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§ 69. The Heidelberg Catechism. A.D. 1563.


I. Standard Editions of the Catechism.

Official German editions of 1563 (three), 1585, 1595, 1684, 1724, 1863 (American). The original title is 'Catechismus | Oder | Christlicher Underricht, | wieder in Kirchen und Schu- | len der Churfürstlichen | Pfaltz getrieben | wirdt. | Gedruckt in der Churfürstli- | chen Stad Heydelberg, durch | Johannem Mayer. | 1563.' With the Electoral arms. 95 pages.

There is but one copy of the first edition known to exist, and this did not come into public notice till 1864. It belonged to Prof. Hermann Wilken, of Heidelberg, whose name it bears, with the date 1563; was bought by Dr. Treviranus, of Bremen, in 1823, given by him to Dr. Menken, bought back after Menken's death, 1832, and is now in the University Library at Utrecht. I examined it in October and November, 1865, at Bremen. It has the remark, 'Diesses ist die allererste Edition, in welcher Pag. 55 die 80ste Frag und Antwort nicht gefunden wirdt. Auff Churfürstlichen Befehl eingezogen. Liber rarissimus.' The Scripture texts are quoted in the margin, but only the chapters, since the versicular division (which first appeared in Stephens's Greek Testament of 1551) had not yet come into general use. A quasi fac-simile of this copy was issued by the Rev. Albrecht Wolters, then at Bonn (now at Halle), under the title, 'Der Heidelberger Katechismus in seiner ursprünglichen Gestalt, herausgegeben nebst der Geschichte seines Textes im Jahre 1563.' Bonn, 1864. Comp. his art. in the Studien und Kritiken for 1867, pp. 1, 2.

Niemeyer, in his collection of Reformed Confessions, pp. 390 sqq., gives, besides the Latin text, a faithful reprint of the third German edition, with the eightieth question in full.

Philipp Schaff: Der Heidelberger Katechismus. Nach der ersten Ausgabe von 1563 revidirt und mit kritischen Anmerkungen, sowie einer Geschichte und Charakteristik des Katechismus versehen. Philadelphia (J. Kohler), 1863; second edition, revised and enlarged, 1866. This edition was prepared for the tercentenary celebration of the Heidelberg Catechism, and gives the received text of the third edition with the readings of the first and second editions, and the Scripture proofs in full.

The Latin translation was published in 1563, and again in 1566, under the title, 'Cate- | chesis Religio- | nis Christianæ, | quæ traditur in Ecclesiis | et Scholis Pala- | tinatus. | Heydelbergæ. | Excusum anno post Christum | natum M.D.LXVI.' I saw a copy of this ed. Latina, in the library of the late Dr. Treviranus, 530in Bremen (1865). On the title-page the words are written, 'Editio rara et originalis;' also the name of G. Menken, the former owner. The Scripture references are marked on the margin, including the verses. The eightieth question is complete (with 'execranda idololatia'), pp. 62 and 63, and supported by many Scripture texts and the Can. Missæ. The questions are divided into fifty-two Sundays. 'Precationes aliquot privatæ et publicæ,' a 'Precatio scholastica,' and some versified prayers of Joachim Camerarius (the friend and biographer of Melanchthon), are added.

The best English, or rather American, edition of the Catechism is the stately triglot tercentenary edition prepared at the direction of the German Reformed Church in the United States, by a committee consisting of E. V. Gerhart, D.D., John W. Nevin, D.D., Henry Harbaugh, D.D., John S. Kessler, D.D., Daniel Zacharias, D.D., and three laymen, and issued under the title, 'The Heidelberg Catechism, in German, Latin, and English; with an Historical Introduction (by Dr. Nevin), New York (Charles Scribner), 1863.' 4to. The German text is a reprint of the third edition after Niemeyer, with the German in modern spelling added; the English translation is made directly from the German original, and is far better than the one in popular use, which was made from the Latin. It is the most elegant and complete edition of the Catechism ever published, but it appeared before the discovery of the editio princeps, and repeats the error concerning the eightieth question (see Introd. p. 38).

II. Commentaries.

The commentaries and sermons on the Heidelberg Catechism are exceedingly numerous, especially in the German and Dutch languages. The first and most valuable is from the chief author, Zach. Ursinus: Corpus Doctrinæ orthodoxæ, or Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, ed. by his pupil, David Pareus, and repeatedly published at Heidelberg and elsewhere—1591, 1618, etc.—in Latin, German, Dutch, and English. An American edition, on the basis of the English translation of Bishop Dr. H. Parry, was issued by Dr. Williard (President of Heidelberg College, Tiffin, O.), Columbus, O. 1850. Other standard commentaries are by Coccejus (1671), d’Outrein (1719), Lampe (1721), Stähelin (1724), and van Alpen (1800). See a fuller list by Harbaugh in 'Mercersb. Rev.' for 1860, pp. 601–625, and in Bethune's Lectures.

Of more recent works we name—

Karl Sudhoff: Theologisches Handbuch zur Auslesung des Heidelberger Catechismus. Francf. a M. 1862.

Geo. W. Bethune (D.D., and minister of the Ref. Dutch Ch., N.Y.; d. 1862): Expository Lectures on the Heidelb. Catech. N. York, 1864, 2 vols., with an alphabet. list of works by Van Nest at close of Vol. II.

Hermann Dalton (Ger. Ref. minister at St. Petersb.): Immanuel. Der Heidelberger Katechismus als Bekenntniss- und Erbauungsbuch der evangel. Kirche erklärt und an’s Herz gelegt. Wiesbaden, 1870 (pp. 539).

III. Historical Works on the Catechism.

H. Alting (Prof. of Theology at Heidelberg and Gröningen, d. 1644): Historia Ecclesiæ Patatinæ. Frankf. a. M. 1701.

B. G. Struve: Pfälzische Kirchenhistorie. Frankf. 1721, Ch. V. sqq.

D. L. Wundt: Grundriss der pfälzischen Kirchengeschichte bis zum Jahr 1742. Heidelb. 1798.

Jaques Lenfant: L’innocence du Catéchisme de Heidelberg. Heidelb. 1688 (1723).

J. Chr. Köcher: Katechetische Geschichte der Reformirten Kirche, sonderlich der Schicksale des Heidelberger Katechismi. Jena, 1766, pp. 237–444.

G. J. Planck: Geschichte der protestantischen Theologie von Luther’s Tode, etc. Vol. II. Part II. pp. 475–491. (This is Vol. V. of his great work on the Geschichte der Entstehung, etc., unseres protestant. Lehrbegriffs.)

Heinr. Simon van Alpen; Geschichte u. Literatur des Heidelb. Katechismus. Frankf. a. M. 1800. Vol. III. Part II. (The first two volumes and the first part of the third volume of this catechetical work contain explanations and observations on the Catechism, which are, however, semi-rationalistic.)

Joh. Chr. W. Augusti: Versuch einer hist.-kritischen Einleitung in die beiden Haupt-Katechismen (the Luth. and Heidelb.) der evangelischen Kirche. Elberfeld, 1824, pp. 96 sqq.

Rienäcker: Article on the Heidelb. Catechism in Ersch und Gruber, Allgem. Encyklop. Sect. II. Part IV. pp. 386 sqq.

Ludwig Häusser: Geschichte der Rhein-Pfalz. Heidelb. 1845. Vol. II.

D. Seisen: Geschichte der Reformation zu Heidelberg, von ihren ersten Anfängen bis zur Abfassung des Heidelb. Katechismus. Eine Denkschrift zur dreihundertjährigen Jubelfeier daselbst am 3. Jan. 1846. Heidelb. 1846.

Aug.. Ebrard: Das Dogma vom heil. Abendmahl und seine Geschichte. F. a. M. 1846. Vol. II. pp. 575 sqq.

K. Fr. Vierordt: Geschichte der Reformation im Grossherzogthum Baden. Nach grossentheils handschriftlichen Quellen. Karlsruhe, 1847.

John W. Nevin: History and Genius of the Heidelberg Catechism. Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, 1847. (The best work on the Catechism in English.) Comp. Dr. Nevin's able Introduction to the triglot tercentenary edition of the H. C. New York, 1863, pp. 11–127.

