Category Archives: Bullinger

Luther: On Love of the Bible- Or, How a Theologian is Made

Once when he was a young man he [Martin Luther] happened upon a Bible. In it he read by chance the story about Samuel’s mother in the Books of the Kings. The book pleased him immensely, and he thought that he would be happy if he could ever possess such a book. Shortly thereafter he bought a postil; it also pleased him greatly, for it contained more Gospels than it was customary to preach on in the course of a year.

When he became a monk he gave up all his books. Shortly before this he had bought a copy of the Corpus iuris and I do not know what else. He returned these to the bookseller. Besides Plautus and Vergil he took nothing with him into the monastery. There the monks gave him a Bible bound in red leather. He made himself so familiar with it that he knew what was on every page, and when some passage was mentioned he knew at once just where it was to be found.

“If I had kept at it,” he said, “I would have become exceedingly good at locating things in the Bible. At that time no other study pleased me so much as sacred literature. With great loathing I read physics, and my heart was aglow when the time came to return to the Bible. I made use of the glossa ordinaria. I despised Lyra, although I recognized later on that he had a contribution to make to history. I read the Bible diligently. Sometimes one important statement occupied all my thoughts for a whole day. Such statements appeared especially in the weightier prophets, and (although I could not grasp their meaning) they have stuck in my memory to this day. Such is the assertion in Ezekiel, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ etc. [Ezek. 33:11].”  [Luther’s Table Talk].

And that, good reader, is how a theologian is made. If your theology is empty and soulless (or Emergent and Seeker Sensitive) or your Pastor’s preaching more fluff than substance (or cute stories than the development of exegetical themes), the reason lies in unfamiliarity from and disinterest in the Bible.

Luther was the theologian he was (and the same can be said of Calvin and Zwingli, Oecolampadius and Melancthon, Bullinger and Bucer) because he (and they too) was (were) biblical scholar(s) in the truest sense of the phrase.

What is the Gospel?

The gospel is a good and a sweet word, and an assured testimony of God’s grace to us-ward, exhibited in Christ unto all believers. Or else: The gospel is the most evident sentence of the eternal God, brought down from heaven, absolving all believers from all their sins, and that too freely, for Christ his sake, with a promise of eternal life. — Heinrich Bullinger

Bullinger on the Notion of Transubstantiation

We do not acknowledge any transubstantiation to be made by force of words or characters; but we affirm, that the bread and wine remain as they are in their own substances, but that there is added unto them the institution, will, and word of Christ, and so become a sacrament, and so differ much from common bread and wine, as we have said in place convenient.


Now it is evident and plain, that after consecration there remaineth in the sacrament the substance of bread and wine; and herein we need no other witnesses than our very senses, which perceive, see, taste, and feel, no other thing than bread and wine.


On Bullinger

Fun Facts From Church History: Bullinger and Denmark

783000Heinrich Bullinger was very interested in persuading the Danes that the Swiss Reformation was worth considering (rather than the Lutheran) and he wrote De gratia Dei justificante nos propter Christum per solam fidem absque operibus bonis, fide interim exuberante in opera bona, libri IV. ad sereniss. Daniæ regem Christianum to prove it.

It is such a well written book that none less than Philip Melanchthon thought very highly of it!

Nevertheless, the Danish Reformation, led by Hans Tausen, was and remained essentially Lutheran (which explains why Danes are not as Reformed as they should be…)

Philosophy? Meh, It’s Mostly Pointless

True faith before all things brings with it true knowledge, and makes us wise indeed. For by faith we know God, and judge aright of the judgments and works of God, of virtues and vices. The wisdom that it brings with it is without doubt the true wisdom.

Many men hope that they can attain to true wisdom by the study of philosophy: but they are deceived as far as heaven is broad. For philosophy does falsely judge and faultily teach many things touching God, the works of God, the chief goodness, the end of good and evil, and touching things to be desired and eschewed.

But the very same things are rightly and truly taught in the word of God, and understood and perceived by faith. Faith therefore is the true wisdom. –  Heinrich Bullinger

Well said, Henry.  Well said.

Fun Facts from Church History: Bullinger’s Thoughts on Servetus

bullingerDuring the trial of Servetus, Bullinger was kept informed of things by his friend Haller.  In a letter dated 27 September, 1553 Haller writes

Yesterday we received the documents in the case of Servetus, and have since been studying them in view of our reply. But we should like to know what your answer is before we send ours. We therefore entreat you immediately to inform us of its tenor. Yet wherefore so much ado! the man is a heretic, and the Church must get rid of him. Let me, however, I beseech you, speedily know the conclusion you have come to.

