About The Heidelberg Catechism
THE REFORMATION IN THE PALATINATE.
The Palatinate, one of the finest provinces of Germany, on both sides of the upper Rhine, was one of the seven electorates (Kurfürstenthümer), whose rulers, in the name of the German people, elected the Emperor of Germany. After the dissolution of the old empire (1806) it ceased to be a politico-geographical name, and its territory is now divided between Baden, Bavaria, Hesse Darmstadt, Nassau, and Prussia. Its capital was Heidelberg (from 1231 till 1720), famous for its charming situation at the foot of the Königsstuhl, on the banks of the Swabian river Neckar, for its picturesque castle, and for its university (founded in 1346).
Luther made a short visit to Heidelberg in 1518, and defended certain evangelical theses. In 1546, the year of Luther’s death, the Reformation was introduced under the Elector Frederick II. Melanchthon, who was a native of the Palatinate, and twice received a call to a professorship of theology at Heidelberg (1546 and 1557), but declined, acted as the chief counselor in the work, and aided, on a personal visit in 1557, in reorganizing the university on an evangelical basis under Otto Henry (1556–59). He may therefore be called the Reformer of the Palatinate. He impressed upon it the character of a moderate Lutheranism friendly to Calvinism. The Augsburg Confession was adopted as the doctrinal basis, and the cultus was remodeled (as also in the neighboring Duchy of Würtemberg) after Zwinglian simplicity. Heidelberg now began to attract Protestant scholars from different countries, and became a battle-ground of Lutheran, Philippist, Calvinist, and Zwinglian views. The conflict was enkindled as usual by the zeal for the real presence. Tilemann Heshusius, whom Melanchthon, without knowing his true character, had recommended to a theological chair (1558), introduced, as General Superintendent, exclusive Lutheranism, excommunicated Deacon Klebitz for holding the Zwinglian view, and even fought with him at the altar about the communion cup. This public scandal was the immediate occasion of the Heidelberg Catechism.
During this controversy Frederick III., surnamed the Pious (1515–1576), became Elector of the Palatinate, 1559. He made it the chief object of his reign to carry out the reformation begun by his predecessors. He tried at first to conciliate the parties, and asked the advice of Melanchthon, who, a few months before his death, counseled peace, moderation, and Biblical simplicity, and warned against extreme and scholastic subtleties in the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.10041004 Responsio Ph. Mel. ad quæstionem de controversia Heidelbergensi (Nov. 1, 1559), in Corp. Reform. Vol. IX. pp. 960 sqq. It is the last public utterance of Melanchthon on the eucharistic question, and agrees substantially with the doctrine of Calvin, as it was afterwards expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism. He deposed both Heshusius and Klebitz, arranged a public disputation (June, 1560) on the eucharist, decided in favor of the Melanchthonian or Calvinistic view, called distinguished foreign divines to the university, and intrusted two of them with the composition of the Heidelberg Catechism, which was to secure harmony of teaching and to lay a solid foundation for the religious instruction of the rising generation.
Frederick was one of the purest and noblest characters among the princes of Germany. He was to the Palatinate what King Alfred and Edward VI. were to England, what the Electors Frederick the Wise and John the Constant were to Saxony, and Duke Christopher to Würtemberg. He did more for educational and charitable institutions than all his predecessors. He devoted to them the entire proceeds of the oppressed convents. He lived in great simplicity that he might contribute liberally from his private income to the cause of learning and religion. He was the first German prince who professed the Reformed Creed, as distinct from the Lutheran. For this he suffered much reproach, and was threatened with exclusion from the benefits of the Augsburg Treaty of Peace (concluded in 1555), since Zwinglianism and Calvinism were not yet tolerated on German soil. But at the Diet of Augsburg, in 1566, he made before the Emperor a manly confession of his faith, and declared himself ready to lose his crown rather than violate his conscience. Even his opponents could not but admire his courage, and the Lutheran Elector Augustus of Saxony applauded him, saying, ‘Fritz, thou art more pious than all of 533us.’ He praised God on his death-bed that he had been permitted to see such a reformation in Church and school that men were led away from human traditions to Christ and his divine Word. He left in writing a full confession of his faith, which may be regarded as an authentic explanation of the Heidelberg Catechism; it was published after his death by his son, John Casimir (1577).
URSINUS AND OLEVIANUS.
Frederick showed his wisdom by calling two young divines, Ursinus and Olevianus, to Heidelberg to aid in the Reformation and to prepare an evangelical catechism. They belong to the reformers of the second generation. Theirs it was to nurture and to mature rather than to plant. Both were Germans, but well acquainted with the Reformed Churches in Switzerland and France. Both suffered deposition and exile for the Reformed faith.
