Monday, March 25, 2013

Sex and the Catechism

by Larry Beane

In our recent discussions regarding CPH and its copyright on the now-standard 1986 synodical translation of Luther's Small Catechism, one of the arguments in favor of retaining the current status quo of CPH retaining intellectual property rights and copyright protection is to prevent alteration.

I wonder if I violated the copyright provision by doing just that.

Years ago, I would lead the children at a Lutheran school (note: this exceeds the congregational use in CPH's disclaimer) in reciting the catechism using the CPH 1986 translation in the morning assembly.  I decided to change the translation of the sixth commandment to get rid of the word "sexually."  It just struck me as unnecessary (and to be blunt, disturbing) to have the children - including pre-kindergarten little ones - use the word "sexually" in their recitation - especially to the distracting giggles of the older kids.  I would have preferred the older wording of "chaste" - which is, I think, a better translation from the original languages than "sexually pure" - an opinion expressed by the late Rev. Prof. Kurt Marquart.  But rather than add words, I simply omitted the word "sexually" from our group recitation, opting for just a "pure and decent life."

Did I break copyright law?  Is this something CPH seeks to avoid?  Does unity take precedence over modesty and propriety for young children?  Would it have been acceptable to use the older "chaste" wording for the sixth commandment while retaining the rest of the translation?  Or is that the kind of alteration that would be unacceptable to CPH?

Maybe we could have some guidance about what we are permitted and not permitted to do under this arrangement.  I certainly see a great advantage to a common lexicon of catechesis, but by the same token, I also see a great advantage to using our own translations or older translations in the public domain in the absence of an "open source" approach to the text of the Small Catechism.


  1. Note to pick on your post but "Years ago, I would lead the children at a Lutheran school (note: this exceeds the congregational use in CPH's disclaimer) in reciting the catechism using the CPH 1986 translation in the morning assembly." how exactly does that exceed congregational use policy? We have it in the Hymnal for use in exactly that sort of context (both LW and LSB). Is this not the very use that the copyright allowance offers LCMS schools and churches?

  2. Dear Larry:

    The disclaimer refers to "congregational" use. Almost none of the children in our school were Lutheran let alone congregation members.

    And even if that use were within the congregation according to CPH, does CPH permit the text to be altered in the way that I altered it? Do such on-the-fly revisions violate the spirit of CPH's regulation? It is a pickle.

    Should a pastor be compelled to use a different translation if he doesn't want little kids reciting the word "sexually"?

    I think junior high kids are exposed to so much these days that using the word "sexually" in the classroom with them is one thing, but we do want very young children to recite the texts, don't we? Maybe I'm just being a prude, but it is one thing to read the words in private or in the ivory tower, but it was simply disturbing to me to lead hundreds little children (whose innocence we are quixotically trying to protect) in the exact 1986 translation in this one commandment.

    Under the current arrangement, can (or should) pastors have this kind of pastoral discretion? Or does our obligation to synod, CPH, and Caesar override such pastoral instincts? Would it have been better for me to teach the children using a different translation altogether?

    1. My Lutheran congregation and school are one and the same in our Articles of Incorporation. They are not separate entities.

  3. Does anyone have a copy of CPH's "My First Catechism" intended for grades 1-3, ages 6-10,
    What is given there for the 6th Commandment?

  4. I know of almost no LCMS schools that have a corporate existence apart from the congregation. Mine certainly doesn't. I lead our school in praying the Catechism in chapel every year. They speak it the way they are going to memorize it when they get older.

  5. I wholeheartedly agree with Fr. Beane concerning the asinine change in the catechism’s explanation for the sixth commandment from “chaste” to “sexually pure.” The mind boggles over whatever conceivable rationale might be behind this, so I won’t go there. Fr. Beane has provided an appropriate objection and simple solution. I thank him for both.

    His further question regarding copyright infringement is equally fitting, and gives me an opportunity to jump into this discussion that has been going on for a little while among the cyber forums. My comments are not meant to be caustic by any means, though they probably will be provocative.

    I believe that much of the current copyright abuse, even to absurd lengths, is due in large part to copyright ignorance. Anyone who wants to understand, let alone converse intelligently, needs to study the topic. That means one must go beyond simple histories of copyright (which will usually be pro-copyright), but also understand the current discussions among people who object to the practice (and that comes in varying degrees from outright abolition of copyright laws to simply enacting more liberal regulations).

