Sunday, April 3, 2011

Dowey on Bullinger’s Wahrhafftes Bekenntnis (1545)

Previous posts have referred to some of the background leading to the penning of the Wahrhafftes Bekenntis in response to Luther’s vitriolic attacks on Zurich. The following is E.A.Dowey’s perceptive comment on this work from his “Heinrich Bullinger as Theologian: Thematic, Comprehensive, and Schematic” in Architect of Reformation:

“This document is a reply from the Zurich ministers collectively (written entirely, however, by Bullinger) to Luther’s vitriolic attack on the Zurich church as heretical, chiefly aimed at the Zurich teaching about the sacraments. The reply also deals with the sacraments, but the opening unit of Part II is a complete Confession of Faith meant to demonstrate that Zurich follows the ‘true, old, indubitable’ faith and is not ‘Zwinglian, nor Oecolampadiun, much less Lutheran, ‘but merely Christian, depending wholly on scripture, ‘in which we find no straw,’ and the ‘true, plain apostolic teaching.’

The Confession begins with scripture in Bullinger’s manner as to authority, interpretation, and rejection of human traditions: inspired (yngeben) by the Holy Spirit and ‘has of and in itself authority, respect, trust, strength, truth, esteem, and perfection enough,’ and needs no authentication by men or church. From scripture arises the apostolic teaching of the creed. For our present purposes, two remarks seem apposite: the claim of antiquity and orthodoxy here is biblical and patristic, not Adamic, as in Der alte Glaube with its exaggerated treatment of Genesis 3:15; and the covenant teaching of De Testamento is totally absent! Faith is briefly mentioned. After this one subject – scripture – the remainder of the confession of faith is an exposition of the traditionally designated twelve articles of the Apostles Creed. Although Bullinger includes analysis of the Creed in the Decades, the Summa, and the Catechesis pro Adultioribus, and showered upon it unmeasured praise, the treatment is notable because it is the only instance in which he followed the twelve-article scheme for a general presentation of the entire Christian faith. A detailed analysis shows fascinating idiosyncratic treatment of these points, including a full Nice-Chalcedonian orthodoxy, a doctrine of original sin, and attack on Purgatory and monasticism, defence of the perpetual virginity of Mary, arecital of some deeds from Christ’s ministry, and an ethic of faithful good works – the last of these remarkably placed under the Last Judgement. Notable also is the comparative lengths of certain sections. Some doctrines, such as the triune God, are only half an octave page in length, and others, such as the Ascension to the Right Hand of the Father and the Return to Judgment, receive three pages each. The swelling of the latter two represents the elaboration of his polemic point against Luther’s doctrine of ubiquity. The ingenious freedom by which Bullinger does almost whatever he wants within and in addition to the Creed structure makes it all the more remarkable that the author of the Loci of 1524 (from the Ratio of 1527) and the famous De Testamento (1534, and repeatedly published with his commentary on the Epistles), in both of which the covenant is the chief theme of scripture, here makes no mention of the covenant at all….”

Inter alia we note the following: Bullinger emphasizes what Scripture teaches not necessarily the line held by Zwingli or Oecolampadius or whoever. This is the true Reformation principle of sola scriptura. He also emphasis the unity of the canon. It is all inspired by God and every part is relevant – he knocks Luther with his comment “in which we find no straw.” The reference to Nicene-Chalcedonian orthodoxy is probably also responding to views that argued that Zwingli had Nestorian tendencies because of his perceived understanding of the eucharist.

Dowey’s comments about the covenant in Bullinger is his response to the view of J Wayne Baker in his Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenant: The Other Reformed Tradition.

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