Sunday, December 7, 2014


It has been a real joy to read through again (but this time in greater depth) Aurelio Garcia's "The Theology of History and Apologetic Historiography in Heinrich Bullinger: Truth in History." Having met him at a recent conference in Zurich adds to the joy of rereading through this seminal work.

I was struck by footnote 40 on pages 50,51.

"There is yet another crucial point lacking in Wayne Baker's discussion of the covenant. any notion that the human partner in the covenant stands on an equal footing to give a quid pro quo obedience to God in exchange for salvation, misses this cardinal point. God's offering of the covenant is already a might act of grace, for he has the right as creator to demand all obedience, yet he condescends to pact with us, accepting our obedience - which is Christ's obedience in us, through the Holy Spirit - in exchange for his love for us. We do not stand in equal footing with God; rather God adapts himself to us in the form of covenant, graciously making up for our creatureliness and our sinfulness. We could even describe this adaptation as as sort of make-belief by God, except, and this is the beauty of it all, that the ultimate accommodation of God to us is his incarnation in Jesus Christ. And again we are back to Christ as the testament. Remember too that Christ is both in a sense the divine and the human partner. Thus Bullinger's constant stress on the two natures of the Lord. Therefore once more the equivalency between testament and covenant shows up. Christ is God's promise to us, he is the fulfillment of that promise. Christ is also God offering the covenant, he is too humanity fulfilling the covenant."

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reformation Day

Today is Reformation Day, so it was sad to read this foonote in Douglas A. Campbell’s “The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul.”

Footnote 49 on page 999 reads: “Many of the Protestant lesser lights also arguable follow the two leading Reformers in their endorsement of their theory. Zwingli simply accepts Luther’s early work (up to 1519) and so he can be safely viewed as endorsing justification as well. Bullinger is highly conditional, although he does not articulate the full federal scheme: see J. Wayne baker, Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenant: The Other Reformed Tradition (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1980). Bullinger asserted the conditionality of the covenant in an unpublished treatise on baptism as early as 1525; however, he maintained the existence of only one covenant, in contradistinction to the federalists (etc). Weir suggested that Calvin and the Geneva theologians were less conditional than Zwingli,  Bullinger, and the Rhineland theologians as a whole: see David A. Weir, The Origins of Federal theology in Sixteenth Century Reformation Thought (Oxford: Clarendon, 1990); see also Steinmetz, Reformers in the Wings, 93-99, esp 94-97.”

It is so sad to see scholars write about Zwingli and Bullinger without having made a serious study of their works. This is especially the case when the Zurich reformers are considered “lesser lights.”

Monday, September 22, 2014


The following is part of a letter that Calvin wrote to Bullinger in November 1544:

“I hear that Luther has at length broken forth in fierce invective, not so much against you as against the whole of us. On the present occasion, I dare venture to ask you to keep silence, because it is neither just that innocent persons should thus be harassed, nor that they should be denied the opportunity of clearing themselves; neither, on the one hand, is it easy to determine whether it would be prudent for them to do so. But of this I do earnestly desire to put you in mind, in the first place, that you would consider how eminent a man Luther is, and the excellent endowments wherewith he is gifted, with what strength of mind and resolute constancy, with how great skill, with what efficiency and power of doctrinal statement, he had hitherto devoted his whole energy to overthrow the reign of Antichrist, and at the same time to diffuse far and near the doctrine of salvation. Often I have been wont to declare, that even though he were to call me a devil, I should still not the less hold him in such honour that I must acknowledge him to be an illustrious srvant of God. But while he is endued with rare and excellent virtues, he labours at the same time under serious faults. Would that he had rather studied to curb this this restless, uneasy temperament which is so apt to boil over in every direction. I wish, moreover, that he had always bestowed the fruits of that vehemence of natural temperament upon the enemies of the truth, and that he had not flash his lightning sometimes also upon the servants of the Lord. Would that he had been more observant and careful in the acknowledgement of his own vices. Flatterers have done him much mischief, since his is naturally prone to be over-indulgent to himself. It is our part, however, so to reprove whatsoever evil qualities may beset him, as that we may make some allowance for him at the same time on the score of these remarkable endowments with which he has been gifted. This, therefore, I would beseech you to consider first of all, along with your colleagues, that you have to do with a most distinguished servant of Christ, to whom we area ll of us largely indebted …”

This illustrates well how Calvin encouraged the pastors in Zurich to be patient with Luther.

