Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Moots on Bullinger and Calvin and the Covenant

The following is a another extract from Moots' book:

“Unlike Calvin, who rooted covenants of salvation in the unknowable will of God, Bullinger made those covenants more accessible by putting them in the context of human covenants and agreements. Bullinger casts the biblical covenants as something which God condescended to make with persons, mimicking the covenants persons already made with one another (III. Vi, 169). In writing of the Lord’s Supper and the binding of persons to God and to one another, for example, Bullinger compared the sacraments to human confederacies (V. vi, 238-239). The point here was not to argue that Bullinger thought covenants were an agreement between equals or to make the biblical covenants akin to human covenants, but rather to stress the accommodation of God. The unknowable mystery in Calvin is why God chose to save one person rather than another; the unknowable mystery in Bullinger is the role of God’s will in predestination (IV. Iv, 185-188).”

Bullinger and Calvin and the Covenant

Here is an interesting extract from the recent book by Glenn A. Moots, Politics Reformed: The Anglo-American Legacy of Covenant Theology (2011):

“The most common and most substantial error among those who study the Reformation is to ignore or minimize Bullinger and to focus on Calvin instead. Not only did Bullinger gain a position of influence much sooner than Calvin, but his influence was arguably as extensive as Calvin’s, if not more so. Archives of known correspondence have three times as many surviving letters from Bullinger as from Calvin, and there are potentially thousands more; his influence penetrated every corner of Europe and Britain. By 1528, when Calvin was still relatively unknown, Bullinger had composed scores of theological works and was an internationally recognized authority. His influence far surpassed Zwingli’s. He also outlived Calvin by twelve years, furthering his influence. Bullinger’s works circulated widely in Englad approximately thirty years before Calvin’s works. His influence even in France (acknowledged by Franz Hotman in a letter of 1572) can be attributed in part to his early converting influence on Theodore Beza in 1535. During the sixteenth century, there were well over fifty European printers producing hundreds of editions of Bullinger’s works in at least five languages. Even Geneva may may have been more taken with Bullinger than Calvin, as Genevan printers worked hard to promote French editions of Bullinger’s work. Even the Genevan authorities recognized the importance of Bullinger’s scope, depth, and tone and required that Bulligner’s doctrinal works be published alongside Calvin’s Institutes. Within one hundred years, 400 editions of Bullinger’s works had been printed in Switzerland and 230 editions in other countries. Bullinger’s shadow was least as long as Calvin’s for the next two generations.

Bullinger was the first to appropriate the Abrahamic covenant. In 1523, at the age of nineteen, he was already beginning to employ the traditional testamentum (covenant) in writing. In 1526 he asserted that the New Testament was the fulfillment of the covenant with Israel. By 1534, Bullinger had published his first substantial seminal treatise on biblical covenants, De testamento seu foedere dei unico & aeterno. De testamento was the first great contribution of the Reformation’s ‘Hebraic Christianity’ and the first great work of covenant or federal theology. Peter Lillback considers this study ‘of strategic importance’ and ‘the first study of the covenant produced in the history of the church’. Most important for Reformation political theology, the work provided a seminal definition and defense of civil government just as the greatest progress of the Reformation was about to be made. Together with his Decades, which also addressed covenant continuity, De testamento cemented Bullinger’s reputation as a political theologian. Calvin’s first edition of his Christianae religionis institutio, published two years later, did not contain any detailed discussion of the covenants.”

Monday, September 26, 2011

Calvin and Bullinger on the Covenant

I have just come across a helpful article by Peter Optiz on Calvin and Scripture and cite a section of it here. Opitz’ article is to be found in Herman J. Selderhuis (ed.), The Calvin Handbook (Eerdmans, 2009), pp235-244. The original article is in German and has been ably translated into English by Rebecca A. Giselbrecht who is on the staff of the Institute for Swiss Reformation History in Zurich.

