From Zurich to Westminster: Covenant as Structuring Principle in Reformed Catechisms

D. Timmerman

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


    This articles explores the concept of covenant as structuring principle in works of catechesis of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. Following the pioneering example of Zwingli and Bullinger in Zurich, Leo Jud creatively attempted to organize the traditional topics of catechetical instruction around the central theme of the covenant. This resulted in a didactically clear and attractive outline, but at the same time prompted new theological questions and challenges. For example, Jud struggled to find the right place for the law within his catechisms. He followed the outline of Luther’s catechisms, by starting with the Decalogue and defining them in terms of God’s covenant promise and the believers’ covenant obligation to live in grateful obedience to God. However, this clear-cut definition did not leave room for an understanding of the law as a means for the mortification of sinners. Jud tried to solve this in his Kürtzer Catechismus by returning to the theological function of the law after his discussion of the Ten Commandments. In doing so he complicated the otherwise clear structure of his work. Nevertheless, the preceding analysis of Jud’s catechisms suggests that he made an original contribution to the development of Reformed federal theology, which deserves further scholarly attention. At a later stage of development, when Reformed federal theology adopted a twofold covenant scheme, the place and meaning of the Decalogue continued to bend the minds of the theologians. Not unlike Jud’s struggle to integrate the various functions of the law in his scheme of a single covenant, the catechisms of Rollock and the Westminster Synod witness to the fact that the biblical data did not always yield to the demands of systematic theologians. For, how should the commandments of the Sinai covenant be defined in relation to the theological constructs of the covenant of works and/or the covenant of grace? After Jud’s German catechisms of the 1530s, the notion of covenant appeared as a structuring principle only in Latin catechisms, intended for a learned audience. In vernacular catechisms, such as those of Heidelberg or Westminster, it did not regain the same prominent position it had in their Zurich counterparts.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationCovenant: A Vital Element of Reformed Theology
    Subtitle of host publicationBiblical, Historical and Systematic-Theological Perspectives
    EditorsHans Burger, Gert Kwakkel, Michael Mulder
    Place of PublicationLeiden
    PublisherBrill Academic Publishers
    ISBN (Electronic)978-90-04-50332-8
    ISBN (Print)978-90-04-50331-1
    Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2021

    Publication series

    NameStudies in Reformed Theology


    • Catechism
    • Huldrych Zwingli
    • Leo Jud
    • Heinrich Bullinger
    • Westminster Catechisms
    • Robert Rollock
    • Zacharias Ursinus
    • Covenant


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