Karl Sudhoff: C. Olevianus und Z. Ursinus. Leben und ausgewählte Schriften. Elberfeld, 1857.

G. D. J. Schotel: History of the Origin, Introduction, and Fortunes of the Heidelberg Catechism (in Dutch). Amsterdam, 1863.

Several valuable essays on the Heidelberg Catechism, by Plitt, Sack, and Ullmann, in the Studien und Kritiken for 1863, and by Wolters and Trechsel, ibid, for 1867.

Tercentenary Monument. In Commemoration of the Three Hundredth Anniversary of the Heidelberg Catechism. Published by the German Reformed Church of the United States of North America, in 531English and German. The German ed. by Dr. Schaff, with an historical introduction. Chambersburg and Philadelphia, Pa. 1863. This work contains about twenty essays, by European and American theologians, on the history and theology of the Heidelberg Catechism.

J. I. Dœdes (Prof. at Utrecht): De Heidelbergsche Catechismus in zijne eerste Levensjaren 1563–1567. Historische en Bibliografische Nalezing met 26 Facsimiles. Utrecht, 1867 (pp. 154). Very valuable for the early literary history of the H. C., with fac-similes of the first German, Latin, and Dutch editions.


The Palatinate, one of the finest provinces of Germany, on both sides of the upper Rhine, was one of the seven electorates (Kurfürstenthümer), whose rulers, in the name of the German people, elected the Emperor of Germany. After the dissolution of the old empire (1806) it ceased to be a politico-geographical name, and its territory is now divided between Baden, Bavaria, Hesse Darmstadt, Nassau, and Prussia. Its capital was Heidelberg (from 1231 till 1720), famous for its charming situation at the foot of the Königsstuhl, on the banks of the Swabian river Neckar, for its picturesque castle, and for its university (founded in 1346).

Luther made a short visit to Heidelberg in 1518, and defended certain evangelical theses. In 1546, the year of Luther's death, the Reformation was introduced under the Elector Frederick II. Melanchthon, who was a native of the Palatinate, and twice received a call to a professorship of theology at Heidelberg (1546 and 1557), but declined, acted as the chief counselor in the work, and aided, on a personal visit in 1557, in reorganizing the university on an evangelical basis under Otto Henry (1556–59). He may therefore be called the Reformer of the Palatinate. He impressed upon it the character of a moderate Lutheranism friendly to Calvinism. The Augsburg Confession was adopted as the doctrinal basis, and the cultus was remodeled (as also in the neighboring Duchy of Würtemberg) after Zwinglian simplicity. Heidelberg now began to attract Protestant scholars from different countries, and became a battle-ground of Lutheran, Philippist, Calvinist, and Zwinglian views. The conflict was enkindled as usual by the zeal for the real presence. Tilemann Heshusius, whom Melanchthon, without knowing his true character, had recommended to a theological chair (1558), introduced, as General Superintendent, exclusive Lutheranism, excommunicated Deacon Klebitz for holding the Zwinglian view, and even fought with him at the altar about the communion cup. This public scandal was the immediate occasion of the Heidelberg Catechism.



During this controversy Frederick III., surnamed the Pious (1515–1576), became Elector of the Palatinate, 1559. He made it the chief object of his reign to carry out the reformation begun by his predecessors. He tried at first to conciliate the parties, and asked the advice of Melanchthon, who, a few months before his death, counseled peace, moderation, and Biblical simplicity, and warned against extreme and scholastic subtleties in the doctrine of the Lord's Supper.10041004   Responsio Ph. Mel. ad quæstionem de controversia Heidelbergensi (Nov. 1, 1559), in Corp. Reform. Vol. IX. pp. 960 sqq. It is the last public utterance of Melanchthon on the eucharistic question, and agrees substantially with the doctrine of Calvin, as it was afterwards expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism. He deposed both Heshusius and Klebitz, arranged a public disputation (June, 1560) on the eucharist, decided in favor of the Melanchthonian or Calvinistic view, called distinguished foreign divines to the university, and intrusted two of them with the composition of the Heidelberg Catechism, which was to secure harmony of teaching and to lay a solid foundation for the religious instruction of the rising generation.

Frederick was one of the purest and noblest characters among the princes of Germany. He was to the Palatinate what King Alfred and Edward VI. were to England, what the Electors Frederick the Wise and John the Constant were to Saxony, and Duke Christopher to Würtemberg. He did more for educational and charitable institutions than all his predecessors. He devoted to them the entire proceeds of the oppressed convents. He lived in great simplicity that he might contribute liberally from his private income to the cause of learning and religion. He was the first German prince who professed the Reformed Creed, as distinct from the Lutheran. For this he suffered much reproach, and was threatened with exclusion from the benefits of the Augsburg Treaty of Peace (concluded in 1555), since Zwinglianism and Calvinism were not yet tolerated on German soil. But at the Diet of Augsburg, in 1566, he made before the Emperor a manly confession of his faith, and declared himself ready to lose his crown rather than violate his conscience. Even his opponents could not but admire his courage, and the Lutheran Elector Augustus of Saxony applauded him, saying, 'Fritz, thou art more pious than all of 533us.' He praised God on his death-bed that he had been permitted to see such a reformation in Church and school that men were led away from human traditions to Christ and his divine Word. He left in writing a full confession of his faith, which may be regarded as an authentic explanation of the Heidelberg Catechism; it was published after his death by his son, John Casimir (1577).


Frederick showed his wisdom by calling two young divines, Ursinus and Olevianus, to Heidelberg to aid in the Reformation and to prepare an evangelical catechism. They belong to the reformers of the second generation. Theirs it was to nurture and to mature rather than to plant. Both were Germans, but well acquainted with the Reformed Churches in Switzerland and France. Both suffered deposition and exile for the Reformed faith.

Zacharias Ursinus (Bär), the chief author of the Heidelberg Catechism, was born at Breslau, July 18, 1534, and studied seven years (1550–1557) at Wittenberg under Melanchthon, who esteemed him as one of his best pupils and friends. He accompanied his teacher to the religious conference at Worms, 1557, and to Heidelberg, and then proceeded on a literary journey to Switzerland and France. He made the personal acquaintance of Bullinger and Peter Martyr at Zurich, of Calvin and Beza at Geneva, and was thoroughly initiated into the Reformed Creed. Calvin presented him with his works, and wrote in them the best wishes for his young friend. On his return to Wittenberg he received a call to the rectorship of the Elizabeth College at Breslau. After the death of Melanchthon he went a second time to Zurich (Oct., 1560), intending to remain there. In the following year he was called to a theological chair at Heidelberg. Here he labored with untiring zeal and success till the death of Frederick III., 1576, when, together with six hundred steadfast Reformed ministers and teachers, he was deposed and exiled by Louis VI., who introduced the Lutheran Creed. Ursinus found a refuge at Neustadt an der Hardt, and established there, with other deposed professors, a flourishing theological school under the protection of John Casimir, the second son of Frederick III. He died in the prime of his life and usefulness, March 6, 1583, leaving a widow and one son. In the same year Casimir succeeded his Lutheran brother 534in the Electorate, recalled the exiled preachers, and re-established the Reformed Church in the Palatinate.

Ursinus was a man of profound classical, philosophical, and theological learning, poetic taste, rare gift of teaching, and fervent piety. His devotion to Christ is beautifully reflected in the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism, and in his saying that he would not take a thousand worlds for the blessed assurance of being owned by Jesus Christ. He was no orator, and no man of action, but a retired, modest, and industrious student.10051005   On the door of his study he inscribed the warning, 'Amice, quisquis huc venis, aut agita paucis, aut abi, aut me laborantem adjuva.' His principal works, besides the Catechism, are a Commentary on the Catechism (Corpus doctrinæ orthodoxæ) and a defense of the Reformed Creed against the attacks of the Lutheran Formula of Concord.

