Fun Facts From Church History: Climate Change in Bullinger’s Zurich

Joe Mock writes

bullinger90There was a mini ice age in the middle of the 16th century. Bullinger wrote about it in his Diarium. The mini ice age was so severe that Bullinger considered that it was the judgment of God.

Otto Ulbricht has written “Extreme Wetterlagen im Diarium Heinrich Bullinger” which is to be found in Wolfgang Behringer, Hartman Lehmann dan Christian Pfister (eds), Kulurelle Konsequenzer der kleinen Eiszeit, pp 147-175.

The following is a citation from the summary of the article:

“When looking closely at Bullinger’s diary, it becomes clear that he not only sensed the climatic change beginning in the early 1560’s (coldness, frost, hail frozen over lakes, floods), but he also described it as unique and sometimes even as a breakdown of the natural order of things. Adjectives he applied to characterize these changes have strong (and negative) emotional connotations. The extreme weather conditions – sometimes joined by famine – became the most important expression of God’s wrath in his thinking, thus displacing war and pestilence as secondary.

According to Bullinger, the main reason for God’s scorn was heavy drinking. Therefore, he and his colleagues tried to extend mandates against it to leading and secular authorities in Zurich. Religious reasons also played a role in keeping interest rates down throughout the famine of 1570/71. During this crisis, there was a major change in the liturgy through the introduction of common public prayer.”

I like it.  Climate change isn’t caused by fossil fuels, it’s caused by boozers!  Thank you Heinrich!  Thanks, Joe.

UPDATE:  Christian Pfister’s essay from the book mentioned above is available here.

A Bit of Bullinger

Godly ministers and faithful pastors shall be vexed with all kinds of afflictions and persecutions. Yet the Scriptures nevertheless do witness evidently, that the ministry shall never be utterly oppressed, but that the ministers shall continually have the victory, yea, even when they are slain. For the Lord always gives ministers to his church, who, though they be tried as gold is in the fire, yet they overcome through him who has overcome the world and the prince of the world. — Heinrich Bullinger

After Zwingli’s Death… Bullinger Was Called to Zurich to Take his Place on 9 December, 1531

And he was the ideal replacement.

bullinger54After the disaster at Cappel, [Bullinger left Bremgarten and] removed to Zuerich, and was unanimously elected by the Council and the citizens preacher of the Great Minster, Dec. 9, 1531. It was rumored that Zwingli himself, in the presentiment of his death, had designated him as his successor. No better man could have been selected. It was of vital importance for the Swiss churches that the place of the Reformer should be filled by a man of the same spirit, but of greater moderation and self-restraint.

Bullinger now assumed the task of saving, purifying, and consolidating the life-work of Zwingli; and faithfully and successfully did he carry out this task. When he ascended the pulpit of the Great Minster in Dec. 23, 1531, many hearers thought that Zwingli had risen from the grave.  He took a firm stand for the Reformation, which was in danger of being abandoned by timid men in the Council. He kept free from interference with politics, which had proved ruinous to Zwingli. He established a more independent, though friendly relation between Church and State. He confined himself to his proper vocation as preacher and teacher.

In the first years he preached six or seven times a week; after 1542 only twice, on Sundays and Fridays. He followed the plan of Zwingli in explaining whole books of the Scriptures from the pulpit. His sermons were simple, clear, and practical, and served as models for young preachers.

He was a most devoted pastor, dispensing counsel and comfort in every direction, and exposing even his life during the pestilence which several times visited Zuerich. His house was open from morning till night to all who desired his help. He freely dispensed food, clothing, and money from his scanty income and contributions of friends, to widows and orphans, to strangers and exiles, not excluding persons of other creeds. He secured a decent pension for the widow of Zwingli, and educated two of his children with his own. He entertained persecuted brethren for weeks and months in his own house, or procured them places and means of travel.

He paid great attention to education, as superintendent of the schools in Zuerich. He filled the professorships in the Carolinum with able theologians, as Pellican, Bibliander, Peter Martyr. He secured a well-educated ministry. He prepared, in connection with Leo Judae, a book of church order, which was adopted by the Synod, Oct. 22, 1532, issued by authority of the burgomaster, the Small and the Great Council, and continued in force for nearly three hundred years. It provides the necessary rules for the examination, election, and duties of ministers (Predicanten) and deans (Decani), for semi-annual meetings of synods with clerical and lay representatives, and the power of discipline. The charges were divided into eight districts or chapters.*

And much, much more.  And it all began on the 9th of December, 1531.

* P. Schaff, History of the Christian Church.

