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Tuesday
Nov012011

Theological Term of the Week

Heidelberg Catechism
A Reformed confessional document, written by Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583) in Heidelberg, consisting of a series of questions and answers used to teach Christian doctrine and practice.   

  • From the Heidelberg Catechism

    1. Q. What is thy only comfort in life and death?

    A. That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him. 

  • From Christ in the Heidelberg Catechism by Robert Godfrey:
  • From the beginning the catechism was intended for preaching as well as teaching. The Reformers of Heidelberg were convinced that not only children needed catechizing, but all God’s people needed careful, regular instruction in the basics of the faith. The catechism was divided into 52 Lord’s Days with the purpose of facilitating weekly preaching from the catechism. Especially in the Dutch Reformed tradition that intention has been preserved to our day. The sermon in one service each Sunday (usually the afternoon or evening service) is based on the catechism for that Sunday.

    The personal and Christ-centered character of the catechism is clear right from the beginning. The first question asks, “What is your only comfort in life and death?” The answer is as fine a summary of the gospel as can be found anywhere: “That I am not my own, but belong-body and soul, in life and in death-to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”

    This first answer is long and stands in marked contrast with the rather short questions that begin other catechisms. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” and answers, “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” The Anglican Catechism is even briefer (and easier). Its first question is “What is your name?” But Heidelberg takes the catechumen to the heart of the gospel right at the beginning. Christ stands at the head of the catechism and the whole catechism is an explication of what it means to belong to him.

Learn more:

  1. Justin Holcomb: The Heidelberg Catechism
  2. Carl Trueman: The Heidelberg Catechism (mp3)
  3. Robert Godfrey: Christ in the Heidelberg Catechism
  4. Zacharias Ursinus: Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism
  5. Doug VanderMeulen: Series of sermons on the Heidelberg Catechism (mp3s)
  6. URC Learning: Heidelberg Catechism Curriculum for Families (mp3s and pdfs)
Related terms:

Filed under Creeds and Confessions.

Do you have a term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.

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