Later Struggles for Survival

It was not long before differences of opinion again disturbed the ecclesiastical peace. Debate continued on the precise meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Also, especially in the Palatinate, the teachings of Arius were spreading rapidly. The feeling on this issue became so intense that in 1572 one of the most vocal Arians, Sylvanus by name,was beheaded in the market place in Heidelberg on the grounds of heresy. The minister of Peterskirche in Heidelberg was also numbered among the Arians, but he managed to flee the city.

There followed a few years of intense opposition to Frederick and his catechism, particularly by a number of theologians who were followers of Luther. The Roman Catholics, infuriated by the eightieth question and answer, also joined in the attack. Both Ursinus and Olevianus exerted themselves in defence of the catechism.

On October 26, 1575, the Elector Frederick died. In the final days of his life his faith continued strong. He often asked those near him to read to him from the Scriptures, especially such passages as Psalms 31, 32 and 71, John 17 and Romans 8.

Now Frederick’s son, Ludwig VI, came to power at the age of thirty-seven. Unlike his father, he was an avowed Lutheran. He determined to stamp out the Reformed faith in favor of Lutheranism. He ordered the churches to stop using the Heidelberg catechism and to replace it with Luther’s catechism. He deposed those loyal to the Reformed faith, whether they were professors, teachers, preachers or public officials. He forbade the sale of literature espousing the faith of his father. Many people fled from Heidelberg to find refuge in a neighboring area under the rule of his brother, Casimir. Fortunately for the cause of the Reformed faith, Ludwig did not reign long. He died in 1583, and was succeeded by his brother, Casimir.

Now the pendulum began to swing the other way again. Casimir immediately reversed the trend, returned the Heiliggeist church to the Reformed group, and reinstated the teachers, preachers and other officials who had been deposed by Ludwig. Casimir’s rule also was not long, for he died in 1592. His brother’s son, Frederick IV, became the Elector of the Palatinate in his place. During the eighteen years of his reign the Reformed faith found favor, and the university of Heidelberg rose to new heights in the academic world.

In 1610 Frederick was succeeded by his son, Frederick V, also Reformed. It was he who delegated certain church leaders to the great Synod of Dordt which recognized the Heidelberg catechism as the official statement of faith for the Reformed cause.

Now the clouds of political war were gathering. The Thirty Years’ War broke out in 1619. The Spaniards under Spinola came from the south and overran the Palatinate. The Bohemian forces under Tilly entered Heidelberg in September, 1622, and terrible days followed for the Re· formed churches in that city. The churches were summarily given to the Roman Catholics, and the university put under Jesuit control. The now famous university library, housed in the Heiliggeist church, was loaded into fifty wagons and transported over the Alps to the Vatican, a gift to the pope. Most of those precious volumes are still in Rome.

Heidelberg was now firmly in the hands of the Roman Catholics. All leaders of Reformed or Lutheran persuasion had to leave the city. A short respite came in 1631 when, with the help of the Swedes under Gustav Adolphus, the forces of Protestantism again prevailed in the Palatinate. Again the university and the churches became the posses· sions of the Reformers. But this did not last long, for, in 1634, the Roman Catholic forces again conquered the area. The Palatinate then remained in their hands until the peace of Westphalia in 1648. At that time Karl Ludwig, son of Frederick V, became the Elector. The Protestant victory was appropriately celebrated in October, 1649, in the Heiliggeist church with a service of thanksgiving. The Lutherans, however, desired to worship by themselves. Ludwig tolerated the Lutherans to the point of ordering a church built for them in Heidelberg. This is the Providence church. Karl Ludwig ruled until 1685, and did much to entrench the Reformed faith in western Germany.

But dark days lay ahead for the Protestants in the Palatinate. The French forces of Louis XIV invaded western Germany in 1689. Hundreds of cities and towns were burned to the ground, including Speyer, Worms and Mannheim. Then, in May, 1693, Heidelberg also fell victim to the plundering French forces. While the city burned in every quarter, hundreds of its residents were herded into the Heiliggeist church, the doors were closed, and fire was set to it. The roof and tower of the church were severely damaged, but many of the imprisoned townsfolk escaped. After the fire had subsided, the troops, many of whom were intoxicated, opened the graves of the former Electors buried in the church. They threw the bodies into the streets of the city and removed from them anything of value. It took many years to restore this famous church and others like it in western Germany.

Some years after this pillage of the city, in 1705, an agreement was reached whereby the larger churches were to serve both Protestants and Roman Catholics. To do this, in the Heiliggeist church, a wall was erected in the middle, separating the front from the rear. The Roman Catholics were given the front, or altar, section, and the Protestants the rear part of the church. This wall remained for more than two centuries, and was finally broken down in 1936 when the Protestants bought the fore part from the Catholics. Incidentally, this wall was taken down temporarily in 1886 for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the founding of the university of Heidelberg, but was promptly put up again after the festivities.

But we must return to a brief consideration of the catechism. It survived the turbulent war years, during which time its public use was severely restricted by the Roman Catholics and the French invaders. In 1719, the Elector, Karl Philip, decreed that all copies of the Heidelberg catechism should be confiscated, at least, all copies containing the eightieth question and answer. Under pressure from the new Prussian king and from Protestants all over Europe, and probably because he feared a new religious war might follow, he relented after some months, and again permitted the printing of the catechism but without the offensive parts of the answer to the eightieth question.

We have now traced the early history of the Heidelberg catechism to the point where its continued existence could no longer be questioned. Despite the many attempts to silence the catechism as the voice of Reformed Christianity during a period of a century and a half, the catechism had now become a permanent and prominent symbol of Protestantism. From its beginning in Heidelberg, its influence had spread throughout Europe. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it won many more adherents throughout the world.

In this twentieth century the Heidelberg catechism continues to be an adequate summary of the Reformed faith. It is adequate because it includes all the truths of the Scriptures. And it shall continue its influence among men everywhere so long as God’s Word continues, and that shall never fail.