Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.


IN no country, perhaps, has the study of Catechetics made such rapid strides, or its importance been so much appreciated, as in Germany. That country can boast of a band of writers who have enriched the world with a most valuable catechetical literature, treating the subject in a way at once scientific and practical. Gruber, Krawutzcky, Overberg, Barthel, Hirschfelder, and Benda are names deservedly honoured by those who can appreciate the importance of Catechetics; but more honourable still are the names of Schuster and Mey, to which must now be added the name of Dr. KNECHT, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Freiburg, the author of several pamphlets on state education and the school question, but better known as the author of the Practical Commentary, which entitles him to a place in the front rank of Catechists. Besides issuing Catechisms and Histories, these writers have done what in them lay to elevate Catechetics into a science, and to build it up from a solid foundation. They were quick to see that Catechetics is both a science and an art, and that like every other science it must rest on certain broad principles, and move along certain fixed lines. They recognized that Catechisms must be constructed not haphazard, but on a definite plan and principle, and according to rule. Hence, for years past, the principles underlying Catechetics, its various branches—e. g. Bible History and Catechism—and their mutual interdependence, the catechetical method itself—viz. the mode of imparting the several branches, and the rules to be followed by the Catechist—all, in a word, that goes to constitute the science, has passed through the sieve of exhaustive discussion.

And where do we stand in England? Have we advanced thus far? Or have we so much as grasped the truth that Catechetics is a science at all? On looking into the dictionary I found, indeed, the word Catechetics, but it was marked with an obelus or death-mark, to show that it was either dying or dead. The thing is not, perhaps, quite as lifeless as its name; but if Catechetics, as a science, still barely lives, it is the utmost that can be said. I am far from saying that there is a lack of earnestness amongst us, or that we have no experienced Catechists who have attained a fair, or, if you will, a large measure of success. Nor am I insinuating that we are not alive to the vast consequences with which success or failure in catechizing is fraught for the future. On the contrary, the steady, if slow, growth of a catechetical literature amongst us points to a growing interest in the subject, and a deepening sense of its importance. All this, however, while proving that we are in point of fact catechizing, only serves to bring out in greater prominence the fact that we are still without the science. Are our tools rusty? Are our weapons broken or blunted? In a word, are our methods right or wrong? Are the instruments we are using adapted to the purpose for which they are intended? Are our Catechisms correctly adjusted, that is, are they set in a manner best calculated to secure their aim? All these are questions on which our future success turns, and which clamour for an answer. If our methods and our instruments are perchance wrong, we are but wasting our energies in attempting to naturalize mistakes, by forming them into a regular system. And what answer can be given to these questions? Until lately no answer has been attempted, even if the question has been asked. But recently an enterprising clerical journal, Pastoralia by name, has been rife with discussions that have yet only touched the fringe of these great questions; still I am not without hopes that when the mass of nebulous matter condenses, it may prove to be the beginning of a solid catechetical system.

We in England, then, seem to be just entering on the preliminary stage of discussion. In Germany the stage of discussion has long been passed. And, it will naturally be asked, has the discussion proved as barren of practical fruit as many German discussions have undoubtedly been? What has been the net result? Is any advantage likely to accrue from a discussion? Is not the catechetical system that is stereotyped in practice good enough? These are, I submit, questions that may be profitably discussed, even if the discussion entail no change. At any rate, it can do no harm, if it only strengthen our self-assurance that we are travelling on the right road. For it is not a little singular that the Germans, who have discussed these matters, and we, who have not, move in many respects on totally distinct planes. The Germans, for instance, use a graduated series of Catechisms. There are lower Catechisms, middle Catechisms, and upper Catechisms. In England, on the other hand, we have practically but one Catechism, which is learnt alike by infants on the gallery, and by youths in the upper orms. Is it better to have one Catechism or a graduated series adapted to the several capacities of those who use them? Surely, it would not be futile to discuss the respective merits or demerits of the two systems. For without presuming to say that either is better than the other, I may safely affirm that ours is not so obviously superior as to be outside the pale of discussion.

