Essay / Theology

Bullinger Day

Heinrich Bullinger was born today (July 18) in 1504. Bullinger took over the office of chief minister in Zurich when Zwingli died on the battlefield in 1531, and stayed at that post until his own death 44 years later.

So many things make Bullinger an attractive figure in the history of theology. Though he was a thundering preacher, he was a calming and settling influence in difficult times. The churches of Zurich were in an uproar at the time of Zwingli’s death, but enjoyed great peace and prosperity under Bullinger. He had great personal loyalty to the legacy of Zwingli, but he knew that the very mention of the Z-word would make Lutherans and the Reformed in Calvin’s Geneva angry. With great patience he helped to put together a stronger Reformation coalition.

Bullinger emphasized the continuity of Reformed Christianity with the great tradition that had gone before it. With him it was always a matter of great significance that the faith of his churches was directly in line with the church fathers and the best of the medieval tradition. Some of the other Reformers gave the impression of quoting the church fathers only to score points against Roman apologists, but with Bullinger it was always a matter of serious continuity.

His writings are voluminous: He preached more than 7,000 times in his style of working verse by verse through the Bible. He wrote commentaries on every book of the Bible, sent thousands of letters, and produced numerous other writings. His influence, though now mostly forgotten, was vast. The Reformed character of the Anglican church, especially after the Marian persecutions, has more to do with Bullinger’s influence than with any other continental factor.

The best thing to read from Bullinger is that document called the Second Helvetic Confession. It is entirely his work, and if you can get past that horrible title, apparently designed to keep you from reading it, you will find yourself in the presence of a great theological mind, writing with luminous clarity, transparency to Scripture, respect for tradition, and pastoral sensitivity.

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