Jon Payne on the Heidelberg Catechism

This year is the 450th anniversary of the writing of the Heidelberg Catechism. The reception of the Heidelberg Catechism was excellent right from the beginning. Bullinger called it the best catechism ever written. However, little of the knowledge of that catechism is left today.

Elector Frederick II, the ruler of the Palatinate, began to embrace Lutheranism about 20 years after Luther’s posting of the 95 theses. The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 was crucial to making Protestantism legal. The polity of that agreement was that whichever religion the ruler was of a particular region was, that was the religion of the region. Frederick II prepared the ground for Frederick III (not Frederick of Saxony) to bring great reform to the entire region.

Frederick steered the Palatinate more towards Geneva after the death of Melanchthon. The Lord’s Supper controversies between the Gnesio-Lutherans and the Melanchthonians was a bitter debate. The former believed in absolutely no change from Luther’s views. The Melanchthonians were much more open to Reformed ideas. Frederick III decided that the Gnesio-Lutherans had to go. Hence Zacharias Ursinus came to the Palatinate. Ursinus was Polish. Ursinus studied in Wittenburg under Melanchthon. He was greatly influenced by the major Reformers during his tour of Reformation cities. This might explain his gradual shift to the Genevan Reformation out of the Lutheran stream. He studied under Vermigli. Ursinus was like Calvin, in desiring a quiet life of study. But Ursinus was not allowed by God to have that. Frederick II appointed him to the College of Wisdom, and the University of Heidelberg.

There is a great outline of the Catechism, of course, in question 2, which lays out guilt, grace, and gratitude, a good way to share the gospel with someone. It is noteworthy also that the exposition of the law does not come under the section on guilt, which would be more consistent with the first use of the law. In the Heidelberg Catechism, the treatment of the Ten Commandments comes under the section on gratitude. Use the Heidelberg Catechism!


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