2 - Catechism

The sola fidei principle led to the formulation of catechisms in which the basic tenets of Reformation faith were expounded. In the Deutsche Messe of 1526, Luther had registered the need for a basic catechism and three years later published his Large Catechism for pastors and Small Catechism for laity, especially children (both were published in Wittenberg, 1529). The five main sections of the catechism were: the Ten Commandments, Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, and Lord’s Supper. Early Lutheran hymnals included hymns on these five parts of the catechism, though it took a little time before they were gathered together into one catechism section. The Magdeburg Enchiridion includes hymns on four of the five main parts of the catechism that are spread throughout its contents . There are three hymns on the Ten Commandments, two by Luther, including Dies sind die heiligen Zehn Gebot, and one by Agricola. There are two hymns on the Creed, Luther’s Wir glauben all an einen Gott and Speratus’s In Gott gelaub ich. There are three different hymns on the Lord’s Prayer, two by Moibanus and one by Pollio (Luther’s Vater unser im Himmelreich was not written until 1539, three years after the publication of the Enchiridion). There was no baptismal hymn in the hymnal itself, but it is highly significant indeed that the first of the manuscript hymns, added on the blank leaves at the front and back of the volume, was a Low German version of Luther’s baptismal hymn, Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam. For the fifth section of the catechism, the Lord’s Supper, there were a number of appropriate hymns, including Luther’s reworking of the hymn by Jan Hus, Jesus Christus unser Heiland, and Michael Stiefel’s German and evangelical version of the Latin Pange lingua.

But there is another hymn that has important catechetical implications, in the sense that its subject matter deals with the question of fundamental Reformation theology: Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt, by Lazarus Spengler of Nuremberg, probably written at the request of Luther sometime towards the end of 1523. This hymn was so important to Lutheran theology that it was later specifically cited in its confessional documents-the only hymn to be accorded such an honor. In the Formula of Concord (1577), Solid Declaration, Article 1, on original sin, there is this extraordinary statement (para. 23):

Likewise, we also reject and condemn those who teach that, though man's · nature has been weakened and corrupted through the Fall, it nevertheless not entirely lost all the goodness that belongs to spiritual and divine matters, or the situation is not the way the hymn which we sing in our churches describes it, "Through Adam's fall human nature and being are wholly corrupted" ["Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt/menschlich Natur und Wesen"].Citation: 3The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, trans. and ed. Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 512.

The citation here is the opening couplet of Spengler’s classic chorale on original sin, first published in Wittenberg in 1524 and included in the Magdeburg Enchiridion of 1536. What is remarkable is that the Formula of Concord cites the hymn as a classic statement and summary of the fundamental doctrine, and it underscores the Lutheran concern to teach the substance of the Christian faith through congregational song.


The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, trans. and ed. Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 512.