Tag Archives: beyond calvin

WEAVEings “beyond Calvin”–where’s Waldo?


In southern Europe (mainly Italy today), of course!

The Waldensian Church, today a member of both the Ecumenical Council of Geneva and the World Alliance of Reform Churches, traces its origins to the Waldensian movement founded by Peter Valdo (Pietro Valdo) of Lyon (1140-1217). In 1173 Valdo, having abandoned his life as a merchant and given all of his goods to the poor, dedicated his life to preaching along with his disciples who came to be known as the “Poor Men of Lyon”. In 1177, after being warned several times by Bishop Guichard, he was expelled from the city because of his clearly anticlerical sentiments, yet this banishment had an effect opposite to that intended, and in fact served to disseminate Waldensian doctrines throughout the south of France. After a brief period of dialogue during which the Roman Catholic Church attempted to reabsorb the movement (the Third Lateran Council of 1179), at the Council of Verona in 1184 the movement was officially condemned and its adherents ex-communicated, thus forcing the Waldensians to go into hiding to escape from the Inquisition and from periodic massacres. Despite this persecution, the movement soon spread outside its area of origin, reaching into northern Italy (the Poor Men of Lombardy) and Bohemia, where it was introduced by Valdo himself. An underground network of contacts protected believers, who were able to meet for worship in secret in private homes, and made possible the spiritual assistance provided by itinerant preachers called “barbi” (the source of the term “barbetti” often applied by Roman Cathoics to the Waldensians).

Caught up in the crusade launched by Pope Innocent III against the Albigensians of Provence, the Waldensians of that region paid the price in blood to the forces of religious intolerance and were totally eradicated. The few survivors made their way to Pellice, Chisone and Germanasca valleys in what is now north-west Italy and, to some extent, to the French side of the mountains. Today, they are still to be found in those areas, where they speak a Provencal dialect and profess a Protestant faith.

The Protestant Reformation, which the Waldensians joined without hesitation, made possible a period of reorganization within the movement culminating in the Synod of Chanforan (1532) during which a Confession of Faith of a Protestant stamp was adopted, along with a church structure in line with those of the Reformed Churches of the time. Pastoral ministry was instituted, churches constructed for worship, and a Synodal model of church organization adopted.

With the coming of the Counter-Reformation, persecutions increased again. The Waldensians of Provence were exterminated during the first half of the 16th century, while in the second half of that century, Waldensians who had moved into Calabria and Puglia in southern Italy were massacred or dispersed. Emenuele Filiberto of Piedmont, unable to destroy the communities in the Waldensians valleys because of the tenacious resistance of their inhabitants, was forced to accept the “Treaty of Cavour” which guaranteed freedom of religion within the valleys but blocked any possibility of expansion outside those valleys. The treaty, however, did not stand in the way of further persecutions and in 1655, hundreds of Waldensians were killed during the “Piedmontese Easter”. In 1686 the Piedmontese and French troops of Vittorio Amadeo II and Louis XIV penetrated the valleys where, having exterminated a large part of the population, they incarcerated survivors in Piedmontese prisons. This period, thus, saw the rise of a forced migration of Waldensians into Switzerland and Germany, both predominantly Protestant areas. In the summer of 1686, a small group managed to return to the valleys from Switzerland during the “Glorious Return”. While the movement was completely eradicated in southern France, the Waldensians of the valleys were able to secure a treaty from the Pedmontese government in 1690 and there followed a period of relative peace and security. The Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era created problems of a doctrinal nature within all religious faiths, but for the Waldensians this was quickly followed by a renewed religious commitment in the second and third decades of the nineteenth century. The “Lettere Patenti” issued by the house of Savoy in 1848 finally guaranteed freedom of action and civil rights to Waldensians.

Today, the annual Synod represents the governing entity of the Waldensian Church. The Synod is made up of pastors and lay people who elect a seven person governing board (named Tavola Valdese) under the chairmanship of the Moderator. Each office is elective and all have a limit of 7 years.

WEAVE-ings “Beyond Calvin”–Heinrich Bullinger


Heinrich Bullinger (July 18, 1504 – September 17, 1575) was a Swiss reformer, the successor of Zwingli as head of the Zurich church. In 1519, at the age of 15, his parents, intending him to follow his father into the clergy, sent him to the University of Cologne, just as the Luther affair was on everyone’s tongue. Bullinger felt that he needed to decide the issues for himself, and began a systematic program of reading and eventually concluded that Luther was more faithful to the church fathers and the Bible than other theologians.

In 1522, Bullinger returned home, accepting a post as head of the school at Kappel, though only after negotiating special conditions that meant he didn’t need to take monastic vows or attend mass. At the school, Bullinger initiated a systematic program of Bible reading and exegesis for the monks there. In 1527, he spent 5 months in Zurich studying ancient languages and regularly attending the Prophezei that Zwingli had set up there. While there, he impressed the Zurich authorities and in 1528, at the urging of the Zurich Synod, he left the Kappel cloister to become a regular parish minister.

