in the same way after you and commit it to memory.While I find your comments well intentioned, pious, and wanting the best for all concerned, I regard them to be, and remain, a fundamental misreading and misinterpretation of the text of the Catechism.

Luther says to learn these texts "von Wort zu Wort" so "nachsagen k├Ânnen und auswendig lernen"

I believe the meaning of the text is plain.

"Auswendig lernen" means to learn by heart/rote/to memorize.

The Latin translation of the SC underscores this understanding with its delightful "referre discant" ... to sing back! [I'm tempted to plug here a CPH resource, but I refrain].

How on God's green earth could we not consider it as important to the little ones whom we are considering communing speak back, from memory, with understanding, the texts?

Luther certainly demands it and expects it. Our Confessions teach it. Frankly, that settles it.

I am all for earlier age of first communion, but I'm also all for being faithful to the Lutheran Confessions and not striking out on our own, Rick, which is, respectfully, what you are doing when you give communion to three year olds. I would say that you make the goal of earlier first communion with your promotion of giving the Eucharist to a three year old. And if a three year old, why not a two year old? And so it goes.

We will have to disagree with each other.

William Weedon said...

Coming late to the discussion, but perhaps better late than never.

We ought not neglect the force of SD VII:61 where it is confessed that the spiritual eating of the Lord's body - faith - is necessary "for all Christians at all times for salvation."

When discussing infant communion with the Patriarch Jeremias II, Andreae and company made the point that we do not commune infants BECAUSE they spiritually eat of Christ by faith through Baptism.

What seem to go unnoticed is that it is precisely such spiritual eating of faith which is the prerequisite for a salutary oral eating in the Sacrament.

Hence the sweeping statement that we REJECT the notion that worthiness comes not only from true faith (true spiritual eating), but also from a person's own preparations (SD VII:124) and that a true believers (who eats Christ spiritually by faith) could receive the Sacrament to his judgment (SD VII:125). FWIW.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Correction to previous:

I would say that you make the goal of earlier first communion with your promotion of giving the Eucharist to a three year old

Should read:

I would say that you make the goal of earlier first communion all that much more difficult, when you choose to communion a three year old child.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Brother Weedon, yes, of course you are correct, but this speaks to worthiness for receiving the Sacrament in a salutary manner, not what is proper to admission to the Sacrament.

Your texts have been quoted back to me many times to justify open communion across our beloved Synod.

And of course, we have more than the Formula in our Book of Concord, so obviously, what is confessed in the Small Catechism is every bit as much instructive and normative for our practice as well.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Oh, and one more thing, Will, since HRC already quoted your favorite Luther quote on infant communion, you don't have to.

; )

Beware Luther scholarship and theology by Table Talk!

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Okay, fair enough. Thanks for the clarification, Paul (McCain). My mistake.

However, it doesn't change my point. Luther is addressing the same concerns in both prefaces. And I deal with both Catechisms in the post to which we are here commenting.

Paul (Beisel), I appreciate your comments, also. This is an important and compelling question, for any of us who are called to be the stewards of the mysteries of God. The question itself, at least as I have intended it, aims at something more fundamental and more general than age; as, I think, everyone here recognizes. In principle, the same question pertains in the case of an adult (even one already "confirmed").

In fairness to Brother McCain and his questions of my position and practice, I have indicated that I do not specifically require a verbatim memorization, but look for a verbal confession of the faith that may not coincide word-for-word with the Catechism. So that is fair game for debate, in my opinion. Also, everything you have described concerning the young lady in my congregation is true, with the exception that she doesn't have the Ten Commandments memorized.

I think that a pastor is faced with the question of whether or not a confession of the faith, or even of the six chief parts, is necessarily coterminous with a verbatim recitation of the primary texts of the Catechism from memory. My position, obviously, is that other considerations are of equal or greater significance than memorization; in particular, the context of ongoing catechesis within the home and family and in the life of the congregation (and the confession that flows from it).

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks again for your participation in the conversation, Paul, and for bowing out gracefully. We shall be left with our disagreement at this point, although I rejoice that we are not in disagreement across the board. Our points of agreement, such as you have previously identified, are not insignificant.

Perhaps after some reflection, you will understand my point. For the time being, I appreciate your courtesy toward me, and your putting the best construction on my efforts; even where you disagree with me and believe me to be missing the ball.

To say it short and sweet: I'm not oppposed to memorization, nor do I claim that the Catechism aims at something other than memorization. I simply do not see the Catechism mandating memorization as a pre-requisite to First Communion, but rather as a goal of ongoing catechesis.

Likewise, as much as I appreciate the benefits of having things memorized, I don't believe that knowledge and understanding begin and end with memorization. That seems an important point, not only in the case of the very young, but also in the case of those who no longer have the Catechism memorized (including those who are permanently confused by the change in translation that occurred after their confirmation). Should we excommunicate those who can't recite the Catechism from memory, or ban them from the Table on any given Sunday when they can't say it by heart? I would say, No.

In any case, God bless you, Paul, and a blessed Eastertide to you and your family.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Jumping back in when it's all done. . . .

The question I have is why do we end up treating memorization as a requirement for Confirmation (or first communion) but not for subsequent communion later on? If that is the standard of what it means to know at one point, why does it change later?