Sunday, February 20, 2011

Oecolampadius and the Covenant

In his influential article of sixty years ago, Trinterud concluded the following about Oecolampadius:

“….. As early as 1525 the Basel reformer Oecolampadius, in a commentary on Isaiah, had put forth the view that the eternal covenant of God with man was the law of love. This law was written on man’s heart at creation, and was only expounded by the written law of the Bible. To be blessed of God man must keep this covenant by obeying this law. Here the entire law-contract structure is seen. The relationship between the ruler and the subject is contractual, based primarily upon a natural law which, in turn, is applied by positive law which declares its meaning in specific instances” – Leonard J. Trinterud, “The Origins of Puritanism”, Church History, vol. XX (1951), p41.

Trinterud clearly sees Oecolampadius as viewing the covenant in terms of a bilateral pact or contract. The same view was espoused by Kenneth Hagan in “From Testament to Covenant in the Early sixteenth Century”, The Sixteenth Century Journal vol 3 (no 1), 1972, p23. Baker, however, argues that Oecolampadius views the covenant as a unilateral testament of grace while Bullinger has a contractual understanding of covenant. Be that as it may, I would argue that Bullinger did not view the covenant as a bilateral pact or contract.

It is worth noting, however, that Oecolampadius was the only reformer cited by name by Bullinger in his De testamento. Bullinger cites a section from Oecolampdius’s commentary on Jeremiah: “Before God, that eternal covenant which is arranged differently according to the diversity of the times is one. And also in relation to the inner realities, it always has been one and will remain one, not only as it is in eternal predestination… Notice, however, the great diversity of the covenants. The Lord made a pact with Abraham with words and demanded nothing except obedience from him. But under Moses many strange and dreadful things were added, things known not only to the one leader but things evident to all the people. Then it was fortified with so many circumstantial legalities, all of which return to those ten words of the tablet of the covenant.”

In a footnote, Baker indicates that Bullinger selectively cited this work of Oecolampadius to suit his own purposes: “As indicated in the text, Bullinger deleted several lines from Oecolampadius. Oecolampadius was not as supportive as Bullinger would have the reader believe. Although the passage quoted by Bullinger seems to support his view of only one covenant, the material proceeding and following, as well as the portion deleted, supports a two covenant scheme, old and new, carnal and spiritual, corresponding with law and gospel” (Fountainhead of Federalism, p 128, n23).

Despite the fact that Oecolampadius and Zwingli were very close it does not appear that Zwingli’s understanding was due to influence from Oecolampadius. There appear to be some similarities between Oecolampadius and Bullinger vis-à-vis the covenant but clearly there were differences.

For a careful study of Oecolampadius see the dissertation of Diane Marie Poythress “Johannes Oecolamadius’ Exposition of Isaiah Chapters 36-37” (dissertation, Westminster Theological Seminary 1992).

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Jim West on Bullinger

Readers of this blog have from time to time been encouraged to look at Jim West’s blog zwingliusredivivus. Jim is an expert on Zwingli, in particular, and his posts are always thought provoking. His blog can be found at:

In a recent post (dated 28 January 2011) Jim writes the following:

“Shortly after Bullinger assumed the pastor-ship of the Grossmunster in Zurich following Zwingli’s tragic slaughter by the vicious miscreants at Kappel-am-Albis he preached a sermon titled ‘Das Amt des Propheten und wie es würdig ausgeübt werden kann.’ His theme was Mt 17:5- Dies ist mein geliebter Sohn, an dem ich Wohlgefallen habe. Auf ihn sollt ihr hören!

It was quite a wide ranging (and long!) sermon. Indeed, it would be more than fair to say that Bullinger right then earned a reputation as a rather long winded, but always gripping and fascinating, sermonizer. In it, he described the meaning of the term ‘prophet’ (which he applied to preachers), their task as exegetes, which books were to be considered ‘biblical’, and the disposition of the interpreter and the hearer. The latter he summarized really quite nicely when he said:

‘Natürlich sollen sie gelesen werden, aber mit Urteilsvermögen: als Mitschüler, nicht als Richter sind sie zu lesen.’

