Johann Heinrich Bullinger

1504-1575. Swiss Reformer. Son of the parish priest at Bremgarten, Canton Argau, he received his education first at the School of the Brethren of the Common Life* in Emmerich, duchy of Cleves, and then at the University of Cologne, the citadel of the via antiqua. At Cologne he also became familiar with the works of Erasmus,* Melanchthon,* and Luther whose writings decisively influenced him. After his return to Switzerland in 1523, he joined those who supported Zwingli's* reformation at Zurich and took part in the Berne Disputation of 1528. The disastrous Second Kappel War in 1531 destroyed his fortune and compelled him to flee from Bremgarten, where he had succeeded his father, and to take refuge at Zurich. After the Zurich Council agreed to guarantee the clergy's freedom to preach on all aspects of life in the city, he consented to become Zwingli's successor in December 1531. As the Zurich antistes, Bullinger performed the functions of a “Reformed” bishop presiding over the cantonal synod which he helped to reorganize and mediating between the Zurich Council and the clergy. He was also responsible for the reform of the school system and the creation of a central administration for the income from cloister lands confiscated by the city.

By this time he had already begun his repetitive but massive literary activities which included several important polemical works against the Anabaptists, The Decades (fifty sermons on Christian doctrine), the Diary (Diarium), and the History of the Reformation (Reformationsgeschichte). Bullinger used his literary skills to mediate the quarrels which arose within the Reformed churches, but they were of no avail to him in his repeated attempts to seek a theological agreement with the Lutherans. He played an important part in the writing of the Consensus Tigurinus and the Helvetic Confessions.*

Though he accommodated his own moderate Augustinian doctrine of predestination to the more rigorous one advanced by Calvin, Bullinger remained a lifelong opponent of Calvin's theory of the two polities within the Christian commonwealth and the Genevan ecclesiastical discipline. He was Thomas Erastus's closest ally in the partially successful struggle to prevent the introduction of a presbyterian polity into the Rhineland Palatinate, and he supported the English bishops against Thomas Cartwright's* Presbyterianism because he viewed it as a new form of papal tyranny. Denying that the punishment of Christians should include exclusion from the Lord's Supper, he delegated all coercive power to the secular magistrate whom he assumed was Christian. It was left to the clergy to fulfill their prophetic function by preaching the Word and administering the sacraments to a Christian people whom Bullinger, a covenant theologian, believed were in a covenant relationship with God.

The Zurich Letters (2 vols., 1542, 1545) reveal his interest in English affairs and bear witness to his hospitality to many Marian exiles. Bullinger viewed the leaders of the Church of England as fellow Reformed churchmen and at their behest wrote his refutation of Pius V's Bull of Excommunication against Elizabeth I. Portions of his Decades were dedicated to Edward VI and Lady Jane Grey, and they also provided Whitgift* with an educational tool to protect the clergy against the “prophesyings.”

H. Bullinger, Reformationsgeschichte (ed. J.J. Hottinger, H.H. Vögeli; 3 vols., 1839); G.W. Bromiley (ed.), Zwingli and Bullinger (1953); T. Harding (ed.), The Decades of Henry Bullinger (4 vols., 1849-52); F. Blanke, Der junge Bullinger, (1942); A. Bouvier, Henri Bullinger le successeur de Zwingli (1940); H. Fast, Heinrich Bullinger und die Täufer (1959); W. Hollweg, Heinrich Bullingers Hausbuch (1956); H. Kressner, Schweizer Ursprünge des anglikanischen Staatskirchentums (1953); C. Pestalozzi, Heinrich Bullinger Leben und ausgewählte Schriften (1858); J. Staedtke, Die Theologie des jungen Bullinger (1962); D. Keep, Henry Bullinger and the Elizabethan Church (1970).