He married Anna Adlischweiler, a former nun. His marriage was happy and regarded as a shining example. They had eleven children and all their sons became pastors.

After Zwingli’s death, Bullinger quickly received offers to take up the position of pastor from Zurich and soon after also became Senior Pastor for the area. He kept this office up to his death in 1575.

Bullinger’s greatest theological contribution was his writing which later became known as the Second Helvetic Confession. Written in 1561 as a private exercise, it came to the notice of the elector palatine Frederick III, who had it translated into German and published in 1566. It gained a favorable hold on the Swiss churches in Bern, Zurich Schaffhausen St.Gallen, Chur, Geneva and other cities. The Second Helvetic Confession was adopted by the Reformed Church not only throughout Switzerland but in Scotland (1566), Hungary (1567), France (1571), and Poland (1578). Later it was also influential in America through its use as a major work at Princeton Seminary, and it is now included as one of the documents in the PC(USA)’s Book of Confessions.

WEAVE-ings “Beyond Calvin” — Zwingli


Zwingli was born January 1, 1484, just weeks after Luther. Unlike Luther, he went to the university and studied humanities (philosophy, languages, etc) and then became a priest in 1506 (Luther became a monk in 1505).

In 1516, Zwingli began to cease holding church teaching at the same level as Scripture–he decided to study only Scripture and, if necessary, the ancient church fathers and the first few creeds (Apostles, Nicene). In 1519 he abandoned the lectionary and began preaching straight through books of the Bible, beginning with Matthew, then Acts, then all the epistles, then the Old Testament. In the process, he preached against such church traditions as fasting (and he held a big sausage dinner during Lent!), clergy celibacy (and he secretly married in 1522), images (such as icons, which he removed from his church building), music in worship (and he threw the organ pipes out the window!), and indulgences (he ordered an indulgence seller out of town before he even had a chance to hawk a single piece of paper).

Zwingli argued that anything NOT explicitly in scripture should be prohibited. This is different from Luther, who believed that anything not prohibited in Scripture should be allowed. I have heard this described using this analogy: Luther went through the drawers and removed things he didn’t like…Zwingli dumped out all the drawers and only put back what was in the Bible.

Zwingli’s five main issues were:

  • Idolatry (we put trust in created things rather than in the Creator)
  • Providence (not chance!)–this is where predestination comes in, and Zwingli believed that God elected who God wills, including people who have never heard the gospel or who lived before Jesus…
  • Scripture is the only authority, not church tradition or other human inventions
  • “True Religion” as opposed to ceremonial piety–in other words, pray to Christ, not to saints or Mary; focus on the Word not on the sensory experiences around you (therefore no art or music in worship)
  • External Kingdom, not privatized morality–everything in the world is God’s, including the political sphere, home, work, economy, culture, social trends, etc. “No dimension of human existence can be excluded from the claims and promises of the gospel.” He was very into morality, but did not believe Christianity could be boiled down to something private.

RE communion, Zwingli said that the Mass was an abomination and a distraction. The Lord’s Supper should be partaken of by all, and should be treated as a memorial and not as a ceremony full of reverence for bread. The bread and wine, according to Zwingli, help us remember Christ and to become a part of the Body of Christ–they are not the physical body of Christ (transubstantiation–the Roman church’s teaching). Zwingli and Luther were unable to reconcile their disagreement in this area (Luther said that the physical presence of Christ was in-with-and-under the bread and wine, that they were clothed in it, and Christ was “really” (physically) present in the bread and wine. Zwingli says that when we participate in the Supper we remember, and re-member, Christ who is physically present at the right hand of God, not in bread.).

Zwingli also worked with (or took over, depending on your point of view) the political figures in Zurich to reform the city according to the word of God. This was a whole-life reformation, not just a theological dispute inside the walls of the church. Unfortunately, this also meant that when it came to people disagreeing with him (as some of his early students, who came to believe that he did not go far enough or fast enough in his reforms, did)…he was not inclined to speak out on their behalf. Former students of his who believed he did not reform the sacraments or ecclesiology enough became Anabaptists–people who believed in adult rather than infant baptism–and this heresy was not tolerated in Zurich…these Anabaptists were often executed by drowning in mock-baptisms as Zwingli and his colleagues looked on silently.

In 1531, Zwingli went out to battle (over his theological ideas!) and was killed. When the Catholic opponent discovered his body, they quartered him, then burned him, then mixed the ashes with dung so there was no chance of keeping them as a relic. Talk about a memorable death!

Do you see anything in Zwingli’s thought (or life) that is particularly thought provoking? anything that seems familiar? Zwingli is one of our major Reformed ancestors–the first of the Swiss reformers who helped form our theological tradition. We obviously don’t agree with all his ideas (umm, death by drowning for your opponents? really?), but some probably resonate. What resonates for you? What questions do you still have?

Join us next Wednesday for another glimpse into the less-well-known characters that helped form our tradition during the Reformation period!