Today we’re celebrating the 450th anniversary of the Heidelberg Catechism, one of the most important and enduring confessions to emerge out of the Reformation.
History of the Catechism
The Catechism was commissioned in 1562 by Frederick III, the elector prince of the Rhineland Palatinate. According to the original preface to the Catechism, published in 1563, Frederick had at least “three objectives for the Heidelberg Catechism: that is serve
- As a catechetical tool for teaching the children,
- As a preaching guide for instructing the common people in the churches, and
- As a form for confessional unity among several Protestant factions.”*
Work on the Heidelberg Catechism was begun by Casper Olevianus, but largely completed by Zacharias Ursinus, whom scholars now credit as the primary author. Frederick III sent the Catechism to the publisher on January 19, 1563—450 years ago today.
How the Heidelberg Catechism is structured
The Heidelberg Catechism is divided into three sections:
- The misery or sin of humanity
- God’s redemption
- Our gratitude
Within this framework, the Catechism covers the law, our need for salvation, the Trinity, justification, the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and numerous other themes.
Because it addresses in compact form such a broad range of doctrinal and practical issues, it has played a key part in the formation of belief and worship in Reformed Christianity. In the early seventeenth century, it became one of the three forms of unity in the Dutch Reformed Church. In the mid–seventeenth century, the Westminster Assembly used the Heidelberg Catechism to develop its own catechism, which is now known as the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
Celebrate the 450th anniversary!
To celebrate the 450th anniversary of the Heidelberg Catechism, we’re making two collections of works on the Heidelberg Catechism available for pre-order.
The first collection contains two volumes from the Text and Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought series published by Baker, both written by Lylie Bierma:
- A Firm Foundation: An Aid to Interpreting the Heidelberg Catechism
- An Introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism: Sources, History, and Theology
The second collection, which is on Community Pricing, contains several classic works on the Heidelberg Catechism from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
In addition to these collections, you can also pick up several works on the Heidelberg Catechism already available in Logos, including Ursinus’ Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism.
Explore the roots of Christian Reformed doctrine—come see our Heidelberg resources.
*Bierma, Lyle, “The Purpose and Authorship of the Heidelberg Catechism,” An Introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism: Sources, History, and Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2005), p. 51.