Caspar Olevianus (Olewig), born at Treves Aug. 10,1536, studied the ancient languages at Paris, Bourges, and Orleans, and theology at Geneva and Zurich. He enjoyed, like Ursinus, the personal instruction and friendship of the surviving reformers of Switzerland. He began to preach the evangelical doctrines at Treves, was thrown into prison, but soon released, and called to Heidelberg, 1560, by Frederick III., who felt under personal obligation to him for saving one of his sons from drowning at the risk of his own life. He taught theology and preached at the court. He was the chief counselor of the Elector in all affairs of the Church. In 1576 he was banished on account of his faith, and accepted a call to Herborn, 1584, where he died, Feb. 27, 1585. His last word was a triumphant 'certissimus,' in reply to a friend who asked him whether he were certain of his salvation. Theodore Beza lamented his death in a Latin poem, beginning

'Eheu, quibus suspiriis,

Eheu, quibus te lacrymis

Oleviane, planxero?'

Olevianus was inferior to Ursinus in learning, but his superior in the pulpit and in church government. He wrote an important catechetical work on the covenant of grace, and is regarded as the forerunner of the federal theology of Coccejus and Lampe. He labored earnestly, but only with moderate success, for the introduction of the Presbyterian form of government and a strict discipline, after the model of 535Geneva. Thomas Erastus (Lieber), Professor of Medicine at Heidelberg, and afterwards of Ethics at Basle (died 1583), opposed excommunication, and defended the supremacy of the state in matters of religion; hence the term 'Erastianism' (equivalent to Cæsaropapism).


The Heidelberg Catechism, as it is called after the city of its birth, or the Palatinate (also Palatine) Catechism, as it is named after the country for which it was intended, was prepared on the basis of two Latin drafts of Ursinus and a German draft of Olevianus. The peculiar gifts of both, the didactic clearness and precision of the one, and the pathetic warmth and unction of the other, were blended in beautiful harmony, and produced a joint work which is far superior to all the separate productions of either. In the Catechism they surpassed themselves. They were in a measure inspired for it. At the same time, they made free and independent use of the Catechisms of Calvin, Lasky, and Bullinger. The Elector took the liveliest interest in the preparation, and even made some corrections.

In December, 1562, Frederick submitted the work to a general synod of the chief ministers and teachers assembled at Heidelberg, for revision and approval. It was published early in 1563, in German, under the title 'Catechismus, Or Christian Instruction, as conducted in the Churches and Schools of the Electoral Palatinate.'10061006   See the original title in the literature above. It is preceded by a short Preface of the Elector, dated Tuesday, January 19, 1563, in which he informs the superintendents, clergymen, and schoolmasters of the Palatinate that, with the counsel and co-operation of the theological faculty and leading ministers of the Church, he had caused to be made and set forth a summary instruction or Catechism of our Christian religion from the Word of God, to be used hereafter in churches and schools for the benefit of the rising generation.


There appeared, in the year 1563, three official editions of the Catechism with an important variation in the eightieth question, which denounces the Romish mass as 'a denial of the one sacrifice of Christ, 536and as an accursed idolatry.' In the first edition this question was wanting altogether; the second edition has it in part; the third in full, as it now stands.10071007   By the discovery of the copy of the first ed., 1864, the origin of the eightieth question was satisfactorily decided. A second copy of the original ed. is in the Imperial Library of Vienna. The Brit. Museum contains a copy of the Engl. trans. by "William Turner, Doctor of Physick, Imprinted at London, by Richard Jones, 1572."—Ed. This question was inserted by the express command of the Elector, perhaps by his own hand, as a Protestant counter-blast to the Romish anathemas of the Council of Trent, which closed its sessions Dec. 4, 1563. Hence the remark at the end of the second and third editions: 'What has been overlooked in the first print, as especially on folio 55 [which contains the eightieth question], has now been added by command of his electoral grace. 1563.'

The same view of the Romish doctrine of transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the mass was generally entertained by the Reformers, and is set forth as strongly in the Articles of Smalcald and other symbolical books, both Lutheran and Reformed. It must be allowed to remain as a solemn protest against idolatry. But the wisdom of inserting controversial matter into a catechism for the instruction of the youth has been justly doubted. The eightieth question disturbs the peaceful harmony of the book, it rewards evil for evil, it countenances intolerance, which is un-Protestant and unevangelical. It provoked much unnecessary hostility, and led even, under the Romish rule of the Elector Charles Philip, in 1719, to the prohibition of the Catechism; but the loud remonstrance of England, Prussia, Holland, and other Protestant states forced the Elector to withdraw the tyrannical decree within a year, under certain conditions, to save appearances.


The Heidelberg Catechism was translated into all the European and many Asiatic languages. It has the pentecostal gift of tongues in a rare degree. It is stated that, next to the Bible, the 'Imitation of Christ,' by Thomas à Kempis, and Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress,' no book has been more frequently translated, more widely circulated and used. Whole libraries of paraphrases, commentaries, sermons, attacks, and defenses were written about it. In many Reformed churches, especially in Holland (and also in the United States), it was and is to some extent even now obligatory or customary to explain the 537Catechism from the pulpit every Sunday afternoon. Hence the division of the questions into fifty-two Sundays, in imitation of the example set by Calvin's Catechism.10081008   This division was first introduced in the Latin edition of 1566, perhaps earlier. Van Alpen, Niemeyer, and others are wrong in dating it from the German edition of 1573 or 1575.

A Latin translation, for the use of colleges, was made by order of the Elector, by Joshua Lagus and Lambert Ludolph Pithopœus, and appeared soon after the German, since Olevianus sent a copy of each to Bullinger, in Zurich, as early as April, 1563.10091009   Dœdes gives a fac-simile of the title-page of the Latin edition of 1563, from a copy in the University Library at Utrecht. It is nearly the same as the title of the edition of 1566, given in the literature above. It is, however, much inferior to the German in force and unction. The Latin text was often edited separately as well as in the works of Ursinus, in connection with his commentary and other Latin commentaries, and in collections of Reformed symbols.10101010   Niemeyer (pp. 428 sqq.) reproduces the edition of 1584, which agrees with the ed. princeps of 1563 (as far as I can judge from the few fac-simile pages given by Dœdes), and with the text in the Oxford Sylloge, while that in the Græco-Latin edition of Sylburg slightly differs. Dr. Louis H. Steiner, of Frederick City, Md., published an elegant and accurate edition under the title 'Catechesis Religionis Christianæ seu Catechismus Heidelbergensis. Baltimore, 1862.' He gives the variations of three Latin editions: of Cambridge, 1585; of Geneva, 1609 (formerly in the possession of Chevalier Bunsen); and the Oxford Sylloge, 1804.

There are three Dutch translations: the first appeared at Emden, 1563; the second, by Peter Dathenus, in connection with a Dutch version of the Psalter, in 1566, and very often separately.10111011   On the Dutch translations, see especially the learned work of Professor Dœdes, of Utrecht, pp. 74–128, with fac-similes at the end of the volume.

A Greek translation was prepared by a distinguished classical scholar, D. Frid. Sylburg, 1597.10121012   I have before me a Græco-Latin edition of the Catechism κατηχήσεις τῆς χρισπανικῆς θρησκείας, by Sylburg, and of the Belgic Confession by Jac. Revius, printed at Utrecht, 1660. Earlier editions I see noticed in catalogues.

Besides these there are editions in modern Greek, in Hebrew, Arabic, etc.10131013   Niemeyer (Proleg. p. lxii.) mentions a Polish translation by Prasmovius, a Hungarian by Scarasius, an Arabic by Chelius, a Singalese by Konyer, besides French, Italian, Spanish, English, Bohemian, modern Greek, and Hebrew versions. Dœdes (p. 41) adds a Persian and a Malayan translation. There are no doubt many other versions.

