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.
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.
The Heidelberg Catechism
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
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)
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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?
Heidelberg Catechism text
Canons of Dort
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