Acts of the National Synod of Dort, 1618-1619 – English translation
The Seventeenth session
On the 30th November, Friday morning,
Is read the decision of the Synod regarding the further catechetical instruction of young and old, as extracted and put together from the written advice of both the foreign and domestic delegates as follows.
In order that the Christian youth from their younger years on, may be diligently instructed in the foundations of the true religion, and may be filled with true godliness, three ways of catechism instruction should be observed.
In the homes by the parents; in the schools by the teachers; and in the churches by the ministers, elders, readers and visitors of the sick. And in order that they all may be diligent in fulfilling their task, the Christian Magistrates will be requested to encourage such a holy and necessary work by their authority; and also all those who are entrusted with the supervision and visitation of the churches and the schools, shall be instructed that they should especially take care of this part.
The task of the parents is to diligently instruct the children at home, and also the entire household entrusted to them, in the principles of the Christian religion, each of them according to their ability, to exhort them seriously and with diligence to the fear of God and the true godliness, make them familiar with the holy prayers at home, take them along to the hearing of the Divine Word, recount with them diligently the preaching they heard especially the catechism preaching, read to them or have them read some chapters of Holy Scripture, have them memorise the most excellent parts of the Scripture and instill it in them, and to explain these to them in an understandable and for their tender youth fitting way, and also prepare them for the catechism instruction in the schools, and when they are attending [the catechism instruction in the schools] to confirm, encourage and, as much as they can, promote it.
The parents who have the task to exhort, will be diligently and seriously exhorted to this obligation, both openly in the preaching as well as in private, in the regular home visit before the Lord’s Supper as well as at other fitting occasions, by the ministers, elders and visitors of the sick.
If parents, confessors of the Reformed religion, are found to be lacking in this holy task, they shall be brought to the fulfillment of this duty by serious admonitions from the ministers, and if required by the censure of the consistory.
Schools, in which the younger youth will be appropriately instructed in the godliness and the foundations of the Christian doctrine, shall be established not only in the cities but also in the villages, if they have not been established yet; and the Christian Magistrates shall be requested, that they supply the teachers with fair wages everywhere, so that men will be used who are capable of this task and who will be the more diligently in the fulfillment of their duty; but especially, that the children of the poor will be educated for free and not excluded from the blessings of the schools. For this task of the schools, nobody shall be used than one who is a member of the Reformed Church, and adorned with testimonies of a genuine faith and godly life, who has been trained in the catechetical doctrine, who has signed the Confession and the Dutch Catechism, and in holiness promises, that he will diligently instruct in this manner the youth entrusted to him, in the foundations of the Christian religion.
The task of the teachers shall be to train all their disciples, according to their age and their ability to understand, at least two days per week, not only in the memorisation but also in the understanding of the principles of the catechism.
For this purpose, a threefold form of the catechism shall be used, each fitting to their age.
The first one shall be for the children, containing the Articles of Faith, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the institution of the Sacraments and Church Discipline, together with some short prayers, and simple questions about the three parts of the catechism. Added to these may be some of the most important texts from Holy Scripture, which exhort to godliness.
The second shall be a short summary of the catechism of the Palatinate, in use in our churches. In this those will be instructed, who have progressed from the previous. Both forms shall be according to the example of the churches of the Palatinate or of the churches of Middelburg, or according to what has been determined by this synod.
The third shall be the catechism of the Palatinate, adopted by our churches, in which shall be instructed those who have come of age and have increased in knowledge. The Walloon Churches in the Netherlands, which until nowhave used the Catechism of Geneva, may continue to do so in the schools and churches.
However, no other forms shall be used by the teachers in school for the catechetical instruction. And the Magistrate shall be requested to ban from the schools by their authority all papal catechisms as well as all other books which contain heresies and impurities.
The teachers shall also make sure that the disciples shall not only memorise the forms but shall also appropriately understand the doctrine which they contain.
To this end, they shall clearly explain according to the ability to understand and question them repeatedly to see if they understand the meaning of what they have been taught.
The teachers, each and everyone, shall bring the boys entrusted to them to the attendance of the holy preaching, but especially to the catechism preaching, and hold them to account.
And, in order that it will be known that the teachers are diligent and the youth is increasing in knowledge, it will be the task of the ministers, together with an elder and (if necessary) one appointed by the magistrate, to visit all the schools often, both the private and the public schools, to sharpen the diligence of the teachers, to give an example in teaching and instructing the youth, kindly address them, question them, and with holy exhortation, praise and small rewards, present them to the Magistrate, encourage them to diligence and godliness. The teachers, if some of them are negligent in their duty, shall be seriously admonished regarding their duty by the minister and (if necessary) by the consistory. If they do not listen to this admonition, then the Magistrate shall be requested to use their authority to bring them to the fulfillment of their duty, or else that other, more competent teachers shall replace them.
Finally, the magistrate shall be requested not to tolerate schools which do not allow these holy practices of catechism or neglect them.
The duty and discretion of the ministers in the churches shall be that they preach the catechism in such a way that they are quite short, and can be understood not only by adults but also the youth, as much as possible. Also those ministers will be praised who are diligent and spend time in the schools, especially those in the country, to repeat this work and don’t shy away from it.
In order that those who are adults or who have never been instructed in the schools or have not grown in this instruction, may be better instructed in the foundations of the Christian religion (because the experience teaches thatthe regular ecclesiastical instructions, both the catechism instruction as well as other, is not sufficient for many to implant such a knowledge of the Christian religion as may be expected among God’s people; and the custom shows that the live voice is powerful, if by common questions and answers, adapted to the understanding of each, which is the best way of catechetical instruction, the principles of the religion is instilled in the hearts; the duty of the ministers shall be to go to all those who are willing to learn, and with an elder, in the homes or in the consistory room, or any other suitable place, call together every week a fitting number of those, both from the members of the church as well as other adults, and to work with them through the main parts of the Christian religion, and according to their understanding to instruct them, recall catechetical preaching with them, and use diligence, so that each will come to a clear and concise knowledge of the catechism.
Those who want to become member of the congregation, shall be repeatedly and diligently instructed at a certain place, three or four weeks before the administration of the Lord’s Supper, in order that they will be more able and capable to give an account of their faith.
However, the ministers shall be careful and call those to be instructed, whom they see offer noticeable hope that they will bring forth fruit, and whom they know are concerned about the salvation of their souls; and they should also call together at the same time those who being in the same situation can be an encouragement to each other to speak freely.
These meetings will be opened and closed with prayer and holy exhortations.
This all, if it is done with eagerness, boldness, care, faithfulness, diligence and discretion, as is fitting for ministers who will have to give an account about the flock which is entrusted to them, then there should be no doubt that soon the abundant fruits of their labor will become apparent for all men, both in the growth in faith and in the holiness of life, to God’s glory and the spread of the Christian Religion, under God’s blessing, and will cause favour and growth to our Churches.
Those are appointed as deputies, to draw up the shorter catechism, Franciscus Gomarus, Johannes Polyander, Antonius Thysius, Hermannus Faukelius, Balthazar Lydius en Godefridus Udemannus; they were exhorted while drawing up these forms, to stay as much as possible with the words of the longer catechism.
In the same session, the delegates from Noord-Holland presented a question, sent by the Christian ministers of the East Indies, requesting a prompt response from the Synod, since the ships traveling to the Indies are ready to sail with the first winds. The question was, if children born of heathen parents and now adopted by Christians as part of their household, ought to be baptized, when those who present them for baptism promise that they will instruct them in the Christian doctrine and have them instructed therein. Everyone is asked to consider this question and in the next session hand in his feelings in writing.