Category Archives: Ursinus

Our Only Comfort in Life and Death

The Heidelberg Catechism states-

Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer. That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, who, with his precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that, without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation: and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready henceforth to live unto him.

Ursinus offers this exposition:

The question of comfort is placed, and treated first, because it embodies the design and substance of the catechism. The design is, that we may be led to the attainment of sure and solid comfort, both in life and death. On this account, all divine truth has been revealed by God, and is especially to be studied by us. The substance of this comfort consists in this that we are ingrafted into Christ by faith, that through him we are reconciled to, and beloved of God, that thus he may care for and save us eternally.

I don’t know how familiar you are with this Catechism but it is so very good- so very meaningful.  I love it.  So I’m going to share bits of it for a few weeks.  I hope at the very least you’ll be encouraged to read it for yourself.

The Anniversary of the Death of Zacharias Ursinus, The Author of the Heidelberg Catechism

427px-zacharias_ursinusA reforming theologian, Ursinus was born Breslau in 1534 and studied at Wittenberg from 1550 to 1557. He then moved to Geneva for further study and from there took a teaching post in his native city of Breslau. His doctrine of the Lord’s Supper led to his dismissal from Breslau in 1559. But in 1561, thanks to his mentor Peter Martyr Vermigli, received an invitation from Elector Frederick III to come to Heidelberg as director of the theological academy.

It was at Heidelberg that with Caspar Olevianus he made his most notable contribution to church life by drafting the Heidelberg Catechism (1563). He also undertook the defense of the Catechism against Lutheran objections.

From 1562 he added the professorship of dogmatics to his administrative duties and also prepared a new liturgy. Zanchius relieved him the burden of teaching in 1568, but Ursinus became involved in a difficult struggle to bring in a new discipline on the Genevan model (1570). The death of the electtor in 1577 opened the way for Lutheran influences. Ursinus, with Zanchius, move to Neustadt in 1578 and spent his last year there. In addition to his work on the Catechism, he also wrote an important treatise on the Lutheran Book of Concord and did much to promote Peter Martyr’s Loci.*

He died on this date (March 6) in 1583.  He is a theological superstar.


#ICYMI: NT Wright Ascends to Heaven From Bible Conference in Houston!

Witnesses say that just before he was seen to fly skyward without a rocket pack, he spread out his arms, and then up he went, shouting ‘buy my giant book which is very much like all my other less giant books or the wrath of God will descend onto your unrighteous heads… sinners…’


Witness stories diverge at this point but many swear that as he disappeared out of sight through a giant hole in the ceiling created by the hurling of his new book through it that he was received either by Chuck Norris or Ryan Seacrest.

He promised to return.  Oh that we will all still be alive when he does…  Meanwhile, many will come in his name, proclaiming his gospel and urging souls to follow Tom’s teachings (also known as TT).  If you want to get to heaven, and spend eternity with Tom, you have to embrace TT.

Doctrina schola vitae: Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583) als Schriftausleger

Courtesy the brilliant folk at V&R and ISD, this new volume in the Refo500 Academic Studies Series:

978-3-525-55055-7Zacharias Ursinus is widely known as the main author of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563). In this thesis, Wagner-Peterson analyses for the first time the late period of Zacharias Ursinus’ theology on the basis of his lecture on Isaiah. The author focuses on the methodology, the hermeneutics, and the theology implicated in this lecture. The results are compared to 16th century commentaries and theological concepts. A comparative study of Ursinus’ earlier writings illustrates a development of his theological concept. Wagner-Peterson thus offers important new insights into exegesis and theology in the period of confessionalism. The older Ursinus appears as a reformed theological teacher, whose intention was to school his students in a life of continuous study of scriptural doctrine. The study of and the obedience to biblical doctrine was essential for Ursinus as a school for living and dying according to God’s providential will.

My review is posted here.


My fixation… Is this fantastic work about a fascinating man:


Zacharias Ursinus on YouTube

Via Refo500

Pocket Dictionary of the Reformed Tradition

2708Thanks to the kindness of IVP Academic for sending along a copy of this handy little volume.  I like it very much.  For the most part.

Beginning to study Reformed theology is like stepping into a family conversation that has been going on for five hundred years. How do you find your bearings and figure out how to take part in this conversation without embarrassing yourself?

The Pocket Dictionary of the Reformed Tradition takes on this rich, boisterous and varied tradition in its broad contours, filling you in on its common affirmations as well as its family tensions.

As you would expect, I turned first to the entry on Zwingli which was 99% right on the money.  It errs in one major aspect, though, when it asserts that

It was at the Battle of Kappel, while leading Zurich’s troops against Catholic armies, that Zwingli was killed in October 1531 (p. 132).

Zwingli was in no sense ‘leading Zurich’s troops’.  He was neither combatant nor commander.  Rather, as the Pastor of the largest and most important Church in the city, he was duty-bound to attend the battle and offer spiritual comfort and guidance to the men of the city who had been summoned to defend it.

And second, to be precise, it was at the Second Battle of Kappel that Zwingli was killed.  The First Kappel War had been conducted a couple of years earlier and ended in a rather tenuous and unsustainable truce.

Other entries in the dictionary are incredibly useful while being incredibly brief.  Interestingly, Zwingli gets more space than does the entry on ‘election’.  But Luther gets more space than Zwingli.  And almost as much as Calvin.  Luther can’t really be classified as a member of the ‘Reformed Tradition’ so it’s rather odd that he’s both included and that he receives – in comparison to other actually Reformed concepts and theologians- a lot of discussion.

