The Hessian Catechism (1607)

We Are Reformed

Instruction of Children:

That Is, the Five Main Parts of Christian Doctrine Put into Question and Answer Form for the Churches and Schools in Hessia.

1. Are you a Christian? Yes, sir.

2. From whence do you know that? From this, that I have been baptized in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that I know and believe the Christian doctrine.

3. Then what is this Christian doctrine? 1 That which is written and understood in the writings of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles.

4. How many main parts does this Christian doctrine have? Five.

  1. The Ten Commandments
  2. The articles of Christian faith
  3. The Lord’s Prayer
  4. The sacrament of holy baptism
  5. The Lord’s Supper, or the sacrament of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

5. On the whole, how do these altogether serve us? That we recognize first, who we are, and how we stand with our Lord God; after that, who our Lord God is, and how we may be reconciled and become united with Him.

I. The First Main Part, of the Law of the Lord 2

1. How is the law of the Lord divided? First, into ten words or commandments, and then once again into two tables. Therefore, God describes in the first table the commandments of His love; in the other, however, He describes the love of neighbors.

2. What then does the first commandment mean? I am the Lord your God; I have led you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of servitude; you shall have no other gods besides Me.

3. What is that? We should, first of all, rightly know God, fear Him above all, love and trust Him alone.

4. What does the second commandment mean? You shall not make to yourself any image nor any likeness, neither of that which is above in heaven, nor that which is below in the earth, neither that which is in the water under the earth. Do not pray to them and serve them not, for I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, that afflicts the sins of the fathers on the children unto the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, and show mercy on many thousands who love Me and hold to My commandments.

5. What is that? We shall fear and love God, so that we, in no way, make a likeness of Him; also [that we worship Him] through and in front of no images, or after our own folly or opinion, but serve and honor [Him] after His Word alone.

6. What does the third commandment mean? You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not allow him to go unpunished, who misuses His name.

7. What is that? We shall fear and love God, so that we, by His name, do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive, but in all needs call on Him, pray to Him, and praise and thank Him.

8. What does the fourth commandment mean? Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy; six days shall you work and put all things in order; however the Sabbath of the Lord, your God, is on the seventh day; you shall do no work, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maid, nor your cattle, nor the stranger that is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all that is within, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

9. What is that? We shall fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but rather that we hold it as holy, gladly hear and learn it.

10. What does the fifth commandment mean? You shall honor your father and mother, that you may live long in the land that the Lord your God gives.

11. What is that? We shall fear and love God, so that we do not despise, nor anger, our parents and masters; rather that we hold them in respect, serve, obey, love, and honor them.

12. What does the sixth commandment mean? You shall not kill.

13. What is that? We shall fear and love God, so that we do no wrong or hurt to our neighbor or his body, but rather help and further him in all of his bodily needs.

14. What does the seventh commandment mean? You shall not break the bond of marriage.

15. What is that? We shall fear and love God, so that we live purely and modestly in words and in deeds, and that each one of us shall love and honor his spouse.

16. What does the eighth commandment mean? You shall not steal.

17. What is that? We shall fear and love God, so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or property, nor bring with us false goods or business, but rather help, better, and preserve him in his property and livelihood.

18. What does the ninth commandment mean? You shall speak no false witness against your neighbor.

19. What is that? We shall fear and love God, so that we do not wrongly lie to, betray, slander, or make an evil reputation of our neighbor, but rather shall excuse him, speak good of him, and turn everything to his benefit.

20. What does the tenth commandment mean? You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maid, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that your neighbor has.

21. What is that? We shall fear and love God, so that we do not stand toward our neighbor with cunning against his heritage or house, nor his wife, children, servants, or cattle, to alienate, to force away, or to entice away; rather [that we] restrain these things, so that they remain and do what they ought; yes, that we guard ourselves against all evil desires, longings, and thoughts against our neighbor and keep the commandments of the Lord.

22. What, now, does God say about all of these commandments? “Cursed is he who does not fulfill all of the words of the commandments, that he does them” (Deut. 27:26). However, “whatever person does these things, he will live through them” (Lev. 18:5).

