How Does Catechize Differ From Catechism?

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:

Sunday, September 22, 1912:  Went to S.S. this afternoon and attended Catechize.

Recent photo of the site where the McEwensville Baptist Church once stood.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

When I read this diary entry, I got stuck on a simple vocabulary question. I remember going to “catechism” class when I was in middle school. How does “catechize” differ from “catechism”? Is it a different part of speech?

The Free Online Dictionary defines catechize as “to teach the principles of Christian dogma, discipline, and ethics by means of questions and answers.”

While catechism is “a book giving a brief summary of the basic principles of Christianity in question-and-answer form.”

Grandma  was 17-years-old when she wrote this entry. I’m surprised that she hadn’t completed catechize and joined the church when she was in her early teens.

14 thoughts on “How Does Catechize Differ From Catechism?

  1. Catechize is a term that is not used very much today. However, I believe that even if your Grandma had already joined the church she would still be learning more about being a Christian. I think that this is where there is a difference between the two terms. Catechize is simply a methodology of learning, where as a catechism is a defined set of information in the question and answer form.

  2. Interesting.. It’s fun exploring the origins and meanings of words. Is there a new McEwensville Baptist Church building somewhere else in town? I wonder what happened to the original building?

    1. The church is gone–and has been for many years. I think that it disbanded (or combined with another church in the parish) by about about 1920.

      Agnes Beard in her 1939 history of McEwensville wrote: “The Baptist Church, a brick edifice, has fallen into ruins, there being no members in or near the place to keep it in repair.”

      Since Grandma attended Sunday School so regularly, I’ve often wondered what happened.

    1. Your comment made me pull out my 1973 edition of Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. This is the definition for catechize in it:

      1. to instruct systematically esp. by questions, answers, and explanations and corrections: specif: to give religious instruction in such a manner. 2. to question systematically or searchingly.

      Until today, I’d never really thought about how the tone of a definition might vary from one dictionary to the next. Now I want to compare more words across dictionaries.

    1. I pulled a dictionary out to respond to On the Home Front and Beyond’s comment, and discovered that there are several additional related words:

      catechumen (noun): one receiving instruction in the basic doctrines of Christianity before admission to communicant membership in a church

      catachist (noun): a teacher of catechumens

      catechesis (noun): oral instruction of catechemens

      Whew, does anyone use any of these words any more?

  3. I’d agree that Catechize would be the process of teaching whereas the catechism is more the “book” they would learn from. Maybe it was just a slip of the finger on Grandma’s part?

  4. Interesting. I didn’t know that Baptists had any form of catechism. Being Lutheran, I took catechism in about 7th/8th grade, so it seems that your grandmother is taking the instruction a bit late. However, the Baptists I grew up around (my grandparents) didn’t believe in infant baptism, so perhaps such training would wait for a few years after being baptized.

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