Monday, May 23, 2011

Euler and Pfeiffer on Bullinger’s Der christlich Eestand (1540)

Carrie Euler has written extensively on Bullinger’s Der christliche Eestand. See especially her article “Bullinger’s Der christlich Eestand: Marriage and the Covenant” in Gordon and Campi (eds.) Architect of Reformation. See also her article “Heinrich Bullinger, Marriage and the English Reformation: ‘The Christian state of Matrimonye’ in England, 1540-1553,” Sixteenth Century Journal vol 34 (no.2), 2003, pp365-369.

Euler writes that “Bullinger’s belief that a reformation of marriage and morals was an integral part of the restoration of obedience to the covenant led him to write a more thorough treatise than any other reformer, and one that blended his theology of marriage into the traditional genre of the domestic conduct book. It will be demonstrated that the subtle distinctions between Bullinger’s idea of the covenant and that of other reformers did not significantly alter or affect his opinions on specific marital issues…. What Bullinger’s unique conception of a unified, conditional (duopleuric) covenant did do, however, was cause him to stress, more than any other Continental Protestant, the reformation of religion and society along the lines of the Old Testament. This led him to emphasize not only the unity of the secular and religious spheres and importance of Old Testament law, but also the connection between theory and praxis and the need for the laity to have a better understanding of the place of marriage in society. Thus, while the covenant had only a small impact on specific points of marital theology, it did influence Bullinger’s motivation for discussing these issues and his way of presenting them.”

In a footnote, Euler writes: “My understanding of the covenant in Bullinger’s theology thus falls between those of J.W. Baker and Richard A. Muller is correct in his assertion that Bullinger’s notion of a unified covenant affected his opinion on the roles of the magistrate, the minister, and the Old Testament law in a Christian community. Nevertheless, as Muller points out, and as Bullinger’s theology of marriage will confirm, the differences that resulted were largely structural, rather than doctrinal. In this light, Baker’s designation of the covenant as the ‘basic element’ in Bullinger’s entire theology and his division of the Reformed tradition into the two distinct strands of Zurich and Geneva become questionable.”

The following is an extract from Charles William Pfeiffer “Heinrich Bullinger and Marriage” (Dissertation: St Louis University, 1981):

“There are some striking parallels between Bullinger’s theology of marriage and his theology of the covenant. The opening paragraph of the Eestand (1540) emphasizes the unity of the covenant. Bullinger begins by using his hermeneutical principal (sic) that the New Testament is an interpretation of the Old. When he undertakes to address himself to questions concerning marriage and the family he states that ‘he knows nothing more fitting that in the same fashion (as Christ did in Matthew 19) to base his (teaching) on God’s foremost prophet Moses.’ Christ reached back to the Old Testament and gave answer to his questioners. Here Bullinger showed that his own hermeneutic was taken from the example of Christ himself, and he demonstrated his use of his biblical hermeneutic. In the beginning chapters of the Eestand as Bullinger established the theological basis for the institution of marriage he relied almost exclusively on the Old Testament. He imitated Christ’s example and explained the Old Testament by the New. Thereby Bullinger through his marriage teaching witnesses the unity of the one covenant between God and Man.

In the first chapter of the Eestand Bullinger also stressed the soteriological dimensions of the covenant. Just as circumcision in the Old Testament prefigured baptism, and the Passover prefigured the Eucahrist, Adam’s deep sleep during which the rib was taken from his side prefigured the death of Christ. Just as marriage was born out of the side of Adam so the church was born out of the side of Christ (cf Eph. 5). The founding of marriage in the Old Testament was a sign of the seal of the covenant in the New Testament, and just as we are brought to our salvation from the side of Christ in the New Testament so are we brought to salvation through marriage which originated from the side of Adam. Bullinger writes: ‘the married people of both the Old and New Testaments should understand this institution to be a salvation and its grace of God should be reckoned unto them.’

Just as the Church was born from the side of Christ is our way of salvation in the New Testament, so marriage born from the side of Adam is a way to salvation for all men. Marriage then demonstrates the soteriological unity of the covenant. This institution ordained by God before the Fall is equally valid for all men before and after the Fall. It has soteriological significance for all men of both testaments in tha tit prefigured the seal of the covenant, and it is a path to salvation.

Bullinger stressed the second aspect of the covenant (ie the covenant includes all history) when he showed that marriage according to the scriptures was first ordained ‘in Paradise and the Garden of Eden’ by God himself. The gift of marriage extends from its origins to the present day. Marriage is a part of God’s plan for all ages; ‘marriage should be performed under God’s ordinances, in reverence for God, and in the fear of the Lord.’ Just as there is only one covenant there is only one marriage. Marriage remained the same before and after the Fall, and the same divinely ordained estate in life fro Adam remains the same estate in life for us. That is why Bullinger was careful not to distinguish between marriage before and after the Fall.

The third aspect of Bullinger’s theology of the covenant which is expressed in his teachings on marriage is the bilateral nature of the covenant. Marriage is an institution ordained by God and part of God’s plan for man. Through this divinely instituted state in life one can live in faith and piety and fulfill the conditions of the covenant. Bullinger expressly makes this point in the Decades….

Marriage is a path of salvation extended to man, and the grace of the institution is reckoned to him. Man’s response by living a good married life in faith and piety in his response to God’s extension of grace.

Just as there was for Bullinger one covenant for both the Old and New Testaments, so there were only one marriage in the Old and New Testaments. Just as the covenant offered to man was the way of his salvation, so marriage which was extended to man was a path of salvation. Just as the covenant included all of history, so there was one and the same marriage offered to men before and after the Fall. Finally, just as the covenant demanded a response from man to live in faith and piety, so marriage was a response to fulfill the terms of marriage and the covenant by living a good married life in faith and piety. Indeed it can be said that marriage in Bullinger’s theology is analogous to the one bilateral covenant which God made with man.”

Pfeiffer had read Baker’s work Bullinger and the Covenant before it had come into print. This explains how he views covenant in Bullinger through the lens of Baker and, therefore, the emphasis on the so-called bilateral nature of the covenant.

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