An Introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism

Its original full title translates to “Catechism, or Christian Instruction, as Conducted in the Churches and Schools of the Electoral Palatinate.”

Not long after its original composition the questions in the Heidelberg Catechism were numbered, and it was divided up into 52 sections, one for each Lord’s Day (i.e. Sunday) of the year, so that it could be more easily used as a teaching tool in the churches, both for instruction as well as for catechetical preaching. In this way a church could teach her members the entire summary of the basics of the faith at least once every calendar year!

 

The History of the Heidelberg Catechism

The Heidelberg Catechism is named after the place in which it was composed –  Heidelberg, a city in the Palatinate, which was a province in Germany. It was composed at the behest of the ruler of the Palatinate, Elector (or Prince-Elector) Frederick III (1516-1576), and first published in 1563.

The primary author of the catechism was Zacharias Ursinus(1534-1583), who was just 28 years-old at the time (!), and was professor of theology at the Heidelberg University. Caspar Olevianus (1536-1587), who himself was just 26 years-old at the time, and was the court preacher of Frederick III, is thought by some to be the co-author of the catechism, but many hold that he was mainly responsible for the editing and final composition of the original edition that was approved by the Synod at Heidelberg in 1563.

Its original full title translates to “Catechism, or Christian Instruction, as Conducted in the Churches and Schools of the Electoral Palatinate.” (See The Creeds of Christendom, by Philip Schaff, Vol.III, p.307.) This gives us a good idea of the extent of its originally-intended use – not only as a means of promoting doctrinal unity throughout the Palatinate, but also as a teaching tool in both the churches and in schools as well.

The Structure and Outline of the Heidelberg Catechism

Not long after its original composition the questions in the Heidelberg Catechism were numbered, and it was divided up into 52 sections, one for each Lord’s Day (i.e. Sunday) of the year, so that it could be more easily used as a teaching tool in the churches, both for instruction as well as for catechetical preaching. In this way a church could teach her members the entire summary of the basics of the faith at least once every calendar year!

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