This is the Heidelblog and we are all about the Heidelberg Catechism (1563). On this day, in 1563, the Catechism was published in German. If you are unfamiliar with the Catechism or catechisms generally you should know that a catechism is a little book of questions and answers. It is simply a method of teaching that has been used by Christians as long as there have been Christians. The Heidelberg Catechism, composed of 129 questions and answers, was drafted principally by Zacharias Ursinus (1534–83). He is directly responsible for about 70% of the Catechism as we have it. He wrote two catechisms in preparation for producing the Heidelberger, a German name for the catechism, a Larger Catechism and a Shorter Catechism. You can read about these and the catechisms themselves in Lyle D. Bierma et al., ed. An Introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005). Others, e.g., Caspar Olevianus (1536–87) contributed to the Catechism, which was revised by an editorial committee of ministers, theologians, and others in Heidelberg before it was published. It went through three editions quickly and it is the third edition that we use today.
The Heidelberg Catechism is a marvelous gift to the church. It harvested some of the best language used by the great Reformers (e.g., Luther and Calvin) and some of of the better catechetical work that had been done prior to the Reformed Reformation in Heidelberg. It is theologically sound, well-grounded in Scripture, pastoral, and accessible in its tone and language. It begins with the comfort of the Christian life and ends with it. It articulates the biblical and Reformation gospel as clearly as any ecclesiastical document in the Reformation traditions and there is a surprising depth of teaching on the sacraments and the Christian life that is sometimes overlooked.
In earlier generations it was the practice of the Reformed churches to require young people not only to memorize Scripture but also the Heidelberg Catechism. Like a good meal, the Catechism has a way of sticking to the ribs, as it were, providing spiritual sustenance during hard spiritual winters. It is a source of joy and a blessing.
Correspondents often ask what I recommend for personal devotions. Apart from Scripture, of course, the best answer I can give is to point them to the Heidelberg Catechism. It covers the Christian basics: the law and the gospel, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. It is a solid foundation for your Christian faith and Christian life.
The HB has a resource page on the Catechism, which is a good place to begin your study.
©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.
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