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)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Bullinger had some harsh words to say about the Anabaptists. The following is taken from sermon V.8 of The Decades:

“… since Anabaptism is nothing else but a confederacy, conspiracy, and a certain linking together by one mark into a new and schismatical church, and into a new and strange kind of doctrine, and as contrary as can be to the doctrine of Christ and his apostles; truly it is no marvel, that the obstinate anabpatists are kept under and punished by common law. For otherwise these things are damnable, and not to be dissembled or suffered or a christian magistrate.”

(The Decades – Parker ed. p 395)


Augustine was the church father that was most cited by Bullinger. Bullinger wanted to underscore the continuity of the reformed church with the church of the fathers. But, as always, Bullinger only cited Augustine with approval when he agreed with Augustine’s understanding and interpretation of Scripture. On ceratin occasions, Bullinger indicated what he considered the errors of Agugustine. The following is one such example:

“For St Augustine, being infected with the like error, defendeth that the sacrament of the Lord’s supper ought to be put into the infants’ mouth, or else they are in danger of death and damnation, because it is written: ‘Except you eat of the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.’ Therefore after this same order he placeth these two sentences: ‘Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God;’ and, ‘Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man,’ &c. So that if thou persist obstinately in St Augustine’s sentence, verily thou wilt condmen the whole church at this day, which denieth the partaking of the Lord’s supper unto infants. But if in this thing there be admitted a convenient interpretation, why are ye so rigorous and obstinate in another and the like place and cause not disagreeable?’

(The Decades V.8 – Parker ed pp 379,380)