Explaining the Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism
We hear a lot about Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, also known as the “Enchiridon” … an English word deriving from the Greek language, meaning, literally “In the hand” … in other words, a “Handbook.” The Small Catechism that Luther wrote in 1529 has, for many centuries, commonly been published with an “Explanation,” consisting of a series of questions and answers on the variety of doctrinal topics covered in the six chief parts of Luther’s Catechism. How did this “Explanation” come about, and on what is it based? Rev. Engelbrecht does a nice job explaining this, and I’m passing along his blog post:
Luther did not write “A Short Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism.” Others wrote it while commenting on Luther’s catechism. Ultimately, the root of the book is from Johann Konrad Dietrich’s Institutiones catecheticae published in the 17th century and updated by subsequent generations in various languages to meet the current needs of Christian educators. Due to the number of contributors and to the constant editing of the text over the centuries, the work cannot be attributed to one or even a few contributors, which is why I suppose there are no specific author names associated with it. However, on page 45 of the current edition, you will find, “This explanation has been based upon and largely includes the work of Johann Konrad Dietrich (1575–1639), Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther (1811–1887), Heinrich Christian Schwann (1819–1905), and the committee that prepared the synodical catechism of 1943.” Concordia Publishing House has updated the catechism in cooperation with the LCMS since at least 1943. I recently sent to Concordia Historical Institute the files of CPH editor Dr. Earl Gaulke regarding the 1991 edition, which was the last time we updated the book. The explanation exists under a separate copyright from the translation of the catechism itself. (See the indicia page for the current edition which refers to a 1991 CPH copyright and to earlier versions of the explanation published in 1965 and 1943.)
You may purchase a copy of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation from Concordia Publishing House by following this link.