catechumens church baptism churches called third period week
CATECHUMEN. The Catechumeni in the earliest ages of the church were those who were desirous of and candidates for baptism. The literal signification of the term, according to its etymology (Greek) is one who is caused to hear something. In ecclesiastical language, - and the word is no otherwise used, - a catechumen is one who is being instructed in the doctrines of Christianity in preparation for baptism.
Catechumens were usually divided into four classes. The first class appears to have been those who were still in the condition of inquirers, - those who had been sufficiently impressed by that they had heard of Christianity to wish for more complete instruction. It would seem that this first instruction was, from motives of prudence, given privately and not in the churches. The second class consisted of those who, having been thus instructed, were found worthy of being admitted to the churches, not, however, to take any part in the holy mysteries, or even, as it would seem, in the prayers of the faithful, but for the hearing of sermons and exhortations, and the reading of the Gospel. These were accordingly called a udientes, - hearers. They left the church when the reading of the sacred Scriptures and the sermon had been concluded. The third class consisted of those who had formally demanded baptism, and placed their names in the list of catechumens. These were called prostrati or genuflectentes, - those who shared in the prayers of the congregation. The fourth class was the electi or competentes, or those who had completed the period of their probation, and were deemed ready to receive baptism, and only waited to do so on the first occasion, that is'to say, at the following Easter or Pentecost. The most important body of catechumens was obviously those of the third class, the genuflectentes ; and it is of these that most of what we read in the early writers of the catechumens generally must be understood.
Of course the number of those who were in a state of preparation for baptism increased ix proportion to the spread of the church. But it must not be supposed that there were no more catechumens when the totality of the population had become Christian, or that the catechumenate, as it was called, denoted solely the period of conversion from heathendom to Christianity. The children of Christian parents, who were not old enough, or not yet sufficiently instructed, to be admitted to the mystery of the Eucharist were catechumens, and subjected to the instruction of the church by a catechist appointed for the purpose. But throughout all the long period, during which proselytism from either Roman or barbarian heathenism was going on, the numbers of the catechumens were largely increased by a practice very curiously illustrative of the special superstition of the time. Large numbers of persons, who had become persuaded of the truth of Christianity, and who were fully minded to be baptized, put off the receiving of that sacrament, for a longer or shorter period, often until they found themselves in the presence of death. The object of this was to avoid responsibility before God for that greater heinousness of guilt, which would have resulted from sin committed after baptism. They argued that since baptism washed out all previous sin, and could be had only once, it was clearly expedient that it should be received as late in life as possible. Arid thus many remained as catechumens during the greater part of their lives. And this practice prevailed not only among those who were quitting paganism for Christianity ; it was also common among those born of Christian parents. Tenderness of conscience, too, seems often to have produced the same result in prolonging the catechumenate as the superstitious notion mentioned above. St Ambrose, St Gregory Nazianzen, and St Augustine all remained catechumens till far on in life. The emperors Theodoric, Yalentinian, and Constantine the Great did the same. Arid the abuse became so great that towards the end of the 4th century (see Baronius, ad an. 877) the church tried to provide a remedy for it, and among other fathers of the church, Saints Ambrose and Gregory exerted themselves to prevent others from following (though probably from very different motives) their own example.
The idea of the probable numbers of the members of a congregation likely to be in the condition of catechumens, which may be obtained from a consideration of the above circumstances, may serve to explain in some degree the architectural arrangements still to be seen in some churches of the early centuries. The complete plan of a church of that time seems to have comprised a court in front of the principal western entrance, surrounded with colonnades, as may still be seen in the cases of the church of St Ambrose at Milan, and that of St Clement at Rome, and some others. Now, when the catechumens were dismissed previously to the commencement of that portion of the service which we should call the " Communion Service," it was not understood that they should depart entirely, but they remained in these courts. It would seem, however, that those thus dismissed must have been the catechumens of the second class only - the audientes. And in the churches that have been mentioned, especially in that of St Clement at Rome, the body of the building is divided by permanent stone constructions into the presbytery or 'hancel for the clergy at the eastern end, an intermediate portion for the lay members of the congregation of the male sex (the females being in the galleries), and a much larger part of the nave at the western extremity of the church, destined for the catechumens.
