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 (or Lord’s Days), so that a section of the Catechism could be explained to the churches 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.
The catechism is divided into three parts: Man’s Guilt, our sin; God’s Grace, His salvation and Man’s Gratitude, our service. The introduction to the catechism (Lord’s Day 1) is included with the first part.