R. Willis remarks

The Zürich pastor would seem to have been the most active of all the ministers in collecting and imparting information of a kind that would lead to unanimity of conclusion among the Churches and Councils. His friend, Ambrose Blaurer, acknowledging receipt of a letter from him communicating the decision of Zürich, says that he ‘had thought the pestilent Servetus, whose book he had read twenty years ago, must long since have been dead and buried.’ But the … man must add further: ‘We are surely tried by heresies and satanic abortions of the sort, in order that they who are steadfast in the faith may be made known.’*

*R. Willis, Servetus and Calvin: a study of an important epoch in the early history of the reformation, p. 460.

Bullinger Was Far More Important than Calvin in their Time

bullinger4Here’s a little snippet of a letter showing the weight which was given to Bullinger’s views- a weight which far surpassed Calvin’s:

Yesterday (September 26), (writes Haller of Berne, to Bullinger of Zürich) we received the documents in the case of Servetus, and have since been studying them in view of our reply. But we should like to know what your answer is before we send ours. We therefore entreat you immediately to inform us of its tenor. Yet wherefore so much ado! the man is a heretic, and the Church must get rid of him. Let me, however, I beseech you, speedily know the conclusion you have come to.

Bullinger, of all the theologians in Switzerland, was the most important until the day of his death.

Quote of the Day


Concerning the importance of Scripture study, Bullinger writes

There is I confess, some difficulty in the scriptures.  But that difficulty may easily be helped by study, diligence, faith, and the means of skillful interpreters. I know that the apostle Peter says in the epistles of Paul “many things are hard to be understood” but immediately he adds, “which the unlearned, and those that are imperfect, or unstable, pervert, as they do the other scriptures also, unto their own destruction.” Whereby we gather that the scripture is difficult or obscure to the unlearned, unskillful, unexercised, and malicious or corrupted wills, and not to the zealous and godly readers or hearers thereof.  – Heinrich Bullinger

What Sort of Undesirables Occupy the Ministry

I am ashamed and sorry to rehearse what a censure for reformation of manners remains in the church. The thing itself cries put, and experience witnesses that unworthy persons are not shut out from this holy ministry; for without difference all are admitted; and as yet whoremongers, drunkards, dice-players, and men defiled, yes, overwhelmed with divers heinous crimes, are allowed in the ministry. — Heinrich Bullinger

It’s worse now, Heinrich…  We have atheists in ministry…

A Bullinger Gallery

To mark his passing-

Not Every Expositor is of Equal Quality

bullinger2Heinrich Bullinger astutely remarked

There may be one that expoundeth very darkly, and another expoundeth more plainly: this man hitteth the mark, he comes not near it: and this man applieth the place which he handleth very fitly, some other useth not like simplicity of application: in the mean season, notwithstanding, he saith nothing contrary to the soundness of faith and the love of God and our neighbour, and useth all things to edification. I say, that of this diversity no man taketh just occasion to depart from the church. For all godly men prove all things, and keep that which is good; and in all sermons and holy exercises4 refer their whole study only unto edifying.

And moreover the preachers agree well among themselves, and hereunto direct all things, that both themselves and their hearers may become better; not that they may seem better learned, or to have uttered that which no man saw heretofore.

And the best learned loathe not their sermons which are not so learned: for albeit they may seem not altogether to have hit the mark, yet forasmuch as they have taught wholesome things, they are praised and not condemned; albeit in fit time and place they be somewhiles admonished.

Heinrich Bullinger: Briefe von Oktober bis Dezember 1546

Der neue Band des Bullinger-Briefwechsels enthält 130 zwischen Oktober und Dezember 1546 verfasste Briefe, denen jeweils eine ausführliche deutsche Zusammenfassung vorangeht. Involviert sind 42 Briefschreiber, insbesondere Ambrosius Blarer, Oswald Myconius, Johannes Haller und Martin Bucer. Der Band vermittelt Informationen zum Schmalkaldischen Krieg (1546/47), zur politischen Haltung der Eidgenossen, zum Geschehen in Augsburg, zur Schule in Kappel und Chur, zum Kirchenwesen in Basel und Bern, zum Bibliotheksnachlass des Zuger Reformators Werner Steiner wie auch zu zahlreichen zeitgenössischen Publikationen. Ausserdem finden sich im Band viele unbekannte biografische Details, u. a. zu einem Verwandten von Andreas Vesalius und zu den Berner Dekanen Jodocus Kilchmeyer und Johannes Fädminger.

