Luther’s Small Catechism is a vitally important document for Lutheranism, one that is at the heart of Lutheran catechesis.
It’s also (as I can testify from personal experience) a document that can be a great blessing to Christians from other traditions. Indeed, no less a figure than Joseph Ratzinger made a distinction between “the Luther of the Catechisms” (and of the hymns and liturgical reforms) and Luther the polemicist.
For many Lutherans, the most familiar version of the Small Catechism is the 1986 edition published by Concordia Publishing House (CPH) and widely used by confirmands in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and its partner churches around the English-speaking world – including the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England.
Unfortunately, however, CPH asserts its copyright on the 1986 edition very firmly (as I’ve discussed before).
Even the LCMS website now appears to lack a copy, and the PDF version that used to be available on CPH’s site has also (as far as I can tell) disappeared. Whatever the merits of CPH’s approach – CPH executives will argue very strongly in its defence, and it’s not an argument I wish to reopen here – the result is that it is not easy to find a modern English edition of the Small Catechism online.
(Update: turns out CPH has recently launched a rather elegant online version of the Catechism here. A PDF of the Catechism with Explanation is here. Glad to be corrected, but if anything this makes it even stranger that CPH takes such a hard line on churches and other groups making the Catechism available on their websites – since making it available in this way clearly doesn’t undermine commercial sales of the printed editions. It also doesn’t remove my disagreement with CPH on “the principle of the thing”.)
Our church website included, until recently, a copy of the 1986 edition. However, having been made aware that CPH considers this an infringement of its copyright, we took the page down a few weeks ago.
This has spurred me to undertake an exercise I’ve been meaning to get round since at least 2010. I have now gone back to the 1921, public domain version of the Catechism, and have lightly modernised it. I’ve retained the NIV – which I know won’t be a universally popular decision – as this is the version used in the familiar, 1986 version.
The result can be found on our website, and is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike licence (other than the excerpts from the NIV, which are made available under licence from the NIV’s publisher).
I’m not going to claim that this is perfect, and would welcome any suggestions for changes. However, it does provide a modern English version of the Catechism within the same “tradition” as the 1921 edition (on which the 1986 edition is also heavily based) – and provides it in a form that is freely available for others to use, modify and distribute.