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The Westminster Shorter Catechism (also known simply as the Shorter Catechism, hereinafter referred to as the WSC) was written in the 1640s by Englishmarker and Scottishmarker divine. The assembly also produced the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Westminster Larger Catechism. The three documents are considered by many Protestants to be the grandest doctrinal statements to come out of the English Reformation. Completed in 1647, it was presented to parliament on 14 April 1648.

The purpose of the Shorter Catechism is to educate lay persons in matters of doctrine and belief. The WSC is in a simple question and answer format to facilitate memorization. Typically, the parents and the church would use the shorter catechism to train their children in the ways of the Lord. New converts are also given the WSC as well as the Confession of Faith and Holy Scripture to study. Various denominations have used the Westminster Confession and Catechism to instruct their members.

Although the church in Scotland (the Kirk) had produced The New Catechisme according to the Forme of the Kirk of Scotland in 1644 aimed particularly at children and youth, it was not adopted by the Westminster Assembly of Divines. It was, however, later acknowledged, that the Shorter Catechism was not suitable for young children or those of a weak capacity. Various other catechisms were created for this purpose, including the Mother's Catechism.

The First Book of Discipline (1560) required that a Sabbath afternoon session be set aside for examination of young children in catechism, and this practice was adopted in the Kirk on John Knox's return to Scotland. Catechizing became a part of life in the Scottish Churches with itinerant catechists being employed to instruct the people — a practice that continued into the 19th century. The Church of Scotland approved the Westminster Shorter Catechism in 1648, and thereafter it was the manual for instruction. However, because a significant portion of the Scottish Highland population spoke only Gaelic, the Synod of Argyll in 1649 instructed seven of its ministers to translate the Westminster Shorter Catechism into that language. The result was published that same year, and the Gaelic Shorter Catechism continued to play a part in church life for decades after it had ceased to be used in the English speaking churches. The Free Church of Scotland still presents a bible to a child who can answer all 107 questions accurately at one sitting.

The catechism is composed of 107 questions and answers. The first 12 questions concern God as Creator. Questions 13-20 deal with original sin and the fallen state of man's nature. Questions 21-38 concern Christ the Redeemer and the benefits that flow from redemption. The next set of questions, 39-84, discuss the ten commandments. Questions 85-97 teach concerning the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. The final set of questions 98-107 teach and explain the Lord's prayer. This organization mimics the earlier Heidelberg Catechism of the continental Reformed churches.

The most famous of the questions (known to a great many Presbyterian children) is the first:

Q. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

In 1675 the Presbyterian Thomas Vincent in London published a popular exposition called The Shorter Catechism Explained.

References

  1. Shorter Catechism in Scot's Gaelic
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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