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Helvetic Confessions

Two creedal standards of the Swiss Reformed churches. The First Helvetic Confession (1536) is remembered primarily as an attempt to reconcile Lutheran and Zwinglian views, before the spread of Calvinism. Aimed at the German-speaking Swiss cantons, the confession was drawn up by the young H. Bullinger, M. Bucer, and L. Jud. Also taking part were Megander, Myconcius, and other theologians. The first draft of the confession was modified by Jud after complaints that it was too Lutheran. The statement on the Eucharist, however, made it unacceptable to the Lutherans. The confession was accepted by the Swiss Zwinglian churches, which soon merged with the Calvinist movement.

The Second Helvetic Confession (1566) was a major Calvinistic or Reformed confession, accepted as a standard not only in Switzerland, but also in the Palatinate, France, Scotland, Hungary, and Poland, and well received in the Netherlands and England. The Elector Palatine, Friedrich III, who had recently turned Protestant and published the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), important as a Calvinistic statement, desired a confession of his personal beliefs to aid him against charges of fomenting religious dissension which were to be made at the upcoming diet, and turned to Heinrich Bullinger for help. Bullinger had drawn up a lengthy statement of his own personal beliefs which, with slight modification, became the Confession. It had an immediate and warm reception.

A product of Bullinger's mature thought, this second confession presents Calvinism as evangelical Christianity, in conformity with the teachings of the ancient church. Though scholastic and lengthy, it is moderate in tone. Harmony with the teachings of the ancient church is important; variety in nonessentials is allowable. The teachings of the Greek and Latin theologians of early days are valuable, though tradition must always be subordinated to Scripture. The ecumenical creeds of the early undivided (pre-Roman) church are scriptural. The Roman claim to be the true successor of the early church is vigorously assailed. The doctrine of election from eternity is affirmed, as befitted a Calvinistic confession. Against the Anabaptists, the Confession defends baptism of children, participation in civil life, and taking up arms under certain conditions (only in self- defense and only as a last resort).