Arthur Middleton on Thomas Ken’s Exposition of the Church Catechism (1685)

Thomas Ken set the education of the young as one of his priorities and showed his zeal for this in his Manual of Prayers. What dismayed him was finding so much deplorable ignorance among the grown poor people, that he feared little good was to be done upon them: but said he would try whether he could not lay a foundation to make the next generation better. And this put him upon setting up many schools in all the great towns of his Diocese, for poor children to be taught to read, and say their Catechism. By this method and management he engaged the ministers to be more careful in catechising the children of their parishes … [Hawkins’s Life of Ken, p. 13, cited in The Life of Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, by a Layman, London: John Murray, 1854, p. 301]

With the system of parish schools he connected the practice of catechising: not only did he en force this in schools, but in Church also, as a duty expressly ordered in the Rubric, a duty, long ne glected, and almost obsolete, until latter years, when its importance began once more to be recognized. [Ibid, p. 301.]

Ken was puzzled by the decline in the practice of catechising and claimed that it could ‘not be that the Clergy needed examples in their predecessors for enforcing this wholesome order’. He cites such examples as ‘Bishops Andrewes, Sancroft, Wake, Wilson, Dr. Hammond, and many other most excellent and learned Prelates and Divines. Wherever the practice has been restored, it is found to excite a lively interest, not in the minds of the children and parents only, but in the congregation generally’. George Herbert, in his Country Parson, felt that catechism gave people a simpler exposition of Scripture and a clearer view of doctrine than they might gain from sermons.

To help promote this great duty, Ken published An Exposition on the CHURCH CATECHISM, or the Practice of Divine Love, composed for the Diocese of Bath and Wells. He exhorts mothers to imitate that ‘unfeigned faith that dwelt in Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice who taught him from a child to know the Holy Scriptures which were able to make him wise to salvation; and like them to bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.’ [Ibid, p. 304.]

Ken’s Catechism is an exposition of Catholic doctrine that abounds with passages of eminent force and beauty. It contains, like all his other writings,

solemn avowals of his attachment to the Church of England – for which he afterwards suffered imprisonment and deprivation – and shows him to be one of the most orthodox and holy prelates of any age.

With its rich Eucharistic piety, it attained recognition abroad and was translated into French and Italian, besides achieving a wide circulation at home. The lamentations of so many Anglican writers concerning adult ignorance of the catechism as a result of the Cromwellian interregnum show that they fully grasped its place in the doctrinal and practical sphere. The spirit of the Catechism impregnates this 17th century and Caroline piety.

As we pass in review these working hand-books and the different devotional writings, the conclusion is borne in upon us that the Anglican contribution to the spiritual life is as unified as it is valuable. These are not just a chance collection of the books of a number of seventeenth-century authors, they are the work of men unified both by their theological presuppositions and by their view of the nature and purpose of spiritual direction. They constitute one well-tempered, strongly-forged instrument to bring people to Heaven. They are not merely opinions on the spiritual life. They constitute a spiritual way that has a clearly drawn doctrinal background, a Christian piety with a rich ingredient of moral theology and devotion. So we have a deep devotion that is strongly moral and sweetly spiritual, with its sense of eternity conditioning all our actions in time. This is an abiding testimony to the power and worth of 17th century Anglicanism. [The structure of Caroline Moral Theology, H. R. McAdoo, London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1949, p. 171.]