Bridwell Library acquires catechism collection

Bridwell Library Special Collections at Perkins School of Theology on the campus of SMU announces the recent acquisition of 115 catechisms dating between 1493 and 1830.

DALLAS (SMU) – Bridwell Library Special Collections at Perkins School of Theology on the campus of Southern Methodist University announces the recent acquisition of 115 catechisms dating between 1493 and 1830.

In addition to providing essential religious instruction, these popular manuals of Christian doctrine were often the first types of texts used in teaching both children and adults how to read. Spanning five centuries, representing more than 50 authors, and published in 50 different cities, these catechisms were printed in 17 different languages including Latin, Greek, and Hebrew as well as European and world vernacular translations.

Developed by Bruce McKittrick Rare Books over the last two decades with items purchased from booksellers, auction houses, and private parties in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Europe, the collection was acquired with Bridwell Library endowed funds and the assistance of a generous grant from the B.H. Breslauer Foundation of New York. This acquisition deepens the Library’s Catholic and Protestant catechism holdings and will provide numerous opportunities for scholarly investigation, exhibitions, publications, instruction, and future acquisitions.

The number of unique and extremely rare titles makes this acquisition especially notable. Nineteen of the catechisms, including five Martin Luther editions and two 1570 printings of the Heidelberg Catechism, represent the only known copies. Sixteen of the catechisms are currently recorded as single copies (only three of which are in the United States) and an additional eleven catechisms are recorded in two locations each (seven of these titles are in U.S. collections). Particularly attractive for Bridwell Library, 64 catechisms, more than 50 percent of the collection, are not held in the U.S. In addition, only three institutions hold up to fifteen percent of any of these editions: British Library (seventeen titles), Harvard (fourteen titles), and Bibliothèque nationale de France (thirteen titles).

Selected highlights include first editions of Philipp Melanchthon’s Catechisis Puerilis (1540) and Petrus Canisius’s Summa Doctrinae Christianae (1555); sixteenth-century printings of Jean Calvin’s catechism translated into English, Greek, and Hebrew; ten editions of the Catechismus Romanus including Latin, French, German, Italian, and Polish translations; catechisms for use in fourteen distinct locales; exotic language imprints in Arabic (1613 and 1640) and Otomi (1785); and American printings of the Westminster Assembly of Divine’s The Shorter Catechism, (Boston, 1765) and the only edition of a text for young German students in Pennsylvania (Lebanon, Penn., 1830). 

Bridwell Library is the principal bibliographic resource at Southern Methodist University for the fields of theology and religious studies. The library’s modern and historical resources complement and enrich the teaching, research, and service missions of the Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University’s Graduate Program in Religious Studies, and other graduate and undergraduate programs throughout the university. In addition, the collections provide support to the extended theological, academic, and bibliographical communities.

Perkins School of Theology , founded in 1911 at Southern Methodist University , is one of five official University-related schools of theology of The United Methodist Church . Degree programs include the Master of Divinity, Master of Sacred Music, Master of Theological Studies, Master of Church Ministries, and Doctor of Ministry, as well as the Ph.D., in cooperation with The Graduate Program in Religious Studies at SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

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