10. The Electoral Palatinate and Baden
The Electoral Palatinate was considered up to the end of the 16th Century to be a completely Reformed territory and served as a model to be emulated by other regions and regional rulers in Germany. The Lutheran Reformation was introduced early on in many towns in the Palatinate (from 1526), and likewise in the part-region Zweibruecken (in 1533). In Heidelberg, Luther was able to win several over at the disputation in 1518 (e.g. Martin Bucer), and the knight Franz von Sickingen served as protector for several Protestant movements.
In the Electoral Palatinate as a whole, the Lutheran Reformation was carried through first under the Elector Frederick II (who ruled from 1544 to 1556), and then under his successor and nephew Ottheinrich (who ruled from 1556 to 1559). But this was a Lutheranism in the Electoral Palatinate with a number of different influences present. There were strict Lutherans, followers of Melanchthon (Philipp Melanchthon came from Bretten in the Palatinate after all), and indeed those who were of Reformed persuasion. After Ottheinrich’s brief reign, Frederick III – also named the Pious – became his successor. He ruled from 1559 to 1576. The Protestant orientations, ever drifting apart from one another, demanded Frederick III to profess his faith unambiguously in one confession. By now, the Reformed confession was not considered a force to be reckoned with in Germany, but was so considered in the whole of Europe. His own theological education and the Disputation of Heidelberg in 1560 concerning the Lord’s Supper led him to become Reformed. His inclination towards the Reformed understanding of the Lord’s Supper, his growing theological critique of Luther, and the presence of polemical “Lutherans” in Heidelberg also contributed to this. The Electoral Palatinate was thus the first Protestant Reformed territory. The Heidelberg Catechism, completed in 1563, in the context of the new Church Constitution of the Palatinate, was the document of this new orientation in the Palatinate. Frederick III himself had collaborated on it, but the chief author was the Heidelberg professor of theology, Zacharias Ursinus. Although the Heidelberg Catechism is regarded world-wide as one of the most important Reformed confessional writings, it must nevertheless be noted that it continually attempts to integrate Lutheran concerns. Certain important concerns of Calvin are lacking (like the doctrine of predestination).
Echoes of Luther’s Small Catechism and Calvin’s
Geneva Catechism can be discerned in many places. After its introduction in
the Palatinate, the Heidelberg Catechism gradually became the most important
and binding confession in German Reformed territories, and became native even
outside Germany, e.g. in the Netherlands. During the time of his reign, Frederick
III built up the Heidelberg University into one of the most important centres
of Reformed theology. The numerous foreign students there demonstrated Heidelberg’s
power of attraction.