Westminster Assembly Divines
The Westminster Shorter Catechism is a catechism written in 1646 and 1647 by the Westminster Assembly, a synod of English and Scottish theologians and laymen intended to bring the Church of England into greater conformity with the Church of Scotland. The assembly also produced the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Westminster Larger Catechism. A version without Scripture citations was completed on 25 November 1647 and presented to the Long Parliament, and Scripture citations were added on 14 April 1648.
The purpose of the Shorter Catechism is to educate children and others "of weaker capacity" (according to a preface written by the Church of Scotland) in the Reformed faith. It is based on the Larger Catechism, which was intended for use by ministers as they taught the faith to their congregations in preaching. The Catechism is in a question and answer format, which had been popularized by Martin Luther as a way to help children learn the meaning of the material, rather than simply memorizing the Lord's Prayer, Ten Commandments, and Apostles' Creed as had been the practice prior to the Reformation.
The catechism is composed of 107 questions and answers. The first 12 questions concern God as Creator. Questions 13-20 deal with original sin and the fallen state of man's nature. Questions 21-38 concern Christ the Redeemer and the benefits that flow from redemption. The next set of questions, 39-84, discuss the ten commandments. Questions 85-97 teach concerning the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. The final set of questions, 98-107, teach and explain the Lord's prayer. This organization mimics the earlier Heidelberg Catechism used by many Continental Reformed churches.
The most famous of the questions (known to a great many Presbyterian children) is the first:
Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
Is the Shorter Catechism Worth While? by B. B. Warfield
A Body of Divinity - A Commentary on the Westminster Catechism by Thomas Watson
Westminster Shorter Catechism Project