The Heidelberg Catechism was written in Heidelberg at the request of Elector Frederick III, ruler of the most influential German province, the Palatinate, from 1559 to 1576. This pious Christian prince commissioned Zacharius Ursinus, twenty-eight years of age and professor of theology at the Heidelberg University, and Caspar Olevianus, twenty-six years old and Frederick’s court preacher, to prepare a catechism for instructing the youth and for guiding pastors and teachers. Frederick obtained the advice and cooperation of the entire theological faculty in the preparation of the Catechism. The Heidelberg Catechism was adopted by a Synod in Heidelberg and published in German with a preface by Frederick III, dated January 19, 1563. A second and third German edition, each with some small additions, as well as a Latin translation were published in Heidelberg in the same year. The Catechism was soon divided into fifty-two sections so that a section of the Catechism could be explained to the churches in preaching each Sunday of the year.
The great Synod of Dort (1618-1619) approved the Heidelberg Catechism, and it soon became the most ecumenical of the Reformed catechisms and confessions. The Catechism has been translated into all the European and many Asiatic and African languages and is the most widely used and most warmly praised catechism of the Reformation period.
1 Q. What is your only comfort
in life and death?
That I am not my own,1
body and soul,
in life and in death–2
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.3
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,4
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.5
He also watches over me in such a way6
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven:7
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.8
Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life9
and makes me whole-heartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.10
1 1 Cor. 6:19-20
2 Rom. 14:7-9
3 1 Cor. 3:23; Titus 2:14
4 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 1 John 1:7-9; 2:2
5 John 8:34-36; Heb. 2:14-15; 1 John 3:1-11
6 John 6:39-40; 10:27-30; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:5
7 Matt. 10:29-31; Luke 21:16-18
8 Rom. 8:28
9 Rom. 8:15-16; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14
10 Rom. 8:1-17
2 Q. What must you know
to live and die in the joy of this comfort?
first, how great my sin and misery are;1
second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery;2
third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance.3
1 Rom. 3:9-10; 1 John 1:10
2 John 17:3; Acts 4:12; 10:43
3 Matt. 5:16; Rom. 6:13; Eph. 5:8-10; 2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Pet. 2:9-10
Part I: Man’s Misery
3 Q. How do you come to know your misery?
The law of God tells me.1
1 Rom. 3:20; 7:7-25
4 Q. What does God’s law require of us?
Christ teaches us this in summary in Matthew 22–
You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your mind,
and with all your strength.1*
This is the great and first commandment.
And a second is like it,
You shall love your neighbor
On these two commandments depend
all the law and the prophets.
1 Deut. 6:5
2 Lev. 19:18
*Earlier and better manuscripts of Matthew 22 omit the words, “and with all your strength.” They are found in Mark 12:30.
5 Q. Can you live up to all this perfectly?
I have a natural tendency
to hate God and my neighbor.2
1 Rom. 3:9-20, 23; 1 John 1:8, 10
2 Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 7:23-24; 8:7; Eph. 2:1-3; Titus 3:3
6 Q. Did God create man
so wicked and perverse?
God created man good1 and in his own image,2
that is, in true righteousness and holiness,3
so that he might
truly know God his creator,4
love him with all his heart,
and live with him in eternal happiness
for his praise and glory.5
1 Gen. 1:31
2 Gen. 1:26-27
3 Eph. 4:24
4 Col. 3:10
5 Ps. 8
7 Q. Then where does man’s corrupt human nature
From the fall and disobedience of our first parents,
Adam and Eve, in Paradise.1
This fall has so poisoned our nature2
that we are born sinners–
corrupt from conception on.3
1 Gen. 3
2 Rom. 5:12, 18-19
3 Ps. 51:5
8 Q. But are we so corrupt
that we are totally unable to do any good
and inclined toward all evil?
Yes,1 unless we are born again,
by the Spirit of God.2
1 Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Job 14:4; Isa. 53:6
2 John 3:3-5
9 Q. But doesn’t God do man an injustice
by requiring in his law
what man is unable to do?
No, God created man with the ability to keep the law.1
Man, however, tempted by the devil,2
in reckless disobedience,3
robbed himself and all his descendants of these gifts.4
1 Gen. 1:31; Eph. 4:24
2 Gen. 3:13; John 8:44
3 Gen. 3:6
4 Rom. 5:12, 18, 19
10 Q. Will God permit
such disobedience and rebellion
to go unpunished?
He is terribly angry
about the sin we are born with
as well as the sins we personally commit.