In the more important churches, persons called catechists were especially appointed for the instruction of the catechumens. In the epistle attributed to St Clement, catechists are spoken of as distinguished from either bishops, priests, or deacons. But there is not sufficient evidence that they were ever considered. a separate order in the hierarchy. In the church of Alexandria there was a celebrated school of catechumens, under the superintendence of some of the foremost men of their time, among whom St Clement of Alexandria and Origen may be mentioned. Sec Origen, Cont. Cel., lib. iii. It would seem that Origen was thus employed at eighteen years of age, when he was still a layman. There was also a celebrated school of catechumens m the church of Carthage. It is somewhat remarkable, however, that no traces are found of any such catechists having existed at Rome. There can be no doubt, how. ever, that the catechumens were there as elsewhere required to pass through a period of instruction and novitiate, the task of preparing them being doubtless entrusted to the priests and deacons - more probably the latter - of each church.
Catechumens of the third category might be present, in the more distant and inferior part of the church assigned to them, during all that part of the service of the mass which precedes the offertory. 1 t was then that the "Ile, Catcchumeni; masa est /' was pronounced: and that portion of the service was called a "Catechumens' mass.'' lt was not permitted to them so such as to see the eucharist. But in order that there might be the bond of some kind of special communion between them and the body of the faithful, bread was blessed and given to them, and this bread was called Pants Catechumen011071.
On the demand of any person to become a catechumen, a strict and searching examination was made into the previous conduct of the aspirant, and the general tenor of his life. Great caution was used also in ascertaining the nature and earnestness of his desire to become a Christian. If these inquiries and examinations were satisfactory, the person's name was formally entered on the roll of cate• chumens. From a very ancient extant ritual, entitled Ordo ad faciendum Christianum, it appears that the catechumens were, by anticipation, as Moroni says, called Christians, while the title of "the Faithful" was reserved for those who had received baptism. The duration of the catechumenate was originally fixed at three months (see the third epistle of St Clement), but was subse• quently shortened to forty days. The ceremonial with which the catechumen was at the termination of his novitiate admitted to baptism varied in some unimportant respects in different churches. But the following brief statement of the practice of the Roman church will suffice to indicate the nature of the function. In the first place a searching scrutiny into the mind and heart of the candidate for baptism was made on seven different occasions during Lent or in the weeks preceding Pentecost. Previously to beginning the first scrutiny, which took place on the Wednesday of the third week in Lent, the priest blessed ashes, which he sprinkled on the head of the catechumen. He also touched his ears and his nostrils with saliva, saying "Ephphatha, which is, be opened to the odour of sanctity. But thou, devil, flee hence, for the judgment of God is approaching." The days appointed for the other six scrutinies were the Saturday of the third week, the Wednesday and Saturday of the fourth week, the Wednesday of the fifth week, and the Wednesday and Saturday of the last week. The first scrutiny was closed by asking of the neophyte if he renounced the devil and believed all the doctrines of the faith. Then the priest blew on his face, saying, " Go out from him, thou unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit of the Paraclete ;" and concluded by making the sign of the cross on Isis forehead, accompanying the action by the words, " In nomme Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti." At the third scrutiny the Creed and the Lord's Prayer were given to the catechumen that he might learn them by heart, for the discipline of the "Arcanum" expressly forbade that he should be allowed any cognizance of these at an earlier period of his novitiate. This consigning of the Creed was not done without certain formalities. The catechumens were assembled in the church, the bells were rung, and the church doors closed. Then the bishop preached a sermon, and then recited the Creed twice, once in Latin, once in Greek, prefacing his reading by the words "Signate vos; et audite Symbolum !" Be then explained it passage by passage, and then gave to each Catechumen a written copy of it. Then a day was fixed for the ceremony of baptism, and the catechumens were dismissed by the archdeacon with the 'words "Catechumeni reeedant; °nines Catechumeni excant formal" - " Let the catechumens retire ! Let all the catechumens go out from the church I " And the deacon added. "Filii carissimi, revert-:mini in loea rostra., espeetantes horam qua possit circa vos Dei gratia Baptismum operari, - " Well-beloved sons, return to your own home, and there await the hour when, by the grace of God, baptism may be performed on you." And so ended the catechumens novitiate.
The number of writers who have specially treated of the institution of catechumens, and of the practice of the Church, and in some respects of the different churches, in regard to them, is far too large for it to be possible to give a list of them here. But such a list may be found in the treatise of Cancellieri on the Holy Week.