Reformation 500 WEEK 47 Heidelberg Catechism
In 1555 the Peace of Augsburg granted equal legal status in Germany to Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism. Each local ruler determined the religion of his territory; and minorities were free to relocate. But Zwinglians, Calvinists, and Anabaptists were not granted legal recognition (Bainton, Reformation, 155).
In 1559, Frederick III became ruler of a territory called the Palatinate. In its capital city of Heidelberg, there was great controversy over the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper; one party was inclined to the Lutheran view, the other, to the Reformed view. After studying both sides, Frederick declared himself in 1560 in favor of the Reformed doctrine; he “was the first German prince who professed the Reformed Creed, as distinct from the Lutheran” (Scaff, Creeds, 1:532). After introducing Reformed worship throughout his country, he turned his attention to the need for a catechism to help the churches in his land to be Reformed.
Caspar Olevianus was born in 1536 in the ancient German City of Trier. As “a young law student he joined the underground Protestant movement in France” (Lyle Bierma, A Firm Foundation). In 1556, be became friends with Prince Herman, the son of Frederick III. One day when they were walking along a river they met some fellow students who were drunk, “and asked the prince and Caspar to cross the river with them in a boat.” Olevianus failed to convince the prince to remain on shore. While Caspar looked on, the boat flipped upside down, and the students began to drown. “Seeing the prince in danger, Olevianus leapt into the river, in an attempt to save him.” But “he failed and only endangered himself and later confessed that, out of terror, he vowed that if God should save him, he would serve the Lord as a preacher to Germans. One of the prince’s servants saved him, mistaking him for the prince” (R. Scott Clark, Caspar Olevianus and the Substance of the Covenant, 12). After studying theology with Calvin in Geneva, he returned to his hometown of Trier in 1559. But Roman Catholic opposition frustrated his reform efforts; and he and his cohorts were thrown into prison. Through the intervention of Frederick III, whose son Olevianus had tried to save from drowning, he was released and brought to Heidelberg in 1560 where he became a theological professor and pastor of the Holy Ghost Church.
Zacharias Ursinus was born at Breslau (modern-day Poland). He had studied at Wittenberg with Melanchthon and completed his studies under Calvin in Geneva. “Calvin was deeply impressed with him and presented him a set of his books” (Masselink, The Heidelberg Story, 70). In 1560, Frederick called him to Heidelberg as professor of theology. In 1562, Frederick commissioned his Heidelberg theologians to prepare a catechism. Some scholars still hold the opinion “that Ursinus contributed the content and Olevianus the form” (Essays on the Heidelberg Catechism, 79). The Heidelberg Catechism was published in January, 1563. Frederick himself later inserted Question and Answer 80 to further condemn the Roman Catholic Mass.
Frederick faced charges of violating the Peace of Augsburg, but after a valiant defense of the biblical basis of the Catechism, he was permitted to rule his country as a Calvinist till he passed away in 1576. However, not until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 were Calvinists added to the list of tolerated religions.
The remainder of the Catechism will explain the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer.
NOTE: These Posts were written and designed as bulletin inserts by Pastor David Fagrey of the Grace Reformed Church of Rapid City, SD .
Link to this blog entry as a bulletin insert: Reformation 500 Heidelberg Catechism 122
For a double-sided PDF for easy printing: Reformation 500 Week 47
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This is the seal of the Reformed Church of the United States (RCUS). As you can see its history goes back to 1748, when the RCUS began. We celebrate with the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation we praise God for what is probably the most amazing spiritual revival in the history of the world.