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In the early church the word was used to describe the person who taught the catechesis* to the catechumens. Clement and Origen were famous Alexandrian catechists. In modern times it has been used (by missionaries) of native pastors, teachers, or preachers, and sometimes in the Western world of those who teach children the Christian faith-especially in the Roman Catholic Church.
CATECHIST, CATECHUMEN kăt’ ĕ kĭst, kăt’-ĕ k(y) u mĕn, generally understood in the Early Church as respectively a person giving and a person receiving elementary Christian instruction, esp. prior to baptism. Neither word occurs in the NT. The verb from which both are derived, κατηχέω, G2994, is used in
In the earliest period baptism apparently followed close on profession of faith (e.g.
P. Carrington, The Primitive Christian Catechism (1940); E. G. Selwyn, I Peter (1946), 18ff.; A. M. Hunter, Paul and his Predecessors (2 ed., 1961), 24-64; C. F. D. Moule, The Birth of the NT (1962), esp. ch. 8.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
kat’-e-kist, kate-ku’-men (katechizein "to resound," "to teach," "to instruct"): A catechist is a teacher who instructs his pupils in the elements of his own religion. In thehe teaches them the rudiments of Old Testament truth; in the he teaches the principles of the Christian faith. A catechumen, one whom the catechist instructs or catechizes, in preparation for the ceremony of baptism.
The words are derived from katechein, meaning "to give a sound," "to answer," "to echo." Classically it was used of the sounding down of rushing water, of the falling of music from a ship to the sea. Then it came to signify the sounding down of words of command or instruction. The preposition kata strengthens the meaning, bringing out more emphatically the back or return sound, the echo, the answer. So it came to mean familiar verbal instruction, a free informal discussion between teacher and pupil. Luke informs Theophilus (
We do not find in the New Testament an organized catechumenate, such as we find in the 3rd and 4th centuries. The apostles preached mainly to synagogue-instructed Jews who were familiar with the law and the prophets and the Psalms, or to Gentiles who had, learned from the Jews and had become "proselytes" (which see). The first apostolic preaching and teaching was to convince the hearers that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Saviour of the world. As believers multiplied, the contrast between them and those who rejected the teaching became more and more marked. Opposition, scorn and persecution became more bold and bitter. The Christians were compelled to set forth and defend their beliefs more clearly. They had to meet and answer keen and persistent objections. And so the necessity for clear, systematic and organized teaching grew more and more into the form of an ordered catechumenate. The, from the latter part of the 3rd century, show the institution in a fair state of development. A Jew, pagan, or heretic of good moral standing, upon application to the deacon, presbyter, or bishop, was admitted into the state of catechumen by the sign of the cross and the imposition of hands (Schaff-Herzog, under the word).
The basis for the Christian catechumenate we find in the great commission (
Jesus Himself at twelve years of age had become a child of the law, a catechumen. He increased in wisdom and learned obedience. He became the great Catechist instructing His disciples, other private individuals and the multitudes. See an example of His catechizing in