Heidelberg Catechism

Q37: What do you understand by the word “suffered”?

A37: That all the time He lived on earth, but especially at the end of His life, He bore, in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race; in order that by His suffering, as the only atoning sacrifice, He might redeem our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and obtain for us the grace of God, righteousness and eternal life. [Lord’s Day 15, Q 37.]

[Note: there are two interpretations of this passage. There is the one side which Nicole outlines in his “The Doctrine of Definite Atonement in the Heidelberg Catechism,” in The Gordon Review 8 (1964) 138-144. This school might suggest such things as: by “the whole human race” Ursinus meant “all sorts of men;” or, that ‘the wrath of God is against the whole range of sin,’ and so does not refer to “the range of the substitutionary sin bearing of Christ,” (Voetius, cited by Nicole; 142). One can scan the commentaries on the HC by De Witte, VanderKemp (and others), down to G.I. Williamson saying similar things. What is unfortunate, is that Nicole in this article, never takes the time to analyze Ursinus’ own explanation of this Catechism, or to analyze the phrase as found in many of Usinus’ contemporaries or teachers. For nowhere can one find either of these glosses in Ursinus, Paraeus or in anyone of this generation or the Reformers. Some of us, however, prefer to take Ursinus‘ own explanation (see entry #6) of this question, in conjunction with the other instances where Ursinus expresses the same language and idea, along with David Paraeus’ comment on Question 40 as being a surer guide to the meaning of Question 37.  Of  David Paraeus, Nicole in this article admits: “It is very likely indeed that Paraeus understood rightly the teaching of Ursinus,” (144).  Nicole says this, all the while ignoring Paraeus’ own explanations.]

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4 comments so far


Given that the HC is an irenic attempt at a very “catholic” statement of the faith designed to present the reformed faith in it’s best light to the Lutherans who were a constant challenge, it seems likely this phrase is to be interpreted in a way that would be similar to Lutheran views.

And given its date, is there really a stream of thought that’s equivalent to Nicole’s view? I find Nicole’s nuanced interpretation anachronistic for that reason as you suggest.

April 2nd, 2008 at 9:42 am

Hey there UCC.

I agree. But Ursinus’ own remarks are clear enough. In his commentary he says Christ bore the sins of all mankind. That sort of language had well and truly taken on a precise technical aspect by this time. Everyone would have known what it meant at the time.

As to the first who resemble Nicole, the closest you may get are Beza and Bucer, as both more probably defended the particularity of the expiation. Bucer, like all the others asserts an unlimited sin-bearing for the sins of the world. Probably whats going in him is an emphasis on specific destination for the sin-bearing. Kimedoncius seems confident that Bucer and Beza were on the same page with Kimedoncius on this.

Beza probably had something similar going on. Beza is more well known for tabling narrow readings for such verses as 3:16, Matt 23:37, 1 Tim 4:2 and 2 Pet 3:9. You can see this trend in the different editions of the first and second Geneva Bible. The first clearly has Calvin’s influence, the second explicitly follows Beza’s theological trajectory and exegetical notes.

But I really do suspect that it may be even possible that Beza had some sort of synthetic position present in his system.

April 2nd, 2008 at 1:13 pm

Ursinus being a former Lutheran himself would have leaned to the Lutheran slant to universal atonement doctrine.


April 6th, 2008 at 3:52 am

Hello again Lito,

I know thats entirely plausible in and of itself, but I have seen folk just insist that he denied unlimited expiation/imputation. And I have to admit, being a former student of Melancthon is in itself not enough warrant to say that even after he left Lutheranism, Ursinus stilll believed in unlimited expiation/imputation. If that is all we had… perhaps…

Happily that is not all we have. We have his clear statements from his own Commentary (which EVERYONE chooses to ignore for some crazy reason) and we have the clearer (if that were possible :-) statements from his own student and successor, David Paraeus.

I just don’t know why so many just choose to ignore these relevant facts. I cant account for it. And it is extremely frustrating. When people just choose to throw out the cherry-picking accusation, all the while never taking the time to read the mass of primary source material, there is not a lot I can do.


April 8th, 2008 at 11:10 am

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