Another question closely bound up with the former is to determine what should be the setting and frame-work and general characteristics of a Catechism. Should a Catechism, in a word, be a Summa Theologica in miniature? a compendium of Theology? a condensed essence of theological treatises? Should it be couched in technical language? Should it bristle with definitions? Should the definitions be framed with such studied accuracy that the most fastidious philosopher shall be unable to detect the slightest flaw or imperfection? Should they be such that “only a philosopher can read them without a groan”? Or should a Catechism be a religious primer? Should its language be plain and simple, but accurate withal, though without straining after minute shades of accuracy? Should there be more explanations and fewer definitions? By way of illustrating the two methods I will transcribe two answers to the question: What is God? One answer occurs in the English Catechism, the other in Deharbe’s Small Catechism, a translation of which is extensively used in the United States.


              DEHARBE’S CATECHISM.


What is God?

              What is God?


God is the supreme Spirit, who alone exists of Himself and is infinite in all perfections.

              God is the Lord and Master of heaven and earth, from whom all good things come.


The English definition is made up of a number of ideas of such a hard metaphysical cast as to be wholly impervious to the ordinary mind, to say nothing of the child-mind. Nay, it may be affirmed without exaggeration that only those who have undergone a philosophical and a theological training can ever hope to understand it. The very explanation involves a course of theology. For the definition is the whole treatise De Deo in a nutshell. Deharbe’s answer immediately stoops to lowly intelligences, and thereby it stoops to conquer. Being adapted to the capacity of children, it will give them, at least, some idea of God, whereas the English definition cannot but leave a blank. And yet, as Frassinetti rightly contends, the first and chiefest step in catechizing is to give children a grand and exalted idea of God. Even the Middle Catechisms do not require their pupils to soar to such metaphysical heights as we expect our infants to scale.

To some it will seem that both methods are right, if each be kept in its place: that we need both a digest of theology and a religious primer. At the same time it is respectfully insisted that the two works are so different in scope und material that any attempt to fuse them into one is foredoomed to failure. Surely, all must allow that religious teaching comes first, theological explanation a long way second, and theological terms are to be admitted only when they cannot be kept out.

Thus we have again veered round to the previous question: whether it is better to have one Catechism or several? Those who maintain the necessity of having several Catechisms, or several grades in the one Catechism, can at all events appeal to the example of St. Paul, who prescribed milk for the weak and solid food for the strong.

There is yet a third point on which we need light, and that is the disposition and order in which the material should be set. In what order should the Catechism be arranged? On a metaphysical or a practical plan? The order followed in the English Catechism is severely metaphysical, and consequently children do not learn till late many things that they require to know early. Take, for instance, the Sacrament of Penance and the Christian’s Daily Exercise. These occur in the latter part of the Catechism. And yet, children require these long before this stage in the Catechism is reached, that is, if the present order be followed. And what is the result? That children have to be learning two parts of the Catechism concurrently: one for school-work, and another to fit them for the Sacraments they are about to receive. Thus the school-work is a drag on the Sacraments, and the Sacraments a drag on the school-work, whereas they should be a mutual help one to the other. A question proper to be discussed in Catechetics is how far this double system is a waste of energy, and how far it would be advantageous to arrange the school Catechism on a more useful principle, that is, broadly speaking, in the order in which it is required. In the Catechism for the Diocese of Rottenburg the Sacraments follow immediately on the articles of the Creed. This, at all events, is a step in the right direction. For obviously children receive the Sacraments, and therefore require to know about them, before they need a detailed knowledge of the commandments. But still greater advance has been made in the Diocese of Salford. In the manuals of Religious Instruction used in that diocese, and approved by Cardinal Vaughan when Bishop of Salford, the questions and answers are arranged, not in the mechanical order with which we are familiar in the ordinary Catechism, but in subjects. Here we have, I submit, a valuable hint which, if judiciously acted upon, cannot but greatly simplify the work of learning and, what is more important, of understanding the Catechism.

