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What Is The Heidelberg Catechism?

Has someone ever asked you what you believe and you weren’t sure of your answer? You needed a catechism. A catechism is a teaching tool: a series of questions and answers. It clearly and concisely summarizes what a group of people believes. 

The Heidelberg Catechism emerged in 1563, birthed out of the minds and pens of three men: Fredrick (Elector Fredrick III), Caspar (Caspar Olevianus), and Zach (Zacharius Ursinus). Fredrick, a devoted Christian, ruled what was called, "the Palatinate"—one-seventh of the Roman Empire—what today would be Germany.

Martin Luther and John Calvin’s radical teaching that opposed Medieval Roman Catholicism had spread throughout the Roman Empire and taken root. Frederick wanted to teach the people in his province what the Bible had to say about the matters that Calvin and Luther disputed. He enlisted two friends for his special project.

Both Caspar and Zach were in their twenties and benefitted from intense religious education. Their ideas about God were based on what they learned from the Bible. Zach was a professor, and Caspar a pastor.

But more than that, Fredrick, Zach, and Casper believed the Bible to be the Word of God, and the only authoritative truth. The Bible, therefore, was very precious to them. These three men were passionate about sharing the comfort provided in the Bible and its message about Jesus Christ. They cared about younger generations and wanted the high schoolers and middle schoolers in their communities to understand their rich faith.

Fredrick called together European delegates to review the Heidelberg Catechism that Zach put together with the help of Caspar. How did the delegates respond to their work? There was no debate, debunking, or edits of the catechism—just a hearty amen from everyone present! Everyone voted “yes” on every word of the fledgling masterpiece.

However, the Empire didn’t accept the catechism as enthusiastically. The Emperor summoned Fredrick to stand before him and give an answer for the document that supposedly opposed the doctrine of the state. Fredrick’s answer to this accusation silenced the Emperor. Fredrick said that the only Lord of conscience and faith is God, and his commissioned document said nothing other than what God’s own Word taught.

Fredrick’s gentle courage to stand by his convictions softened the Emperor’s heart. Rather than forbid the work, the Emperor stood back while it was translated into multiple languages. Rather than impeach Fredrick, his work was implemented in surrounding churches.

Fredrick, Casper, and Zach wrote the Heidelberg Catechism just for you—to help you know what the Bible teaches. Take a look at their (and our!) sincere convictions about God’s Word, our Lord Jesus, and a life of following him.