The Second question and answer of the first Lord’s day gives us the structural outline of the Catechism. The Catechism is divided according to the three part answer of question #2. Part #1 of the Catechism deals with how great our sins and miseries are. Part #2 of the Catechism (the longest part) deals with how we are delivered from all our sins and miseries. Part #3 of the Catechism deals with our response of gratitude to God for our deliverance. The Catechism is then sub-divided into 52 Lord’s Days. One unit for each week of the year. This structuring was often used in order to teach a congregation one Lord’s Day unit per week thus covering the Catechism in one year.
There is a certain logic to be found in this subdivision. A man will not see the need for salvation until he first sees his sin. Once man sees his sin, salvation is what he will pine for and once he begins to comprehend how great a salvation he has been freely given the natural response is to show gratitude to the one who has done all the saving.
Keep in mind that the Catechism was intended to be a kind of basic Christianity. It was hoped that all God’s people would be familiar with the basic truths brought out in the Catechism. Many people want to jump to graduate school Christianity without getting the basics down that are found in the Catechism. This is a dangerous road to take, if only because the basics are instrumental when seeking to understand matters loftier. If we don’t have the basics under our belt loftier matters might possibly throw us for a loop.
The second question asks,
How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?
First note how practical the Catechism is. It desires for people to live happily. It believes it is giving a way for people to die happily. The truths in the catechism are expected to have an impact in the way that we think, the way that we live, and the way that we die.
Second, not the premise of the second question. The premise is that Christianity is primarily the life of the mind. Question #2 asks, how many things are necessary for thee to know. With this question the Catechism tells us that unless we rationally understand certain truths we will not be able to enjoy the comfort that Christianity affords. Christianity is a life long pursuit of thinking God’s thoughts after Him. This is not a insignificant point as many versions of Christianity today denigrate the life of the mind in favor of emotion, or encounter or experience. Now, it may be the case that Christianity should well include emotion, encounter, and experience but these are the consequence of knowing God, not the basis of knowing God. I harp on this because much if not most of Christianity is based on the search for a meaningful experience with God, or a encounter with God, or some emotional high from God. The Catechism is not primarily concerned with these matters. The Catechism, following Scripture is concerned with you knowing God, and your undoubted Catholic Christian faith.
Jeremiah 9:23 Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD.
John 17:3 (Jesus speaking) This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
The shift from the insistence on “Knowing God,” to a insistence on “Experiencing God” can be seen in the Christian publishing world. In 1973 a book was published entitled “Knowing God.” It was considered a instant classic. Another book title from that era that was also was quite good was “Knowledge of the Holy.” However another publishing wave hit in 1990 and a book entitled, “Experiencing God,” became all the rage. The two titles of those two books tell a loud story about how the Church and Christians think about God. You should also know that theology of encounter with God is also a big emphasis in certain quarters. I tell you these things so that you might understand different flavors of Christianity as you come across them. Biblical Christianity wants you to know God. Now certainly proper emotions will follow (the emotion of misery when sin is known, the emotion of relief upon knowing that we’ve bee rescued, the emotion of gratitude as a knowing response to our rescue, the emotion of joy knowing that we are safe in Christ, the emotion of love in knowing that God loves us, etc.) but emotions, experience, or encounter are only the residue of knowing God and your undoubted Catholic Christian faith.
Tomorrow we will look at the answer to question #2.