Larger Catechism

The Westminster Larger Catechism went through two private printings following its submission to Parliament, the first edition with text alone and the second edition with text and prooftexts. Following the assembly’s final approval of the Confession, two complete transcripts were made – one for each house of Parliament. Although Parliament never approved the Larger Catechism, it is unique in that both manuscripts (House of Commons and House of Lords) have survived.

Manuscript a: Transcription attributed to John Wallis

Comprising only the first nineteen chapters, this edition originated on September 17, 1646, when the House of Commons peremptorily ordered the divines to “send up what they had done so far” on the new creed. After several days of final editing, the divines sent the opening nineteen chapters, “in obedience to their last order for sending soe much of the confession of faith as is already perfected.” Two weeks later, the House ordered 500 copies of the partial Confession printed for use by members of Parliament only.

Manuscript b: Transcription attributed to Cornelius Burgess

This edition represents the Confession’s full text, containing all thirty-three chapters, but lacks the Scriptures proofs called for by Parliament three months earlier. The assembly delivered the manuscript of its complete text to the House of Commons on December 4, 1646, which then ordered 600 copies of the entire Confession printed for the exclusive use of both Houses and the assembly, with “the Printer is injoyned (at his perill) not to print more then sixe hundred Copies of them, or to divulge or publish any of them.”

Edition 1: Full Text without Scripture Proofs

The assembly’s completed work on the Confession was delivered to the House of Lords on April 28, 1647 and the following day to the House of Commons. Edition 3 contains the same text as Edition 2, but now includes Scripture proofs – an addition called for by Parliament following its order to print Edition 1. Edition 3 did not appear until four months after Edition 2, reflecting the extent of the assembly’s labor to provide the requisite Scripture proofs. Like the previous two editions, this was a private printing intended solely for members of Parliament and the assembly.

Edition 2: Full Text with Scripture Proofs

Written in Cornelius Burges’s clear hand, the manuscript is entitled: “The Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines now sitting at Westminster, by authority of Parliament. Concerning a Confession of Faith, which is here presented whole & entire.” Part of the Braye MSS volume at Westminster College in Cambridge, the Confession appears in folios 112r–143r and is undoubtedly one of the two original transcribed copies which the assembly delivered to Parliament, and most likely the one deposited with the House of Lords.