One of the things that reveals not merely the popularity of the Heidelberg Catechism but also its world-wide distribution is a consideration of its varied translations. This struck me as I was recently browsing the fascinating book The Heidelberg Catechism In Its Newest Light by Rev.Prof. James I. Good (Philadelphia: Publication and Sunday School Board of the Reformed Church in the United States, 1914). Good was a German Reformed pastor and professor (Central Theological Seminary) who wrote a number of books on Reformation history and on the history of the German Reformed Church (the main stream of which was swallowed up by several liberal denominations into one, but the true continuation of which remains in the Reformed Church in the U.S. – RCUS).
The first section of this Good book (In more ways than one!) treats ”The World-wide Circulation of the Catechism”, and the first chapter under this deals with the many different translations of the “HC”. Today, in connection with our year-long commemoration of the 450th anniversary of the “HC” (see all my Thursday posts this year.), I would like to start a brief series looking at these translations of the “HC”. And we begin with the obvious – the German translation – since this was the language in which the “HC” was first produced. Good also has a number of pictures of the title-pages of the “HC” in various languages, which I am scanning and will post here as well (Click on the image to expand its size.).
This is how good opens his chapter on the translations of the Heidelberg Catechism:
‘The Heidelberg Catechism, next to the Bible and the Pilgrim’s Progress, is the most widely circulated of books,’ is the remark of one of the old writers. Whether this estimate, made long ago, is exactly true now may be questioned , as some other books have since become widely popular. But the fact, nevertheless, remains true: the Heidelberg catechism is one of the most widely circulated books in the world. In order to have such popularity the catechism had to be translated into many languages. …The story of of these translations, together with their history, is of wonderful interest and reveals the great popularity of the book.
The original language of the Heidelberg catechism was, of course, the German, because it was composed for use in a German state, the Palatinate, in southwestern Germany, where it was published early in 1563. A number of German editions appeared in that year. Their number has been generally given as four, but Rev.Professor Goeters of Bonn university, who has been making researches, has found other editions of that year (pp.3-4)