Well and rightly said. Bullinger’s excellent sermon didn’t make it into the ‘Decades’ in English (because it was much earlier than that collection) so consequently it isn’t available outside of German (that I know of). And that’s a shame. It’s fantastic and so nicely sets the agenda for Bullinger’s entire ministry that it is a pivotal theological document. It was preached on the 28th of January, 1532.”

Was the Covenant Central in Bullinger’s Writings?

This is an area that I am reading up on and would appreciate any input, thoughts or suggestions.

The key works in English to read on this are:

J. Wayne Baker, Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenant: The Other Reformed Tradition (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1980)

Baker, J. Wayne, “Heinrich Bullinger, the Covenant, and the Reformed Tradition in Retrospect”, Sixteenth Century Journal, vol 29 (no2, 1998), pp359-376

Dowey, Edward A., “Heinrich Bullinger as Theologian: Thematic, Comprehensive, and Schematic” in Bruce Gordon and Emidio Campi (eds.), Architect of Reformation: An Introduction to Heinrich Bullinger 1504-1575 (Texts and Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought), (Baker, 2004), pp35-65

Baker’s position is that Bullinger’s (ie that of Zurich) was the original Reformed understanding of the covenant (bilateral) vis-à-vis single predestination while Calvin’s (ie that of Geneva) understanding of the covenant (unilateral testament) vis-à-vis double predestination was a later, alternative reformed position.

In some earlier posts some comments and critique has been given of Baker’s position. In particular, mention was made of the work of Cornelis P. Venema author of Heinrich Bullinger and the Doctrine of Predestination: Author of the ‘Other Reformed Tradition’?

Doweys’ full and comprehensive article on the works of Bullinger seriously questions the centrality of the theme of the covenant in Bullinger. Baker responded to Dowey (and others) with his article of 1998 in Sixteenth Century Journal. Peter Opitz’s Heinrich Bullinger als Theologe: eine Studie zu den also critically evaluates Baker’s postion.

Papers presented at the Bullinger conference held in Zurich in August 2004 were published in two volumes: Campi, Emidio and Opitz, Peter (eds), Heinrich Bullinger: Life, Thought, Influence, (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 2007). Of the fifty articles in these two volumes three of them are concerned with the covenant. That in itself is some sort of indication of the importance of the covenant in Bullinger’s works:

Willem van ‘t Spijker “Bullinger als Bundestheologe” pp573-593

Aurelio A. Garcia “Bullinger’s De Testamento: The Amply Biblical Basis of Reformed Origian” pp 671-692

Lukas Vischer “…. Einem Bund mit euch und allen lebenden Wesen” pp961-976

This post will seek to summarize the main points of Vischer’s article.

Vischer has a section on Bullinger’s use of the terms testamentum and foedus. This is an area which needs to be further explored. He also correctly pointed out that Bullinger emphasized: 1 the unity of the Old Testament and the New Testament; 2. promise and fulfillment between the two Testaments; 3. the continuity between the people God of the Old Testament with the people of God of the New Testament or the church of the Old Testament with the church of the New Testament; 4. Understanding the nature of God’s covenant with mankind is the first step in understanding how mankind should live together. Vischer also points out that the covenant was with ‘every living creature’ or with the whole creation This means that the theme of creation-redemption was pivotal in the thought of Bullinger.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bullinger’s Respect for Zwingli

Bullinger did not always see eye to eye with Zwingli. For example, Bullinger would not have agreed with the actions vis-à-vis church and state that Zwingli championed that led the the disaster at Kappel in 1531. The new arrangements in the church at Zurich that were introduced when Bullinger became Antistes is testimony to this. But what is abundantly clear was Bullinger’s respect for Zwingli.

