Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Heinrich Bullinger

Heinrich Bullinger (1504 - 1575) was born on this day, July 18 in 1504. At 15, he was sent to the University of Cologne just as the "Luther Affair" was at fever pitch. He decided to investigate the matter for himself, reading Peter Lombard's Sentences, Philip Melancthon's Common Places, and then Martin Luther's Treatises as well as the Scriptures. He concluded that Luther especially was more faithful to the Bible. Renouncing his goal of entering the Carthusian order, he became a teacher in school for novice monks. He introduced a systematic program of Bible study.

Soon, contact was made with Huldrych Zwingli (1484 - 1531) and Martin Bucer (1491 - 1551), and further studies greatly influenced Bullinger's understanding of the Lord's Supper. (He would later be hugely influential, along with John Calvin, in the publication of the Consensus Tigurinus, a document on the Lord's Supper).

Meanwhile, Bullinger's father, a priest also announced his Protestant convictions. His common-law marriage to Bullinger's mother was not an uncommon practice in Europe despite Catholic teaching on priestly celibacy. Renouncing his priestly orders and getting officially married, Bullinger's parents thus joined their son in the cause of the Reformation. This in turn led Bullinger to marry a former Nun (as Luther had done), Anna Adlischweiler. The marriage was by all accounts a very happy one. They had eleven children! All the sons became pastors.

In 1531 he began his life's task in the church at Zurich. Bullinger's writings and correspondence reveal a man of irenic temperament, influencing the cause of the Reformation in England perhaps more than any other European reformer. According to William Cunningham of the Free Church of Scotland, "the actual theological views adopted by Cranmer and embodied in the Thirty Nine articles, more nearly resembled in point of fact, the opinions of Bullinger than those of any other eminent man of the period." (The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation, 190).

Bullinger's writings were many. He was one of the author's of the First and Second Helvetic Confessions. From 1550 to 1560 there were in England 77 editions of Bullinger's Latin Decades and 137 editions of their vernacular translation House Book, a treatise in pastoral theology! His sermons were required reading by Anglican clergy of this period.

Bullinger's last days were filled with suffering. In 1562 he wrote to a friend: "I almost sink under the load of business and care, and feel so tired that I would ask the Lord to give me rest if it were not against his will." In 1564 and 1565 he nearly died from the plague, which took from him his wife, three daughters, and a brother-in-law. In all his sufferings he bore his burdens with great patience and submission to the will of God. Though often lonely, he continued his labors until death overtook him.

Bullinger died on September 17, 1575 after suffering intensely from calculus, a disease which was probably what we would now call kidney and bladder stones, for which there was no cure in the 16th century. His youngest daughter, Dorothea, cared for him in his last years. When near death, he assembled the pastors of Zurich about him and exhorted them to purity of life, unity among the brethren, and faithfulness in doctrine. He warned them against temptation, assured them of his love, thanked them for their kindness towards him, and closed with a prayer of thanksgiving.

After shaking hands with all of them with tears, he bade them farewell -- as Paul did with the elders at Ephesus. He died reciting Psalms 51, 16, and 42, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer.

1 comment:

Jimmy Stanfield said...

Hi, not much to contribute to your interesting article but one little thing concerning this quote:

"Meanwhile, Bullinger's father, a priest also announced his Protestant convictions. His common-law marriage to Bullinger's mother was not an uncommon practice in Europe despite Catholic teaching on priestly celibacy."

I have read that in Switzerland this was largely ignored and that it was not at all uncommon for priests to be married. Thanks for writing on Bullinger though, he is an intersting figure for me in this most important period of history.