As a just judge
he punishes them now and in eternity.1
He has declared:
“Cursed be every one who does not abide by
all things written in the book of the law,
and do them.”2
1 Ex. 34:7; Ps. 5:4-6; Nah. 1:2; Rom. 1:18; Eph. 5:6; Heb. 9:27
2 Deut. 27:26; Gal. 3:10
11 Q. But isn’t God also merciful?
God is certainly merciful,1
but he is also just.2
His justice demands
that sin, committed against his supreme majesty,
be punished with the supreme penalty–
eternal punishment of body and soul.3
1 Ex. 34:6-7; Ps. 103:8-9
2 Ex. 34:7; Deut. 7:9-11; Ps. 5:4-6; Heb. 10:30-31
3 Matt. 25:35-46
Part II: Man’s Deliverance
12 Q. According to God’s righteous judgment
we deserve punishment
both in this world and forever after:
how then can we escape this punishment
and return to God’s favor?
God requires that his justice be satisfied.1
Therefore the claims of his justice
must be paid in full,
either by ourselves or by another.2
1 Ex. 23:7; Rom. 2:1-11
2 Isa. 53:11; Rom. 8:3-4
13 Q. Can we pay this debt ourselves?
Actually, we increase our guilt every day.1
1 Matt. 6:12; Rom. 2:4-5
14 Q. Can another creature–any at all–
pay this debt for us?
To begin with,
God will not punish another creature
for man’s guilt.1
no mere creature can bear the weight
of God’s eternal anger against sin
and release others from it.2
1 Ezek. 18:4, 20; Heb. 2:14-18
2 Ps. 49:7-9; 130:3
15 Q. What kind of mediator and deliverer
should we look for then?
He must be truly human1 and truly righteous,2
yet more powerful than all creatures,
that is, he must also be true God.3
1 Rom. 1:3; 1 Cor. 15:21; Heb. 2:17
2 Isa. 53:9; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 7:26
3 Isa. 7:14; 9:6; Jer. 23:6; John 1:1
16 Q. Why must he be truly human
and truly righteous?
God’s justice demands it:
man has sinned,
man must pay for his sin,1
but a sinner can not pay for others.2
1 Rom. 5:12, 15; 1 Cor. 15:21; Heb. 2:14-16
2 Heb. 7:26-27; 1 Pet. 3:18
17 Q. Why must he also be true God?
by the power of his divinity,
he might bear the weight of God’s anger in his humanity
and earn for us
and restore to us
righteousness and life.1
1 Isa. 53; John 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:21
18 Q. And who is this mediator–
true God and at the same time
truly human and truly righteous?
Our Lord Jesus Christ,1
who was given us
to set us completely free
and to make us right with God.2
1 Matt. 1:21-23; Luke 2:11; 1 Tim. 2:5
2 1 Cor. 1:30
19 Q. How do you come to know this?
The holy gospel tells me.
God himself began to reveal the gospel already in Paradise;1
later, he proclaimed it
by the holy patriarchs2 and prophets,3
and portrayed it
by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law;4
finally, he fulfilled it
through his own dear Son.5
1 Gen. 3:15
2 Gen. 22:18; 49:10
3 Isa. 53; Jer. 23:5-6; Mic. 7:18-20; Acts 10:43; Heb. 1:1-2
4 Lev. 1-7; John 5:46; Heb. 10:1-10
5 Rom. 10:4; Gal. 4:4-5; Col. 2:17
20 Q. Are all men saved through Christ
just as all were lost through Adam?
Only those are saved
who by true faith
are grafted into Christ
and accept all his blessings.1
1 Matt. 7:14; John 3:16, 18, 36; Rom. 11:16-21
21 Q. What is true faith?
True faith is
not only a knowledge and conviction
that everything God reveals in his Word is true;1
it is also a deep-rooted assurance,2
created in me by the Holy Spirit3 through the gospel4
that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ,5
not only others, but I too,6
have had my sins forgiven,
have been made forever right with God,
and have been granted salvation.7
1 John 17:3, 17; Heb. 11:1-3; James 2:19
2 Rom. 4:18-21; 5:1; 10:10; Heb. 4:14-16
3 Matt. 16:15-17; John 3:5; Acts 16:14
4 Rom. 1:16; 10:17; 1 Cor. 1:21
5 Rom. 3:21-26; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-10
6 Gal. 2:20
7 Rom. 1:17; Heb. 10:10
22 Q. What then must a Christian believe?
Everything God promises us in the gospel.1
That gospel is summarized for us
in the articles of our Christian faith–
a creed beyond doubt,
and confessed throughout the world.
1 Matt. 28:18-20; John 20:30-31
23 Q. What are these articles?
I believe in God, the Father, almighty,
maker of heaven and earth.