23. What is that? God threatens to punish all those who transgress these commandments. Therefore, for that reason, we ourselves should also fear before His wrath and do nothing against such commandments. However, He promises grace and everything good to all who keep such commandments. For this reason, we shall love and trust Him and gladly act according to His commandments.

24. For what are these Ten Commandments to be used by us? In two ways: first, they show us our sins and reveal God’s wrath toward our sins; and thereby, they produce in us [the desire] to seek forgiveness of sins by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and to seek comfort over against God’s wrath and everlasting death. Second, they teach us what good works are, in order to do them, as believers and the newborn are obligated; therewith, to prove their obedience and thankfulness to their gracious Father in heaven.

II. The Second Main Part: Of the Articles of the Christian Faith

They are these:

1. The first article: Of the creation. I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

2. What is that? I believe that God has created me, together with all creatures; has given me body, soul, eyes, ears, and all members, intelligence and all understanding; and still upholds, provides clothes and shoes, food and drink, house and property, wife and child, field, cow, and all goods, with all necessity and sustenance of the body and life daily and richly; protects and defends against all danger, guards and preserves from all evil; and all that out of pure fatherly, godly goodness and mercy without any of my merit and worthiness; that I thank and praise Him in everything and therefore serve and am obliged to Him in obedience. That is certainly true.

3. The second article: Of redemption. And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, descended to hell; on the third day He arose from the dead, ascended into heaven, sits on the right hand of God, the Almighty Father; from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

4. What is that? I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten from the Father in eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord; who has redeemed lost and accursed man—gained, won from all sins, from death, from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but rather with His holy, dear blood and with His guiltless suffering and death; through which I am His and live in His kingdom under Him, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives, and reigns in eternity. That is certainly true.

5. The third article: Of sanctification. I believe in the Holy Ghost, a holy universal Christian church, the communion of the saints, forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the flesh, and an everlasting life.

6. What is that? I believe that I cannot, by my own reason or strength, believe on Jesus Christ, my Lord, or can come to Him; but rather the Holy Ghost has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, made [me] holy and preserved [me] in true faith, just as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy all of Christendom on the earth and by Jesus Christ preserves [them] in true, singular faith; in which Christianity, He daily and abundantly forgives all of my sins and the sins of all of the faithful, and on the Judgment Day will raise me and all of the dead, and will give everlasting life to me and all of the faithful in Christ. That is certainly true.

7. To what end do these articles serve Christian faith? That out of them we might learn to know our God, who He is in His being and what His gracious will toward us is.

8. Who is God, then, in His Being? 3 He is God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost; three distinct persons in one single, eternal, inseparable Being.

9. What is the gracious will of God? 4 That He will forgive our sins and impart everlasting, blessed life.

10. Of what use is the knowledge of God’s being and will? That we receive therewith a right faith and through faith become blessed.

11. What is that faith that makes one blessed? It is not only a mere knowledge and approval, but rather a heartfelt trust in God, that He forgave my sins for the sake of the precious merit of Jesus Christ, our only Mediator, and through grace gives righteousness and everlasting happiness.

12. What is the source of such faith? It does not come from our own understanding or strength, but rather from the Holy Ghost, through whom the preaching of the gospel works and accomplishes.

III. The Third Main Part: The Lord’s Prayer

1. How does the Lord’s Prayer read? Our Father, who art in heaven. Hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, therefore also on earth. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory eternally. Amen!) 5 (Matthew 6:9-13)

2. How is the Lord’s Prayer divided? Into three passages:

  1. Into the introduction.
  2. Into the seven requests.
  3. Into the conclusion.

3. How does the introduction read? Our Father, who art in heaven.

4. What is that? God will draw us by it that we shall believe He is our lawful Father and we are His lawful children; on that we are confident and with all trust we shall ask Him, just as dear children [ask] of their dear father.

5. How does the first request read? Hallowed be Thy name.

6. What is that? God’s name is indeed holy about Himself alone; however, we ask in this prayer that He will also be holy among us.

7. How does that happen? Where the Word of God is clearly and purely taught; and we also live thereby, in a holy manner as children of God—so help us, dear Father in heaven. However, whoever teaches and lives [in a manner] other than the Word of God, profanes among us God’s name —preserve us from that, dear heavenly Father.

