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A Catechism of Christian Doctrine, Prepared and Enjoined by Order of the Third Council of Baltimore (or, simply, the Baltimore Catechism) was the de facto standard Catholic school text in the United States from 1885 to the late 1960s. It was the first such catechism written for Catholics in North America, replacing a translation of Bellarmine's Small Catechism. In response to criticisms, various editions include annotations or other modifications. The Baltimore Catechism remained in use in nearly all Catholic schools until many moved away from catechism-based education, though it is still used up to this day in some.
In the nineteenth century, repeated efforts had been made in the United States towards an arrangement by which a uniform textbook of Christian Doctrine might be used by all Catholics. As early as 1829, the bishops assembled in the First Provincial Council of Baltimore decreed: "A catechism shall be written which is better adapted to the circumstances of this Province; it shall give the Christian Doctrine as explained in Cardinal Bellarmine's Catechism (1597), and when approved by the Holy See, it shall be published for the common use of Catholics" (Decr. xxxiii). The clause recommending Bellarmine's Catechism as a model was added at the special request of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. It may be mentioned here that Bellarmine's Small Catechism, Italian text with English translation, was published at Boston, in 1853.
The wish of the bishops was not carried out, and the First and Second Plenary Councils of Baltimore (1852 and 1866) repeated the decree of 1829. In the Third Plenary Council (1884) many bishops were in favor of a "revised" edition of a 1775 catechism by Irish Archbishop Butler, but finally the matter was given into the hands of a committee of six bishops. At last, in 1885, was issued "A Catechism of Christian Doctrine, Prepared and Enjoined by Order of the Third Council of Baltimore." Although the council had desired a catechism "perfect in every respect" (Acta et Decr., p. 219), theologians and teachers criticized several points (Nilles, "Commentaria", II, 265, 188). Soon various editions came forth with additions of word-meanings, explanatory notes, some even with different Arrangements, so that soon there was a considerable diversity in the books that go by the name of Baltimore Catechism. The Baltimore Catechism became the standard text for Catholic education in the United States. Since the 1960s, many Catholic churches and schools have moved away from catechism-based education, but a 1933 edition is available (ISBN 9780895551443) and as well as a modernized edition under the title of the New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism (ISBN 0-89942-242-X).
Volume 1 The 33 lessons contained in Baltimore Catechism No. 1 present the basics of the Catholic Faith in a manner suitable for First Communicants through fifth graders.
Volume 2 The 37 lessons contained in Baltimore Catechism No. 2 present the fundamentals of the Catholic Faith in a manner suitable for sixth through ninth graders and those preparing for Confirmation.
Volume 3 The lessons contained in Baltimore Catechism No. 3 are intended for students who have received their Confirmation and/or high schoolers. It includes additional questions, definitions, examples, and applications that build upon the content of the original Baltimore Catechism (No. 2).
Volume 4 An Explanation of the Baltimore Catechism can be used as a reference work, or as a teacher's manual for the original Baltimore Catechisms. It is often used as an advanced textbook. Its explanations of many little known questions pertaining to the Catholic Faith are designed to reward the questioning reader.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church - a more recent official catechism of the Church
- Baltimore Catechism No. 1 at Project Gutenberg. An abridged edition for younger students.
- Baltimore Catechism No. 2 at Project Gutenberg. The main edition.
- Baltimore Catechism No. 3 at Project Gutenberg. An expanded edition for older students.
- Baltimore Catechism No. 4 at Project Gutenberg. An annotated edition for teachers.