Three or four English translations were made from the Latin, and obtained a wide circulation in Scotland, England, and America.10141014   An English edition, without the name of the translator, appeared A.D. 1591 at Edinburgh, 'by publick Authority, for the Use of Scotland,' and also repeatedly in connection with the 'Psalm-Book and the Book of Common Order.' It is embodied in Dunlop's Collection of Confessions of Faith, etc., of publick authority in the Church of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1719–1722), Vol. II. pp. 273–361, and reproduced by Dr. Horatius Bonar in his Catechisms of the Scottish Reformation (London, 1866), pp. 112–170. Dr. Bonar says (p. 171): 'There are several translations of the Heidelberg or Palatine Catechism; and our Church [the Church of Scotland] seems not to have kept to one. In the edition of the Book of Common Order before us (1615), the Catechism is given alone; in that which Dunlop has followed, it has the "Arguments" and "Uses" of Bastingius.' Another translation by Bishop Henry Parry, of Worcester (d. 1616), appeared (together with the commentary of Ursinus) at Oxford, 1509 and 1601. It was often republished—at Edinburgh, 1615 (with sundry variations, see Bonar, p. 172), again in London, 1633, 1645, 1728, 1851, and quite recently (from the Oxford edition of 1601, with the variations of the edition of 1728) by Dr. Gerhart and Dr. Louis Steiner in the 'Mercersburg Review' for 1861, pp. 74 sqq. The one now in use in the Dutch and German Reformed Churches in America, is traced (by the late Dr. De Witt of New York) to Dr. Laidlie, originally from Scotland, minister at Flushing, Long Island, and was adopted, 1771, by the Synod of the Reformed Dutch Church. These three English translations seem to be only different recensions of one translation compared with the Latin text. A 538more correct one from the German original was prepared for the tercentenary celebration of the Catechism, by a learned and able committee appointed by the German Reformed Synod in Pennsylvania, but has not yet come into public use.10151015   See the tercentenary triglot edition of 1863, noticed in the literature above.

The merits of the Latin and English translations, and their relation to the German original, may be seen from the following specimens:

The German Original, 1563. The Latin Version, 1563.

Frage 1. Was ist dein einiger Trost im Leben und im Sterben?

Qu. 1. Quæ est unica tua consolatio in vita et in morte?

Das ich mit Leib und Seele, beides im Leben und im Sterben, nicht mein, sondern meines getreuen Heilandes Jesu Christi eigen bin, der mit seinem theuren Blute für alle meine Sünden vollkommen bezahlet, und mich aus aller Gewalt des Teufels erlöset hat; und also bewahret, dass ohne den Willen meines Vaters im Himmel kein Haar von meinem Haupte kann fallen, ja auch mir alles zu meiner Seligkeit dienen muss. Darum er mich auch durch seinen heiligen Geist des ewigen Lebens versichert, und ihm forthin zu leben von Herzen willig und bereit macht.

Quod animo pariter et corpore, sive vivam, sive moriar, non meus, sed fidissimi Domini et Servatoris mei Jesus Christi sum proprius, qui pretioso sanguine suo pro omnibus peccatis meis plenissime satisfaciens,10161016    So also the Oxford Sylloge. The ed. Græco-Latina of Sylburg reads instead: plenissima solutione facta. me ab omni potestate diaboli liberavit, meque ita conservat, ut sine voluntate patris mei cœlestis, ne pilus quidem de meo capite posit cadere: imò verò etiam omnia saluti meæ servire oporteat. Quocirca me quoque suo Spiritu de vita æterna certum facit, utque ipsi deinceps vivam promptum ac paratum reddit.

Frage 2. Wie viele Stücke sind dir nöthig zu wissen, dass du in diesem Troste seliglich leben und sterben mögest?

Qu. 2. Quot sunt tibi scitu necessaria, ut ista10171017   Al. edd. illa. consolatione fruens, beatè vivas et moriaris?

Drei Stücke: Erstlich, wie gross meine Sünde und Elend sei. Zum Andern, wie ich von allen meinen Sünden und Elend erlöset werde. Und zum Dritten, wie ich Gott für solche Erlösung soll dankbar sein.

Tria. Primum, quanta sit peccati mei et miseriæ meæ magnitudo. Secundum,10181018   Al. Alterum. quo pacto ab omni peccato et miseria liberer. Tertium, quam gratiam Deo pro ea liberatione debeam.


Scotch Edition of 1591. Bishop Perry's Translation (1591).
From Dunlop's Collection (1722). Oxford Edition of 1601.

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

Ques. 1. What is thy only comfort in lift and death?

That in soul and body, whether I live or die, I am not mine own, but I belong unto my most faithful Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ: who by his precious blood, most fully satisfying for all my sins, hath delivered me from the whole power of the Devil; and doth so preserve me, that without the will of my heavenly Father, not so much as a hair can fall from my head: yea, all things are made to serve for my salvation. Wherefore by his Spirit also, he assureth me of everlasting life, and maketh me ready and prepared, that henceforth I may live unto him.

That both in soul and body, whether I live or die, I am not mine own, but belong wholly10191019   The redundant 'wholly' occurs also in the Edinburgh edition of 1615, which, to judge from the specimens given by Horatius Bonar (in Catechisms of the Scottish Reformation, p. 172), is a reprint of Parry's translation with a few variations. unto my most faithful Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who by his precious blood most fully satisfying for all my sins, hath delivered me from all the power of the devil, and so preserveth me, that without the will of my heavenly Father not so much as a hair may fall from my head, yea all things must serve for my safety. Wherefore by his Spirit also he assureth me of everlasting life, and maketh me ready, and prepared, that henceforth I may live to him.

Ques. 2. How many things are needful for thee to know, to the end [that] thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die an happy man?

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

Three things. First, What is the greatness of my sin, and of my misery. Secondly, By what means I may be delivered from all my sin and misery. Thirdly, What thankfulness I owe to God for that deliverance.

Three. The first, what is the greatness of my sin and misery. The second, how I am delivered from all sin and misery. The third, what thanks I owe unto God for this delivery.

The Received American Version, 1771. The New American Version, 1863.

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

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

That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, who, with his precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation; and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready henceforth, to live unto him.

That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me, that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto Him.

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

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

Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.

Three things: First, the greatness of my sin and misery. Second, how I am redeemed from all my sins and misery. Third, how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption.


Note.—All the English versions, except the last, follow the Latin in its departures from the German, as 'most faithful Lord' (fidelissimi Domini) for 'faithful' (getreuen), 'heavenly Father' (Patris cœlestis) for 'Father in heaven' (Vater im Himmel). The dependence on the Latin may be seen also in the words 'most fully satisfying' (plenissime satisfaciens), 'delivered' (liberavit) for 'redeemed' (erlöset), 'delivery' (liberatio) for 'redemption' (Erlösung) 540and in the omission of 'heartily' (von Herzen), for which, however, the common American version (which seems to have made use also of the Dutch version) substitutes 'sincerely.'


The Heidelberg Catechism answers the double purpose of a guide for the religious instruction of the youth and a confession of faith for the Church.

As a catechism it is an acknowledged masterpiece, with few to equal and none to surpass it. Its only defect is that its answers are mostly too long for the capacity and memory of children. It is intended for a riper age. Hence an abridgment was made as early as 1585, but no attempts to simplify and popularize it have been able to supersede it.

As a standard of public doctrine the Heidelberg Catechism is the most catholic and popular of all the Reformed symbols. The German Reformed Church acknowledges no other. The Calvinistic system is herein set forth with wise moderation, and without its sharp, angular points. This may be a defect in logic, but it is an advantage in religion, which is broader and deeper than logic. Children and the mass of the people are unable to appreciate metaphysical distinctions and the transcendent mysteries of eternal decrees. The doctrine of election to holiness and salvation in Christ (or the positive and edifying part of the dogma of predestination) is indeed incidentally set forth as a source of humility, gratitude, and comfort (Ques. 1, 31, 53, 54), but nothing is said of a double predestination, or of an eternal decree of reprobation, or of a limited atonement (comp. Ques. 37). These difficult questions are left to private opinion and theological science. This reserve is the more remarkable since the authors (as well as all other Reformers, except Melanchthon in his later period) were strict predestinarians.


The Heidelberg Catechism follows the order of the Epistle to the Romans, and is divided into three parts. The first two questions are introductory. The first part treats of the sin and misery of man (Ques. 3–11; comp. Rom. i. 18-iii. 20); the second of the redemption by Christ (Ques. 12–85; comp. Rom. iii. 21-xi. 36); the third of the thankfulness of the redeemed, or the Christian life (Ques. 86–129; comp. Rom. xii.-xvi.). The second part is the largest, and contains 541an explanation of all the articles of the Apostles' Creed under the three heads of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The doctrine of the sacraments is rightly incorporated in this part, instead of being treated in separate sections, as in the Roman and Lutheran Catechisms. The third part gives an exposition of the Decalogue (as a rule of obedience, viewed in the light of redemption) and of the Lord's Prayer.

