Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ella on Bullinger

George Ella has written Henry Bullinger: Shepherd of the Churches (Durham: Go Publications, 2007). As far as I can ascertain, there appear to be very few reviews of this work or even mention of it in the literature. I have referred to the work in some previous posts. Ella takes the view that Calvin was greatly influenced by both Bucer and Bullinger. This area of research deserves greater attention. Ella raises many interesting perspectives but is somewhat light on documentation backing up his conclusions.

The following is an excerpt from Ella’s book (pp167,168):

“In February 1536, whilst Bullinger was working on the Helvetic Confession, he met Calvin for the first time. At this theological workshop, Bullinger announced that the First Helvetic Confession should be a continuation of the Swiss Reformation as expressed in Zwingli’s In Expositionem Fidei ad Regem Christianum Expositio of 1531 which was re-published parallel with the Confession. This work was a systematic presentation of the Christian faith which Zwingli had given to Francis I. Bullinger’s aim was to show that Luther’s wild criticism that Zwingli was a heretic and an Anabaptist had no grounds whatsoever. It was merely because Luther was ignorant of Zwingli’s written works and confessed that he could not understand his spoken words and was basically very prejudiced. In his forward to the Expositio, Bullinger said that he was reprinting it as ‘an answer to all slanderers of the evangelical faith and evangelical preaching and to give them an apologeticum quondam absolutum. So as to bring the work up to date on Reformation issues, Bullinger added a treatise on the Protestant Lord’s Supper and the Roman Mass and a liturgy to be used at the communion service. Without needing to speculate as to whether Calvin’s work as Ford Lewis Battles says of Calvin’s Seneca Commentary, ‘a learned parroting of various classical views’, it does appear that Calvin wanted to do for French readers what had already been done for readers of the various German dialects between 1520 and 1536. Calvin’s action is most untypical of the Reformers, however, in that his Institutes gives few sources and Calvin does not acknowledge his obvious enormous reliance on the works of other, first generation, Reformers. It was as if, in seeking to support and teach the second generation of Protestants in France, Calvin wished to be seen as going entirely his own way.

It is interesting to note how scholars, in writing on one subject as a notable event, tend to close their eyes to others which occurred at the same time, and which would make their eyes to others which occurred at the same time, and which would make their subject less remarkable. M. Howard Reinstra, Director of the H.H. Meeter Center for Calvin Studies in his Preface to Ford Lewis Battles’ edition of the 1536 Institutes says, ‘1536 was not a particularly memorable year’, and he goes on to day of Basle, ‘In that year, in that city, an aging scholar dies, and a younger scholar published the first edition of his ‘little book’, as he affectionately called it.’ This reference to the death of Erasmus and the debut of Calvin as a systematic theologian leaves out the historical fact that the First Helvetic Confession was drawn up on Basle early in 1536, thus paving the way for the Reformed Church which Calvin was to join thirteen years later at the singing of the Consensus Tigurinus. It also fails to see the historical and theological importance of the drawing up of the Helvetic Confession in which the leading Swiss-German Reformers distanced themselves from the popish teaching which they saw in Luther’s attitude to the sacraments. Furthermore, it fails to appreciate the lasting importance of Bullinger’s extended publication of Zwingli’s Expositio, a work which is still highly favoured amongst Reformed scholars and still in print and which outlined long before 1536 elements of Reformed teaching on the Lord’s Supper which Calvin was not to acknowledge until 1549.”

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