8. How does the second request read? Thy kingdom come.

9. What is that? God’s kingdom comes truly from Him Himself, without our prayer; however, we request in the prayer that it also comes to us.

10. How does that happen? When the heavenly Father gives us His Holy Ghost, that we believe His Holy Word through His grace and live in a godly manner, here temporally and there everlastingly.

11. How does the third request read? Thy will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth.

12. What is that? God’s good, gracious will is done without our prayer; however, we request in this prayer that it is also done among us.

13. How does this happen? When God breaks and hinders all evil counsel and will (we do not hallow God’s name and do not want His kingdom to come—what is of the devil, the world, and our fleshly will), but rather strengthens and keeps us fast in His Word and faith unto the end. That is His good, gracious will.

14. How does the fourth request read? Give us today our daily bread.

15. What is that? God truly gives daily bread (it is true even without our request) to all evil men; however, we request in this prayer that He allows us to understand such; and we receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

16. What does daily bread mean then? Everything that belongs to life’s sustenance and necessity: as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, property, fields, cows, money, estates; pious spouses, pious children, pious servants, pious and faithful overlords, good government, good weather, peace, health, cultivation, honor, good friends, good neighbors, and the like.

17. How does the fifth request read? And forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors.

18. What is that? We request in this prayer that the Father in heaven will not consider our sins, and of the same will not refuse our request, because we are not worthy of that which we request, also have not earned it; but rather He will give us everything out of grace; because we sin much daily and certainly deserve nothing but punishment; so we will indeed again heartily pardon and gladly do good to those that sin against us.

19. How does the sixth request read? And lead us not into temptation.

20. What is that? Indeed, God tempts no one; however in this prayer we ask that God will guard and preserve us, in that the devil, the world, and our flesh do not deceive, nor tempt [us] in unbelief, despair, and [any] other great shame and burden; and if we are thereby attacked, that we finally win and receive the victory.

21. How does the seventh request read? But deliver us from evil.

22. What is that? We ask in this prayer, as in the whole, that our Father in heaven deliver us from every kind of evil of the body and of the soul; redeem [us] to goodness and honor, and at last when our hour comes, to present a blessed end; and with grace take us out of this vale of tears into heaven. Amen!

23. How does the closing of the prayer of the Lord read? For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory eternally. Amen! 6

24. What is that? We realize herewith that God will give and is able to do everything which we ask, to the praise and glory of His magnificent name.

25. What is the meaning of “amen”? That it shall certainly be; such requests are received and heard by the Father in heaven; then He Himself has commanded us therefore to pray and promises that He will hear us. Amen, Amen; that means that it therefore will happen.

26. To what end does the Lord’s Prayer serve us? That we recognize that everything that belongs to the content of this temporal [life] and the abode of everlasting life, one cannot obtain from any other place than from God; and for that reason we ask and obtain from Him with believing hearts.

IV. The Fourth Main Part: Of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism

1. What are the holy sacraments? They are godly acts, wherein God pictures to us, not alone with visible signs, but rather also seals and delivers invisible grace and the promised goodness.5

2. To what end are the sacraments instituted? To the confirmation of our faith in the godly promise.

3. How many sacraments are in the New Testament? Two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

4. What is baptism? It is a godly act in which God washes and purifies us from all our sins with the visible water-bath in the Word, the invisible grace and promised goodness, namely the Holy Ghost and the blood of Jesus Christ; it not only pictures, but also seals and delivers. 7

5. How do the words of the institution of holy baptism read? At the last part of Matthew: “Go forth into all of the world and teach all peoples; and baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” And at the last part of Mark: “Who then believes and is baptized, the same is blessed, however who does not believe, the same is damned.”

6. How does baptism serve to our advantage? That we are thereby assured God has taken us to be His children and will show Himself to be a gracious Father toward us in all things.

7. Where is this advantage written? In the third chapter of Titus: God blesses us after His mercy through the washing of rebirth and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which, over us, He has poured out richly through Jesus Christ, our Savior; upon which, we are justified through this same grace and are heirs of everlasting life according to the hope that it is certainly true.

8. How can water do such great things? To be certain water does not do this, but rather the Word of God, which is with and in the water; and faith, the same relies upon the Word of God in the water. Then without God’s Word the water is ill water and no baptism; however with the Word of God there is a baptism, that is, a water of life, rich with grace, and a washing of new birth in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says in the third chapter of Titus.

