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In the early 1560s Frederick III (1516-76), Elector Palatine desired that his subjects be led to a ‘devout knowledge and fear of the Almighty and his holy Word of salvation’. He commissioned a group of theologians and ministers to compose a catechetical summary of biblical truth that could be committed to memory and be an encouragement to personal faith and growth in Christ. The final version was approved by the Synod in Heidelberg (1563), the city lending its name to the catechism.
The Heidelberg Catechism follows the pattern of the Epistle to the Romans. It opens with the question ‘What is your only comfort in life and in death?’, and then examines the realities of human sin and misery (Rom. 1-3:20); salvation in Christ, including faith and repentance (Rom. 3:21-11:36); and the Christian life of thankful obedience in response to God’s grace in Christ (Rom. 12-16). The catechism stands as a faithful testimony to the ancient Christian faith in its scripturally derived shape and content, and further expressed in its exposition and application of the Apostles’ Creed, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. — FROM THE FOREWORD BY WILLIAM VANDOODEWAARD