Heidelberg Catechism – What is it?

In the next several months, I will be introducing the Heidelberg Catechism to you. If you have never heard of the Heidelberg Catechism, you want to take this opportunity to get to know it.  I wished the Catechism was made known to me when I first became a Christian. This Catechism has stood through the test of time and Christians will benefit from it. This is the book  ( Heidelberg Catechism: A Study Guide by GI Williamson) I will be using for this study. Below is a brief description and history of how the Catechism came about.

The Heidelberg Catechism is a Protestant confessional document taking the form of a series of questions and answers, for use in teaching Reformed Christian doctrine. It has been translated into many languages and is regarded as one of the most influential of the Reformed catechisms.

Elector Frederick III, sovereign of the Palatinate from 1559 to 1576, commissioned the composition of a new Catechism for his territory. While the catechism’s introduction credits the “entire theological faculty here” (at the University of Heidelberg) and “all the superintendents and prominent servants of the church”[1] for the composition of the catechism, Zacharius Ursinus is commonly regarded as the catechism’s principal author. Caspar Olevianus (1536-1587) was formerly asserted as a co-author of the document, though this theory has been largely discarded by modern scholarship.[2][3] Frederick wanted to even out the religious situation of the territory, but also to draw up a statement of belief that would combine the best of Lutheran and Reformed wisdom and could instruct ordinary people on the basics of the newfound Protestant version of the Christian faith.[4] One of the aims of the catechism was to counteract the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, and so it based each of its statements on the text of the Bible.

Commissioned by the sovereign of Palatinate, it is sometimes referred to as the Palatinate Catechism.

The Catechism is divided into fifty-two sections, called “Lord’s Days,” which were designed to be taught on each of the 52 Sundays of the year. The Synod of Heidelberg approved the catechism in 1563. In the Netherlands, the Catechism was approved by the Synods of Wesel (1568), Emden (1571), Dort (1578), the Hague (1586), as well as the great Synod of Dort of 1618-1619, which adopted it as one of the Three Forms of Unity, together with the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dort.[5] Elders and deacons were required to subscribe and adhere to it, and ministers were required to preach on a section of the Catechism each Sunday so as to increase the often poor theological knowledge of the church members.[5] In many Dutch Reformed denominations this practice is still continued.

In its current form, the Heidelberg Catechism consists of 129 questions and answers. These are divided into three main parts:

I. The Misery of Man

This part consists of the Lord’s Day 2, 3, and 4. It discusses:

  • The Fall,
  • The natural condition of man,
  • God’s demands on him in His law.

II. The Redemption (or Deliverance) of Man

This part consists of Lord’s Day 5 through to Lord’s Day 31. It discusses:

  • The need for a Redeemer
  • The importance of faith, the content of which is explained by an exposition of the 12 Articles of the Christian faith, known as the Apostle’s Creed. The discussion of these articles is further divided into sections on:
    • God the Father and our creation (Lord’s Days 9-10)
    • God the Son and our salvation (Lord’s Days 11-19)
    • God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification (Lord’s Days 20 – 22)
  • Justification
  • The Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
  • And the keys of the kingdom of heaven The Preaching of the Gospel and Church Discipline

III. The Gratitude Due from Man (for such a deliverance)

This part consists of the Lord’s Day 32 through to Lord’s Day 52. It discusses:

  • Conversion (Lord’s Days 32-33)
  • The Ten Commandments (Lord’s Days 34 – 44)
  • The Lord’s prayer (Lord’s Days 45 – 52)

About John
A follower of Christ and sinner who needs his grace everyday.

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