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§ 54. The First Helvetic Confession, A.D. 1536.

See Literature in § 53. Comp. also Pestalozzi: Heinrich Bullinger, pp. 183 sqq.

The First Helvetic Confession (Confessio Helvetica prior), so called to distinguish it from the Second Helvetic Confession of 1566, is the same with the Second Confession of Basle (Basileensis posterior), in distinction from the First of 1534.760760   Hagenbach, l.c. p. 357: 'Basler Confession heisst diese Confession nur weil sie in, nicht weil sie für Basel verfasst ist (ähnlich wie die Augsburger Confession von dem Ort der Uebergabe den Namen hat). Bezeichnender ist daher der Name erste Helvetische Confession, weil sie das Gesammtbekenntniss der reformirten Schweizerkirchen ist.' It owes its origin partly to the renewed efforts of the Strasburg Reformers, Bucer and Capito, to bring about a union between the Lutherans and the Swiss, and partly to the papal promise of convening a General Council. A number of Swiss divines were delegated by the magistrates of Zurich, Berne, Basle, Schaffhausen, St. Gall, Mühlhausen, and Biel, to a Conference in the Augustinian convent at Basle, January 30, 1536. Bucer and Capito also appeared. Bullinger, Myconius, Grynæus, Leo Judæ, and Megander were selected to draw up a Confession of the faith of the Helvetic Churches, which might be used before the proposed General Council. It was examined and signed by all the clerical and lay delegates, February, 1536, and first published in Latin.761761   Sub titulo: 'Ecclesiarum per Helvetiam Confessio Fidei summaria et generalis,' etc. The German is inscribed, 'Eine kurze und gemeine Bekenntniss des heiligen, wahren und uralten christlichen Glaubens der Kirchen, etc., Zürich, Bern, Basel, Strassburg, Constanz, St. Gallen, Schaffhausen, Mühlhausen, Biel, etc., 1536, Februariy.' Leo Judæ prepared the German translation, which is fuller than the Latin text, and of equal authority.

389

Luther, to whom a copy was sent through Bucer, expressed unexpectedly, in two remarkable letters, his satisfaction with the earnest Christian character of this document, and promised to do all he could to promote union and harmony with the Swiss.762762   See his letter to Jacob Meyer, burgomaster of Basle, Feb. 17, 1535, and his response to the Reformed Cantons, Dec. 1, 1537 (in De Wette, Vol. V. pp. 54 and 83). Luther kept the peace with the Swiss churches only for a few years. In his book against the Turks, 1541, he calumniated without provocation the memory of Zwingli; in August, 1543, he acknowledged the present of the Zurich translation of the Bible sent to him by Froschauer, the publisher, but scornfully declined to accept any further works from preachers 'with whom neither he nor the Church of God could have any communion, and who were driving people to hell' (see his letter in De Wette, Vol. V. p. 587); in 1544 he violently renewed, to the great grief of Melanchthon, the sacramental war in his 'Short Confession of the Sacrament;' and shortly before his death he was not ashamed to travesty the first Psalm thus: 'Beatus vir, qui non abiit in consilio Sacramentariorum: nec stetit in via Cinglianorum, nec sedet in cathedra Tigurinorum.' (See his letter to Jac. Probst of Bremen, Jan. 17, 1546, in De Wette, Vol. V. p. 778. Comp. also on this whole subject Hagenbach, l.c. p. 358, and Pestalozzi, l.c. pp. 216 sqq.). Myconius was not disturbed by these outbursts of passion, and continued to respect Luther without departing from the doctrine of his friend Zwingli. He judged, not without some reason, that the two Reformers never understood each other; that Luther stubbornly believed that Zwingli taught the sacrament to be an empty sign, and Zwingli that Luther taught a gross Capernaitic eating. See his letter of Sept. 7, 1538, to Bibliander, in Simmler's Collection, Vol. XLV., and Hagenbach, p. 350. He was then under the hopeful impressions of the 'Wittenberg Concordia,' which Bucer had brought about by his elastic diplomacy, May, 1536, but which proved after all a hollow peace, and could not be honestly signed by the Swiss.

The Helvetic Confession is the first Reformed Creed of national authority. It consists of twenty-seven articles, is fuller than the first Confession of Basle, but not so full as the second Helvetic Confession, by which it was afterwards superseded. The doctrine of the sacraments and of the Lord's Supper is essentially Zwinglian, yet emphasizes the significance of the sacramental signs and the real spiritual presence of Christ, who gives his body and blood—that is, himself—to believers, so that he more and more lives in them and they in him.

It seems that Bullinger and Leo Judæ wished to add a caution against the binding authority of this or any other confession that might interfere with the supreme authority of the Word of God and with Christian liberty.763763   This addition, which is not found in any copy, is thus stated by Hagenbach and Niemeyer (Proleg. p. xxxvi.): 'Durch diese Artikel wollen wir keineswegs allen Kirchen eine einzige Glaubensregel vorschreiben. Denn wir erkennen keine andere Glaubensregel an als die heilige Schrift. Wer also mit dieser übereinstimmt, mit dem sind wir einstimmig, obgleich er anders von unserer Confession verschiedene Redensarten brauchte. Denn auf die Sache selbst und die Wahrheit, nicht auf die Worte soll man sehen. Wir stellen also jedem frei, diejeniqen Redensarten zu gebrauchen, welche er für seine Kirche am passendsten glaubt, und werden uns auch dergleichen Freiheit bedienen, gegen Verdrehung des wahren Sinnes dieser Confession uns aber zu vertheidigen wissen. Dieser Ansdrücke haben wir uns jetzt bedient, um unsere Ueberzeugung darzustellen.' Pestalozzi. p. 186, gives the same declaration more fully.


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