Mormon Catechism

By: J. Stapley - September 01, 2006

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:

  1. Q. – Is there more than one Church of God on the earth?
    A. – No; there is but one true Church.
  2. Q. – What is its name?
    A. – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  3. Q. – Who gave it this name?
    A. – It was revealed, or made known by God.
  4. Q. – To whom was it revealed?
    A. – To Joseph Smith.
  5. Q. – Who was Joseph Smith?
    A. – A prophet whom God raised up to begin His great work in our days.
  6. Q. – When was Joseph Smith born?
    A. – On the 23rd of December, 1805.
  7. Q. – Where was he born?
    A. – At Sharon, Windsor County, in the State of Vermont.
  8. 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).

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  1. e.g., JD 11:61; 15:86; 17:257-258.
  2. 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.
  3. Joseph Fielding Smith. Answers to Gospel Questions. vol. 4, pg. vi.
  4. Contributor, vol. 8, no. 8, pg. 315.

12 Comments

  1. Wow, thanks for sharing this. I would have never guessed, with all our anti-creedal language, that we had a catechism.

    The bit you shared seems historical/administrative in its focus. Does it have sections about the nature of God or salvation?

    I’ve been working my way through the Heidelberg Catechism via Randall Working’s _From Rebellion to Redemption_, assuming the catechism form was as alienated from our history as infant baptism.

    Comment by Johnna Cornett — 9/1/2006 @ 11:35 am

  2. Well, the Deseret Sunday School Union published catechisms on the standard works at the same time, but John Jaques’ earlier Children’s Catechism is highly theological in nature. My link above was broken; it is fixed now. I would recommend perusing it.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 9/1/2006 @ 12:21 pm

  3. Also, Johnna, as it relates to creeds, during the Reformation movement of the late 1850′s there was a catechism that was required for rebaptism, some of which was reproduced in Peterson’s JMH article on the Reformation. It was a bit more temple recommend question-like, though.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 9/1/2006 @ 12:35 pm

  4. I’m loving browsing through the Children’s Catechism. Thanks for fixing the link.

    Comment by Johnna Cornett — 9/1/2006 @ 12:57 pm

  5. Enjoyed your post, J.

    Whether Grant memorized five chapters or five pages, kids have it easy today with the Articles of Faith requirement. In my day, we had to memorize the Bible and the Book of Mormon and other scripture until our eyes started to bleed and our brains began to swell. And that’s the way it was and we liked it!

    I don’t know about someone memorizing 80 pages, however.

    Comment by Justin — 9/1/2006 @ 1:45 pm

  6. That was hilarious, Justin. Yeah, we sure don’t memorize like we used to. I was inspired by Kevin Barney and tried to memorize all the scriptures and quotes for a talk in Church last week…um…that didn’t work so well.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 9/1/2006 @ 2:38 pm

  7. Any idea, J., how many different catechism titles were published during this period? I’ve read that Eliza Snow prepared one on the OT and the NT.

    Comment by Justin — 9/1/2006 @ 4:02 pm

  8. It looks like she prepared them in 1881 for the primary (EoM). The Deseret Sunday School Union prepared them on the Bible, Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants (Abraham Cannon was the author of the BoM edition). The Catechism no. 1 on the prophet isn’t mentioned in any of the digital archives, though, so there could likely be more.

    I don’t have any references, but I did see one note that looks like the Juvinile Instructor carried catechism columns.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 9/1/2006 @ 5:02 pm

  9. Is it possible to obtain a copy of the full catechism text?

    Comment by Jeff Day — 9/6/2006 @ 4:05 am

  10. If you mean Jaques’ catechism, then it is available by the link in the original post. If you mean the Deseret Union’s catechism No. 1 on the prophet, you will have scour old book stores and the internet.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 9/6/2006 @ 9:21 am

  11. Thanks for this! I needed some of the info for a review I’m writing for the Association for Mormon Letters. Very helpful!

    Comment by Jeffrey Needle — 8/30/2007 @ 7:39 pm

  12. Jeffrey, it is a pleasure. I always enjoy your reviews. Cheers.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 8/30/2007 @ 7:45 pm

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