Heidelberg Catechism

Palatinate Catechism

General Information

The Heidelberg Catechism is often grouped together with two other Protestant Christian documents, the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordt, as the basis of Faith for many Churches, particularly Reformed Churches. It received its name from the place of its origin, Heidelberg, the capital of the German Electorate of the Palatinate. There, in order that the Reformed faith might be maintained in his domain, Elector Frederick III commissioned Zacharias Ursinus, professor at Heidelberg University, and Caspar Olevianus, the court preacher, to prepare a manual for catechetical instruction. Out of this initiative came the Catechism, which was approved by the Elector himself and by the Synod of Heidelberg and first published in 1563.

With its comfort motif and its warm, personal style, the Catechism soon won the love of the people of God, as is evident from the fact that more editions of the Catechism had to be printed that same year. While the first edition had 128 questions and answers, in the second and third editions, at the behest of the Elector, the eightieth question and answer, which refers to the popish mass as an accursed idolatry, was added. In the third edition the 129 questions and answers were divided into 52 "Lord's Days" with a view to the Catechism's being explained in one of the services on the Lord's Day. That salutary practice is still maintained today, in harmony with the prescription of the Church Order of Dordrecht.

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In the Netherlands the Heidelberg Catechism was translated into the Dutch language as early as 1566, and it soon became widely loved and used in the churches there. It was adopted by several National Synods during the later sixteenth century, and was finally included by the Synod of Dordrecht, 1618-1619, where it has remained to this day.

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The Heidelberg Catechism

Advanced Information

(1563)

Catechisms usually have three functions: instruction for all ages, preparatory training for confirmation, and the statement of a confessional position. The Heidelberg Catechism fulfills these three functions.

The Palatinate, south and west of Mainz, became Lutheran in 1546 under Elector Frederick II, but soon Calvinist ideas spread into the area and a series of acrimonious theological disputes broke out over the issue of the "real presence" in Holy Communion. When Frederick III the Pious (1515-76) inherited the area, he was aware of the disputes and studied both sides of the "real presence" argument. He came to the conclusion that Article XI of the Augsburg Confession was popish and opted for a Calvinist position. To foster his position, even though he was opposed by other Lutheran princes who pressured him to support the Peace of Augsburg, which did not recognize the Reformed position, Frederick staffed the theological faculty of the Collegium Sapientiae in Heidelberg, his capital, with those of Reformed persuasion, and he began to reform the worship of the churches in the Palatinate. In an effort to reconcile the theological parties, to bring about reform, and to defend himself against the Lutheran princes, Frederick asked the theological faculty to draw up a new catechism which could be used in the schools as a manual of instruction, a guide for preaching, and a confession of faith. Although many of the theological faculty were involved, as was Frederick himself, the two commonly acknowledged architects of the catechism were Caspar Olevianus and Zacharias Ursinus. The German text, with a preface by Frederick III, was adopted by a synod in Heidelberg on January 19, 1653. It was translated into Latin at the time of its publication.

The catechism is important for at least three reasons. (1) It came to be translated into numerous languages and was adopted by many groups, making it the most popular of Reformed statements. (2) Although born in the midst of theological controversy, it is irenic in spirit, moderate in tone, devotional and practical in attitude. It espouses Reformed theology as dictated by Frederick III, but Lutheran ideas were not slighted. The avoidance of polemics in the catechism, except for question 80, the use of clear language, and a sense of fervency helped to allay somewhat the theological controversies of that time and to guarantee an acceptance among the Reformed outside the Palatinate. (3) The organization of the catechism is most unusual. The 129 questions and answers are divided into three parts patterned after the book of Romans. Questions 1-11 deal with mankind's sin and misery; questions 12-85 are concerned with the redemption in Christ and faith; the last questions stress man's gratitude, expressed in action and obedience, for God's love. The questions are further structured so that the whole catechism can be covered in fifty-two Sundays. In addition, the catechism provides an exposition of the Reformed view of the Apostles' Creed and the Ten Commandments. The use of the first person singular encourages the catechism to be a personal confession of faith.

The Reformed theological perspective is found (1) in the doctrine of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, where believers are partakers in the true body and blood of Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit; (2) in the centrality of Scripture as authority; (3) in good works as the Christian response to divine grace; and (4) in the church as the true source of Christian discipline. The issue of predestination is found in question 54, where election is affirmed but reprobation and limited atonement are not. An example of Lutheran concepts is found in the section on man's sinful condition.

R V Schnucker
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

Bibliography
K. Barth, Heidelberg Catechism; H. Hoeksema, The Heidelberg Catechism; H. Ott, Theology and Preaching; C. Van Til, Heidelberg Catechism; Z. Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism.


The Heidelberg Catechism

The 129 Catechism Questions, and the 52 Weeks

I. Lord's Day

Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Question 2. How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?

THE FIRST PART--OF THE MISERY OF MAN

II. Lord's Day

Question 3. Whence knowest thou thy misery?

Question 4. What doth the law of God require of us?