The incidental mention of the Catechism for the Diocese of Rottenburg suggests another point—and it shall be the last—on which I wish now to touch. This Catechism has in common with our own one notable feature. Underlying both is the remarkable principle of embodying the question in the answer. When this principle was first introduced into the English Catechism, it was looked upon as the golden key that would unlock the portals of knowledge. It was imagined that the automatic action of dovetailing the question into the answer would serve as a sort of plastic medium for transferring to the mind of the child the connexion between question and answer that exists on paper. The physic process by which this result was to be achieved was doubtless wrapped in mystery; but as an expedient for bridging over the abyss between mind and matter, the device was certainly ingenious. It looked very plausible, and no one could say that it might not succeed. Its short-lived existence, however, has but confirmed the old axiom that an automaton will never produce life or intelligence. No one nowadays dreams that it has realized the great expectations that were formed from it. Nay, if I may speak as one less wise, I should say that the soundness of the principle is very widely called in question. Instead of smoothing away, as many object, it has multiplied the difficulty of learning the Catechism by increasing the matter of the answers, already in many cases too bulky; and, what is far worse, by giving such undue prominence to the question, it has thrust the answer into the background, and thus the answer is smothered or strangled in the question. Now, which is the more important factor in a Catechism: the question or the answer? The answer to this question is too obvious to need stating; for surely there can be no doubt that the answer is of primary, and the question of only secondary importance. The question is of value only inasmuch as it draws out the answer. It is the answer, therefore, that should be to the front, and the question in the background. Whereas when the question is put in front, and the answer in the rear—when the question is made to overshadow the answer—the natural order is inverted.

I have said that the English and Rottenburg Catechisms share this principle in common. But, after all, the agreement between the two Catechisms is only apparent. For there is this difference between the two, that in the English Catechism the question was framed before the answer, whereas in the Rottenburg Catechism the answer was framed before the question. Thus in the latter the true principle appears as a living force.

This is a matter of greater import than at first blush it may seem. Not only is this mode of procedure a courageous assertion of the true principle on which I have been insisting; not only is the true proportion between question and answer thereby observed; but it also gives us a glimpse of yet another truth which we seem barely to have realized: viz. that answers gain in clearness and directness when they are unhampered by the stilted phraseology of a preformed question. How much plainer and simpler would Catechisms be, if all were constructed on this plan! Still, if the Rottenburg principle is right, we may reasonably go a step farther and ask, how far it is advisable to have stereotyped questions at all. Will the Catechism of the future—if Catechism it can be called—consist merely of sets of plain simple consecutive statements? That some chapters in the Catechism lose in effectiveness by being put in the form of question and answer, is to me painfully evident. Take, for instance, the last chapter—the Christian’s Daily Exercise. Will any one say that the beautiful instructions therein contained would not be far more telling, if written in the form of pithy childlike statements? But, as they stand, they are positively handicapped by the questions to which they form a pendant. And it is to be feared that, in consequence, children often think of the duty inculcated only in connexion with its question in the Catechism.