This order corresponds to the development of religious life and to the three leading ideas of repentance, faith, and love. The conception of Christian life, as an expression of gratitude for redeeming grace, is truly evangelical. In older catechisms the five or six parts of a catechism—namely, the Creed, the Decalogue, the Lord's Prayer, Baptism, the Lord's Supper—are mechanically co-ordinated; here they are worked up into an organic system.

The execution is admirable throughout. Several answers are acknowledged gems in the history of catechetical literature—e.g., the definition of faith (Ques. 21), on providence (Ques. 27 and 28), on the significance of the Christian name (Ques. 31 and 32), on the benefit of the ascension (Ques. 49), and on justification by faith (Ques. 60).


The genius of the Catechism is brought out at once in the first question, which contains the central idea, and strikes the key-note. It is unsurpassed for depth, comfort, and beauty, and, once committed to memory, can never be forgotten. It represents Christianity in its evangelical, practical, cheering aspect, not as a commanding law, not as an intellectual scheme, not as a system of outward observances, but as the best gift of God to man, as a source of peace and comfort in life and in death. What can be more comforting, what at the same time more honoring and stimulating to a holy life than the assurance of being owned wholly by Christ our blessed Lord and Saviour, who sacrificed his own spotless life for us on the cross? The first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism is the whole gospel in a nutshell; blessed is he who can repeat it from the heart and hold it fast to the end.10201020   Dr. Nevan {Tercentenary Edition, Introd. p. 95) says: 'No question in the whole Catechism has been more admired than this, and none surely is more worthy of admiration. Where shall we find, in the same compass, a more beautifully graphic, or a more impressively full and pregnant representation of all that is comprehended for us in the grace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? For thousands and tens of thousands, during the past three hundred years, it has been as a whole system of theology in the best sense of the term, their pole-star over the sea of life, and the sheet-anchor of their hope amid the waves of death. But what we quote it for now is simply to show the mind that actuates and rules the Catechism throughout. We have here at once its fundamental conception and the reigning law of its construction; the key-note, we may say, which governs its universal sense, and whose grandly solemn tones continue to make themselves heard through all its utterances from beginning to end.'


It would be difficult to find a more evangelical definition of faith than in Ques. 21: 'Faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his Word; but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Spirit works in me by the gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ's merits.' How rich and consoling is the lesson derived from God's all-ruling Providence in Ques. 28! 'That we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and for what is future have good confidence in our faithful God and Father, that no creature shall separate us from his love, since all creatures are so in his hand that without his will they can not so much as move.'

The Catechism is a work of religious enthusiasm, based on solid theological learning, and directed by excellent judgment. It is baptized with the pentecostal fire of the great Reformation, yet remarkably free from the polemic zeal and intolerance which characterized that wonderfully excited period—by far the richest and deepest in Church history next to the age of Christ and his inspired apostles. It is the product of the heart as well as the head, full of faith and unction from above. It is fresh, lively, glowing, yet clear, sober, self-sustained. The ideas are Biblical and orthodox, and well fortified by apt Scripture proofs.10211021   Ques. 44 is hardly an exception; for the idea therein expressed is no error per se, but only a false interpretation of the article on Christ's descent into hell (Hades) in the Apostles' Creed, which places it, as an actual fact, between death and the resurrection, in accordance with the Scriptures (Luke xxiii. 43; Acts ii. 27, 31; 1 Pet. iii. 19; iv. 6; Eph. iv. 9, 10); while the Catechism, following Calvin and Lasky, understands it figuratively of Christ's suffering on the cross. The language is dignified, terse, nervous, popular, and often truly eloquent. It is the language of devotion as well as instruction. Altogether the Heidelberg Catechism is more than a book, it is an institution, and will live as long as the Reformed Church.



The Heidelberg Catechism stands mediating between Luther's Small Catechism, which appeared thirty-four years earlier (1529), and the Shorter Westminster Catechism, which was prepared eighty-four years later (1647).

These are the three most popular and useful catechisms that Protestantism has produced, and have still the strongest hold upon the churches they represent. They have the twofold character of catechisms and symbolical books. They are alike evangelical in spirit and aim; they lead directly to Christ as the one and all-sufficient Saviour, and to the Word of God as the only infallible rule of the Christian's faith and life.

Luther's Catechism is the most churchly of the three, and adheres to the Catholic tradition in its order and arrangement. It assigns a very prominent place to the Sacraments, treating them in separate chapters, co-ordinate with the Decalogue, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer; while the others incorporate them in the general exposition of the articles of faith. Luther teaches baptismal regeneration and the corporeal presence, and even retains private confession and absolution as a quasi-sacrament. Heidelberg and Westminster are free from all remnants of sacerdotalism and sacramentalism, and teach the Calvinistic theory of the sacraments, which rises, however, much higher than the Zwinglian.

On the other hand, the Lutheran and the Heidelberg Catechisms differ from the Westminster in the following points: 1. They retain the Apostles' Creed as the basis of doctrinal exposition; while the Westminster Catechism puts it in an appendix, and substitutes a new logical scheme of doctrine for the old historical order of the Creed. 2. They are subjective, and address the catechumen as a Church member, who answers from his real or prospective personal experience; while the Westminster Catechism is objective and impersonal, and states the answer in an abstract proposition. 3. They use the warm and direct language of life, the Westminster the scholastic language of dogma; hence the former two are less definite but more expansive and suggestive than the Presbyterian formulary, which, on the other hand, far surpasses them in brevity, terseness, and accuracy of definition.


Upon the whole we prefer the catechetical style and method of the creative Reformation period, because it is more Biblical and fresh, to that of the seventeenth century—the age of scholastic orthodoxy—although we freely concede the relative progress and peculiar excellences of the Westminster standard.10221022   'It may be questioned,' says Dr. Bonar, of the Free Church of Scotland, 'whether the Church gained any thing by the exchange of the Reformation standards for those of the seventeenth century. The scholastic mold in which the latter are cast has somewhat trenched upon the ease and breadth which mark the former; and the skillful metaphysics employed at Westminster in giving lawyer-like precision to each statement have imparted a local and temporary aspect to the new which did not belong to the more ancient standards. Or, enlarging the remark, we may say that there is something about the theology of the Reformation which renders it less likely to become obsolete than the theology of the covenant. The simpler formulas of the older age are quite as explicit as those of the later; while by the adoption of the Biblical in preference to the scholastic mode of expression they have secured for themselves a buoyancy which will bear them up when the others go down. The old age of that generation is likely to be greener than that of their posterity.' (Catechisms of the Scottish Reformation, Preface, p. viii.)

