What do Episcopalians believe? The cynical answer is we believe in good taste and progressive politics, or perhaps conservative politics. When a bishop, priest or deacon takes an oath to be faithful to doctrine, where may we find a convenient summery of what that means? When a lay person wants to know what a Christian should believe, where is that to be found?  Well yes, the Bible, the Creeds, the writings of the Fathers, the General Councils, but what does that all mean? None of us, even a theologian, has time to mine the teachings contained in those authorities. Our Catechism is bound up in the Prayer Book to give us an authoritative summery.


Yes, the Catechism has authority. It forms part of the ‘teaching law’ of the Episcopal Church. It should form the backbone of all instruction in enquirers’ classes and confirmation courses. However in my experience, our Catechism is largely forgotten or ignored. To some, as with all doctrinal formularies, its contents form a challenge to be argued with or dismissed. Such hubris makes Republican individualism sound tame.


If we believe we have progressed beyond accepting doctrine on faith, then perhaps we should be honest and drop all the oaths to abide by doctrine? To so do would transform what Anglicans have been. Our Prayer Books would be cheaper and smaller without the Catechism and Historical Documents. However until and unless we transform ourself into a religious organization in which every person is free to make up their own ‘personal faith’, we need to resurrect our neglected Catechism and take that which it teaches seriously.



10 Responses

  1. A good thought. However, it ought to be pointed out that the Catechism that appears in the 1979 BCP is largely divorced from the historical Catechism found in all previous BCPs. I am happy to abide be, teach from, and make use of the classical Catechism. The 1979 Catechism, on the other hand, is generally a less than helpful document.

  2. That it isn’t an update of previous catechisms doesn’t rule it out as an adequate teaching tool. Bishop Stanley Atkins of Eau Claire, utterly orthodox, was its major author.

  3. I agree with Fr Clavier that it would be really nice to have common beliefs. I personally would prefer that we really believed the creed and got clear on ‘faith’ and ‘grace’. Anyway, I have sympathy with those who prefer the 1928 or 1662 BCP but then I did not really understand why the RC abandoned the Latin Mass.

  4. I wasn’t arguing about preference. Like it or not the authoritative Catechism for TEC is that of 1979. As I was writing about the matter of authority, obviously I wouldn’t compare earlier models.

  5. Would your contention be that it is unlawful to make use of the classical Catechism and that it is not authoritative? It seems to me that there are two possibilities. Either the 1979 Catechism is a new way of saying what has been our consistent doctrine from the beginning, in which case priests ought to be free to use it or to use the older Catechism as they see fit given that they both articulate the same teaching, or it has a completely new doctrine that is at odds with the old, in which case we have a much bigger problem.

  6. Of course one may use the older Catechisms, as one may use older editions of the BCP as teaching aids and they assume that authority due to classical Anglican texts, which I think is substantial. However they are not the text currently authorized.

  7. Fr. Jonathan, I would disagree that the 1979 catechism is “largely divorced” from the 1928 version. When one takes out the recitation of the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer (none of which are included directly in the text in 1979) it seems to me that perhaps the only materials that aren’t directly apparent in the 1979 book are the capsule summary of the trinity and the explanation of the Lord’s Prayer. Well, and the bit about the name at the beginning, which points to the much narrower intent in 1928. The sections explaining the Ten Commandments and the sacraments do appear, reworded and expanded to some degree. If there is a divorce, it is perhaps in the thought that most of material in the current catechism has no precedent and therefore might be considered adiaphora.

  8. I would merely add that the intent of the blog was to assert that TEC has a Catechism which is authorized and should be in wide use. I was not discussing the relative merits of our historic documents, perhaps a story for another day.

  9. Is there a good catechism-based program for confirmands, et al?

  10. […] noted with interest this recent post from Fr. Bryan Owen which refers to another post from Fr. Tony Clavier on lifting up the prayer book catechism. I’m personally a fan of the prayer book catechism […]

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