The Reformed Confessions of Faith

Once, Jesus asked his disciples, “And you, who do you say that I am?” As was often the case, Peter was the first to answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mat. 16:15-16).

Each of us has a belief with respect to the spiritual and religious sphere, whether we are aware of it or not, or whether it is to deny or affirm Christian truths. Similarly, every Christian community, from the most independent and autonomous to those embedded in a historic church, adheres to a creed. The key aspect of distinction is whether that creed is oral, undefined and subject to changes in individual interpretation, or written, thus defined and stable.

From the beginning and in accordance with historic Christian practice, the Reformed churches have formulated points of faith in confessions and catechisms. Confessions clearly define the professed truths of faith so that in matters of faith and practice no one is left to the arbitrariness of his own individuality, but is guided by the church, which is column and support of the truth (I Timothy 3:15). Catechisms expound the same truths of faith in a practical and pastoral way for the instruction of families and new converts.

True to the principle of Sola Scriptura, whereby the Bible has sole authority in matters of faith and practice, Reformed churches submit their denominational documents to the judgment of Scripture. These documents are considered neither inspired nor equal to Scripture, as is the case in other Christian denominations, but they are nevertheless considered authoritative because their content has been judged adherent to Scripture and orthodox (correct) by the churches that have profitably adopted them over time. A written confession of faith is not only a valuable aid to the church for sound doctrine to be observed, but also a guarantee to protect church members from false teachers.

The Presbyterian and Reformed Church in Italy adopts the confessional documents known as the Three Forms of Unity and Westminster Confessional Documents. There are other Reformed confessions that have also been in use in various ways in Italy, but for historical reasons related to the Counter-Reformation and theological changes in the churches that used them, they do not enjoy the necessary authority, longevity and application today.

The Three Forms of Unity

Under this name are denominational documents formulated in the 16th century within the German and Dutch Reformed churches and enjoyed wide approval among the churches and longstanding and continuous application over time in Reformed churches of European tradition in Holland, Belgium, South Africa, the Americas and Australia.

  • The Belgic Confession of Faith (1561)
    Exposition of the faith adopted by European churches in the area that was once called Belgium and included present-day Belgium, Flanders, parts of present-day Germany, and the Netherlands.
  • The Heidelberg Catechism (1563)
    In the form of questions and answers, the most widely used catechism and profitably used for centuries by Reformed churches around the world.
  • The Canons of Dort (1619)
    Statements of faith formulated at the largest synod of European Reformed churches held in the Dutch city of Dortrecht in which the Italian Giovanni Diodati, theologian, pastor and translator of the Bible into Italian, also participated.

Westminster’s denominational documents

Drafted as part of the Westminster Assembly (England) between 1646 and 1648, these documents have been in continuous use ever since in the so-called Presbyterian Reformed churches, which originated in Scotland and spread throughout the United Kingdom, Commonwealth countries and the Americas.