THE THREE PURPOSES OF AN ORTHODOX CATECHISM

Hercules Collins (1647–1702) seems to have had at least three purposes in publishing his An Orthodox Catechism.[1] The catechism functions as a tool for pastoral instruction, as a polemic against false teaching, and as a plea for doctrinal unity. First, having become the pastor of the Wapping congregation only four years earlier, Collins clearly modifies the Heidelberg Catechism for use as a tool in fulfilling his pastoral duties. A comparison of the two documents side by side reveal a number of relatively minor edits, many of which are best explained as Collins’ attempts to make the catechism more accessible to his local congregation. One example of this type of editing is found in Collins’ rearrangement of the section dealing with the Ten Commandments. Whereas the Heidelberg Catechism lists the Ten Commandments all together then later explains them individually, Collins rearranges this section to allow for each commandment to be listed separately along with its explanation and application. This rearrangement has an obvious pedagogical benefit for the Orthodox Catechism. Elsewhere, Collins more explicitly states his concern for the local congregation to which he ministered in the following benediction which concluded his Preface to the catechism:

And for those whom the Lord hath committed to my Charge, that the Eternal God may be your Refuge, and underneath you everlasting Arms; that Grace may be opened to your Hearts, and your hearts to Grace; that the blessing of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob may be upon you, and the eternal Spirit may be with you, shall be the Prayer of your unworthy Brother, but more unworthy Pastor,

H. C.

A second use of An Orthodox Catechism is clearly stated by Collins on the title page: “Published For Preventing the Canker and Poison of Heresy and Error.” This polemic function of the catechism was necessary, because in the mid-seventeenth century the writings of a man associated with the Particular Baptists named Thomas Collier (1644–1691), had brought the Baptists into disrepute.[2] In 1648, Collier had denied the historic orthodox understanding of the Trinity. Collier wrote that God:

is not, first, as some imagine, Three Persons yet one God, or three subsistings, distinguished though not divided; Its altogether impossible to distinguish God in this manner, and not divide him; thus to distinguish is to divide; for three persons are three not only distinguished, but divided: Some say there is, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, yet not three, but one God; Let any one judge if here be not three Gods, if three then not one;[3]


Thomas Hall’s subsequent labeling of Collier as an “Arian, Arminian, Socinian, Samosatenian, Antinomian, Anabaptist, Familist, Donatist, Separatist, Anti-Scripturist, &c. An Open enemy to God, to Christ, to the Holy Ghost, to Scripture, Law, Gospel, Church, Commonwealth, Magistracy, Ministry, Army, &c.” was no doubt applied to other Baptists without distinction.[4] Collins was clearly concerned with defending Baptists against charges of heresy while at the same time providing an instrument of instruction in order to prevent the spread of more false teaching among their number.


A final reason that Collins published An Orthodox Catechism was to identify himself and his fellow Particular Baptists with the orthodoxy of the Protestant divines of Europe. As Collins noted in his preface, “I concenter with the most orthodox divines in the fundamental principles and articles of the Christian Faith.”[5] This catechism served as an attempt to express the agreement of the Baptists with other bodies of Reformed believers on the most essential matters of Christianity. To that end, Collins writes:

Now albeit there are some differences between many godly divines and us in church constitution, yet inasmuch as those things are not the essence of Christianity, but that we do agree in the fundamental doctrine thereof, there is sufficient ground to lay aside all

bitterness and prejudice, and labor to maintain a spirit of love each to other, knowing we shall never see all alike here.[6]


Both the choice of the Heidelberg Catechismas the basis for his catechism and the use of the word “orthodox” in the title of his catechism highlight Collins’ interest in identifying himself, not only with Nicene orthodoxy, but also with historic Protestant orthodoxy. As James Renihan writes of Collins’ choice of a title: “While it obviously refers to the true character of the doctrines it promotes, it also identifies the source of those doctrines, the so-called Protestant Orthodox divines of Europe. Collins was making an emphatic statement: just as they are Orthodox, so also are we.”[7]


At the very end of his catechism, Collins added to the Apostles’ Creed already contained in the Heidelberg two more: the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. Together, these three creeds contain, in the words of Philip Schaff,

in brief popular outline, the fundamental articles of the Christian faith, as necessary and sufficient for salvation. They embody the results of the great doctrinal controversies of the Nicene and post-Nicene ages. They are a profession of faith in the only true and living God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, who made us, redeemed us, and sanctifies us. They follow the order of God’s own revelation, beginning with God and the creation, and ending with the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. They set forth the articles of faith in the form of facts rather than dogmas, and are well suited ... for catechetical and liturgical use.[8]


The significance of the addition of the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds to the Apostles’ Creed in light of the doctrinal aberrations of Thomas Collier on the issue of the Trinity should be obvious. These creeds address many of the issues on which Collier had equivocated. Collins is here taking a position of orthodoxy that is unimpeachable. As he wrote in the Preface: “I have not undertaken to present you with new notions or principles, hoping an Athenian spirit is in none of you, but do believe that an old gospel (to you that have tasted the sweetness of it) will be more acceptable than a new, though published by an angel from Heaven.”[9]


Steve Weaver

[1]H. Collins, An Orthodox Catechism (London, 1680). [2]Thomas Collier was a significant Particular Baptist leader in England during the mid-seventeenth century. A native of Somerset, he was a key leader in the Western Association’s adoption of the Somerset Confession in 1656. His career is riddled with doctrinal instability, with some writings which are orthodox, while others were filled with heresy. For more information on the life and writings of Thomas Collier, see Richard D. Land, "Doctrinal Controversies of English Particular Baptists (1644–1691) as Illustrated by the Career and Writings of Thomas Collier" (Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Oxford University, 1979). [3]Thomas Collier, A General Epistle, To The Universal Church of the First Born: Whose Names are written in Heaven (London: Giles Calvert, 1648). [4]Thomas Hall, The Collier in his Colours: or, The Picture of a Collier (London: n.p., 1652). This work is actually included (with a separate title page) in Hall’s The Font Guarded With XX Arguments (London: 1652). [5]Collins, An Orthodox Catechism, Preface. [6]Collins, An Orthodox Catechism, Preface. [7]Renihan, True Confessions, 235. [8]Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, I:13. [9]Collins, An Orthodox Catechism, Preface.

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