Heidelberg 80: We Don’t Need Any Footnotes

In one of Humphrey Bogart’s (1899–1957) most famous scenes, from Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), he asks some bandits, who claimed to be Mexican Federal Police, to show their badges. Their famous reply, which has been oft misquoted, was:

Badges, we ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges.

This is my attitude toward the way that Heidelberg Catechism 80 has often been treated in the modern period. Philip Schaff’s reservations, articulated in the 19th century, are representative of the reserve now widely held about Q. 80:

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.1

In various modern editions of the catechism Q. 80 appears with a footnote or in brackets with a note explaining that it was the product of a heated debate and it has even been suggested by one ecclesiastical committee that it misrepresents the Roman doctrine.

I disagree with partly with Schaff and entirely with the notion that the catechism is in error here or that it was a mistake to include it. We should not be embarrassed by this question and answer, which reads:

80. What difference is there between the Lord’s Supper and the Popish Mass?

The Lord’s Supper testifies to us, that we have full forgiveness of all our sins by the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which He Himself once accomplished on the cross; and that by the Holy Spirit we are ingrafted into Christ, who, with His true body, is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father, and is there to be worshipped, But the Mass teaches, that the living and the dead do not have forgiveness of sins through the sufferings of Christ, unless Christ is still daily offered for them by the priests, and that Christ is bodily under the form of bread and wine, and is therefore to be worshipped in them. And thus the Mass at bottom is nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and passion of Jesus Christ, and an accursed idolatry (Heidelberg Catechism 80).

It is true that 80 was inserted into the 3rd edition but, in our ears, the phrase “3rd edition” is potentially misleading. The first three editions appeared quite rapidly in succession so that not much time passed. It is true that Frederick ordered its insertion and it’s likely that Olevianus wrote it.

Is it pointed yes? That moderns have sometimes become queasy about the strong language used by the Reformed churches about the Roman mass and of their stout adherence to the gospel says more about us than it does about them.

As I have been explaining the Supper is the gospel made visible. To corrupt the Supper, as Rome did at Trent (and before at the Fourth Lateran, 1215) is to corrupt the gospel. By transubstantiation, Rome destroyed (were it possible) the sacrament by replacing the sacrament with the thing signified. Second, after transubstantiation, Rome turned the sacrament into a sacrifice, a ritual, memorial, propitiatory sacrifice of Christ.

In September 1562, the Council of Trent delivered its decrees on the Eucharistic sacrifice. Canon 3:

If any one says, that the sacrifice of the mass is only a sacrifice of praise and of thanksgiving; or that it is a bare commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross, but not a propitiatory sacrifice; or, that it profits him only who receives; and that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead for sins, pains, satisfactions, and other necessities; let him be anathema.

This is still Rome’s doctrine. In the 1984 Catechism of the Catholic Church Rome confesses:

§1367 The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: “The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.” “And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner. . . this sacrifice is truly propitiatory.”190

I left the footnote reference number in the block quotation because the footnote cites the Council of Trent (1562). Rome still confesses that, by consecration (as I’ve already discussed under previous questions), the substance of the bread and wine are transformed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ. The priest then re-sacrifices Christ to the end that, by that memorial, sacrificial act, the wrath of God is turned away. As both Trent and the Catechism make clear, Rome says unequivocally that what took place on the cross was not “once for all” (Heb 7:27; 9:12, 26, 10:10) but rather only the beginning of a series of sacrifices. Please read the passages listed above. There is no way to square the Roman doctrine of repeated sacrifice with the biblical teaching that Jesus’ death on the cross was final. It was not an inauguration of a “priesthood of the new law” but rather he put an end to sacrifices and propitiation. When he died on the cross, when he said, “it is finished’ he was not saying, “I’ve done my part, now you do yours.” He was saying the exact opposite. He was saying, “I have done it all.”

The Supper is a gospel sacrament. It speaks of our free justification, grounded in Christ’s perfect righteousness for us, received through faith alone and of our consequent union and communion with Christ. It also speaks of the Creator/creature distinction, which I called in Recovering the Reformed Confession the categorical distinction. Rome confuses the creature with the Creator by adoring and venerating the allegedly, ostensibly consecrated host (victim). Again, this is not Protestant hyperbole. This is Rome’s own language. The Catechism says:

§1378 Worship of the Eucharist. In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord. “The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in procession.”

The Reformed reject as specious the distinction between adoration and worship and, judging by the catechism, so does Rome. Adoration and worship (douleia and latreia) belong only to God. To adore, to venerate, to worship Christ under the species of bread and wine is nothing less than idolatry. God’s holy law not only stipulates that we must worship him alone but that we must worship him only as he has commanded. To impanate (embread, as it were) God is to confuse the Creator and the creature and to worship him there is the very sort of thing that God expressly condemned. The calves at Bethel and Dan did not deliver the Israelites out of Egypt. They were not Yahweh neither were they authorized representations of Yahweh, All that the prophets said about that corruption is also true of the Romish mass.

So, the Reformed Churches are quite right to confess that the Mass is both an attack on the gospel, by attacking the perfect work of Christ for us and an accursed idolatry by conflating the Creator with the creature (bread and wine) and adoring the creature or the Creator improperly through the bread and wine (which Rome says are no longer present). Everything the catechism says about Rome’s doctrine and practice is perfectly true and we should be ashamed neither of the holy gospel nor of the holy law of God. They need no footnotes, brackets, nor embarrassment.


1. Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The History of Creeds, vol. 1 (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1878), 536.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. As both Trent and the Catechism make clear, Rome says unequivocally that what took place on the cross was not “once for all” (Heb 7:27; 9:12, 26, 10:10) but rather only the beginning of a series of sacrifices.

    This is obviously true, but RC weasel-words protest that Christ’s actual, original sacrifice, and subsequent sacrifices in the mass “are one single sacrifice”, so the mass is not a distinct re-sacrifice, but a participation in the original.

  2. I’ve heard, though I’m not sure, that at least some priests in the medieval church would lick up the wine if it fell on the floor.

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