Leaving the domain of general Catechetics, we now come to that branch which is the subject-matter of the present volume, viz. Bible History. And, first of all, it may be asked: what place does Bible History hold in a course of religious instruction? Bible History is not the foundation on which religious instruction rests, nor the centre round which it revolves, nor the goal towards which it tends. Our religion centres in our faith, which is not a condensed extract from Bible History, but comes from the Church. Not Bible History, then, but the teaching of the Church must, on Catholic principles, be at once the beginning, middle and end of religious instruction. Hence Bible History, to claim a place in religious instruction, must do so only inasmuch as it bears on the doctrines of faith. If this principle be kept steadily in view, Bible History may be made to render most valuable service in religious instruction. The illustrative light it throws on doctrinal truths makes them more easily intelligible. They become invested with a concrete form, are clothed with flesh and blood, breathe the breath of life, and move like living truths before our eyes. In the Catechism, they appear as cold abstracts and mere outlines. Thus Bible History becomes an object-lesson in faith, a veritable pictorial Catechism. How powerfully, for instance, is the truth of an all-ruling Providence illustrated by the histories of Joseph and Abraham! What, again, is better calculated to teach the power of prayer than the stories of Moses praying while the Israelites fought, and of the Church praying for the imprisoned Peter? On the other hand, the fate of Judas and the rejection of Juda show forth, in all their hideous deformity, the terrible consequences of resistance to grace; while the history of the fall of Eve and of Peter brings out the necessity of avoiding dangerous occasions. In this way, Bible History at once proves and illustrates doctrinal truth. And it likewise develops and expands such truth. The Catechism tells us, indeed, how and why Christ suffered, but Bible History gives a full and detailed account of His sufferings, and so enables us better to realize the infinite love of God and the enormity of sin. The texts of Scripture that in the Catechism stand isolated and shorn of their context, are now seen in the light of their surroundings, and speak to us with a new force and meaning. Moreover, Bible History serves to complete the Catechism. The Catechism, for example, is silent about miracles, about God’s mercy and forbearance, His patience and longsuffering. Of humility, and indeed of many other virtues, it is also silent, except that it arranges them over against the opposing vices. But would we learn their nature and properties, and how pleasing they are to God, it is to Bible History that we must turn. The Catechism is monosyllabic in stating the duties that children owe to their parents, masters to their servants, and vice versa; whereas the history of the centurion’s servant, of Heli’s sons, and of Tobias surrounds these duties with a halo of interpreting light. Again, Bible History exhibits religious truth in its bearing and action on the most varied states and conditions. Virtue and vice stand before us, with life-blood coursing through their veins, in attractive beauty or repellent ugliness. The Good Samaritan invites to mercy; Job, in his resignation to God’s will, is a beacon-light to the sorrowing; the Apostles going forth from the scourges, and rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer for Christ, invest with a startling reality the beatitude: Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake.

From all this it is clear that Bible History is not to be read, as too often it is, merely as a story-book; that it is to be studied, not on its own account, but because it imparts life and vigour, picturesqueness and comprehensiveness to religious instruction; because it elucidates, proves, enforces and illustrates the truths that go to make up religious instruction. But, as Dr. Knecht insists, in order that Bible History may be in a position to render these services, it must be “taught in the closest connexion with the Catechism”. “Catechism and Bible History must mutually interpenetrate, for only in this way is a systematic course of religious instruction possible”. Catechism and Bible History must go hand in hand, but Catechism must be in the van. Catechism is the guiding principle, and Bible History its handmaid.

These are the principles, weighty though elementary, on which Dr. Knecht and all writers on Catechetics are generally agreed. And how does practice harmonize with principles? Is practice attuned to principle? Or are the two in hopeless discord? To begin with, how many teachers have mastered the reason why Bible History has a place in religious instruction? How many, or how few, realize the fact that Bible History and Catechism should be “taught in the closest connexion”? And what percentage of those who have grasped this truth put it into practice? There is no denying the patent fact that, as a rule, the two are not taught concurrently, and are not made to run on parallel lines. Ten to one, the Bible History set down for a class in a given year has no connexion whatever with the doctrinal instruction of that year. Thus, while children are being instructed in the Holy Eucharist, their Scripture History turns on that singularly uninspiring period embraced by the reigns of the kings of Israel and Juda! All this comes from being enslaved to the chronological system. This is the root of the evil to which the axe must be laid. Forgetting the plain principle that should underlie the teaching of all Bible History, and utterly ignoring the profit or loss to the children, we have stumbled over the crooked idea that Bible History must be taught chronologically even in our poor schools. I am far from denying, nay, I affirm that a systematic course of Bible History should be given when time and facilities are not wanting, as in our upper schools and colleges. But in our poor schools, where the time barely suffices to give the necessary instruction and to drive it home with religious effect, a slavish adhesion to chronology is to sacrifice realities to figures. To talk of a systematic course in this sense, under such circumstances, is nothing short of preposterous. In the chronological system, Bible History cannot, except by a happy accident, enforce and illustrate the religious instruction. Far from being a help, it is a drawback. Instead of elucidating, it obscures. No longer the handmaid, it seeks to be on an equality with the mistress. For religious instruction to succeed in its great purpose it must, as Dr. Knecht rightly says, be conducted on a “unitive” plan. The unit is the doctrinal instruction, with which the Bible History must be brought into line, unless we are to fly in the teeth of all our principles. Let me now briefly illustrate what I mean by this unification or concentration of subject that I am advocating, lest perhaps I be twitted with pulling down without attempting to build up. Instead, therefore, of teaching children who are being instructed in the Blessed Eucharist about the kings of Israel and Juda, I would teach them the Scripture History of the Blessed Eucharist, as in the following plan:


              I.              Types of the Holy Eucharist:

1.              The Sacrifice of Melchisedech.

2.              The Paschal Lamb.

3.              The Manna.

4.              The Food of Elias.

5.              The Jewish Sacrifices.

              II.              The Prophecy of Malachias.

              III.              Christ promises a new Sacrifice:

1.              At Jacob’s Well.

2.              After the multiplication of the loaves.

              IV.              The Last Supper.—Institution of the Blessed Eucharist:

              V.              The two disciples going to Emmaus.

              VI.              Miracles illustrative of the Blessed Eucharist:

1.              Water made wine at Cana.

2.              Multiplication of loaves.

3.              Christ walking on the waters.

4.              The Transfiguration.

The important subject of the Church may be treated somewhat similarly.



              I.              Introductory.

              II.              The Church a Family.

1.              Noc. The ark.

2.              Call of Abraham.—The promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

              III.              The Church a People.

1.              Moses.

2.              Giving of the Law.

3.              The Tabernacle.

4.              Entrance into the Promised Land.

              IV.              The Church a Kingdom.

1.              David.

2.              Solomon.—Building of the Temple.

3.              The kingdom broken up.

              V.              God promises to set up a New Kingdom.


              VI.              Introductory.

              VII.              Christ the King.—The Kingdom of God.

              VIII.              Parables on the Kingdom of God.

1.              The Hidden Treasure.

2.              The Pearl of Great Price.

3.              The Wheat and the Cockle.

4.              The Drag-net.

5.              The Leaven.

6.              The Mustard Seed.

7.              The Good Shepherd.

              IX.              Jesus calls Disciples.

              X.              The first Miraculous Draught of Fishes.

              XI.              Peter’s Confession of Faith.—The Foundation of the Church of Christ.

              XII.              Christ promises that Peter’s faith shall not fail.

              XIII.              The second miraculous Draught of Fishes.—Christ makes Peter Chief Shepherd.

              XIV.              The Mission of the Apostles.


              XV.              The Opening of the Church.

              XVI.              Peter cures the Lame Man.

              XVII.              The First Christians.

              XVIII.              The Apostles work miracles; are imprisoned &c.

              XIX.              Conversion of St. Paul.

              XX.              Peter visits the Churches.

              XXI.              Peter’s vision.—Cornelius.

              XXII.              Peter imprisoned and set free by an angel.

              XXIII.              The Council of Jerusalem.

              XXIV.              Primacy of St. Peter.—Summary.

In a word, the Scripture History should be grouped round the central doctrines of our faith.


A subject largely discussed in Catechetics is the method of teaching Bible History. Catechists are now agreed that five factors go to make up the teaching of Bible History: 1. narrative, 2. explanation, 3. repetition, 4. commentary, 5. application. Not to be needlessly prolix, I assume that this is also the order in which they are to be taken. A few words must be said on each.