The Heidelberg Catechism differs from that of Luther—1. By its fullness and thoroughness, and hence it is better adapted to a maturer age; while that of Luther has the advantage of brevity and childlike simplicity, and adaptation to early youth. The one has one hundred and twenty-nine, the other only forty questions and answers, and of these only three are devoted to the exposition of the Apostles' Creed, while the Sacraments receive disproportionate attention. 2. The Heidelberg Catechism gives the words of the Decalogue in full, according to the twentieth chapter of Exodus, and follows the old Jewish and Greek division, which is adopted by the best commentators; while Luther presents merely an abridgment,10231023   For example, the fourth (third) commandment is thus condensed: 'Du sollst den Feiertag heiligen' (Thou shalt keep holy the rest-day). and follows the Roman division by omitting the second commandment and splitting the tenth into two.10241024   Comp. p. 251, note 2. 3. The former gives a summary of the law, through which comes the knowledge of sin, in the first part (Ques. 3 and 4), but explains the Decalogue in the third division, viewing it in its Christian aspect as a permanent rule of life; while Luther regards the law in its Jewish or pedagogic aspect, as a schoolmaster leading men to Christ, and hence he puts it as the first head before the Creed. Ursinus correctly says: 'The Decalogue belongs to the first part so far as it is a mirror of our sin and misery, but also to the third part as 545being the rule of our new obedience and Christian life.'10251025   The Germans express the different aspects of the law by calling it a Sündenspiegel, Sündenriegel, and Lebensregel, a mirror of sin, a bar of sin, and a rule of life. 4. In the rendering of the Creed, besides minor verbal differences, the Heidelberg Catechism retains 'the holy catholic Church,' with the addition of 'Christian' (eine heilige allgemeine christliche Kirche); while Luther's omits 'catholic,' and substitutes for it 'Christian.'10261026   Hence in Germany the term 'Catholic' and 'Romanist' are used synonymously, and the proverb 'Das ist um katholisch zu werden' expresses a desperate condition of things. The English Churches have properly retained the term 'catholic' in its good old sense, instead of allowing Romanists to monopolize it. 5. In the Lord's Prayer the Heidelberg Catechism uses the modern form 'Our Father' (Unser Vater), while Luther in his Catechism (though not in his translation of Matt. vi. 9 and Luke xi. 2) adheres to the Latin and old German form of 'Father our' (Vater unser), a difference tenaciously maintained by German Lutherans. The former divides the Prayer into six petitions (with the Greek commentators), and renders ἐκ πονηροῦ 'from the evil one' (vom Bösen, i.e., from the devil); while Luther (with Augustine) numbers seven petitions, and translates (herein agreeing with the English version) 'from evil' (vom Uebel).

The difference between the Heidelberg and Westminster Catechisms is chiefly one of nationality. Where the choice is between the two, the former will be used in preference by Germans, the other by Scotch and English Presbyterians. The Westminster Shorter Catechism has the advantage of greater condensation and precision. It is not impossible to make a better one than either by blending the excellences of both. They represent also two types of piety: the one is more emotional and hearty, the other more scholastic and intellectual. This appears at once in the first question. The Heidelberg Catechism asks: 'What is thy only comfort in life and in death?' The Westminster: 'What is the chief end of man?' The one goes at once into the heart of evangelical piety—the mystical union of the believer with Christ; the other goes back to the creation and the glory of God; but both teach the same God and Christ, and the same way of salvation, whereby God is glorified, and man is raised to everlasting felicity in his enjoyment.



1. The Heidelberg Catechism was greeted with great joy, and was at once introduced into the churches and schools of the Lower Palatinate; while the Upper Palatinate, under the governorship of Louis (the eldest son of Frederick III.) remained strictly Lutheran.

But, like every good book, it had to pass through a trial of probation and a fire of martyrdom. Even before it was printed an anonymous writer attacked the Heidelberg Synod which, in December, 1562, had adopted the Catechism in manuscript, together with sundry measures of reform.10271027   This curious document, which throws light upon that Synod hitherto little known, has been recently recovered and published by Wolters in the Studien mud Kritiken for 1867, No. 1, pp. 15 sqq. The Lutheran author, perhaps a dissenting member of the Synod, gives a list of the measures for the introduction of the Catechism and the abolition of various abuses, and accompanies them with bitter marginal comments, such as: 'This is a lie and against God's Word;' 'This is the Anabaptist heresy;' 'To spread Zwinglianism;' 'Friss Vogel oder stirb;' 'Ad spargendam zizaniam;' 'Ut citius imbibant venenum;' 'Evangelii abrogatio;' 'Hispanica inquisitio.' After its publication it was violently assailed by strict Lutherans for its alleged Zwinglian and Calvinistic heresies, and by Jesuits on account of the condemnation of the idolatry of the mass in the eightieth question. The first opponents were Lutheran princes (Margrave Charles II. of Baden, Duke Christopher of Würtemberg, the Palatine of Zweibrücken), and Lutheran divines, such as Heshusius, Flacius, Brentius, and Andreæ.10281028   See on this Lutheran opposition Wolters, l.c., and in his earlier book, Der Heidelb. Katechismus in seiner Urgestalt (1864), pp. 141–196; Nevin, Introd. to the Tercent. Ed. pp. 42 sqq.; and especially Sudhoff, Olevianus und Ursinus, pp. 140 sqq. Ursinus wrote an able apology of his Catechism, which is embodied in several older editions since 1584. A theological colloquy was held at Maulbronn in April, 1564, where the theological leaders of the Lutheran Duchy of Würtemberg and the Reformed Palatinate, in the presence of their princes, debated for six days in vain on the eucharist and the ubiquity of Christ's body. Both parties were confirmed in their opinions, though the Reformed had the best of the argument.10291029   See above, pp. 288 sqq.

Frederick III., notwithstanding his appeal to Melanchthon and the Altered Augsburg Confession, was openly charged with apostasy from the Lutheran faith, and seriously threatened with exclusion from the peace of the empire. Even the liberal Emperor Maximilian II. wrote 547him a letter of remonstrance. His fate was to be decided at the Diet of Augsburg, 1566. At this critical juncture the pious Elector boldly defended his Catechism, which, he said, was all taken from the Bible, and so well fortified with marginal proof-texts that it could not be overthrown. He declared himself willing to yield to God's truth, if any one could show him any thing better from the Scripture, which was at hand for the purpose. Altogether he made, at the risk of his crown and his life, such a noble and heroic confession as reminds us of Luther's stand at the Diet of Worms. Even his Lutheran opponents were filled with admiration and praise, and left him thereafter in quiet possession of his faith. 'Why do ye persecute this man?' said the Margrave of Baden; 'he has more piety than the whole of us.' The Elector Augustus of Saxony gave similar testimony on this memorable occasion.10301030   Hundeshagen says of Frederick III.: 'He is acknowledged to be the greatest ruler which the evangelical Palatinate ever had, and as to personal piety and loyalty to his faith the shining model of an evangelical prince.' See his art. on the City and University of Heidelberg, in the Gedenkbuch der 300 jähr. Jubelfeier des Heidelb. Kat. pp. 58, 59.

Thus the Catechism had gained a sort of legal existence in the German empire, although it was not till after the Thirty-Years' War, in the Treaty of Westphalia, that the Reformed Church, as distinct from the Lutheran, was formally recognized in Germany.

After the death of Frederick it had to pass through another persecution in the home of its birth. His successor, Louis VI. (1576–1583), exiled its authors, and replaced it by Luther's Catechism and the Formula of Concord. But under the regency of Frederick's second son, Prince John Casimir, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Reformed Church were restored to their former honor, and continued to flourish till the outbreak of the Thirty-Years' War.

This war brought terrible devastation and untold misery upon Heidelberg and the Palatinate, which were laid waste by the merciless Tilly (1622). Then followed the repeated invasions of Turenne, Melac, and Marshal de Lorges, under Louis XIV. The Palatinate fell even into the hands of Roman Catholic rulers (1685), and never again rose to its former glory. Thousands of Protestants emigrated to America, and planted the Catechism in Pennsylvania, so that what it lost in the old world it gained in the new. The indifferentism and 548rationalism of the eighteenth century allowed all creeds to go into disuse and neglect. In the nineteenth century faith revived, and with it respect for the Heidelberg Catechism; but, owing to the introduction of the union of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches in the Grand Duchy of Baden, to which Heidelberg now belongs, it was merged into a new catechism compiled from it and from that of Luther.10311031   On the symbolical status of the Evangelical Church in Baden, see two essays of Dr. Hundeshagen, Die Bekenntnissgrundlage der vereinigten evangelischen Kirche im Grossherzogthum Baden (1851), and an address delivered before a Pastoral Conference at Durlach, on the same subject, 1851, republished in his Schriften und Abhandlungen, ed. by Dr. Christlieb, Gotha, 1875, Vol. II. pp. 119 sqq.

