What is thy only comfort in life and death?: The Life and Significance of Zacharias Ursinus and the Heidelberg Catechism



Posted at Continuing Reformation:

A student and friend of many great Protestant Reformers, Zacharias Ursinus is remembered along with his mentors for his work as the principle author of the Heidelberg Catechism, one of the best-loved catechisms within the Reformed Protestant tradition. Ursinus, born Zacharias Bear (he later Latinized his name to Ursinus) was born in the town of Breslau, modern-day Wrocaw, Poland in the year 1534. His father was a tutor, and Ursinus grew up surrounded by learning and education. (“Ursinus and Olevianus”)

At the age of 15, Ursinus entered Wittenberg University, the great institution at which Martin Luther had ignited the first sparks of Reformation in Europe. Here he befriended Phillip Melanchthon and studied under his teaching, opening his mind to a moderate view of the Lord’s Supper, which eventually led him to a Reformed way of thinking. Melanchthon recommended Ursinus to the finest minds in Protestant Christendom, and he met with Jean Mercier, Heinrich Bullinger, and John Calvin. At the end of Ursinus’ education at Wittenberg, he headed back to Breslau to teach, where he was soon thrown out under suspicion of being too Reformed for the staunchly Lutheran townspeople. After this controversy (he was a quiet, peace-loving man), Ursinus decided to go where he could study and work among those who agreed with his Reformed beliefs: Zurich. (“Ursinus and Olevianus”)

It was from the relative peace and quiet in Zurich where Zacharias Ursinus would be uprooted and thrust into the theological tumult of the University at Heidelberg. Some background information is required to understand the situation at Heidelberg at this time. As the second generation of the Reformation came into being, the unity enjoyed by the followers of Martin Luther was threatened by the theological opinions of the Reformed thinkers in Switzerland and from internal divisions between the moderate Lutherans under the leadership of Melanchthon and the conservative Gnesio-Lutherans with most controversy centering on the presence of Christ in the elements of the Lord’s Supper. (“HCRT 2010- The Heidelberg Catechism (Carl Trueman).”)

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