Thankfully Brunner gets treatment equal to Barth (which is, frankly, quite refreshing).  All in all, I have to say, that this is a very useful little volume and I’m happy to pass along mention of it here, as I think others will find it interesting as well.

Ursinus und die Zeit der Reformation

ursinus-plakat-entgueltig_510.jpgEinen Einblick in die Zeit des Zacharias Ursinus verschafft die Ausstellung „Ursinus und die Zeit der Reformation“ ab dem 14.4. 2013 im Stadtmuseum Neustadt – Villa Böhm, die in Zusammenarbeit zwischen dem Stadtarchiv Neustadt und dem Leiter des Religionspädagogischen Zentrums, Michael Landgraf, entwickelt wurde.

How fun!  I wish I were in the region.  I would definitely go.

Originalschriften aus der Zeit der Reformation zeigen, wie der Neustadter Reformator wirkte, mit wem er zuammenarbeitete, welche Fragen er zu klären suchte und welche Bedeutung Neustadt als Druckort hatte.

Yes, definitely!

Ursinus, on Q87 of the Heidelberg Catechism, and the 16th Century Reformers Attitudes Towards Homosexuality

First, the statement of the Heidelberg Catechism:

Question 87. Cannot they then be saved, who, continuing in their wicked and ungrateful lives, are not converted to God?

Answer. By no means; for the holy Scripture declares that no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, covetous man, drunkard, slanderer, robber, or any such like shall inherit the kingdom of God.

In modern translation (by the PCUSA)-

Question 87: Can those who do not turn to God from their ungrateful, impenitent life be saved?

Answer: Certainly not! Scripture says, “Surely you know that the unjust will never come into possession of the kingdom of God. Make no mistake: no fornicator or idolater, none who are guilty either of adultery or of homosexual perversion, no thieves or grabbers or drunkards or slanderers or swindlers, will possess the kingdom of God.”

puffThis translation has taken a lot of heat from various corners of the PCUSA- but the fact remains, it is in truth an absolutely accurate ‘dynamic equivalent’ of the underlying German wording.  It isn’t, to be fair, a strictly literal translation, but again, it is absolutely on the mark as a dynamic equivalent.

There are a number of reasons why the text should be understood in that light- all of which are superbly described in the very best (and utterly fair and balanced, in truth and not in the ‘Fox News-ian’ sense) treatment of the subject of the 16th century’s attitude towards ‘sodomy’, Sodomy in Reformation Germany and Switzerland, 1400-1600, by Helmut Puff. It is essential reading.

The EXPOSITION of Ursinus, the author of the Catechism, asserts, accordingly,

This Question naturally grows out of the preceding one; for since good works are the fruits of our regeneration—since they are the expression of our thankfulness to God, and the evidences of true faith; and since none are saved but those in whom these things are found; it follows, on the other hand, that evil works are the fruits of the flesh—that they are manifestations of ingratitude, and evidences of unbelief, so that no one that continues to produce them can be saved.

Hence, all those who are not converted to God from their evil works, but continue in their sins, are condemned for ever, according to the following declarations of the word of God: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, &c., shall inherit the kingdom of God.” “Of the which I have told you in times past that they which do such things, shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” “For this ye know; that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God; for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.” “He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” (1 Cor. 6:9. Gal. 5:21. Eph. 5:5, 6. 1 John 3:14.)

We may also observe, that another reason for good works may be deduced from the consequence which results from evil works; viz., that all those who perform evil works, and continue in their wicked and ungrateful lives, cannot be saved, inasmuch as they are destitute of true faith, and conversion.

Ursinus’ use of the these-days-supercharged-term ‘effeminate’ encapsulates the 16th century’s view as well as demonstrating its hesitancy to come right out and talk about a subject which it found so utterly lamentable.

I have posted previously on this topic, at the outbreak of the discussion brought on by Prop 8.  Back then I was asked about the Reformers views of homosexuality.  Here is my response:

Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics

The very nice folk at Logos have arranged a copy of Richard Muller’s indescribably important 4 volume Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics to appear in my Logos Library (for which I am grateful and appreciative).

post-reformation-reformed-dogmaticsA major study reevaluating the primary sources of the post-Reformation, Richard Muller’s mammoth 4-volume Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics chronicles the development of Reformed theology and documents the rise of Protestant orthodoxy. These volumes contain some of the most important treatments on the theological history of the Reformation, including:

  • The formation of Reformed prolegomena
  • The relationship between Scripture and theology
  • The development of the Reformed doctrine of God
  • The Reformed understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity

Contending that the theology of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is often misrepresented in church histories and scholarly treatments, Richard Muller has undertaken an exhaustive study of specific doctrines to demonstrate how doctrine developed in the early Protestant period. Muller writes out of the firm conviction that “a detailed study of Protestant thought in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is. . . a subject of direct relevance to the life and work of the church today as it attempts to understand itself in the light of its past and formulate its theology in the present.”

My review of these materials appear here, and here, and here and finally, here (that’s one review for each volume- which is, frankly, given the extent of the material, the only sensible course).

My quest to urge Baker Academic to reissue a print edition shall, however, remain active.  For one simple reason:  people without computers should have the chance to make use of this extraordinary resource.