An earlier post referred to how Bullinger compared the role of Zwingli to that of an Old Testament prophet. Bullinger also referred to Zwingli as a Josiah-type figure as is apparent from the following quote from a work of Bullinger in 1527:

“… Thereupon God has now not only produced through him a great power among so hard and impious a people, as we Eidgenossen have been until now, a power with which he through his preaching has for the most part converted them to the truth; but also God has through him set forth for us in a clear way, as no one has done for a thousand years, the chief point of his religion, as the whole essence and fundamental knowledge of God, namely, the understanding of his one eternal covenant, on account of which mankind should turn from all creatures and should follow after God alone, through whom are destroyed all false gods and those who follow them. Thus we have also learned from him how Christ is the one eternal mediator and intercessor; also how the one faith in the Lord Jesus Christ from the Holy Spirit is the only thing which sanctifies, assures, and quiets our consciences – and not confession, not external signs, not absolution. Moreover, in connection with it are the keys to what original sin is, and to what the whole business of baptism amounts to. Now if this point truly is the chief on in the Christian religion, and as God has now made it as plain as day to us through him, then it is nothing new ore marvelous that through the same one there is brought to us again the old faith, the right doctrine, and the true use of the Eucharist. Now the papacy had perverted the old practice, did not keep the true faith, and established the Mass. And it is as if Zwingli were our Josiah sent from God, through whom the Mass was destroyed and the Remembrance restored, through whom also the idols have been exterminated, the ‘Deuteronomy’ found, and the covenant which we have with God brought forward again.”

This work of Bullinger was written on 14 May 1527 and entitled “Von warer und falscher leer, altem und nüwem glouben undbruch der Eucharistien oder Mesz, wie sy anfencklich gehalten und mitt was mittel sy in missbuch kummen sye.”

An earlier post also referred to the events that led Bullinger to pen the Warhaftes Bekenntnis (1545) in response to the vitriolic attacks of an aging Luther. The full title in English of this work is: A truthful Confession of the Servants of the Church at Zürich as to what they hold from the Word of God and in common with the holy universal Christian church believe and teach especially concerning the Lord’s Supper, in answer to the Slander, Condemnations and Jests of Dr Martin Luther as translated by John T. McNeill, Unitive Protestantism: The Ecumenical Spirit in its Persistent Expression, (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1964 p193). Clearly, one of the driving forces that spurred Bullinger to compose this work was his respect for Zwingli.

Amy Nelson Burnett has written a very comprehensive account of the dynamics behind the scenes in the various attempts at securing closer ties between Zurich, Strasburg and the Lutherans in a period more or less contemporaneous with Trent – “Heinrich Bullinger and the Problem of Eucharistic Concord” in Emidio Campi and Peter Opitz (eds.) Heinrich Bullinger: Life-Thought-Influence, pp233-250. The following observations are taken from this perceptive article.

Calvin became both impatient and perhaps somewhat frustrated at Bullinger’s apparent abhorrence in seeking closer ties with the Lutherans. Calvin wrote to Farel in the fall of 1557: “it is shameful to write just how deeply Bullinger abhors the idea of a colloquy.”

Burnett concludes: “The repeated condemnation of Zwingli and his followers, and finally the explicit exclusion of the Zwinglians from the terms of the Peace of Augsburg, turned Bullinger against any attempt to court the Lutherans after 1555. He complained about the Lutherans’ attitude toward Zwingli in letters to Jean Calvin and Jan a Lasco in the spring of 1556, and his resentment only deepened after he learned of developments at the colloquy of Worms in the fall of 1557. As he noted bitterly in a letter to Simon Sulzer and the Basel church, ‘Along with Zwingli, the most ferocious Saxons condemned Osiander, Schwenckfeld, the Anabaptists, and I don’t know whom else. All of these others were spared; only Zwingli was deemed worthy to be damned before all the legates of the Empire.’ How, Bullinger asked, could the Swiss ever hope to counter such prejudice?”

