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Concerning Ceremonies

A Reformed Appraisal


Zacharius Ursinus

Copyright © 1997, All rights reserved.

The following is excerpted from the English Translation of Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism Ursinus was the second-generation Reformer who authored the most famous and influential of sixteenth-century Reformed catechisms, so his commentary has special authority. The issues of ceremonies comes up in relation to the exposition of the Fourth Commandment.

I. What Are Ceremonies?

The Romans were wont to call every form of divine worship by the name of ceremony, from the town Caere, in which the images of the gods were kept from the Gauls, as Livy testifies in his fifth book. Macrobius derives the term from carendo. As understood by the church, all external and solemn actions instituted by the ministry, for the sake of order, or signification, are termed ceremonies.

II. In What Do Ceremonies Differ From Moral Works?

Ceremonies differ from moral works, in the following particulars:

1. Ceremonies are temporary; moral works are perpetual.

2. Ceremonies are always observed in the same way; moral works are not always performed in the same way.

3. Ceremonies signify; moral actions are signified

4. The moral is to be viewed as the general; the ceremonial as the particular.

5. The moral is the end and design of the ceremonial; the ceremonial contributes to the moral. We may here refer the reader to what has already been said in regard to these differences under the subject of the Law.

III. How Many Kinds of Ceremonies Are There?

These are two kinds of ceremonies–some that are commanded by God himself; and others that are instituted by men. Ceremonies which have been instituted by God, are such as constitute his worship, and can only be changed by God himself. Sacrifices, by which we offer and render obedience to God, are ceremonies of this sort, being divinely instituted. So the sacraments, by which God testifies and bestows his benefits upon us, are also divinely instituted. Ceremonies instituted by the church are not the worship of God, and may be changed by the advice of the church, if there are sufficient causes to demand a change.

IV. Is It Lawful for the Church to Institute Ceremonies?

The church man and ought to institute certain ceremonies, inasmuch as the moral worship of God cannot be observed without defining and fixing the various circumstances connected with it. We may, therefore, say that it is proper for the church to institute ceremonies when the following conditions are observed:

1. They must not be unholy; but such as are agreeable to the word of God.

2. They must not be superstitious–such as may easily lead men astray, so as to attach to them worship, merit, or necessity, and which may occasion offence when observed.

3. They must not be too numerous, so as to be oppressive and burdensome.

4. They must not be empty, insignificant, and unprofitable; but tend to edification.

Copyright © 1997, All rights reserved.



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