Question 5. Canst thou keep all these things perfectly?

III. Lord's Day

Question 6. Did God then create man so wicked and perverse?

Question 7. Whence then proceeds this depravity of human nature?

Question 8. Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness?

IV. Lord's Day

Question 9. Doth not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in his low, that which he cannot perform?

Question 10. Will God suffer such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?

Question 11. Is not God then also merciful?

THE SECOND PART--OF MAN'S DELIVERANCE

V. Lord's Day

Question 12. Since then, by the righteous judgment of God, we deserved temporal and eternal punishment, is there no way by which we may escape that punishment, and be again received into favor?

Question 13. Can we ourselves then make this satisfaction?

Question 14. Can there be found anywhere, one, who is a mere creature, able to satisfy for us?

Question 15. What sort of a mediator and deliverer then must we seek for?

VI. Lord's Day

Question 16. Why must he be very man, and also perfectly righteous?

Question 17. Why must he in one person be also very God?

Question 18. Who then is that Mediator, who is in one person both very God, and a real righteous man?

Question 19. Whence knowest thou this?

VII. Lord's Day

Question 20. Are all men then, as they perished in Adam, saved by Christ?

Question 21. What is true faith?

Question 22. What is then necessary for a christian to believe?

Question 23. What are these articles?

VIII. Lord's Day

Question 24. How are these articles divided?

Question 25. Since there is but one only divine essence, why speakest thou of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?

OF GOD THE FATHER

IX. Lord's Day

Question 26. What believest thou when thou sayest, "I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth"?

X. Lord's Day

Question 27. What dost thou mean by the providence of God?

Question 28. What advantage is it to us to know that God has created, and by his providence doth still uphold all things?

OF GOD THE SON

XI. Lord's Day

Question 29. Why is the Son of God called Jesus, that is a Savior?

Question 30. Do such then believe in Jesus the only Savior, who seek their salvation and welfare of saints, of themselves, or anywhere else?

XII. Lord's Day

Question 31. Why is he called Christ, that is anointed?

Question 32. But why art thou called a christian?

XIII. Lord's Day

Question 33. Why is Christ called the only begotten Son of God, since we are also the children of God?

Question 34. Wherefore callest thou him our Lord?

XIV. Lord's Day

Question 35. What is the meaning of these words-"He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary"?

Question 36. What profit dost thou receive by Christ's holy conception and nativity?

XV. Lord's Day

Question 37. What dost thou understand by the words, "He suffered"?

Question 38. Why did he suffer under Pontius Pilate, as judge?

Question 39. Is there anything more in his being crucified, than if he had died some other death?

XVI. Lord's Day

Question 40. Why was it necessary for Christ to humble himself even unto death?

Question 41. Why was he also "buried"?

Question 42. Since then Christ died for us, why must we also die?

Question 43. What further benefit do we receive from the sacrifice and death of Christ on the cross?

Question 44. Why is there added, "he descended into hell"?

XVII. Lord's Day

Question 45. What doth the resurrection of Christ profit us?

XVIII. Lord's Day

Question 46. How dost thou understand these words, "he ascended into heaven"?

Question 47. Is not Christ then with us even to the end of the world, as he hath promised?

Question 48. But if his human nature is not present wherever his Godhead is, are not then these two natures in Christ separated from one another?

Question 49. Of what advantage to us is Christ's ascension into heaven?

XIX. Lord's Day

Question 50. Why is it added, "and sitteth at the right hand of God"?

Question 51. What profit is this glory of Christ, our head, unto us?

Question 52. What comfort is it to thee that "Christ shall come again to judge the quick and the dead"?

OF GOD THE HOLY GHOST

XX. Lord's Day

Question 53. What dost thou believe concerning the Holy Ghost?

XXI. Lord's Day

Question 54. What believest thou concerning the "holy catholic church" of Christ?

Question 55. What do you understand by "the communion of saints"?

Question 56. What believest thou concerning "the forgiveness of sins"?

XXII. Lord's Day

Question 57. What comfort doth the "resurrection of the body" afford thee?

Question 58. What comfort takest thou from the article of "life everlasting"?

XXIII. Lord's Day

Question 59. But what doth is profit thee now that thou believest all this?

Question 60. How are thou righteous before God?

Question 61. Why sayest thou, that thou art righteous by faith only?

XXIV. Lord's Day

Question 62. But why cannot our good works be the whole, or part of our righteousness before God?

Question 63. What! do not our good works merit, which yet God will reward in this and in a future life?

Question 64. But doth not this doctrine make men careless and profane?

OF THE SACRAMENTS

XXV. Lord's Day

Question 65. Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all his benefits by faith only, whence doth this faith proceed?

Question 66. What are the sacraments?

Question 67. Are both word and sacraments, then, ordained and appointed for this end, that they may direct our faith to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, as the only ground of our salvation?

Question 68. How many sacraments has Christ instituted in the new covenant, or testament?

