Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bullinger and The Decades

It is 500 years since Bullinger wrote the Decades in 1549-1551. 1549 was the very year that Calvin and Bullinger hammered out the Consensus Tigurinus.

The Decades comprise fifty sermons in Latin probably originally aimed at equipping the pastors and teachers of Zurich for their ministries. They were translated into German and Dutch and was known as the “Housebook”. Copies of it in Dutch have been found in the East Indies (Indonesia). The Decades played in a important in the early Elizabethan church.

The structure of the Decades can viewed as follows:

1. An introductory section on the Four General Councils of the church and the important creeds and decrees of the church (12 documents). This was Bullinger’s way of underlying the fact that the Reformation church was the true descendent of the true Catholic Church.
2. Soteriology (I.i-IV.ii)
3. God and Creation (IV.iii-x)
4. Church and Sacraments (V.i-x)

Two important books to consult on the Decades are:

Walter Hollweg, Heinrich Bullingers Hausbuch (1956)
Peter Opitz, Heinrich Bullinger als Theologe: Eine Studie zu den Dekaden (2004)

At the Synod of Dort, the Remonstrants cited Bullinger out of context, thus giving the false impression that Bullinger differed from Calvin with respect to predestination. The following excerpt from IV.i was one of the passages that the Remonstrants used to support their views:

“And although it may by all this be indifferently well gathered, to whom that salvation belongs, and to whom that grace is rightly preached: yet the matter itself does seem to require in flat words expressly to show, that Christ and the preaching of the gospel belong unto all. For we must not imagine that in heaven there are laid two books, in the one whereof the names of them are written that are to be saved, and so to be saved, as it were of necessity, that, do what they will against the word of Christ, and commit they never so heinous offences, they cannot possibly choose but to be saved; and that in the other are contained the names of those, who do what they can and live never so holily, yet cannot avoid everlasting damnation. Let us rather hold that the holy gospel of Christ does generally preach to the whole world the grace of God, the remission of sins, and life everlasting.”

In subsequent posts I will cite other sections of the Decades to demonstrate the Bullinger’s view on predestination was very similar to that of Calvin’s. Venema has rightly termed Bullinger’s approach that of “homilietical Augustinianism”.

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