CATECHUMEN, a person who is under instruction and probation preparatory to admis sion to membership in the Christian Church through baptism. On the day of Pentecost and in the early days of the Church's mission the converts to the religion of Jesus Christ were admitted through baptism to fellowship in thousands at a time, without any preliminary inquiry into their dispositions, and without any instruction in the articles of Christian belief or the new obligations contracted by admission into the Christian body. But when the first enthusiasm of conversion had cooled doubtless many were found who "xwalked no more) in the way of the apostles and went back to their pagan or their Jewish beliefs and practices, or worse, who after two changes of religion lapsed into open contempt of all religion and of all morality. To guard against the scandal of such apostasies the Church provided a system of preliminary, graduated instruction and pro bation for those who desired admission to the Christian communion. The candidates for ad mission to the Church, to the body of the faith ful (believers, fideles, pistol) were called catechumeni (persons under instruction) and even in this class there were three or even four separate grades. There was the first grade, that of those who, having expressed a desire for admission, were put under instruction privately by some officer of the Church: this class was not admitted at all to the assemblies of the faithful. Those in the second grade, that of the acouomenoi, audientes, hearers, were ad mitted to the assembly for worship, but were required to withdraw after the reading of the stated passages from the evangelic and apos tolic books and the sermon or exhortation by the bishop. Those of the third grade, the gonyclinontes, genuflectentes, those "bending the knee,') that is, who join in the prayers of the faithful, remained in the congregation till certain prayers in the liturgy were said and the bishop had pronounced his benediction. The fourth grade included all those who, having passed the first three, were to receive the rite of baptism and thereby were to be admitted to full communion with the faithful on the next stated day for administration of that sacra ment: these are the photizomenoi, instructed, or competentes,. or elects. The first two grades are not recognised as two by all Church his torians.
Such a term of preliminary instruction and probation was imperatively necessary in the ages of persecution, to save the Christian body from the scandal of apostasy on the part of converts who entered the Church either from unworthy motives, as, for example, to act as informers; or who entered without weighing the obligation they assumed to lead a holy life void of all offense, and who disgraced their Christian profession by their disorderly lives.
The institution of the catechumenate persisted after the peace of the Church was proclaimed by the first Christian emperor, and indeed the need of it was greater now that the profession of the Christian religion seemed the gateway to honor and power in the state instead of to martyrdom. The press of candidates for ad mission to the Church was great; and even the children of believers like converts from the pagan religion had to pass through the cate chumenal grades. Out of this grew a great abuse and a great scandal. Men who sought admission to the Church for other reasons than a desire to lead a Christian life would enter themselves as catechumens, postulants, and would continue in that grade for an indefinite period not pledging themselves to observance of the law of Christ and the Church till the end of their life was at hand. Nor was it the converts from paganism alone who thus de ferred baptism, as Constantine did, but the children of Christian parents often followed their example. Yet the motive for deferring baptism was not always a desire to evade the obligations of the Christian profession; in very many instances the delay was prompted by a conscientious scruple lest the baptized person falling from grace afterward should commit a sip that could never be condoned: among il lustrious men who for a time acted on this scruple are numbered even doctors of the Church — Saints Ambrose, Gregory of Nazian e ancient church edifices provided for the separation of the catechumens from the faith ful that were in full communion. In the an cient church of Saint Clement in Rome, the body of the building is divided off by stone constructions into the presbyterium, chancel or sanctuary for the clergy at the eastern end, a middle compartment for the faithful in full communion — the galleries here being reserved for the women — and in the western end, or front, a much larger compartment of the nave for the catechumens.