In 1891, George Q. Cannon & Sons Co. published the Sunday School Catechism No. 1 on behalf of the Deseret Sunday School Union. The title page gives the subtitle: Questions and Answers on the Life and Mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Preface, bearing the date of June 1, 1882 indicates that the volume was prepared by the publishing committee.
The format of the catechism is a bit foreign to modern pedagogical materials, consisting of only short questions and answers in chronological order, but was a common method for religious instruction during the period. The following is an excerpt from the initial chapter:
- Q. – Is there more than one Church of God on the earth?
A. – No; there is but one true Church.
- Q. – What is its name?
A. – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
- Q. – Who gave it this name?
A. – It was revealed, or made known by God.
- Q. – To whom was it revealed?
A. – To Joseph Smith.
- Q. – Who was Joseph Smith?
A. – A prophet whom God raised up to begin His great work in our days.
- Q. – When was Joseph Smith born?
A. – On the 23rd of December, 1805.
- Q. – Where was he born?
A. – At Sharon, Windsor County, in the State of Vermont.
- Q. – What were his parents’ names?
A. – Joseph and Lucy Smith.
These questions and answers continue for 58 pages and end with the burial of Joseph and his brother.
The catechism was first introduced to the Church via the Lectures on Faith, the canonized doctrine of the Doctrine and Covenants; but it was John Jaques, an English convert who joined the Church in 1845 that popularized the format for the majority of a century. His Children’s Catechism was translated into ten languages and was promoted over the pulpit by the Church hierarchy (1). Heber J. Grant memorized the first five chapters of the catechism as a boy (2) and Joseph Fielding Smith “committed to memory” much of it (3).
Of the 4,929 classes held by the Sunday School Union in 1887, 293 were catechism-based (4).
- e.g., JD 11:61; 15:86; 17:257-258.
- Walker notes that it was the first five pages in Ronald W. Walker (1984) BYU Studies vol. 24, no. 1, but Heber repeted on several occasions that it was the first five chapters: Significant Counsel To the Young People of the Church by President Heber J. Grant (1921)Improvement Era vol. 24, no. 10 & Honoring Karl G. Maeser (1835) Improvement Era vol. 38 no. 5.
- Joseph Fielding Smith. Answers to Gospel Questions. vol. 4, pg. vi.
- Contributor, vol. 8, no. 8, pg. 315.