The Trinity in the Heidelberg Catechism

“Contemporary Christians by and large do not appropriate God for themselves in a specifically trinitarian way. Yet both worship and thought remain replete with symbols expressing God as triune—symbols, however, that remain at a certain remove from actual life.” (William J. Hill, The Three-Personed God, p. 251) Reformed Christian do not escape this problem. We often think and speak about “God” in general, without doing justice to the rich diversity in God, in the Persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

But the Heidelberg Catechism does not suffer from this. Already in q&a 1, it presents to us our Three-in-One Saviour. Jesus Christ is my faithful Saviour, but the Father and Spirit also play an active role in that salvation. A similar trinitarian focus is found, for instance, in q&a 21, 49, and 70.

Of the three divine Persons, Jesus Christ has the place of prominence in q&a 1. He is mentioned first; it is he who preserves us in the will of the Father, and who gives his Holy Spirit. Here the catechism reflects the emphasis of the ancient church. Think for instance of the Apostles’ Creed: the section on Jesus Christ is much longer than the articles about Father and Spirit. We are “trinitarian” believers, but above all, we are Christians.

It is good for us to keep the Triune nature of our God in mind. God the Father, who guides all of history and is the great Judge, loves us for Jesus’ sake. God the Holy Spirit, who fills the world with divine glory and life, dwells in us and in the church. If you miss out on these aspects of our faith, you will have an impoverished understanding of Jesus and his work.

The Heidelberg Catechism starts strong when it brings the Trinity in from the very beginning. Sadly, it does not keep that focus consistently. When dealing the law, esp. in LD 34-44, the catechism simply speaks of “God” in general. While this is not incorrect, it would be beneficial to speak more explicitly of the Father as the lawgiver, the Son as the fulfilment of the law, and the Spirit as the one who writes the law in our hearts, and brings forth the “fruit” of obedience in our lives.

Our God is so great, that he cannot be understood as a single person; he is the Three-Personed God. While we cannot fully comprehend this deep mystery, it is great comfort for all Christians. Let us learn, in line with the catechism, to speak the rich language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three distinct Persons yet together the one God who loves us and saves us from beginning to end.

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