The Heidelberg Catechism: Still The Church’s Book of Comfort (Davenant Hall Course Preview)

This post is a preview of a forthcoming online Davenant Hall class, “The Theology of the Heidelberg Catechism”, running in the Spring 2021 Term (April – June), and convened by Rev. Daniel Hyde.

If you wish to register for the module, you can do so here.

Het troostboek van de kerk

That’s what Dutch Reformed Christians have called the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) for generations – “the church’s book of comfort.” And it still is! This April–June, join me for a Davenant Hall course through this venerable teaching aid to Christian faith, hope, and love.

What’s the Course About?

The Heidelberg Catechism, of course! But what’s the catechism about? 

Q&A 1 gives us the theme when it asks, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” Don’t worry, the class doesn’t have multiple ads on the latest MyPillow®. “Comfort,” actually doesn’t quite mean what it used to. We think of feeling comfy or being comfortable. The Catechism, though, asks about trost (German), troost (Dutch), or consolation (Latin). 

The Heidelberg was originally written in German for the preachers, people, and pupils of the Palatinate (an ancient region of what became the Holy Roman Empire). It was concurrently translated into Latin to testify throughout European courts and universities of the Palatinate’s somewhat unique status as a crossroads of the Wittenburg, Zurich, and Genevan reformations.

It was this catholic spirit that caused it to take deep root in the English Reformation. Once translated into English, the University of Oxford’s Catechetical Statute of 1579 prescribed the Heidelberg for all juniors and those without degrees. It even prescribed punishments for negligent scholars! All this for a foreign catechism while the English Church’s own Thirty-Nine Articles and John Jewel’s official Apology of the Church of England were optional reading. Later, in 1597 it was translated into Greek so that it could be sent to the Patriarch of Constantinople in the hopes of showing its catholicity. It’s since been translated into everything from Afrikaans to Vietnamese.

In this course, we’ll first briefly introduce the who, what, when, where, and why of the Catechism. Then we will especially focus our time and attention on the text itself. With just 10 weeks to biblically, theologically, polemically, historically, and practically analyze its 129 questions and answers or 52 Lord’s Days (zondag), we’ll use an often-forgotten division of this material: the Palatinate’s Kirchenordnung (Church Order). In this document the Catechism was required to be read aloud every Sunday in every congregation in just 9 lectiones.

Why Should I Care?

I mean, it’s the Heidelberg Catechism, right? Enough said. Yet I realize your time and money is valuable, so let me offer a couple reasons you should care (and hopefully register).

First, whether you are a pastor, seminarian, study group leader, or interested lay-person, to delve into the Catechism is to be led into a faithful tradition of reading and handling the Holy Scriptures. Ultimately this is the touchstone of a faithful exposition of the Faith: does it flow from and lead me back to Scripture? So, as we go through it, our minds, wills, and affections will be refreshed by the living waters of the Word of God.

Second, to delve into the Heidelberg Catechism is to be led back to the faithful tradition of Christian theology throughout the centuries. There’s a reason the Catechism was originally entitled in German Catechismus oder Christlicher underricht, “Catechism or Christian teaching” and Latin Catechesis Religionis Christianae, “Teaching of the Christian Religion.” In short, the Heidelberg is a Reformed catholic document. So, this means we’ll be shaped to be ancient Christians in a modern world—and not remain “cage stage” Calvinists always over-emphasizing our “distinct life and worldview.”

Thirdly and finally, no matter who we are, when we spend time in the Catechism, learning the Scriptural exegesis behind it, learning its points of theological precision in both polemic and inculsion, learning the history of exegesis and theology, we’ll be equipped. How so? As pastors, we’ll be able to preach clearly and answer hard questions from inquirers. As fathers and mothers, we’ll be able to catechize our children in age-appropriate ways as they develop. As Christians, we’ll be able to engage in apologetics, testifying to the glorious work of the Triune God for us—for me, saying, “My only comfort in life and in death is that I belong to Jesus Christ. Let me introduce you to him by reading with you from my Heidelberg Catechism.”

The Heidelberg Catechism is still “the Church’s Book of Comfort.” I invite you to join me in this fast-paced, informative, and inspirational course.

This Systematics course will be taught by Rev. Daniel Hyde. This course will run from April 12 through June 18 The syllabus is available here. Register here.

Rev. Daniel R. Hyde serves as Pastor of Oceanside United Reformed Church (Carlsbad/Oceanside, California). He is the author of numerous books on Reformed theology and Christian piety. He is also Adjunct Instructor of Ministerial Studies at Mid-America Reformed Seminary (Dyer, Indiana) and Adjunct Instructor of Systematic Theology and Missions at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids, Michigan). He has earned degrees from Westminster Seminary California (MDiv) and Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (ThM) and is currently writing his PhD on John Owen’s liturgical theology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.