A Turn of Events – From Chaos to Comfort – A History of the Heidelberg Catechism (6)

Luther had nailed his ninety-five theses to the door at Wittenberg nearly fifty years ago. Now it was 1562 and many doctrines still needed further explanation. Lack of understanding especially about the Lord’s supper caused much chaos and confusion in the land. The need for clear explanation of doctrine was great. This would be a year for creeds and confessions.

Elector Frederick III ruled from his castle in Heidelberg, Germany. He saw the need for a new and clear catechism to be written. His own wife was Lutheran and tried to persuade him to see the Lord’s supper from the Lutheran point of view, but he was not sure. What if Calvin’s view was right? There had been much trouble and confusion in Heidelberg over the Lord’s Supper, and now he did not know where to turn, except to God.

Frederick shut himself alone in his rooms to pray and to study the Scriptures. God answered those prayers. Frederick came forth with confidence. The Calvinistic view was the scriptural one. He was sure. He also knew what kind of men ought to write the new catechism.

Twenty-eight-year-old Zacharius Ursinus had recently become a professor of doctrine at the university in Heidelberg. Twenty-six-year-old Caspar Olevianus was the new pastor of the Church of the Holy Spirit there. Both men had already shown themselves to be extremely gifted in teaching, preaching, and godliness. Both had been taught by John Calvin, Peter Martyr, and other important Reformers. Frederick assigned the task to them.

Frederick could not have known that the words these men would write would be just as important 450 years later as they were in his day. But God knew. God had brought these men to Heidelberg. God had prepared them for the task. Olevianus’ bold and eloquent preaching would combine with Ursinus’ logical and poetic mind to result in writing that would be amazingly clear and beautiful.

The Lord’s supper would be explained too. In all their studies, Ursinus and Olevianus came to understand that Luther had gone too far in saying Christ’s body and blood were present in the Lord’s Supper in a physical way. What is the biblical view? Jesus Christ is indeed present in the Lord’s supper, but in a spiritual way. This truth would now be made clear to all. In 1563 the Heidelberg Catechism was adopted by the church and received with much thanksgiving. The issue of the Lord’s supper was settled.

But one truth never stands alone from the rest. Confusion over the Lord’s supper helped to make the time ripe for a godly ruler to call for a catechism to be written, but all truths fit together in perfect harmony. God led both writers of the catechism to see that as well. Out of the chaos of those times, they wrote a document that would show the way of peace and comfort to all God’s people, for all time, in all circumstances. Such would be the turn of events….