Narrative. The first stage in teaching Bible History is the narrative. The teacher tells the story briefly and pithily, in such a way, however, as to make the actors stand out as living beings, and enable the children to see with their eyes and hear with their ears what is said and done. This is what Fénelon called the “fundamental law” in teaching Bible History. Neglect or slipshod observance of this rule is prolific in failures. And yet, in defiance of this “fundamental law”, children are often set to learn the History in the first instance from a book! What is the result? The child, failing to understand the story aright at the outset, receives a blurred impression which is never wholly effaced. And no wonder. The negative was bad; and no amount of subsequent dilutions and retouchings will produce a good photograph from a bad negative. It is essential that the first impression should be a good one. If the child fails at first to catch the points of interest, it is bored by the story ever afterwards. But if the story is well told, the child’s interest is awakened, and it is all ears to know something further. The narrative is the peg on which all that follows is to hang. Unless the nail be firmly driven in, it will not hold the picture; so unless the points of the story are clearly fixed in the child’s mind, it is labour wasted to overlay it with explanations or to attach pendant commentaries.

Explanation. A story well told is half explained. In telling the story, hard words are, as far as possible, to be avoided; but from time to time, words and phrases, usages and customs that need explaining, will find their way into the story. This is all that Catechists mean by the explanation, viz., making clear all that is absolutely necessary for understanding the story aright. It does not mean branching off into learned digressions, or talking over the children’s heads. All vapid display of learning confuses rather than explains.

Repetition. So far books have been on the shelf. And often they remain there much longer. Some teachers, taking their stand on high principles, rise to heights of virtuous indignation in denouncing all employment of Bible Histories as pernicious. Books, they say, degrade the learning of Bible History to the clumsiest mechanical operation, and deal a death-blow at intelligence. But surely this denunciation proceeds from a wrong conception of the time and place when books are to be used. If the children are made to learn the history in the first instance from a book, undoubtedly the objection has some force. Then, however, not books but wrong methods are to blame. How can the book rightly used be fatal to intelligence, since intelligence has been brought into play before the book is used at all? For surely it is bringing violence to bear against common sense to contend that reading a story after it has been understood, obliterates intelligence.

After the story has been told, the children open their books, and one or more read it aloud—the teacher adding any further explanations that may be necessary. Teachers—this is important—in telling the story should endeavour to adhere pretty closely to the words of the book. Otherwise, if the language differs notably from that in the book, the children, when reading the story for themselves, will be puzzled and perplexed. Considerable variety in language will only confuse them.

So far the children have listened to the story with attention, and have understood it. But the impression, like lines written in water, will quickly disappear, unless measures be taken to fix it in the memory. This is the next process. Our knowledge is co-extensive with our memory. We know as much or as little as we remember. Memory, says Hirschfelder, is the mortar that holds the bricks together. Without memory, the combined action of understanding, heart and will, can succeed in erecting only a pile of loose stones. Furthermore, many Catechists of note insist that the text should be committed to memory, word for word, at least by young children. Thus Alleker argues that a free reproduction is beyond the capabilities of all but advanced pupils, and that it is far easier for children to reproduce the matter in the form set before them. Hirschfelder truly observes that children are unequal to improving on the form given in the book, and that, when the lesson is not exacted word for word, the tendency, especially in the quicker and brighter children, is to learn it in the most slipshod fashion. Perhaps time will throw light on this question. Meanwhile teachers may do much towards facilitating the by-heart and making it intelligent, by pointing out the natural divisions of the story, the connexion between the several parts, and so forth.

As regards the repetition in class, I cannot do better than give in substance Dr. Knecht’s words. The repetition consists in the children telling the story independently, and in a connected fashion. It should be no parrot-prattle, no mechanical outpouring of sentences conned by rote; but the story should be told intelligently, with correct expression and emphasis. In particular, teachers should beware of letting the children either speak too quickly, or fall into a sing-song, drawling, or hum-drum style.