Zacharias Ursinus (Bär), the chief author of the Heidelberg Catechism, was born at Breslau, July 18, 1534, and studied seven years (1550–1557) at Wittenberg under Melanchthon, who esteemed him as one of his best pupils and friends. He accompanied his teacher to the religious conference at Worms, 1557, and to Heidelberg, and then proceeded on a literary journey to Switzerland and France. He made the personal acquaintance of Bullinger and Peter Martyr at Zurich, of Calvin and Beza at Geneva, and was thoroughly initiated into the Reformed Creed. Calvin presented him with his works, and wrote in them the best wishes for his young friend. On his return to Wittenberg he received a call to the rectorship of the Elizabeth College at Breslau. After the death of Melanchthon he went a second time to Zurich (Oct., 1560), intending to remain there. In the following year he was called to a theological chair at Heidelberg. Here he labored with untiring zeal and success till the death of Frederick III., 1576, when, together with six hundred steadfast Reformed ministers and teachers, he was deposed and exiled by Louis VI., who introduced the Lutheran Creed. Ursinus found a refuge at Neustadt an der Hardt, and established there, with other deposed professors, a flourishing theological school under the protection of John Casimir, the second son of Frederick III. He died in the prime of his life and usefulness, March 6, 1583, leaving a widow and one son. In the same year Casimir succeeded his Lutheran brother 534in the Electorate, recalled the exiled preachers, and re-established the Reformed Church in the Palatinate.
Ursinus was a man of profound classical, philosophical, and theological learning, poetic taste, rare gift of teaching, and fervent piety. His devotion to Christ is beautifully reflected in the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism, and in his saying that he would not take a thousand worlds for the blessed assurance of being owned by Jesus Christ. He was no orator, and no man of action, but a retired, modest, and industrious student.10051005 On the door of his study he inscribed the warning, ‘Amice, quisquis huc venis, aut agita paucis, aut abi, aut me laborantem adjuva.‘ His principal works, besides the Catechism, are a Commentary on the Catechism (Corpus doctrinæ orthodoxæ) and a defense of the Reformed Creed against the attacks of the Lutheran Formula of Concord.
Caspar Olevianus (Olewig), born at Treves Aug. 10,1536, studied the ancient languages at Paris, Bourges, and Orleans, and theology at Geneva and Zurich. He enjoyed, like Ursinus, the personal instruction and friendship of the surviving reformers of Switzerland. He began to preach the evangelical doctrines at Treves, was thrown into prison, but soon released, and called to Heidelberg, 1560, by Frederick III., who felt under personal obligation to him for saving one of his sons from drowning at the risk of his own life. He taught theology and preached at the court. He was the chief counselor of the Elector in all affairs of the Church. In 1576 he was banished on account of his faith, and accepted a call to Herborn, 1584, where he died, Feb. 27, 1585. His last word was a triumphant ‘certissimus,’ in reply to a friend who asked him whether he were certain of his salvation. Theodore Beza lamented his death in a Latin poem, beginning
Eheu, quibus suspiriis,
Eheu, quibus te lacrymis
Olevianus was inferior to Ursinus in learning, but his superior in the pulpit and in church government. He wrote an important catechetical work on the covenant of grace, and is regarded as the forerunner of the federal theology of Coccejus and Lampe. He labored earnestly, but only with moderate success, for the introduction of the Presbyterian form of government and a strict discipline, after the model of 535Geneva. Thomas Erastus (Lieber), Professor of Medicine at Heidelberg, and afterwards of Ethics at Basle (died 1583), opposed excommunication, and defended the supremacy of the state in matters of religion; hence the term ‘Erastianism’ (equivalent to Cæsaropapism).
PREPARATION AND PUBLICATION OF THE CATECHISM.
The Heidelberg Catechism, as it is called after the city of its birth, or the Palatinate (also Palatine) Catechism, as it is named after the country for which it was intended, was prepared on the basis of two Latin drafts of Ursinus and a German draft of Olevianus. The peculiar gifts of both, the didactic clearness and precision of the one, and the pathetic warmth and unction of the other, were blended in beautiful harmony, and produced a joint work which is far superior to all the separate productions of either. In the Catechism they surpassed themselves. They were in a measure inspired for it. At the same time, they made free and independent use of the Catechisms of Calvin, Lasky, and Bullinger. The Elector took the liveliest interest in the preparation, and even made some corrections.
In December, 1562, Frederick submitted the work to a general synod of the chief ministers and teachers assembled at Heidelberg, for revision and approval. It was published early in 1563, in German, under the title ‘Catechismus, Or Christian Instruction, as conducted in the Churches and Schools of the Electoral Palatinate.’10061006 See the original title in the literature above. It is preceded by a short Preface of the Elector, dated Tuesday, January 19, 1563, in which he informs the superintendents, clergymen, and schoolmasters of the Palatinate that, with the counsel and co-operation of the theological faculty and leading ministers of the Church, he had caused to be made and set forth a summary instruction or Catechism of our Christian religion from the Word of God, to be used hereafter in churches and schools for the benefit of the rising generation.
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