My Life in All Its Perfect Plan
My name is Frederick III. I write you this note to show you how God used me and three other men to bring the Heidelberg Catechism into existence. This is to show you how God could take a person, and even through his childhood guide him in the truths to prepare him for the later work that he would have as a man. During the time I write about, the church needed instruction. It was separating! So I had two gifted men write an outline to instruct the church in the truths of the Bible for the fifty-two weeks in a year. This catechism also guides the ministers in their work, so that they are able to cover the aspects of the Christian faith in one year. Maybe to you it seems that I did something special that made God pick me to commission the Heidelberg Catechism, but that is not true at all. God chose me to be his instrument in the creation of the Heidelberg Catechism. Here is the story of how God directed my life in preparation for the commissioning of the Catechism.
I, Frederick III, grew up with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. My two brothers and I were educated in the courts of famous Roman Catholic rulers. Five of my sisters were nuns. It bothered me how the holy church of God could be ruled by men so greedy for land and money. My mother died in the early spring of 1535 at the age of 43.Soon after her death I met Maria, who was the princess of Brandenburg-Kulmbach at this time. Maria was a Protestant. She would not marry me unless I made a promise to her that I would read the Bible every day and study the writings of Martin Luther. I think God used Maria to lead me to the truth. As I read the Bible and studied the writings of Martin Luther, God opened my eyes to know that what I had been taught as a child was not exactly the full truth. By keeping my promise to Maria, I learned a lot and the Bible showed me that through faith I could find forgiveness of sin.
God blessed Maria and me with children, and then God chose to take two of them to their eternal home. Alberta was one of them. She died two weeks before she turned 15. Herman Louis was the other. He died in a river accident. A man named Caspar Olevianus tried to save him, but he himself almost drowned. I believe God brought him into my life in this awful way for the purpose of someday writing a catechism under my commissioning.
In the summer of 1557 I moved back to the castle of my boyhood to take on the titles and duties of my father. Less than two years after moving to this castle, I moved again. This time it was to Heidelberg to take on the elector’s crown as successor of Otto Henry. A year after I arrived in Heidelberg, I paid a large ransom to have Caspar Olevianus released from prison. Remember him? He was the one who had tried to save my boy from drowning in the river accident. Caspar had been put in jail for ten weeks with twelve others because they had refused to open the city gates for Archbishop John. God worked through me and several other princes so that we might plead for the release of this God-fearing man. I sent a man out with a trunkful of money to have Caspar released, and with a message that Caspar would never return. That is how my friend Caspar Olevianus came to Heidelberg; the only way he got there was through God’s work.
Another man who came to Heidelberg was a professor by the name of Zacharias Ursinus. He had been studying with Peter Martyr. This man Peter was used by God to lead Ursinus to see more clearly the truths that would later be written in the Heidelberg Catechism. By the hand of God, Peter Martyr sent Ursinus on his way to the city of Heidelberg. I myself had requested Peter Martyr to come to Heidelberg, but Peter said concerning Ursinus, “Send for him instead of me, for he has the brilliance of a great scholar and the piety of a great servant of God.” That is the story of how my other friend Zacharias Ursinus arrived in Heidelberg.
During this whole time there were many arguments between the Lutherans and the Calvinists. In January of 1561 all of the princes of the German states met to sign the Augsburg Confession. There were two different Augsburg Confessions, and we had to choose which one was the right one to sign. One of the Augsburg Confessions was leaning toward the Roman Catholic beliefs and had many of Luther’s writings in it. The other leaned toward the Calvinistic beliefs, with which Calvin himself agreed in 1541. I believe that God, our Almighty Father, worked in me to show me which of the confessions to sign, and through him I signed the Augsburg Confession with which Calvin himself agreed. All my life I believed myself true to that signature.
Soon after this an idea grew strongly in my mind that God had a purpose for the two great men, Caspar Olevianus and Zacharias Ursinus, and that it was my responsibility to carry out an assignment for them. So I set to work and assigned them to write a catechism that would teach the people of Palatinate the truths of the Bible with proof from the Bible, so that no one could argue against this catechism. This catechism was also written to reunite the people of Palatinate. Ursinus and Olevianus worked hard so that my request might be fulfilled. God worked in them so that the catechism might be thorough and might correct errors with love for the brother, so that he might also be turned to the correct and sound belief. Although Olevianus and Ursinus did much of the work, there was also a group of men that looked over the Catechism to make sure that all their writing was correct. Ursinus, Olevianus, and I wrote the Heidelberg Catechism. I was the commissioner, but I give credit to my friend Ursinus for his wisdom and for writing it, and to my other friend for adding his personal feeling into it. Ursinus and Olevianus I came to know quite well, and I thank the Lord for these God-fearing, knowledgeable men.
I conclude this note with some words you may recognize from Psalm 139, which later became a familiar song for the church: “My life in all its perfect plan was ordered ere my days began.” Why can I say this? I can say this because I know that the Lord of Hosts guided my life from my birth to this time, and even after that, for the purpose of glorifying his name. Have you not seen in the Heidelberg Catechism question and answer 27 on providence? Here are some of the words, which I think are very fitting with this note. “What dost thou mean by the providence of God?” Here is the answer: “The almighty and everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were by his hand, he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures.” A little farther we read this: “Yea, and all things come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.” I am thankful; I am humbled by his almighty and eternal plan.
VanHalsema, Thea B. Three Men Came to Heidelberg. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1963.