OF HOLY BAPTISM

XXVI. Lord's Day

Question 69. How art thou admonished and assured by holy baptism, that the one sacrifice of Christ upon the cross is of real advantage to thee?

Question 70. What is it to be washed with the blood and Spirit of Christ?

Question 71. Where has Christ promised us, that he will as certainly wash us by his blood and Spirit, as we are washed with the water of baptism?

XXVII. Lord's Day

Question 72. Is then the external baptism with water the washing away of sin itself?

Question 73. Why then doth the Holy Ghost call baptism "the washing of regeneration," and "the washing away of sins"?

Question 74. Are infants also to be baptized?

OF THE HOLY SUPPER OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

XXVIII. Lord's Day

Question 75. How are thou admonished and assured in the Lord's Supper, that thou are a partaker of that one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross, and of all his benefits?

Question 76. What is it then to eat the crucified body, and drink the shed blood of Christ?

Question 77. Where has Christ promised that he will as certainly feed and nourish believers with his body and blood, as they eat of this broken bread, and drink of this cup?

XXIX. Lord's Day

Question 78. Do then the bread and win become the very body and blood of Christ?

Question 79. Why then doth Christ call the bread his body, and the cup his blood, or the new covenant in his blood; and Paul the "communion of the body and blood of Christ"?

XXX. Lord's Day

Question 80. What difference is there between the Lord's supper and the popish mass?

Question 81. For whom is the Lord's supper instituted?

Question 82. Are they also to be admitted to this supper, who, by confession and life, declare themselves unbelieving and ungodly?

THE THIRD PART--OF THANKFULNESS

XXXI. Lord's Day

Question 83. What are the keys of the kingdom of heaven?

Question 84. How is the kingdom of heaven opened and shut by the preaching of the holy gospel?

Question 85. How is the kingdom of heaven shut and opened by christian discipline?

XXXII. Lord's Day

Question 86. Since then we are delivered from our misery, merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works?

Question 87. Cannot they then be saved, who, continuing in their wicked and ungrateful lives, are not converted to God?

XXXIII. Lord's Day

Question 88. Of how many parts doth the true conversion of man consist?

Question 89. What is the mortification of the old man?

Question 90. What is the quickening of the new man?

Question 91. But what are good works?

XXXIV. Lord's Day

Question 92. What is the law of God?

Question 93. How are these commandments divided?

Question 94. What doth God enjoin in the first commandment?

Question 95. What is idolatry?

XXXV. Lord's Day

Question 96. What doth God require in the second commandment?

Question 97. Are images then not at all to be made?

Question 98. But may not images be tolerated in the churches, as books to the laity?

XXXVI. Lord's Day

Question 99. What is required in the third commandment?

Question 100. Is then the profaning of God's name, by swearing and cursing, so heinous a sin, that his wrath is kindled against those who do not endeavor, as much as in them lies, to prevent and forbid such cursing and swearing?

XXXVII. Lord's Day

Question 101. May we then swear religiously by the name of God?

Question 102. May we also swear by saints or any other creatures?

XXXVIII. Lord's Day

Question 103. What doth God require in the fourth commandment?

XXXIX. Lord's Day

Question 104. What doth God require in the fifth commandment?

XL. Lord's Day

Question 105. What doth God require in the sixth commandment?

Question 106. But this commandment seems only to speak of murder?

Question 107. But is it enough that we do not kill any man in the manner mentioned above?

XLI. Lord's Day

Question 108. What doth the seventh commandment teach us?

Question 109. Doth God forbid in this commandment, only adultery, and such like gross sins?

XLII. Lord's Day

Question 110. What doth God forbid in the eighth commandment?

Question 111. But what doth God require in this commandment?

XLIII. Lord's Day

Question 112. What is required in the ninth commandment?

XLIV. Lord's Day

Question 113. What doth the tenth commandment require of us?

Question 114. But can those who are converted to God perfectly keep these commandments?

Question 115. Why will God then have the ten commandments so strictly preached, since no man in this life can keep them?

OF PRAYER

XLV. Lord's Day

Question 116. Why is prayer necessary for christians?

Question 117. What are the requisites of that prayer, which is acceptable to God, and which he will hear?

Question 118. What hath God commanded us to ask of him?

Question 119. What are the words of that prayer?

XLVI. Lord's Day

Question 120. Why hath Christ commanded us to address God thus: "Our Father"?

Question 121. Why is it here added, "Which art in heaven"?

XLVII. Lord's Day

Question 122. Which is the first petition?

XLVIII. Lord's Day

Question 123. Which is the second petition?

XLIX. Lord's Day

Question 124. Which is the third petition?

L. Lord's Day

Question 125. Which is the fourth petition?

LI. Lord's Day

Question 126. Which is the fifth petition?

LII. Lord's Day

Question 127. Which is the sixth petition?

Question 128. How dost thou conclude thy prayer?

Question 129. What doth the word "Amen" signify?


Also, see:
Heidelberg Catechism text

Canons of Dort
Belgic Confession


The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in December 1997.

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