“Calvin’s understanding of the ‘covenant’ is essential to his doctrine of Scripture. Especially during his Strasbourg period, Calvin appears to have grappled intensely with the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. A fruit of this study is found in a comprehensive chapter of the Institutes of 1539, in which he explains the close connection of both Testaments as a dynamic unity with internal differences (CO 1, 225-244). Martin Bucer surely had direct influence on this, and with him the entire circle of the upper-German reformers with their humanistic backgrounds, who in turn had been influences by Zwingli and Bullinger – a fact less heeded by researchers. Bucer, who had already defended the unity of the two Testaments in his commentary on the gospel, enjoyed lively exchanges not only with his colleagues the Hebraists Capito and Hedio from Strasbourg, but also with Heinrich Bullinger. With the encouragement of Zwingli, Bullinger had already argued the one covenant as the scopus of Scripture and received Bucer’s total approval for his defense of it in his De Testamento from 1534. Ever since the 1539 version of the Institutes, Calvin widely expounded Bullinger’s argument for the doctrine of one covenant – not, however, without setting an independent accent that seems to demonstrate the lasting influence of Melanchthon, especially his Loci from 1535. In the Institutes of 1559, the doctrine of one covenant is finally completely integrated into his soteriology; and at the same time, this interpretation of the covenant became the connecting link in Calvin’s theology; particularly between his Christology and his exegesis. Institutes II was thus entitled ‘The Knowledge of God the Redeemer in Christ, First Disclosed to the Fathers under the Law, and Then to Us in the Gospel.’ In Calvin’s first Institutes from 1536 the placement of this doctrine of the law was similar to its placement in Luther’s Small Catechism. From 1539 on, there is a remarkable change. The title of Institutes II.7 reads: ‘The Law Was Given, Not to Restrain the Folk of the Old Covenant Under Itself, But to Foster Hope of Salvation in Christ Until His Coming.’ Thereby the law is expressly defined in alignment with an Old Testament Torah understanding: ‘I understand by the word ‘law’ not only the Ten Commandments, which set forth a godly and righteous rule of living, but the form of religion (formam religionis) handed down by God through Moses’ (Inst. II.7.1). However, because this law depends on God’s electing grace, Christ is already present, even though in Moses’ writing this was ‘not yet expressed in clear words.’ Accordingly, ‘apart from the mediator, God never showed favor toward the ancient people, nor ever gave hope of grace to them.’ For ‘the blessed and happy state of the church always had its foundation in the person of Christ’ (Inst. II.6.2). Therefore the relationship between the Old and New Testaments means: ‘The covenant made with all the patriarchs is so much like ours in substance and reality that the two are actually the one and the same. Yet they differ in the mode of dispensation’ (Inst. II.10.2).”

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bullinger, Usury and the Covenant

Baker has written on his understanding of Bullinger on usury and its connection with the covenant. Bullinger wrote on usury because it was an issue raised by the Anabaptists. The following is an extract from Baker’s book:

“Bullinger’s teaching on usury was fully consistent with his covenant idea. Indeed the covenant condition of piety or love for the neighbor was the basis for his entire social ethic including the realm of economics. In De testamento he listed the loan and other economic matters among the items that were included under ‘that part of the covenant that prescribes integrity and commands that we walk in the presence of God.’ To Bullinger, the second degree of the law was the equivalent of the Love Commandment, and it explained hos sinful man could keep the conditions of the covenant. So when Bullinger referred to the Love Commandment, he meant more than Calvin’s general appeal to Christian love and equity, although that was certainly involved. For Bullinger, the Love Commandment was the summary of the conditions of the covenant, God’s eternal will for His people.

The importance of the covenant is quite evident in Bullinger’s interpretation of the Deuteronomy text (ie Deuteronomy 23:19-20). Since God’s law did not change, Bullinger could not simply apply the prohibition to those historical circumstances as Calvin did. Bullinger agreed with Calvin that the permission of usurious interest was nothing but a temporary privilege. Unlike Calvin, however, he thought that the prohibition among brothers applied only to the dishonorable Wucher, which violated the covenant conditions of love. If Calvin appealed to a brotherhood where interest was authorized, which was quite different from a brotherhood where it was abominated, Bullinger simply suggested that the medieval concept of brotherhood was false. Honorable usury had never been prohibited among brothers – Jews of Christians. This standard had not been altered for Christians but was simply restated in the Love Commandment.

Thus, when Bullinger was confronted with the radicals’ strict and logical application of the communitarian ethic to the contemporary situation, he did not simply equivocate or revise the medieval theory as did Luther and Zwingli. Like Calvin later, he abandoned the ole theory and formulated a new economic ethic that corresponded more closely to the actual economic conditions of his day. Yet, in forming his new economic ethic, Bullinger drew from the record of the covenant. The guide for daily economic activity in Christian society was the Love Commandment, the conditions of the eternal covenant of God.”

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Central Role of the Covenant in the Role of the Prophet

Baker rightly points out the centrality of the covenant in Bullinger’s understanding of the prophetic role of the minister when expounding Scripture to the congregation. This may be illustrated from the following quote from Bullinger’s De prophetae officio (1532) in Baker’s translation:

“Thus I admonish you, oh prophet of God, that more frequently, when you are about to expound the Scripture, you should reflect on what the essential point of the holy Scripture is and to which matter all things return. May (Baker rightly assumes here that Bullinger is referring to the Lutherans) say it is the law and the gospel – but incorrectly. For the testament, which is the title of the whole Scripture, is also the essential point of the entire Scripture.”

“So rate ich dir, Prophet Gottes, wenn du daran gehst, die Schrift auszulegen, oft bei dir selbst zu bedenken, welches die Grundlage der Schrift ist und worauf sich alles bezieht. Die mesiten behaupten ja, sie liege in die Unterscheidung von Gesetz und Evangelium, doch das ist kaum zutreffend. Denn das Testament, das der ganzen Schrift den Namen gibt, ist auch die Grundfrage der ganzen Schrift” (Heinrich Bullinger Schriften I, p14).

Bullinger continues at this juncture with:

“Das soll niemandem als neuartig oder gekünstelt erscheinen. Unter dem Begriff Testament verstehen wir nämlich einem Pakt, einen Bund oder eine Vereinbarung” – This ought nobody consider to appear to be something new or something artificial. With the concept of the Testament we understand, namely, a pact, a covenant or an agreement.