2. The history of the Palatinate Catechism extends far beyond the land of its birth. It took deeper root and acquired greater influence in other countries. Soon after its appearance it commended itself by its intrinsic excellences to all Reformed Churches of the German tongue. It was introduced in East Friesland, Jülich (Juliers), Cleve (Cleves), Berg, the Wupperthal, Bremen, Hesse Cassel, Anhalt, Brandenburg, East and West Prussia, the free imperial cities, in Hungary, Poland, and in several cantons of Switzerland, as St. Gall, Schaffhausen, and Berne.10321032   The editions used in the Canton Berne have an anti-supralapsarian addition to Question 27: 'Und obwohl die Sünden durch Gottes Fürsehung werden regiert, so ist doch Gott keine Ursache der Sünde; denn das Ziel unterscheidet die Werke. Siehe Exempel an Joseph und seinen Brüdern, an David und Simei, an Christo und den Juden.' This addition is found as early as 1697. Noticed by Trechsel in Studien und Kritiken for 1867, p. 574. In the royal house of Prussia it is still used in the instruction of the princes, even after the introduction of the union of the two confessions.10331033   So I was informed by the late court chaplain, Dr. Snethlage, of Berlin, who was originally Reformed, and who confirmed several members of the royal family.

It was surrounded with a large number of learned works which fill an important place in the history of Reformed theology. Eminent professors made it the basis of lectures in the University.

In no country was the Catechism more honored than in Holland and her distant colonies in Asia and Africa. It soon replaced the catechisms of Calvin and Lasky. The synods of Wesel, 1568, of Emden, 1571, and of Dort, 1574, recommended and enjoined its use; and ministers were required to explain it to the people in fifty-two lessons throughout the year in the afternoon service of the Lord's day. In the beginning of the sixteenth century the Arminians called for a 549revision of it, to remove certain features to which they objected. But the famous General Synod of Dort, after a careful examination, opposed any change, and, in its 148th Session, May 1, 1619, it unanimously delivered the judgment that the Heidelberg Catechism 'formed altogether a most accurate compend of the orthodox Christian faith; being, with singular skill, not only adapted to the understanding of the young, but suited also for the advantageous instruction of older persons; so that it could continue to be taught with great edification in the Belgic churches, and ought by all means to be retained.' This judgment was agreed to by all the foreign delegates from Germany, Switzerland, and England, and has thus an œcumenical significance for the Reformed communion.

The Heidelberg Catechism was also clothed with symbolical authority in Scotland, and was repeatedly printed 'by public authority,' even after the Westminster standards had come into use. It seems to have there practically superseded Calvin's Catechism, but it was in turn superseded by Craig's Catechism, and Craig's by that of the Westminster Assembly.

3. From Holland the Heidelberg Catechism crossed the Atlantic to Manhattan Island (1609), with the discoverer of the Hudson River, and was the first Protestant catechism planted on American soil. A hundred years later, German emigrants, driven from the Palatinate by Romish persecution and tyranny, carried it to Pennsylvania and other colonies. It has remained ever since the honored symbol of the Dutch and German Reformed Churches in America, and will continue to be used as long as they retain their separate denominational existence, or even if they should unite with the larger Presbyterian body.

One of the first acts of the reunited Presbyterian Church in the United States, at the session of the General Assembly in Philadelphia, May, 1870, was the formal sanction of the use of the Heidelberg Catechism in any congregation which may desire it.10341034   A special committee, appointed by the Old School Assembly of 1869, reported to the first reunited Assembly of 1870, after a laudatory description of the Heidelberg Catechism, the following resolutions, which were unanimously adopted:
   1. Resolved, That this General Assembly recognizes in the Heidelberg Catechism a valuable Scriptural compendium of Christian doctrine and duty.

   2. Resolved, That if any churches desire to employ the Heidelberg Catechism in the instruction of their children, they may do so with the approbation of this Assembly.

   See the Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America for 1870, p. 120, and the Memorial volume on Presbyterian Reunion (New York, 1870), p. 454.


4. In the year 1863, three centuries after its first publication, the Heidelberg Catechism witnessed its greatest triumph, not only in Germany and Holland, but still more in a land which the authors never saw, and in a language the sound of which they probably never heard. The Reformation was similarly honored in 1817, and the Augsburg Confession in 1830, but no other catechism.

In Germany the tercentenary celebration of the Heidelberg Catechism was left to individual pastors and congregations, and called forth some valuable publications.10351035   Among these we mention the articles on the Heidelberg Catechism by Ullmann, Sack, Plitt, Hundeshagen, Wolters, and Trechsel, in the Studien und Kritiken for 1863, 1864, and 1867, the discovery and reprint of the ed. princeps by Wolters (1864), and a collection of excellent sermons by distinguished Reformed pulpit orators, under the title, 'Der einzige Trost im Leben und Sterben,' Elberfeld, 1863.

The German Reformed Church in the United States took it up as a body, and gave it a wider scope. She made the three-hundredth anniversary of her confession the occasion for a general revival of theological and religious life, the publication of a triglot edition of the Catechism, the endowment of a tercentenary professorship in her seminary, and the collection of large sums of money for churches, missions, and other benevolent objects. All these ends were accomplished. The celebration culminated in a general convention of ministers and laymen in Philadelphia, which lasted a whole week, January 17–23, 1863, in the midst of the raging storm of the civil war. About twenty interesting and instructive essays on the Catechism and connected topics, which had been specially prepared for the occasion by eminent German, Dutch, and American divines, were read in two churches before crowded and attentive assemblies. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Melanchthon, Frederick III., Ursinus, and Olevianus were called from their graves to reproduce before an American audience the ideas, trials, and triumphs of the creative and heroic age of the Reformation. Altogether the year 1863 marks an epoch in the history of the Heidelberg Catechism and of the German Reformed Church in America.10361036   See the Tercentenary Monument (574 pages), and the Gedenkbuch der dreihundert jährigen Jubelfeier des Heidelberger Katechismus (449 pages), both published at Philadelphia. 1863. The German edition gives the correspondence and essays of Drs. Herzog, Ebrard, Ullmann, Hundeshagen, Lange, and Schotel, in the original German, together with a history of the Catechism by the editor. The Anglo-American essays and addresses of Drs. Nevin, Schaff, Gerhart, Harbaugh, Wolff, Bomberger, Porter, De Witt, Kieffer, Theodor and Thomas Appel, Schneck, Russell, Gans, and Bausmann, are found in full in the English edition.



We close this chapter with a selection from the many warm commendations which the Heidelberg Catechism has received from distinguished divines of different countries.

Henry Bullinger, the friend and successor of Zwingli, himself the author of a catechism (1559) and of the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), wrote to a friend:

'The order of the book is clear; the matter true, good, and beautiful; the whole is luminous, fruitful, and godly; it comprehends many and great truths in a small compass. I believe that no better catechism has ever been issued.'10371037    'Arbitror meliorem Catechismum non editum esse. Deo sit gloria qui largiatur successum' (1563). See Ursinus, Apol. Catech. in the Præfatio.

The Hessian divines quoted by David Pareus:

'There is no catechism more thorough, more perfect, and better adapted to the capacity of adults as well as the young.'

The English delegates to the Synod of Dort, George Carleton (Bishop of Llandaff), John Davenant (afterwards Bishop of Salisbury), Archdeacon Samuel Ward, Dr. Thomas Goade, and Walter Balcanqual, said:

'That neither their own nor the French Church had a catechism so suitable and excellent; that those who had compiled it were therein remarkably endowed and assisted by the Spirit of God; that in several of their works they had excelled other theologians, but that in the composition of this Catechism they had outdone themselves.'10381038   This judgment is quoted on the title-page of the later editions of Bishop Parry's translation, London ed. 1728; reprinted, London, 1851.

The favorable judgment of the Synod of Dort itself has already been quoted.

Dr. Ullmann (d. 1865), formerly Professor at Heidelberg, and one of the best Church historians of the nineteenth century:10391039   In Piper's Evang. Kalender for 1862, p. 191. Comp. also his art. in the Studien und Kritiken for 1863, and in the Gedenkbuch, etc.

'The Heidelberg Catechism, more systematically executed than Luther's, unfolds upon the fundamental thoughts of sin, redemption, and thankfulness, the Reformed doctrine, yet without touching upon predestination, with rare pithiness and clearness, and obtained through these excellences not only speedy and most extended recognition in the Reformed Churches, but is to-day still regarded by all parties as one of the most masterly productions in this department.'


Dr. Aug. Ebrard, one of the ablest and most prolific German Reformed divines:10401040   Das Dogma v. heil. Abendmahl, Vol. II. p. 604.