Commentary. Hitherto all our efforts have been concentrated on the Bible story in itself. The children have seized the right points of the story; they have learnt the course of events, and have gained an insight into the motives that impelled the actors in the drama; they understand the immediate meaning of the phrases in which the story is told. But the deeper meaning of the story is still hidden from them. The commentary is the key that opens the gate of this wider knowledge. The Bible narrative is no longer to be viewed as a story, but as a revelation from God, disclosing God’s will and God’s attributes. Every Bible story contains dogmatic and moral truths. One might almost say that the events happened for the sake of the truths. To draw out these truths, and bring them vividly before the children, is the most important part of instruction in Bible History. And this is the function of the commentary. Thus the commentary brings out the typical character of persons and things; it unearths the truths buried in our Lord’s parables; it unfolds the spiritual meaning underlying His miracles. But, most of all, it shows what bearing Bible stories have on doctrines of faith and morals, on the cultus and institutions of the Church. Thus the teacher has to hand an instrument which, if wisely used, is admirably adapted for deepening the religious knowledge and strengthening the religious convictions of the children, and for arming their faith at all points. Such is Dr. Knecht’s account of the function of the commentary. And he goes on to point out the qualities that the commentary should have if it is to be effective. 1. It must be according to the mind of the Church, whom Christ has appointed to guard and expound Holy Scripture. The commentary is not intended for a platform on which the teacher can air his own crude opinions. 2. It must be catechetical. Both in matter and manner it must conform to the rules of Catechetics, i. e. it must be adapted to the class to which it is given. All platitudes, vague generalities, and scattered reflections wide of the mark are to be carefully shunned, as they leave only a nauseating effect. 3. The teacher must keep steadily in view the close connexion that should subsist between Bible History and religious instruction. On this point sufficient has already been said.

Application. On this last factor little need be said. It consists in holding up the mirror to nature; in making the children realize that the events recorded, though happening ten thousand miles away and some thousands of years back, have an interest and a concern for them, and are part and parcel of their own lives. The temptations and struggles, the falls and conversions, the unkept promises here depicted, are a reflection of our own conduct, and are written for our warning and encouragement and self-knowledge. Moreover, in the application, the truths elicited in the commentary are brought home to the individual child, and are held up to him as a rule of life and conduct.


Such, in short, is the programme that Dr. Knecht has mapped out for himself in his Practical Commentary. A programme most inviting and comprehensive! To many, doubtless, it will appear too vast to be carried out successfully. But I have no hesitation in saying that Dr. Knecht’s success is as great as his programme is vast. His work first saw the light in 1883, and since then twelve large editions have been exhausted. This fact alone speaks volumes for his success. His work marks an immense advance on anything that has been published in this country. In fact, we have nothing in any way like it; nothing that approaches it within a measurable distance. Our text-books, at their best, give but a good narrative; at their worst, I fear to say what they do. But best and worst alike have entered into an unholy covenant to give next to nothing beyond the narrative. Now, thanks to Dr. Knecht and his translator, we have a work that, in addition to a good narrative, supplies a good explanation and an excellent commentary. The very idea that Bible History needs an explanation and a commentary will, I suspect, come to many like a bolt from the blue. But I trust that after the appearance of Dr. Knecht’s work we shall be ashamed to issue any more Bible Histories in the good old dry-as-dust style.

The narrative in the Practical Commentary is Dr. Schuster’s Bible History. This work itself has already been translated into eighteen languages, and has run into I know not how many editions. Let it, however, be noted that the Practical Commentary is not inextricably bound up with any particular form of narrative, and it will be found equally serviceable with any other narrative that teachers may prefer to take as the groundwork.

In particular, I would call attention to the excellent “Concordance between Holy Scripture and the Catechism”, as it is called, given in the Appendix. In it the teacher will find ready to hand an invaluable repertory of Bible stories and explanations for illustrating his catechetical instructions.

In conclusion, I wish to re-echo with all earnestness the words of a writer in the Schweizer Pastoralblatt: “I consider this Commentary the best and most useful hand-book of its kind … I am happy to think that every day strengthens my conviction of its great worth, and I should like to see it in the hands of every priest and every teacher.” I will only add that it is indispensable to every teacher who would be abreast of his work. To priests it will be most useful, not only in the school, but also in the pulpit, as it supplies most suggestive material for courses of sermons. And I make bold to affirm that no one, be he priest or teacher, can take up without profit this excellent manual, not the least merit of which is that it has imparted a thoroughly religious character to the teaching of Bible History.



May 17. 1894.

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com