From Zwingli to Amyrault

Exploring the Growth of European Reformed Traditions

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Jon Balserak, Jim West
Reformed Historical Theology
  • Bristol, CT: 
    Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht
    , September
     200 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


During the “Luther year” of 2017, with many studies of Luther and the Reformation appearing, the editors of From Zwingli to Amyraut have assembled a distinguished group of writers to examine “other theologians, movements, and ideas” that are “less-explored corners of the Reformation” (7). The result is an important book of scholarship on the growth of European Reformed traditions.

This volume considers various historical and theological themes. “Giovanni Diodati (1576-1649), translator of the Bible into Italian,” by Emidio Campi provides a study of Diodati and his important Bible of 1607. This translation into Italian, made at Diodati’s own expense, served the needs of worshipping communities of Italian exiles in Europe. It also helped spread evangelical ideas in Italy (115). Rebecca A. Giselbrecht has an interesting exploration of “Cliché or Piety: Heinrich Bullinger and Women in Alsace,” focusing on Anna Alexandria zu Rappoltstein and Elisabeth von Heideck. The little-known Peter (Pierre) Allix (1641-1717) is brought to us by Hywel Clifford in “The ‘Ancient Jewish Church’: The Anti-Unitarian Exegetical Polemics of Peter Allix.” All these pieces provide new understandings.

Theological themes are the subjects of other essays. Pierrick Hildebrand’s “Zwingli’s Covenantal Turn” provides a more nuanced view of Zwingli than that given by Gottlob Schrenk, who argued that Zwingli’s covenantal theology developed as a reaction against Anabaptists. Schrenk had considered only Zwingli’s post-1526 writings. Hildebrand has examined a lesser-known work, Zwingli’s Subsidiary Essay on the Eucharist (1525), where “Zwingli challenges Roman Catholics in arguing for the very first time from covenantal continuity and lay[s] thereby the ground for the subsequent development of covenant theology in the Reformed tradition” (24). This is a noteworthy historical and theological insight.

Zwingli’s successor in Zurich was Heinrich Bullinger. Joe Mock, in “Bullinger and The Lord’s Holy Supper,” provides an excellent survey of Bullinger’s view of the Lord’s Supper in relation to those of other reformers: Zwingli, Luther, Calvin, Oecolampadius, and Vermigli. Bullinger was significant in part because “more so than the other reformers, Bullinger underscored the covenant context of the sacraments” (59). Bullinger was “a major contributor to Zwingli’s developing understanding of the covenant as the major theme of the canon and its connection to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist” (75). Yet, Mock maintains Bullinger developed his understanding of the Eucharist independently from Zwingli (59). While the various views of the Lord’s Supper are complex theologically, Mock contributes clarity by his comparative approach. In brief, for Bullinger, “the Eucharist was primarily a covenant sign and seal of God’s grace and the gift of salvation in Christ along with the omnia bona that the elect enjoy through union with Christ” (75). This is a highly helpful essay.

Two technical pieces on christology and soteriology are included. Stefan Lindholm writes on “Reformed Scholastics Christology: A Preliminary Sketch” and Alan C. Clifford presents “Amyraldian Soteriology and Reformed-Lutheran Rapprochement.” Lindholm’s “primer” orients us to specialized issues of christology which were addressed by the Reformed scholastic tradition of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These include the hypostatic union in Jesus Christ and the communication of properties relating to Christ’s two natures. A section of Lindholm’s piece specifically discusses “Christ’s Human Nature and The Reformed Communication of Properties.”

Clifford reviews controversies ensuing from Moïse Amyraut’s (1596-1664) positions on election, the extent of the atonement of Christ, and universal grace which were “at odds with accepted wisdom,” leading to what Pierre Bayle described as “‘a kind of civil war among the Protestant divines of France’” (160). Amyraut countered the views of Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza, and appealed to Calvin’s own writings to establish his views on a universal atonement—that Christ’s death was for all persons and not just the elect of God. Clifford draws connections between Amyraut and the Reformed pastor, Richard Baxter, in England. Clifford’s piece also engages contemporary scholarly debate over the relationship of Calvin’s views and the developing views toward limited atonement fostered by Beza. For Clifford, “the ‘Amyraldian’ stance is arguably closer to the mind and heart of the Reformation than many would dare to admit” (173). Thus, historic theological debates continue.

Jon Balserak’s piece, “Inventing the Prophet: Vermigli, Melanchthon, and Calvin on the Extraordinary Reformer,” helpfully traces continuities and changes in early modern thinking on prophecy. These move from views of prophecy as “supernatural (and often apocalyptic) knowledge” (128) to prophecy in relation to the interpretation of Scripture and views of the prophetic office of the church. Peter Martyr Vermigli believed, however, that “if the ordinary ministry at any time does not fulfill their duty, God raises up prophets extraordinarily (extra ordinem) in order to restore things to order” (131). Protestant reformers themselves—such as Luther and Calvin—could be seen in light of this understanding of “prophet.” Old Testament prophets were a primary model here. Thus, in the early modern period, Protestant reformers were “the ones to rethink—via biblical categories—the function or duties (official) of the prophet, against the backdrop of redemptive history and their own love for the Old Testament” (133).

Jordan J. Ballor’s “The Reformation’s Constantinian Moment: The Significance of Luther’s Futile Appeal to Imperial Authority,” examines the dynamics of 1517-1521 and “the corresponding ‘Constantinian moment,’ as it might be called, in which Luther held out real hope for religious reform led by the Holy Roman Emperor” (10). This “Constantinian moment” passed in 1521 after Luther appeared at the Diet of Worms. The result was that “Luther’s futile appeal to imperial authority set the stage for a thoroughgoing reformation of not only the church but indeed all of society, one that would in fact be a revolution, in which new legal and social institutions would come to prominence” (21).

Aspects of the lives of Zwingli and Bullinger are uncovered in Jim West’s new translation of three letters between the two leaders. This is an important dimension for helping us recall the “down to earth” realities—here, financial aid and charitable welcome—which were important to these reformers, along with their theological convictions.  

This fine collection opens doors to lesser known, but significant persons and issues in the Protestant Reformation.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Donald K. McKim is an independent scholar.

Date of Review: 
October 29, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Jon Balserak is senior lecturer in early modern religion at the University of Bristol, United Kingdom.

Jim West is lecturer in biblical studies and church history at the Ming Hua Theological College, Hong Kong, China.



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