    Copyright, it may be argued, is not a true right at all (I know, I know, big can o’ worms there), but rather an enforced monopoly for publishing privileges. They are not primarily used to protect artists (as is usually put forward), but publishers. They are often said to protect creativity, but the opposite is just about always the case. As an artist, I fully understand the implications of both statements. Furthermore, the biggest sham in all of this is so-called Intellectual Property rights. Unfortunately, blog entries simply do not allow space to go into this complicated discussion.

    I would simply like to post a few resources for those who might want more information. First off, simply Google “anti-copyright” and you will find a smattering of articles and sites that can introduce you to what it means. (Is using Google’s name in such a way a copyright violation? Some would argue, yes.) Check out Creative Commons’ website, too. One of the best legal minds on this topic is Stephen Kinsella, a copyright lawyer who wrote a book entitled “Against Intellectual Property.” (Kinsella is a libertarian, but for any libertarian phobic people out there, don’t let that stop you from understanding his argument.)

    Finally, as for the questions regarding the protection of creative expression, I simply would direct you to this video at TED by Johanna Blakley on the prolificacy and profitability of unregulated creative industries. It is short and entertaining and very interesting. Be sure to pause on the chart she uses to illustrate sales in those industries compared to those heavily regulated (like music and book publishers); it will amaze you. Here’s the link:

    If anyone would like to discuss with me beyond the blog environment, I’d be glad to talk at wlg (at) wlgleason (dot) com.
    GO, thank you for the opportunity to add my thoughts.

  6. Nice post. That "sexually" has always bothered me. In fact, it's perhaps my biggest objection to the newer translation. That, and "crucified, died, and was buried." (I prefer "crucified, dead, and buried.")

  7. Nothing in the Catechism causes as much consternation with parents of students at our parochial school as the explanation to the Sixth Commandment. Parents simply don't want their little ones even saying that word.

  8. While I have found the newer translation awkward, is it any better to use a word that most teenagers could not define? Whatever words we use are fraught with problems due either to the ignorance of the word chaste, the fear of the word sexually, or the culture which winces at chaste and fills the airwaves of children with sexual images all through their childhood. It would seem to me that this is but the tip of a much greater issue and that is how we engage the culture (even of our own LCMS families) with the Scriptural ethic of faithfulness in marriage and chaste lives outside for all orientations, genders, ages, status, etc.

    While I share many of the copyright concerns, as an author I do not believe that this is primarily about the publishing houses but a (perhaps futile) attempt to maintain the integrity of what is written. I have seen my own texts published with word changes and the edited result was attributed to me. BTW I allow almost anyone free access to my material with attribution and without change of the published text.

    1. Dear Larry:

      If we can't teach the definition of a word like "chaste" then how are we going to teach words like "justification"? Isn't the very definition of catechesis teaching? If we can't teach the concept and word "chastity" we're in trouble (and maybe that's why we are).

      But I think maybe you have stumbled on to a solution: CPH ought to allow anyone free access to the 1986 translation with attribution and without change of the published text. That would certainly be better than what we have.

      This whole logjam is starting to convince me to jettison the 1986 text in favor of the Triglot or perhaps something else.

      One of the advantages of homeschooling is that you can teach children Latin, and then they can learn the Catechism in a gloriously "dead" language that not even CPH claims to own.

  9. My five-year-old daughter has the explanation memorized as "sexually pure." I agree with Luther that using consistent wording makes memorization, and thus recall, easier.

    I see no distinction between "sexually pure" and "chaste." I'm going to have to define either term for my daughter, and would do so in an age-appropriate way in either case. Neither do I have anything against the word chaste. What's the problem? Do you think that "sexually pure" is a more vague term? Webster's lists one definition of chaste as "pure in thought and act, modest." I see the two as exact synonyms.

  10. On the other hand, my Springfield MA's Merriam-Webster's definition (no. 2; p. 1682) for "sex" refers to the "sum of the structural, functional, and behavioral characteristics of living things that are involved in reproduction by two interacting parents and that distinguish male and female."

    The definition is copyrighted, and dates to 1998, not the 19th century. Setting aside the implications of the latter phrasing ... which would set contemporary secular minds seething and on edge ... it is clear that the definition excludes "thoughts." Behavior is body in action, objectively described; behavior does not deal with the psyche per se.

    The catechismal variants discussed here are not equivalent, strictly and rigorously speaking.

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor SSP


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