1566 · Zurich
Rare first editions (first issues) of both Latin and German redactions of the so-called Second Helvetic Confession, Bullinger's crowning achievement, the most comprehensive and authoritative Reformed confession of faith. It not only became the international standard of belief for many of the Reformed churches and a key frame of reference for new doctrinal departures, but also remains part of the Reformed heritage today. The Confession
consists of thirty chapters, which cover in natural order all the articles of faith and discipline which then challenged the attention of the Church (cf. A.C. Cochrane, Reformed Confessions of the Sixteenth Century, Louisville, KY 2003, pp. 220-223).
The First Helvetic Confession
known also as the Second Confession of Basel, was drawn up in that city in 1536 by Heinrich Bullinger and Leo Jud of Zürich, Kaspar Megander of Bern, Oswald Myconius and Simon Grynaeus of Basel, Martin Bucer and Wolfgang Capito of Strasbourg, with other representatives from Schaffhausen, St Gall, Mülhausen and Biel. The first draft was in Latin and the Zürich delegates objected to its Lutheran phraseology. Leo Jud's German translation was more or less accepted by all, and after Myconius and Grynaeus had modified the Latin form, both versions were agreed to and adopted on February 26, 1536.
In time, however, the Swiss churches had found the First Helvetic Confession too short and still too Lutheran. Thus Bullinger started to compose what became the Second Helvetic Confession as a private exercise and an abiding testimony of the faith in which he had lived and in which he wished to die. He showed it to Peter Martyr, who fully consented to it, shortly before his death (Nov. 12, 1562). Two years later he elaborated it more fully during the raging of the pestilence, and added it to his will, which was to be delivered to the magistrate of Zurich after his death, which he then expected every day. But events in Germany gave it a public character. The pious Elector of the Palatinate, Frederick III, being threatened by the Lutherans with exclusion from the treaty of peace on account of his secession to the Reformed Church and publication of the Heidelberg Catechism
(1563), requested Bullinger (1565) to prepare a clear and full exposition of the Reformed faith, that he might answer the charges of heresy and dissension so constantly brought against the same. Bullinger sent him a manuscript copy of his Confession. The Elector was so much pleased with it that he desired to have it translated and published in Latin and German before the meeting of the Imperial Diet, which was to assemble at Augsburg in 1566, to act on his alleged apostasy. But he made such a manly and noble defense of his faith before the Diet, that even his Lutheran opponents were filled with admiration for his piety, and thought no longer of impeaching him for heresy.
In the meantime the Swiss felt the need of such a Confession as a closer bond of union. The First Helvetic Confession was deemed too short, and the Zurich Confession of 1545, the Zurich Consensus of 1549, and the Geneva Consensus of 1552 touched only the articles of the Lord's Supper and predestination. Conferences were held, and Théodore de Bèze came in person to Zurich to take part in the work. Bullinger freely consented to a few changes, and prepared also the German version. Geneva, Berne, Schaffhausen, Biel, the Grisons, St. Gall, and Mühlhausen expressed their agreement. Basle alone, which had its own Confession, declined for a long time, but ultimately acceded.
The new Confession appeared at Zurich, March 12, 1566, in both languages, at public expense, and was forwarded to the Elector and to Philip of Hesse. Glarus, Basle, Appenzell, Neuchâtel (1568), France (at the Synod of La Rochelle, 1571), Poland (1571 and 1578), Hungary (at the Synod of Debreczin, 1567), and Scotland (1566) approved the Confession. A French translation appeared in 1566 in Geneva under the care of Bèze. Later it was translated not only into English, but also into Dutch, Magyar, Polish, Italian, Arabic, and Turkish (cf. W. Hildebrand & R. Zimmermann, Bedeutung und Geschichte des Zweiten Helvetischen Bekenntnisses, Zürich, 1938, pp. 58-60).
Like most of the Confessions of the sixteenth century, the Helvetic Confession is expanded beyond the limits of a popular creed into a lengthy theological treatise. It is the matured fruit of the preceding symbolical labors of Bullinger and the Swiss Churches. It is in substance a restatement of the First Helvetic Confession, in the same order of topics, but with great improvements in matter and form. It is scriptural, wise and judicious, full and elaborate, yet simple and clear, uncompromising towards the errors of Rome, moderate in its dissent from the Lutheran dogmas. It proceeds on the conviction that the Reformed faith is in harmony with the true Catholic faith of all ages, especially the ancient Greek and Latin Church.