With thanks to the publisher, TVZ, for the review copy.

As I’ve stated before in reviewing these volumes from TVZ, the importance of having primary sources is inexpressible.  Without primary sources, we have nothing of use in historical research.  Indeed, without primary sources, we are incapable of historical research.

Of particular importance are the letters to and from important historical personages.  This is true whether the letters come from the 4th century or the 14th or the 16th or the 20th or the 21st.  Letters allow us into the actual lives of people.  We read over their shoulder and find out the sorts of things that both motivated and troubled, encouraged and discouraged them.

In the case of Bullinger and his amazingly expansive correspondence, we learn that he talks about books a lot.  He talks about books he’s reading, books he has read, books he is writing, and books he wishes others would write (and not have written).  He discusses people, events, places, troubles, victories, joys, sorrows, and every little thing that crossed his mind.

The present volume contains letters Bullinger sent and received between October and December, 1546.  They include the known (Blarer) and the unknown (Bernhard von Cham).  The volume includes a foreword by Peter Opitz and a fantastic introduction by Reinhard Bodenmann extending from page 13 through page 46.

The index at the conclusion of the volume focuses primarily on people and places.  Correspondents are indicated by bold print.  There is no Scripture index.  The great thing about the index is that if a reader wants to consult letters which discuss a particular person (like Zwingli) then one is easily able to do so.  If one wishes to see what Bullinger and his correspondents thought about Luther or Melanchthon that is also quite easy to do.

In two years’ time, the present volume will be integrated into the electronic edition of Bullinger’s correspondence, in which the 2620 letters published so far in the previous 17 volumes are freely available on the website

Unfortunately, because funding has been cut for the project, the publication of this invaluable source for European history in the age of the Reformation is at stake! Hopefully some institution or some rich donors willing to eternalize their names will be found in order to avoid such a shameful end!

Bullinger: On All the Calamaties That Can Befall Us

First … it is requisite to lay before our eyes and reckon up the several kinds and especial sorts of mortal men’s calamities. The evils verily are innumerable, which daily fall upon our necks; but those which do most usually happen are the plague or pestilence, sundry and infinite diseases, death itself, and the fear of death, whose terror to some is far more grievous than death can be.

To these be added the death and destruction of most notable men, or such of whom we make most account; robberies, oppressions, endless ill chances, poverty, beggary, lack of friends, infamy, banishment, persecution, imprisonment, enforced torments, and exquisite punishments of sundry sorts and terrible to think on, unseasonable and tempestuous weather, barrenness, dearth, frost, hail, deluges, earthquakes, the sinking of cities, the spoiling of fields, the burning of houses, the ruin of buildings, hatred, factions, privy grudges, treasons, rebellions, wars, slaughters, captivity, cruelty of enemies, and tyranny; also the lack of children; or troubles, cares, and hellish lives by the matching of unmeet mates in wedlock, by children naughtily disposed, maliciously bent, disobedient and unthankful to father and mother; and lastly, care and continual grief in sundry sorts for sundry things, which never cease to vex our minds.

For no man can in never so long a bead-row reckon up all the evils whereunto miserable mankind is woefully endangered, and every moment tormented. New miseries rise up every day, of which our elders did never hear; and they are appointed to be felt and suffered of us, who with our new and never heard of sins do daily deserve new and never seen punishments, when as otherwise the miseries, which our forefathers felt, had been enough and sufficient to have plagued us all.

Have a nice day…

Calvin to Bullinger About Servetus

On 7 September, Calvin wrote Bullinger, in part

The Council will send you, ere long, the opinions of Servetus in order to have your advice. It is in spite of us that you have this trouble forced on you; but the folks here have come to such a pass of folly and fury that they are suspicious of all we say. Did I declare that there was daylight at noon, I believe they would question it. Brother Walter [Bullinger’s son-in-law] will tell you more [of the state of affairs here].

I know how you feel, John.  I feel ya, brother…

Heinrich Bullinger: On Aiding the Stranger

We must not only do good to them that are familiar with us, but to them also whom we did never see before, in keeping hospitality for wayfaring strangers, so far as our substance will stretch to maintain it. For if otherwise thy wealth be slender, as that it will do no more but maintain thine own house and family, no parcel of God’s law doth bind or bid thee to distribute to other men the wealth which thou thyself dost need as much or more than they.