'For wonderful union of dogmatic precision and genial heartiness,10411041   Or, fullness of soul (gemüthliche Innigkeit). of lucid perspicuity and mysterious depth, the Heidelberg Catechism stands alone in its kind. It is at once a system of theology and a book of devotion; every child can understand it at the first reading, and yet the catechist finds in it the richest material for profound investigation.'

Max Göbel, the author of an excellent history of Christian life in the Reformed Church:10421042   Geschichte des christl. Lebens, Vol. I. p. 392.

'The Heidelberg Catechism may be properly regarded as the flower and fruit of the entire German and French Reformation; it has Lutheran fervor, Melanchthonian clearness, Zwinglian simplicity, and Calvinistic fire blended in one, and therefore—notwithstanding many defects and angles—it has been (together with the Altered Augsburg Confession of 1540), and remains to this day, the only common confession and doctrinal standard of the entire German Reformed Church from the Palatinate to the Netherlands, and to Brandenburg and Prussia.'

Karl Sudhoff, formerly a Roman Catholic priest, then pastor of the German Reformed Church at Frankfort-on-the-Main:10431043   Theol. Handbuch zur Auslegung des Heid. Kat. p. 493.

'A peculiar power and unction pervades the whole work, which can not easily be mistaken by any one. The book, therefore, speaks with peculiar freshness and animation directly to the soul, because it appears as a confident, joyous confession of the Christian heart assured of salvation. It is addressed to the heart and will as much as to the head. Keen and popular unfolding of ideas is here most beautifully united with the deep feeling of piety, as well as with the earnest spirit of revival and joyous believing confidence. And who that have read this Catechism but once can mistake how indissolubly united with these great excellences is the powerful, dignified, and yet so simple style! What a true-hearted, intelligible, simple, and yet lofty eloquence speaks to us even from the smallest questions!'

Dr. K. B. Hundeshagen, Professor of Theology at Heidelberg, afterwards in Bonn (d. 1873), calls the Heidelberg Catechism a 'witness of Reformed loyalty to the Word of God, of Reformed purity and firmness of faith, of Reformed moderation and sobriety,' and a work 'of eternal youth and never-ceasing value.'10441044   See his instructive review of Sudhoff's Handbuch, in the Studien und Kritiken for 1864, pp. 153–180. It is gratifying to me that this distinguished divine fully indorses, on p. 169, the view which I had previously given of the theology of the Heidelberg Catechism and its relation to Calvinism in opposition to Sudhoff on the one hand and Heppe on the other.

Dr. Plitt, formerly Pastor in Heidelberg, then Professor of Theology in Bonn:10451045   In the Studien und Kritiken for 1863, p. 25.

'The Heidelberg Catechism still lives; it has not died in three hundred years. It lives in the hearts of Christians. How many catechisms have since then disappeared, how many in the last thirty or forty years, and have been so long sunk in the "sea of oblivion," that one scarcely knows their titles. The Heidelberg Catechism has survived its tercentenary jubilee, and will, God willing, see several such jubilees. It will not die; it will live as long as there is an Evangelical Church.'


Dr. Henry Harbaugh, late Professor of Theology at Mercersburg (d. 1867), a gifted poet and the author of several popular religious works:10461046   In the Mercersburg Review for 1857, p. 102.

'It is worthy of profound consideration, that the Heidelberg Catechism, which has always ruled the heart, spirit, and body of the Reformed side of the Reformation, has no prototype in any of the Reformers. Zwingli and Calvin can say, It is not of me; it has the suavity but not the compromising spirit of Melanchthon. It has nothing of the dashing terror of Luther. What is stranger than all, it is farthest possible removed from the mechanical scholasticism and rigid logic of Ursinus, its principal author. Though it has the warm, practical, sacred, poetical fervor of Olevianus, it has none of his fire and flame. It is greater than Reformers; it is purer and sounder than theologians.'

Dr. J. W. Nevin, successively Professor of Theology in the Presbyterian Seminary at Alleghany, in the German Reformed Seminary at Mercersburg, and President of Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, Pa.:10471047   Tercentenary Edition, Introd. pp. 120–122.

'In every view, we may say, the Catechism of the Palatinate, now three hundred years old, is a book entitled, in no common degree, to admiration and praise. It comes before us as the ripe product of the proper confessional life of the Reformed Church, in the full bloom of its historical development, as this was reached at the time when the work made its appearance. Its wide-spread and long-continued popularity proclaims its universal significance and worth. It must have been admirably adapted to the wants of the Church at large, as well as admirably true to the inmost sense of its general life, to come in this way into such vast credit. Among all Protestant symbols, whether of earlier or later date, there is no other in which we find the like union of excellent qualities combined and wrought together in the same happy manner. It is at once a creed, a catechism, and a confession; and all this in such a manner, at the same time, as to be often a very liturgy also, instinct with the full spirit of worship and devotion. It is both simple and profound; a fit manual of instruction for the young, and yet a whole system of divinity for the old; a text-book, suited alike for the use of the pulpit and the family, the theological seminary, and the common school. It is pervaded by a scientific spirit, beyond what is common in formularies of this sort; but its science is always earnestly and solemnly practical. In its whole constitution, as we have seen, it is more a great deal than doctrine merely, or a form of sound words for the understanding. It is doctrine apprehended and represented continually in the form of life. It is for the heart every where full as much as for the head. Among its characteristic perfections deserves to be noted always, with particular praise, its catholic spirit, and the rich mystical element that pervades so largely its whole composition. . . . Simple, beautiful, and clear in its logical construction, the symbol moves throughout also in the element of fresh religious feeling. It is full of sensibility and faith and joyous childlike trust. Its utterances rise at times to a sort of heavenly pathos, and breathe forth almost lyrical strains of devotion.'

Dr. Hagenbach, the well-known historian (d. at Basle, 1874):10481048   Kirchengeschichte, Leipz. 1870 (3d edition), Vol. IV. p. 312.

'The Heidelberg Catechism was greeted not only in the Palatinate but in all Reformed churches as the correct expression of the Reformed faith, and attained the authority of a genuine symbolical standard. It was translated into nearly all languages, and has continued to be the basis of religious instruction to this day. . . . Its tone, notwithstanding the scholastic and dogmatizing or (as Ullmann says) constructive tendency, is truly popular and childlike.'

Then he quotes several questions as models of the catechetical style.

Dr. Dalton, of St. Petersburg:10491049   Immanuel. Der Heidelb. Kat., etc., 1870, p. 15.

'The Heidelberg Catechism exhibits the harmonious union of the Calvinistic and the Melanchthonian spirit. It is the ripe fruit of the whole Reformation and the true heir of 554the treasures gathered, not in ten years, but during that entire period. It is thoroughly Biblical, and represents its particular denominational type with great wisdom and moderation. We feel from beginning to end in the clear and expressive word the warm and sound pulse of a heart that was baptized by the fire and Spirit from above, and knows what it believes.'

It is gratifying that the Lutheran hostility of former days has given way to a sincere appreciation. Drs. Guericke and Kurtz, two prominent champions of Lutheran orthodoxy in the nineteenth century, in almost the same words praise the Heidelberg Catechism for 'its signal wisdom in teaching, its Christian fervor, theological ability, and mediating moderation.'10501050   Guericke, Kirchengeschichte, Vol. III. p. 610 (7th edition), and his Symbolik. Kurtz, Lehrbuch der Kirchengeschichte, p. 508 (5th edition). Dr. Julius Stahl, an eminent jurist and the ablest apologist of modern Lutheranism within the Prussian Union, derived the religious revival of the Lutheran Church in his native Bavaria and his own conversion chiefly from the late venerable Reformed pastor and professor, Dr. J. Chr. G. L. Krafft, in Erlangen (died 1845). 'The man,' he said, before the General Synod at Berlin, 1846, 'who built up the Church in my fatherland, the most apostolic man I ever met in my life, Pastor Krafft, was a strict adherent of the Reformed creed. Whether he carried the Heidelberg Catechism in his pocket I know not, but this I know, that he caused throughout the whole land a spring to bloom whose fruits will ripen for eternity.'10511051   See art. Krafft, by Goebel, in Herzog's Encykl. Vol. VIII. p. 37.

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