Hence it is preceded by the Imperial edict of 380 (from the recognized Justinian code), which draws the line between orthodoxy and heresy, and excludes as heresies only the departures from the Apostolic and Nicene faith. It inserts also the brief Trinitarian creed ascribed to the Roman Pope Damasus (from the writings of Jerome), and referred to in said decree as a standard of orthodoxy. As in former Confessions, so also in this, Bullinger distinctly recognizes, in the spirit of Christian liberty and progress, the constant growth in the knowledge of the Word of God, and the consequent right of improvement in symbolical statements of the Christian faith.
Upon the whole, the Second Helvetic Confession occupies the first rank among the Reformed Confessions. Already the great Swiss theologian and historian Karl Rudolf Hagenbach in his Kritische Geschichte der Entstehung und Schicksale der ersten Basler Confession (Basel, 1827, p. 86) wrote: "In ihrer ganzen Anlage und in der Durchführung einzelner Punkte, namentlich in praktischer Beziehung (in der Scheidung des Geistlichen and Weltlichen, u.s.w.) ist sie ein wahres dogmatisches Kunstwerk zu nennen". See also J. Staedtke, Die historische Bedeutung der 'Confessio Helvetica Posterior', in: "Vierhundert Jahre 'Confessio Helvetica Posterior' ", Bern, 1967, pp. 8-18.
Heinrich Bullinger was Zwingli's successor as Antistes of the Zurich church. He has an influence throughout Europe because of his letters (of which are extant more than twelve thousand pieces), his personal ministrations to exiles, and his voluminous publications. He corresponded with leading French Protestants and had French and Italian exiles in his home from time to time. He corresponded with Protestants in Poland and Hungary. His works were widely read in the Netherlands. His influence was especially strong in England, no doubt owing to the many contacts with the English, including John Hooper, who lived in close connection with Bullinger from 1547 to 1549. Bullinger unavoidably built on the Zwinglian foundation, but he also went beyond Zwingli, adding his own genius and leaving a lasting legacy to the Reformed churches. His most distinctive doctrine was his theology of the covenant, which was closely connected with his view of the Christian community (cf. F. Büsser, Heinrich Bullinger, Zürich, 2004/5, passim; and T. Kirby, Heinrich Bullinger, 1504-1575: Life-Thought-Influence, in: "Zwingliana", 32, 2005, pp. 107-117).
At the bottom of the title-page of the Latin edition is found the autograph dedication by Henrich Bullinger to Wilhelm Meyer von Knonau (d. 1570), who was the latter's pupil in the Zurich Academy (see the handwritten list of his pupils in the Zürich Staatsarchiv). Wilhelm's father Gerold (b. 1509) was Zwingli's step-son (in fact Anna Reinhart was married with Hans Mayer von Knonau and after his death in 1517 she married Zwingli in 1522 - see O. Farner, Anna Reinhard, die Gattin Huldrych Zwinglis, in: "Zwingliana" 3, 1916, pp. 203-204, 244). Gerold died as his step-father in the battle of Kappel (October 11, 1531). Wilhelm's mother Anna died in 1538 and it can be presumed that he then was supported by Heinrich Bullinger. In 1551 Wilhelm became a member of the Zurich Great Council as 'Achtzehner von der Constaffel' and in 1560 treasurer of the chapter of the Zürich Grossmünster as well as a member of the guild "Zum Schneggen' (cf. E. Usteri,Die Schildnerschaft zum Schneggen, Geschichte der Schilde seit 1559, Zürich 1969, p. 13; on the family see H. Schulthess, Das Junker- und Gerichtsherrengeschlecht der Meyer von Knonau, in "Kulturbilder aus Zürichs Vergangenheit", 1, Zürich, 1930, pp. 157-163).
VD 16, B-9590 and B-9593; Index Aureliensis, 127.433 and 127.432; J. Staedtke, ed. Heinrich Bullinger Werke.
Vol. I: Beschreibendes Verzeichnis der gedruckten Werke von Heinrich Bullinger, Zürich, 1972, nos. 433 and 465; M. Vischer, Bibliographie der Zürcher Druckschriften des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts, Baden-Baden, 1991, C-768 and C-766; E. Koch, Die Textüberlieferung der Confessio Helvetica Posterior und ihre Vorgeschichte, in: "Vierhundert Jahre 'Confessio Helvetica Posterior' ", Bern, 1967, pp. 12-40; J. Staedtke, Bibliographie des Zweiten Helvetischen Bekenntnisses, in: "Vierhundert Jahre 'Confessio Helvetica Posterior' ", Bern, 1967, pp. 42, no.1; 45, no. 31. (Inventory #: 45)