9. What is the meaning of baptism with such water? It means that the old Adam in us, through daily remorse and repentance, shall be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires; and daily anew, result in and arise from the dead, a new man who lives everlastingly in righteousness and purity before God.

10. Where is this written? St. Paul speaks to the Romans in the sixth chapter: “We are together with Christ, through baptism, buried in death, that just as Christ is risen from the dead through the glory of the Father, therefore shall we also walk in a new life.”

V. The Fifth Main Part: Of Holy Communion

1. What is the Holy Communion of our Lord Jesus Christ? The Holy Communion of our Lord is a sacrament or godly act that the Lord Jesus, Himself present, with the visible bread and wine, namely, His real body broken for us and His real blood poured out for us for the forgiveness of our sins, not only pictures, but also seals and delivers the invisible grace and promised goodness. 8

2. What are the words of the institution of the Lord’s Supper? Our Lord Jesus Christ, the night in which He was betrayed, took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to His disciples and spoke: “Take to yourselves and eat, this is My body that is given for you. Do this to My remembrance.” In a similar way, He took the cup after the supper, gave thanks and gave it to them and spoke, “Take to yourselves and drink all thereof; this cup is the new testament in My blood that is poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as oft as you drink, to My memory.”

3. How does the Lord’s Supper serve us to advantage? We are assured thereby that if we have angered our Father in heaven, that He will as such still forgive, will be and remain our gracious Father. And Holy Communion, like baptism, is an assurance that God has taken us to be His children; but Holy Communion assures us that He will not allow us to be rewarded for our disobedience. 9

4. Can then bodily eating and drinking do such a great thing? Eating and drinking surely do not do this, rather the Word, as it is written: “Given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins,” which words are alongside the bodily eating and drinking as the main point in the sacrament; and whoever believes these same words, he has what they say, namely the forgiveness of sins.

5. Who, then, receives such a sacrament worthily? Fasting and preparing oneself bodily is a fine outward discipline; however, he is rightly worthy and well prepared, who has faith on these words: “Given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” However, whoever does not believe these words or doubts by it, he is unworthy and careless; then the words “for you” call for hearts that believe vainly.

(Translated by Tom and Kirsten DeVries)

  1. 1566 inserts here: “That which God Himself in Paradise has given to the first parents, revealed to the fathers and patriarchs, through Moses, the prophets, His only Son, Christ Jesus, declared to the apostles, and confirmed with manifold miracles, and that according to His Word has openly testified and shown. One could answer in a shorter manner.”[]
  2. 1566 gives here the Decalogue without explanation, in the form of the Lutheran Catechism: “Say here the Ten Commandments? The first commandment: You shall have no other gods. The other: You shall…the name. What does God now say about all of these commandments? He says, therefore: ‘I am the Lord your God, I am a jealous God….’” The agreement begins again at question 24. []
  3. 1566 inserts here: “He is God the Father, who has created all men and all creatures and the purpose of man; God the Son, who with His incarnation into man has suffered, died, and arisen, and has redeemed man from sins and everlasting death; and God the Holy Ghost, who has sanctified man, who rightly brings the service of the gospel; and thereby is preserved three distinct persons in one single, eternal, distinct being.” []
  4. 1566 inserts here: “That we, whom He has created, He has redeemed through His only Son, and has made us altogether entirely holy; will forgive our sins, and after this miserable, fleeting life, place [us] in everlasting, blessed life.” []
  5. Some manuscripts omit this ending[]
  6. Some manuscripts omit this ending. []
  7. 1566: “It is a godly activity toward us in which God through the washing and the Word graciously forgives our sins, because of the purpose of Jesus Christ; takes us to be His children, and makes us heirs of all His heavenly goodness.” []
  8. 1566: “The Communion of our Lord is a sacrament or godly act, that the Lord Christ is present and delivers to us with bread and wine His true body and blood, for a certain assurance that we have forgiveness of sins, and should live with Him everlastingly.” []
  9. Here 1566 closes. And then follow immediately the confirmation questions: “Do you believe and recognize all of this from the heart which you have at the present stated from the Christian doctrine?” []