Obviously there were some theological issues that Bullinger required to be sorted out with Calvin, Bucer and the Lutherans (eg the terms exhibere and substantia). But there is no doubt that one underlying reason for his reticence at seeking closer ties with the Lutherans was his unswerving respect for and loyalty to Zwingli.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Bullinger and the strategic role of prophets

Bullinger rightly understood that the primary role of the prophet in Old Testament times was to be a covenant mediator in calling the people of God back into a right covenant relationship with God.

In De Testamento (1534) Bullinger declared that the covenant is “the source of our religion and the first chapter of it” (haec nimirum religionis nostrae origio & illiud caput primarium est). Furthermore, in his De propetae officio (printed 1539 but based on works written in 1528 and 1529) he wrote: “For testament, which is also the title for all of Scripture, surely stands for the content of all Scripture. Neither is this to be wondered at as something recent and devoid of meaning. For by the word testament we understand the covenant and the agreement by which God agreed with the entire human race, to be himself our God, our sufficiency, source of good and horn of plenty. And this he would abundantly prove by the gift of the fertile earth and the incarnation of his son. Man, however, ought to pursue integrity, that he may stand before this God with a perfect and upright mind, that he may walk in his ways and commit himself totally to him, as to the highest and most loving Father.”

Bullinger saw parallels between the idolatry and covenant unfaithfulness of Israel in Old Testament times with the idolatry and unfaithfulness of the church of the Middle Ages. Thus, Bullinger saw Zwingli in as a prophet in continuity with Moses, Isaiah, Paul and Athanasius.

Of Zwingli, Bullinger wrote: “For it was this one who restored the principle of the testament and the eternal covenant and renewed what was worn out. It is this one who restored to its former splendor the omnipotence and goodness of the unity of God which invocation and veneration of other gods had obscured” (De propetae officio, sig. Ei r-v). Bullinger also regarded Luther as a prophet. Just as Elijah had combated the prophets of Baal, so Zwingli performed the work of Elijah in Zurich in the 1520’s.

These ideas are also reflected in Bullinger one hundred sermons on the Apocalypse where he writes the the work of the prophets and apostles continues in the work of (D. Luther and D. Zwingli and other faithful witnesses of God” (huic agemus gratias, quod diu multi praedicatores boni & hodie D. Luthurus & D. Zwinglius, & alii testes Dei fideles, in tam conscelerato seculo, & in tanta Antichristi potentia, tot annis, inuitis etiam inferorum portis, ministerio suo defungi potuerunt).

This post is based on Rodney L. Petersen's article "Bullinger's Prophets of the 'Restitutio'" which is found in Mark S. Burrows and Paul Rorem (eds.) Biblical Hermeneutics in Historical Perspective (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), pp245-260. At the Refo 500 Conference to be held in Zurich 8-10 June 2011. Petersen will present a paper entitled: "The apocalyptic Luther - exegesis and self-identification".

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bullinger and Death

I have not been able to post on this blog for a while because of a death in the family. Bullinger, for his part was confronted by death regularly. He lived through several attacks of the plague. He saw the effects of a mini ice age (see a previous post). He witnessed those close to him (including his wife and some of his children) die before him.

One important article on Bullinger is that by Pamela Biel - “Heinrich Bullinger’s Death and Testament: A Well-planned Departure”, Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol XXII (no.1, 1991), pp3-14. The following is the abstract of this article:

“Heinrich Bullinger was as comprehensive and orderly in his death as he was during his life. His Testament, which represents only one of his several adieux, was left the members of the city-government, and it allowed no options as to the choice of his successor just as it left his successor no options as to those issues which would have pride of place on his agenda. Thus Bullinger in death usurped two principles he had championed in life: the right of the Council to place ministers and the right of the Zurich ministry to choose its own priorities. Those battles which Bullinger left his successor to fight - the purity of Biblical religion in Zurich, freedom of the press, the protection and right use of church property, to name three - were similar to those he had himself inherited from Zwingli, a fact which prompts one to ask the question of how complete the Reformation at Zurich was even in August of 1575.”