It is sufficient for thee to provide that they of thine own household be not a burden to other men’s backs. So then the man, whose wealth is small, is not compelled to spend that little which he hath in doing honour or shewing courtesy to other men: it is enough for him to bear with a valiant heart his own hard hap, and to take heed that his poverty procure him not to offend against right and honesty.

What does Bullinger mean?  If you have the resources, help others.  If you don’t, be sure you maintain your family so as not to be a burden to others so that they can aid the truly needy.

If You’re In Zurich…

You’ll want to go to this.

Beim Thema Reformation stehen gewöhnlich Luther und Zwingli im Mittelpunkt. Im Rahmen dieser Führung tritt mehr der Vater des reformierten Protestantismus in den Vordergrund: Heinrich Bullinger. Der Schweizer Theologe war der Nachfolger von Zwingli und galt als sein Gegenstück – als ein stiller Denker, der die Reformation in Zürich nachhaltig festigte.

Auf der eineinhalbstündigen Tour durch die Zürcher Innenstadt begegnen die Teilnehmenden Kirchenpolitikern, Schriftstellern, Netzwerkern und Theologen und erfahren allerlei Wissenswertes über den Schweizer Reformator. Die Führung startet beim Haus zum Rech, zieht sich über den Zwingliplatz zum Grossmünster und endet beim Lindenhof.

Heinrich Bullinger: on Invoking God

bullinger50That invocation therefore or calling upon God, whereof at this time we entreat, is a lifting up of man’s mind to God in great necessity or in some desire, and a most ardent craving of counsel and assistance by faith; and also a bequeathing or committing of ourselves into the protection of God, and as it were a betaking of ourselves to his sanctuary and only safeguard. In invocation therefore (true invocation, I mean) a faithful mind is first of all required, which doth acknowledge God to be the author and only giver of all good gifts; who is willing to hear them that call upon him, and is able to grant us all our requests and desires whatsoever. An incessant and ardent petition or beseeching is also required. But of these points more shall be said, when God shall give us leave, in our sermon of the prayer of the faithful; for invocation is a kind of prayer. — Heinrich Bullinger

Today With Bullinger

In Sacrosanctum Jesu Christi Domini nostri Evangelium secundum Matthæum Commentariorum libri XII. fol. Tig. 1542, was translated by Frisius into German, with the title, “The Hope of the Faithful,” and published August 18, 1544.

The preface to the volume is lovely. Really lovely.


The Reticence of the Editors of Luther’s Works in English to Publish his Book on the Jews

In the preface, the editors of the American Edition of Luther’s works write

The fact that Luther, during the last years of his life, wrote treatises harshly condemnatory of the Jews and Judaism is rather widely known. The treatises themselves, however, have not previously been available in English. The publication here of the longest and most infamous of them, On the Jews and Their Lies, will no doubt prove dismaying to many readers, not only because it shows Luther at his least attractive, but also because of the potential misuse of this material. The risk to Luther’s reputation is gladly borne, since the exposure of a broader range of his writings to modern critical judgment is an inherent purpose of this American edition. However, the thought of possible misuse of this material, to the detriment either of the Jewish people or of Jewish-Christian relations today, has occasioned great misgivings. Both editor and publisher, therefore, wish to make clear at the very outset that publication of this treatise is being undertaken only to make available the necessary documents for scholarly study of this aspect of Luther’s thought, which has played so fateful a role in the development of anti-Semitism in Western culture. Such publication is in no way intended as an endorsement of the distorted views of Jewish faith and practice or the defamation of the Jewish people which this treatise contains.*

Luther’s book doesn’t just make us squirm today, it was also viewed negatively in Luther’s own day, among his own supporters!

Already upon its first appearance in the year 1543, Luther’s treatise caused widespread dismay, not only among contemporary Jews but also in Protestant circles. Melanchthon and Osiander are known to have been unhappy with its severity. Henry Bullinger, in correspondence with Martin Bucer, remarked that Luther’s views reminded him of those of the Inquisitors. And a subsequent document prepared by the churches of Zurich declared (speaking specifically of the treatise Vom Schem Hamphoras, published later in 1543), that “if it had been written by a swineherd, rather than by a celebrated shepherd of souls, it might have some—but very little—justification.”*   [The Zurich document is cited in WA 53, 574. For the views of Melanchthon, Osiander, Bullinger, and other Reformers, see Lewin, Luthers Stellung zu den Juden (cited above, p. 96, n. 35), pp. 97 ff.]


(WA 53,574)

*Luther’s works, vol. 47: The Christian in Society IV.