Friday, September 19, 2014


At the recent 11th International Congress on Calvin Research held 24-27 August 2014 at Zurich Pierre Hildebrand presented a paper comparing Bullinger and Calvin on Genesis 17.


Hildebrand presented some of Bullinger’s unpublished sermon notes on Genesis. The manuscripts are kept in the Zentralbibliothek Z├╝rich. Those who were present were not surprised to learn that in these handwritten notes he links together the themes of election, justification and sanctification which is not clearly evident in De testamento but expounded in his other works.

The relevant section of the sermon notes (dated somewhere between April 1536 and November 1537) reads as follows:

“We should be holy and irreproachable before God. (According to) Ephesians 1 (we are) elected before (the creation of) the world to be unblamable. The foundation of the covenant is the gracious admission into the covenant. It requires faith, so that we become perfect by faith. We should understand (here) the absolute perfection of Christ, which is imputed to us. Thereupn we are regenerated into integrity through the whole of life.”

Monday, May 19, 2014


In his opposition to the teaching of Osiander, Calvin was proud to be called a ‘Zwinglian.”
“But Osiander, by spurning this spiritual bond, forces a gross mingling of Christ with believers. And for this reason, he maliciously called ‘Zwinglian’ all those who do not subscribe to his mad error of ‘essential righteousness’ because they do not hold the view that Christ is eaten in substance in the Lord’s Supper. I consider it the highest glory to be thus insulted by a proud man …” (Institutes III.11.10)

Sunday, March 23, 2014


The detrators of both Zwingli and Bullinger claimed that they had a view that the sacraments were ‘bare signs’ or ‘empty signs.’ But such people had not read either Zwingli or Bullinger carefully.

The following quotes from The Decades demonstrate that, for Bullinger, the sacraments where not ‘bare signs.’

As with the other reformers, Bullinger refers to the “sign” and “the thing signified”. He thus writes:

“And because I taught, that sacraments consist of two parts, the sign and the thing signified, it remaineth to shew, that these two parts retain their natures distinguished, not communicating properties … that each part retaineth their natures distinguished, without communicating or mingling of properties, it is to be seen hereby; that many may be partakers of the sign, and yet are barred from the thing signified…” (V.6 Parker ed p 270)

With respect to grace and the sacraments, Bullinger explains:

“We must not say by any means that grace is contained substantially in the sacraments, as water in a vessel, or as a medicine in a box; yea, to understand it so, it is erroneous. But they are said to contain grace, in that they signify grace; and because, unless there be a want on the part of the receiver, grace is always given in them: so that ye may understand that grace is in the soul, and not in the visible signs. For this cause they are called also vessels of grace.” (V.7 Parker ed p 307)

The following is Bullinger’s reply to those who accuse him of viewing the sacraments as ‘bare signs’:

“But if they call them void or empty, and men profane and unholy things, that is to day, which differ nothing from profane signs; if by bare they understand things of no force; we openly profess, that we have sacraments which are holy, and not profane; effectual, and not without force; garnished from above, not naked; and therefore full, not void or empty. For they are holy things and not profane, because they are instituted of God, and for godly men, not for profane persons. They are effectual, and not without force: for in the church with the godly and the faithful they work the same effect and end whereunto they are ordained of God; whereof more hereafgter. They are also worthily said to be beautified and adorned by God, and not bare things, which have the word of God itself, wherewith they are most beautifully adorned. And therefore also they are full, and not empty sacraments, because they have those things which make a perfect sacrament.” (V.7 Parker ed 314)

“Now, who will hereafter say, that they which think thus of the sacraments, and are by this faith partakers of them, have nothing but empty shews, and receive nothing in them; albeit we neither include grace in the signs, neither derive it from them? But if any many have any other opinion of God and his ordinances, that shall no more be falsehood in God, or accuse him of untruth, than if any one should charge a just man with a lie, because he performeth not that which he looked for; when in the meantime this man promised not the things which he looked for;; when in the meantime this man promised not the thing which he looked for; but he, through his corrupt and false opinion, hath dreamed that it was promised unto him. And thus far by occasion I have shewed what agreement and difference there is between the sacraments of the old and new Testament, and that our sacraments do neither confer nor contain grace.” (V.7 Parker ed pp 315,316)