Zwingli and Others on Harlots and Harlotry

Is it not a disgraceful thing to sleep with a woman and next morning hold mass? Answer: Can one not also do that if he has stayed with a harlot? If we had not conscience otherwise than that we so far forgetting God and ourselves should be inclined to such wickedness…  – H. Zwingli

I am now come to speak of adultery, which is a sin whereby the husband goeth to another woman, or the wife turneth aside after another man, to whom they make common the use of their bodies, which are not their own bodies now, but their mates in wedlock. Some there are that flatter themselves, and are of opinion, that they are not culpable of adultery, if they have the company of any unbetrothed maiden, or one that is unmarried; or if a woman play the harlot with an unwedded man: they will have it (in God’s name) to be fornication, and not adultery. But the scripture teacheth the contrary. Thou goest to another woman, thou art an adulterer: thou breakest thy faith, thou art forsworn: thy body is not thine, but thy wife’s; when therefore thou bestowest thy body on another, thou committest adultery. If thou, being wedded, dost lie with a married wife, thou doublest the sin of thine adultery. – H. Bullinger

… all know that no seed is so fertile in propagating mankind as the sacerdotal: for to such a degree has the untamed lust of almost all monks and popish priests burst forth, that he is justly deemed chastest who is satisfied with a harlot in his house. — J. Calvin

Never has a heathen, never a Turk, never a pope, never an emperor, and never any human being on earth made or enforced a law that anyone should be put to death because of marriage.  It is a new, unheard-of thing, begun by you new bishops, who are the greatest endowment robbers, harlot keepers, and whore hunters on earth in your chapters.  Nor do you do it for the sake of chastity, but all because others will not practice harlotry and unchastity, as you do, for you let them go unpunished. No one can believe that you conscientiously intend chastity with this penalty, since there are no greater enemies of chastity anywhere than you are, for you pursue it in your own bodies with all lewdness most shamefully, without letup. – M. Luther

Bullinger on the Evil Magistrate

If … in the magistrate evil be found, and not the good for which he was ordained, that comes of other causes, and the fault thereof is in the men and persons, which neglect God and corrupt the ordinance of God, and not in God, nor in his ordinance: for either the evil prince, seduced by the devil, corrupts the ways of God, and by his own fault and naughtiness transgresses God’s ordinance, so far, that he does worthily deserve the name of devilish power, and not divine authority;— we have an example hereof in the magistrate of Jerusalem: for although he were able to refer the beginning of his power by degrees to Moses, and so to God himself who did ordain it; yet, for because he took the Savior in the garden and bound him, to his servants it is said, “you are come out as it were to a thief with swords and staves; when I was daily with you in the temple, you stretched not forth your hands against me; but this is even your hour, and the power of darkness.” Lo, here he calls the ordinary magistrate the power of the devil, when he abuses his power.  — Heinrich Bullinger

When government officials abuse their power, they are making themselves known as servants of evil.  It was true when Bullinger wrote it, and it’s true now.

Calvin’s Letter to Bullinger, About Luther, on 25 November 1544

In a letter to Bullinger, dated November 25, 1544, he adjured him to treat the great man, meaning Luther, with respect:—

“I hear that Luther assails not only you, but all of us, with horrible abuse. Now I can scarcely ask you to be silent, since it is not right to allow ourselves to be so undeservedly abused, without attempting some defence. It is difficult moreover to believe that such forbearance could do any good. I wish however that the following may be clearly understood:—in the first place, how great a man Luther is; by what extraordinary gifts he is distinguished; and with what energy of soul, with what perseverance, with what ability and success he has continued up to the present day to overthrow the kingdom of antichrist, and to extend at the same time the doctrine of salvation.

I have already often said, that were he to call me a devil, I should still continue to venerate him as a chosen servant of God, uniting with extraordinary virtues some great failings. Would to heaven that he had striven more to subdue those tempests of feeling which he has so continually allowed to break forth! Would that he had only employed that violence, so natural to him, against the enemies of the truth, and not against the servants of God! Would that he had exercised more care to discover his own defects!

Unhappily there was too great a crowd of flatterers about him, who added still more to the self-confidence peculiar to his nature. It is even our duty to view his failings in such a light, that we may the more properly estimate his extraordinary gifts.

I beg you therefore to bear in mind, that we have to do with one of the first servants of Christ; with one to whom we all owe much. I would also have you consider, that you could not possibly gain any advantage by entering into a struggle with him. You would only, by such a course, afford pleasure to the enemy, who would delight not so much in our defeat as in that of the Gospel.

People will everywhere willingly believe what is said, when we vilify and condemn each other. You must consider this, rather than what Luther may have deserved on account of his violence; lest that should happen to us of which Paul speaks, namely, that while we bite and devour one another, all may go to the ground. Nay, even should he challenge us to the contest, we must rather turn away than hazard by our twofold fall the injury of the church.”*

Calvin understood Luther better than Luther understood himself.

*Paul Henry and Henry Stebbing, The Life and Times of John Calvin, the Great Reformer, vol. 2 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1851), 15–16.

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.


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…

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!