Review of Zwingli and Bullinger

Bromiley, G. W. ed.  Zwingli and Bullinger.

Zwingli is kind of like the definition of a classic. You think you know what he teaches, but you haven’t read him. He is remarkably clear (though not always profound). He excels at a negative critique but his positive construction is somewhat wanting. Bullinger is important because he provides a link between Continental and English Reformations.

On the Clarity of the Word of God

“Now, if we have found that the inward man is as stated, and that it delights in the law of God because it is created in the divine image in order to have fellowship with him, it follows necessarily that there is no law or word which will give greater delight to the inward man than the Word of God” (67).

He gives an interesting argument, though I think it needs to be modified. His preceding discourse sought to establish that God’s image is found more closely in man’s soul than body (and here he largely follows Augustine’s view). Zwingli does not see current, fallen man as twisted and depraved beyond rational hope. Man is a fallen sinner, to be sure, but sin has not so marred man’s constitution to make rational discourse impossible.

Why Have a Middle Man?

Zwingli gives a very penetrating and cogent response to those who say we can only know the Scriptures as the magisterium (or its like synonym) interprets them for us.   The problem, Zwingli notes, (and this is far more aggravated today with the myriad of exclusivist communions like RCC, EO, True Orthodox, Coptic, Nestorian, etc; asking which “true church” left the “true church” first is akin to asking which siamese twin left first after the surgery.  I well remember my own frustration.  I kept asking God, “Show me the true path!  Reveal which communion has the proper truth for me so I can know the truth.”  I long suspected something was wrong with that, but Zwingli exposed the irony:

“You fool, you go to God simply that he may distinguish between men, and you do not ask him to show you that way of salvation which is pleasing to him and which he himself regards  as sure and certain.  Note that you are merely asking God to confirm something which men have told you.  But why do you not say:  Oh God, they all disagree amongst themselves, but you are the only, unconcealed Good; show me the way of salvation” (84).  

Baptism and Covenant

Interesting from an historical point of view. We see the opening moves for infant baptism that later Reformed thinkers would build on. Water Baptism is given to those who do not have faith (135). Zwingli employs the language of covenant much stronger than medieval defenses of infant baptism did.

Lord’s Supper

We like Zwingli’s negative critique. However, we go with Calvin on what the Lord’s Supper actually *does.* For Zwingli a sacrament is a sign of a holy thing (188). Zwingli then gives a long linguistic account of what ‘est’ means.


Much of Zwingli is better than I expected, yet much remains short. Zwingli correctly links the Lord’s Supper to the Ascension and Sessional rule of Christ. That’s why Christ isn’t present in the body. Yet in some real sense isn’t Christ present with us in the Supper? Yes, but how? Zwingli says he is present by his divine nature, which is everywhere. Well, that’s true, but is it not better to say with Calvin that we are brought near to Christ by the Spirit?


One thought on “Review of Zwingli and Bullinger

  1. I relate to the section on middle men. I’ve been racked with the same pain, the same gnawing questions. However, while Zwingli’s approach is partially good, there’s an overweening confidence that one sees among sectarians. You know the refrain, “well, you have your theologians and your traditions and your interpretive schemes, I have the Bible.” I’ve proffered from Ephraim Radner’s work on this.


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