Although Rick Steves says this town doesn’t rate a stop on a European tour, for those with a Reformation persuasion, there’s something alluring about setting foot to the cobblestone streets of Heidelberg. It’s about a 3 hour trip from Hohenfels and we arrived shortly after noon and proceeded to march up the steep hill to our first destination: Heidelberg Castle. Dating from the 12th Century, the impressively large castle has long been in ruins. Even today, various walls are covered in scaffolding but the sheer size sitting high above the Neckar River draws large crowds of tourists eager to explore the castle and town below. One of the features of a castle tour is the enormous wine barrel, the world’s largest, which holds over 200,000 liters of wine.
While wandering the palace gardens, I came upon an advertisement for “Power of Faith—450 years of the Heidelberg Catechism.” Bingo! I knew what our next stop was going to be—a museum. Since I had promised the kids that this was a “no culture” excursion, I bought just one entry ticket for myself to the show. The title gives a little clue to how they displayed the exhibit; in the Power exhibit, visitors examined the critical role the Electorate of the Palatinate (“Prince Electors”) played in establishing the Reformation movement. In the Faith exhibit, attention was placed on what was going on in the world of academia at the time of the Catechism. I was surprised to learn that the rise of astronomy and the field of science in general was threatening to the Catholic church and that the “reformists” were particularly eager to engage in a dialogue about science and faith.
You see, the Reformation wasn’t simply a matter of leaving the Catholic church. Soon after Protestantism came to Germany in mid-1500s, the controvery between Lutherans and Calvists broke out. And many cities, Heidelberg included, the persecution of theologians was fierce. When Frederick III came to power (one of those “Prince Electors” in Germany) he adopted a Calvinistic view on the Lord’s Supper and enlisted Zacharias Ursinus (a student of John Calvin and student at the local seminary) to write a Catechism, or Confession of Faith to put an end to disputes in his area specifically. Ursinus relied heavily on John Calvin’s writings and in 1563 the first edition was published and titled “The Heidelberg Catechism.” To my delight, several original Catechisms from the 2nd and 3rd printings were on display. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed in the museum so you’ll have to take my word that the books are tiny (about 3 inches by 4 inches) and the type is almost unreadable (both because of fading and because of old German language). But, it’s cool to imagine the hand of Frederick III making changes in the margins of the text for the next edition.
As quoted in the exhibit… “Its (Heidelberg Catechism) influence was enormous. Having been recognized by the Dordrecht Synod in 1619, this, the most important, doctrinal document of the Reformed Church very soon spread throughout the whole world. Today, more than 20 million members of Protestant churches, especially in Europe, America and Asia still use the Heidelberg Catechism daily.”
The highlight of my museum visit was listening to a rap on the Heidelberg Catechism. I’m a visual learner so reading text is something I enjoy but there’s something very fresh and relevant when listening to the catechism as interpreted for today’s audience. Below is a link to Curt “Voice” Allen at the 2010 Sovereign Grace Ministries Pastor’s Conference.