Heinrich Bullinger: Phoenix of the Reformation

Heinrich Bullinger - 1550 - Geschichte des Kantons Zürich

Heinrich Bullinger – 1550 – Geschichte des Kantons Zürich

Heinrich Bullinger served as the glue that held the reformation together. The slaying of Zwingli at the Battle of Kappel on October 11th 1531, created a void in Zürich. Who would take over the Grössminster? Uncertainty clouded the day, but when Bullinger took the pulpit “on [that] first Sunday he ‘thundered a sermon…[so] that many thought Zwingli was not dead, but was resurrected like the phoenix.” (Ives) Bullinger stands as a giant of the reformation. Not only did he write prolific works that are utilized in reformed churches in the modern day, he was also instrumental the creation of an international “reformed” identity.

Heinrich Bullinger

Heinrich Bullinger

Born in Bremgarten, Switzerland in 1504, Bullinger grew up going to school ingratiated in the scholastics and influenced by Renaissance humanism. As the historian Steven Lawson relates, “Young Heinrich’s father groomed him for the priesthood from a very early age. At age twelve, he was sent to the monastic school at Emmerich, known as the School of the Brethren of the Common Life…Three years later, in 1519, Bullinger proceeded to the University of Cologne, where he began studying traditional Scholastic theology.” (“Covenant Theologian”) As for many of the reformers, Bullinger grew up in a very exciting time in history. The Greek New Testament of Erasmus came out in portions during and after his studies at the university. People began questioning the authority and corruption of the church. It was during this time in school that “Bullinger became increasingly sympathetic to the Reformation.” (“Heinrich Bullinger”) He struck up a friendship with Zwingli upon his return from Cologne and gobbled up any news of the efforts of Martin Luther.

Back in Switzerland, Bullinger started preaching and teaching the word of God in the reformed style. The mass ended, he married a former nun Anna Adlischweiler in 1529, and his work became renowned throughout the area. Church historian Philip Schaff narrates, “After the disaster at [K]appel, he removed to Zürich, and was unanimously elected by the Council and the citizens preacher of the Great Minster, Dec. 9, 1531.” (“Heinrich Bullinger”) There Bullinger faithfully carried out the Reformation as a strong successor to Zwingli.

Heinrich Bullinger

Heinrich Bullinger

Bullinger’s accomplishments are innumerable. Among them are over twelve thousand letters he wrote to almost every theologian and reformation political figure of his time, not to mention the seven thousand plus sermons he gave in his ministry. Church historian David Calhoun reiterates, “He wrote 12,000 letters, which was more than Zwingli, Luther, and Calvin put together. Zurich became a kind of nerve center of news. If you wanted to know anything, all you had to do was write Bullinger.” (“Clarity and Certainty”) As the reformation spread, Bullinger sought to understand the life and struggles of reformers around Europe: from the Huguenots in France, to the Puritans and reformers in England, to Presbyterians in Scotland, and even monarchs. (Calhoun) Perhaps his most important works were the agreement brokered with Calvin on the Consensus Tigurinus of 1549 and his contributions to the Second Helvetic Confession of 1566.

Much in line with the diplomatic desires of Martin Bucer, Bullinger and Calvin’s Consensus Tigurinus created a united agreement on the Eucharist that brought together Zwinglians and Calvinists. Article 22 of the Consensus Tigurinus explains the what the words “This is my Body” means to them:

Those who insist that the formal words of the Supper, “This is my body; this is my blood,” are to be taken in what they call the precisely literal sense, we repudiate as preposterous interpreters. For we hold it out of controversy that they are to be taken figuratively, the bread and wine receiving the name of that which they signify. Nor should it be thought a new or unwonted thing to transfer the name of things figured by metonomy [modern spelling: metonymy] to the sign, as similar modes of expression occur throughout the Scriptures, and we by so saying assert nothing but what is found in the most ancient and most approved writers of the Church.

The Second Helvetic Confession also helped to create unity in the reformed church through bringing together not only the Swiss Cantons, but protestant churches in “Scotland (1566), Hungary (1567), France (1571), and Poland (1578).” (“Helvetic Confession”) Bullinger’s work, for the first time internationally, united protestants along confessional lines. This created a united front against the bulwark of Catholicism that had to be reckoned with. Today, the confessional standards still stand in many reformed churches alongside the Westminster Confession of England and the Heidelberg Catechism of Ursinus. Given Bullinger’s legacy, we see that Theodore Beza was right when he said of Bullinger: “He is the common shepherd of all Christian churches.” (Pine)

Calhoun, David. “The Clarity and Certainty of the Word of God: The Life and Theology of Ulrich Zwingli.” Transcript. Reformation and Modern Church History. Covenant Theological Seminary, 2006. Web. 09 Oct 2015.

Ives, Eric. The Reformation Experience: Living through the Turbulent 16th Century. Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2012. p. 103. Available via Google Books.

“Heinrich Bullinger | Biography – Swiss Religious Reformer.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

“Helvetic Confession | Protestant Religion.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Web. 09 Oct. 2015.

Lawson, Steven. “Covenant Theologian: Heinrich Bullinger.” 24 Oct 2014. Ligonier Blog. Web. 09 Oct 2015.

Pine, Leonard. “Heinrich Bullinger: ‘The Common Shepherd of All Christian Churches.” WRS Journal 3:2 (August 1996) 30-35. Web. 09 Oct 2015.

Schaff, Philip. “Heinrich Bullinger.” History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity, the Swiss Reformation. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Web. 09 Oct. 2015.


2 thoughts on “Heinrich Bullinger: Phoenix of the Reformation

  1. Pingback: Peter Martyr Vermigli: Reformer of Europe | Continuing Reformation

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