Sunday, January 9, 2011

Zwingli, Bullinger and the Influence of Erasmus

To what extent was Zwingli influenced by Erasmus? Certainly in his early years, Zwingli was influenced by Erasmus’ humanist reform agenda and the focus on the philosophia Christi. Gillies in his article (‘Zwingli and the Origin of the Reformed Covenant 1524-1527”, Scottish Journal of Theology, vol 54 (2001), pp21-50) argued that in his earlier period, Zwingli was so influenced by Erasmus’ view of the Old Testament that he had an ‘often belligerent attitude toward the Old Testament’.

Erasmus is quoted as saying: “I wish the Church did not rely so much on the Old Testament”. Furthermore, Gillies cites Hagan’s celebrated article (‘From testament to covenant in the early sixteenth century’ Sixteenth Century Journal, vol 3 (no.1), 1972, pp1-24) as noting that “Erasmus was willing ‘…to give up the Old Testament…’ in order to safeguard the primacy of the Gospel as the touchstone of the philosopia Christi.” The reconstruction that Gillies gives is that Zwingli, therefore, only began to consider the unity of the Old and New Testaments in his interactions with the Anabaptists.

Can this reconstruction be justified?

The influence of Erasmus on Bullinger has been the study of Christ-von Wedel (‘Zum Einfluss von Erasmus von Rotterdam auf Heinrich Bullinger,’ in Emidio Campi and Peter Opitz (eds.) Heinrich Bullinger: Life-Thought-Influence, pp407-424). Although he was profoundly influenced by Erasmus’s method, Bullinger clearly made up his own mind on exegetical cruces and did not follow Erasmus implicitly.

In particular, Bullinger wrote about the unity of the Old and New testaments very early on in his writings. In his De Scripturae negotio of 30 November 5123 Bullinger wrote: “In brief, I find that the New Testament is nothing but the interpretation of the Old. Except that I saw that the Old promises, the New teaches what has been exhibited; the Old is more concealed, the New is more revealed openly; the Old has to do with veils and figures, the New with clear evidences and the very things themselves” (Heinrich Bullinger Werke Dritte Abteilung: Theologische Schriften – Band 2: Unveröffentichlichte Werke aus der Kappeler Zeit (Zurich: Theologischer Verlag Zurich, 1991), p25).

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