Thursday, December 6, 2012

Zwingli’s Letter to Vadian (20 October 1529)

The following is a quotation from Zwingli’s letter to Vadian in which he recounts what happened at the Marburg Colloquy on 1529 (courtesy of Jim West’s blog). Note the alledged inconsistencies in Luther’s understanding:

The landgrave decided that there should be separate preliminary conferences in private, Oecolampadius with Luther and Melanchthon with Zwingli, to seek between themselves for any possible measure of agreement that could lead to peace. Here Luther’s reaction to Oecolampadius was such that he came to me and privately complained that once again he had come up against Eck! Don’t tell this to anyone you can’t trust.
Melanchthon I found uncommonly slippery; he kept changing his shape like another Proteus, forced me—in lieu of salt!—to use my pen as a weapon and keep my hand dry, so that I could hold him fast for all his chafings and wrigglings and dodgings.
I am sending you a copy of a few extracts from our very lengthy conversations on the understanding that you will only show it to those you can trust—I mean, to those who will not use it to stir up another crisis: remember that Philip [Melanchthon] has a copy too, for I drew it up in his presence and under his eye, and many of his own words he actually dictated. But the last thing we want is to bring on a new crisis. Philip and I spent six hours together, Luther and Oecolampadius three.
On the next day the four of us entered the arena in the presence of the landgrave and a few others—twenty-four at most; we fought it out in this and in three further sessions, thus making four in all in which, with witnesses, we fought our winning battle. Three times we threw at Luther the fact that he had at other times given a different exposition from the one he was now insisting on of those ridiculous ideas of his, that Christ suffered in his divine nature, that the body of Christ is everywhere, and that the flesh profits nothing; but the dear man had nothing to say in reply—except that on the matter of the flesh profiting nothing he said: “You know, Zwingli, that all the ancient writers have again and again changed their interpretations of passages of Scripture as time went on and their judgment matured.”
He said: “The body of Christ is eaten and received into our body in the bodily sense [corporaliter], but at the same time I reserve my judgment on whether the human spirit eats his body too”—when a little before he had said: “the body of Christ is eaten by the mouth in the bodily sense, but the human spirit does not eat him in the bodily sense.” He said: “[the bread and wine] are made into the body of Christ by the utterance of these words—‘This is my body’—however great a criminal one might be who pronounces them.” He conceded that the body of Christ is finite. He conceded that the Eucharist may be called a “sign” of the body of Christ. These and others are examples of the countless inconsistencies, absurdities and follies which he babbles out like water lapping on the shore; but we refuted him so successfully that the landgrave himself has now come down on our side, though he does not say so in the presence of some of the princes.
The Hessian entourage, almost to a man, has withdrawn from Luther’s position. The landgrave himself has given permission for our books to be read with impunity, and in future will not allow “bishops” who share our views to be ejected from their place. John, the Saxon prince, was not there, but [Ulrich of] Württemberg was.
We finally left [Marburg] with certain agreements which you will soon see in print. The truth prevailed so manifestly that if ever anyone was beaten it was the foolish and obstinate Luther. He was clearly defeated, as any wise and fair judge would agree, although he now makes out that he was not beaten. We have, however, achieved this much good, that our agreement on the rest of the doctrines of the Christian religion will prevent the papal party from hoping any longer that Luther will be on their side. … *

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Bullinger and Circumcision

The following is a section from The Decades III.6 in which Bullinger cites Lactantius from Lib. Instit. Iv. Chap 17:

The meaning of circumcision was, that we should make bare our breasts; to wit, that we should live with a simple and plain dealing heart; because that part of the body, which is circumcised, is partly like to a heart, and an object of shame: and the cause why God commanded to make it bare was, that by that sign he might admonish us not to have a covered heart, that is, that we should not cover the secrets of our conscience any crime whereof we ought to be ashamed. And this is the circumcision of the heart, whereof the prophet speak, which Hod hath translated from the mortal flesh to the immortal soul. For the Lord being wholly set and fully minded, according to his eternal goodness, to have a care for our life and safeguard, did set repentance before our eyes for us to follow, as a way to bring us thereunto: so that, if we make bare our hearts, that is, by confession of our sins we satisfy the Lord, we should obtain pardon, which is denied to the proud and those that conceal their faults by God, who holdeth not the face as man doth, but searcheth the secrets of the breast.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Did Zwingli teach that the sacraments are empty signs?

The ninth article of the Marburg Articles are clear that, for Zwingli, the sacraments are more than empty signs:
Zum nündten, das der heylig touffe sye ein sacrament, das zuo soelichem glouben von gott yngesetzt, und diewyl gottes gebott: Ite, baptisate [Matth. 28, 19], und gottes verheyssung drinnen ist: qui crediderit [Mark. 16, 16], so ists nit allein ein ledig zeichen oder losung under den christen, sonder ein zeichen und werck gottes, darinn unser gloube
gefordert, durch welchen wir zum laeben widergeborenn werdend.

Ninth, that holy baptism is a sacrament which has been instituted by God as an aid to such a faith, and because God’s command, “Go baptize” (Matthew 28:19), and by God’s promise, “He who believes” (Mark 16:16), are connected with it, it is therefore not merely an empty sign or watchword among Chgristians but, rather, a sign and work of God by which our faith grows and through which we are regenerated to (eternal) life.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Bullinger and the writing of history

Christian Moser has just written a mammoth work on Bullinger's writing of history: Die Dignität des Ereignisses: Studien zu Heinrich Bullingers Reformationsgeschichtsschreibung published by Brill 2012.

This is a summary of what to expect in the book:

The study examines the published and unpublished historical works and materials written by the Zurich Reformer Heinrich Bullinger primarily considering the Reformation History preserved in his handwritten manuscript from the 1560s. Its origin, sources, and his applied work processes are analyzed in the context of the theological assumptions and methodological claims of Bullinger’s historiography, which are also classified and examined against the background of early modern humanist and confessional historiography. The history of reception and influence of Bullinger’s Reformation History are another aspect of this analysis of what came to be a foundational source for later Reformation historians. In addition to this investigation, numerous unpublished source materials by Bullinger are edited, and detailed descriptions of extant transcripts are documented.

This is a must read book for all serious students of Bullinger!

Monday, June 11, 2012


The following I have just cut and past from Jim West’s blog (

No matter who a man may be, if he teaches you in accordance with his own thought and mind his teaching is false. But if he teaches you in accordance with the Word of God, it is not he that teaches you, but God who teaches him. For as Paul says, who are we but ministers of Christ and dispensers or stewards of the mysteries of God?
Again, I know for certain that God teaches me, because I have experienced the fact of it; and to prevent misunderstanding this is what I mean when I say that I know for certain that God teaches me. When I was younger, I gave myself overmuch to human teaching, like others of my day, and when about seven or eight years ago I undertook to devote myself entirely to the Scriptures I was always prevented by philosophy and theology. But eventually I came to the point where led by Scripture and the Word of God I saw the need to set aside all these things and to learn the doctrine of God direct from his own Word.
Then I began to ask God for light and the Scriptures became far clearer to me – even though I read nothing else – than if I had studied many commentators and expositors. Note that that is always a sure sign of God’s leading; for I could never have reached that point by my own feeble understanding. You may see then that my interpretation does not derive from the over-estimation of myself, but the subjection. — Huldrych Zwingli