Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Confessional Theonomy: Part 3: The Second Helvetic Confession

The Second Helvetic Confession was written in 1566 by Heinrich Bullinger, Ulrich Zwingli's successor in Zurich, Switzerland. Another significant reformer to play a role was Theodore BezaJohn Calvin's successor in Geneva Switzerlandwho visited Zurich to help Bullinger with some of the confession's details.

The Second Helvetic Confession came about after the Elector of the Palatinate, Frederick III, appealed to Bullinger to provide an exposition of the Reformed faith to answer charges of heresy by the Lutherans. 

Philip Schaff writes the following about the background of the confession:  
The pious Elector of the Palatinate, Frederick III., being threatened by the Lutherans with exclusion from the treaty of peace on account of his secession to the Reformed Church and publication of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), requested Bullinger in 1565 to prepare a clear and full exposition of the Reformed faith, that he might answer the charges of heresy and dissension so constantly brought against the same. Bullinger sent him a manuscript copy of his Confession. The Elector was so much pleased with it that he desired to have it translated and published in Latin and German before the meeting of the Imperial Diet, which was to assemble at Augsburg in 1566, to act on his alleged apostasy.
In the meantime the Swiss felt the need of such a Confession as a closer bond of union. The First Helvetic Confession was deemed too short, and the Zurich Consensus of 1549 and the Geneva Consensus of 1552 treated only two articles, namely, the Lord's Supper and predestination. Conferences were held, and Beza came in person to Zurich to take part in the work. Bullinger freely consented to a few changes, and prepared also the German version. Geneva, Berne, Schaffhausen, Biel, the Grisons, St. Gall, and Muhlhausen expressed their agreement. Basel alone, which had its own Confession, declined for a long time, but ultimately acceded.
The new Confession was published at Zurich, March 12, 1566, in both languages, at public expense, and was forwarded to the Elector of the Palatinate and to Philip of Hesse. A French translation appeared soon afterwards in Geneva under the care of Beza. 
In the same year the Elector Frederick made such a manly and noble defence of his faith before the Diet at Augsburg, that even his Lutheran opponents were filled with admiration for his piety, and thought no longer of impeaching him for heresy.[1]
Frederick III, Elector of the
Palatinate, appealed to Bullinger
for an exposition of the
Reformed faith, which resulted
in the Second Helvetic
Schaff adds the following about the confession's influence:
The Helvetic Confession is the most widely adopted, and hence the most authoritative of all the Continental Reformed symbols, with the exception of the Heidelberg Catechism. It was sanctioned in Zurich and the Palatinate (1566), Neuchatel (1568), by the Reformed Churches of France (at the Synod of La Rochelle, 1571), Hungary (at the Synod of Debreczin, 1567), and Poland (1571 and 1578). It was well received also in Holland, England, and Scotland as a sound statement of the Reformed faith. It was translated not only into German, French, and English, but also into Dutch, Magyar, Polish, Italian, Arabic, and Turkish. In Austria and Bohemia the Reformed or Calvinists are officially called "the Church of the Helvetic Confession," the Lutherans, "the Church of the Augsburg Confession."[2]

The Second Helvetic Confession's section on the civil magistrate covers the following:
  • The Magistracy is from God: Magistracy is instituted by God for peace and tranquility. Rulers opposed to the church can hinder the church, but rulers in support of the church can benefit it greatly.
  • The Duty of the Magistrate: A civil ruler's paramount duty is to preserve peace and public tranquility. This is fulfilled most successfully by God fearing rulers who promote the truth, defend the church, and abolish lies, superstition, impiety, and idolatry. To do this, he must make laws according to Scripture. Rulers must be impartial and protect the helpless of society. 
  • War: Rulers must wage war in God's name after all other avenues of peace are exhausted. Anabaptists who oppose war and other duties of civil rulers are opposed.
  • The Duty of Subjects: Subjects must honor rulers as ministers of God. They should love them and pray for them, and obey their just and fair commands. In the event of a just war, subjects should be willing to lay down their lives for the sake of the realm and the magistrate. Opposing the magistrate provokes God's wrath.
  • Sects and Seditions: The creed condemns those contemptuous of the magistrate

Of the Magistracy

THE MAGISTRACY IS FROM GOD. Magistracy of every kind is instituted by God himself for the peace and tranquillity of the human race, and thus it should have the chief place in the world. If the magistrate is opposed to the Church, he can hinder and disturb it very much; but if he is a friend and even a member of the Church, he is a most useful and excellent member of it, who is able to benefit it greatly, and to assist it best of all.

THE DUTY OF THE MAGISTRATE. The chief duty of the magistrate is to secure and preserve peace and public tranquillity. Doubtless he will never do this more successfully than when he is truly God-fearing and religious; that is to say, when, according to the example of the most holy kings and princes of the people of the Lord, he promotes the preaching of the truth and sincere faith, roots out lies and all superstition, together with all impiety and idolatry, and defends the Church of God. We certainly teach that the care of religion belongs especially to the holy magistrate.

Let him, therefore, hold the Word of God in his hands, and take care lest anything contrary to it is taught. Likewise let him govern the people entrusted to him by God with good laws made according to the Word of God, and let him keep them in discipline, duty and obedience. Let him exercise judgment by judging uprightly. Let him not respect any man's person or accept bribes. Let him protect widows, orphans and the afflicted. Let him punish and even banish criminals, impostors and barbarians. For he does not bear the sword in vain (Rom. 13:4).

Therefore, let him draw this sword of God against all malefactors, seditious persons, thieves, murderers, oppressors, blasphemers, perjured persons, and all those whom God has commanded him to punish and even to execute. Let him suppress stubborn heretics (who are truly heretics), who do not cease to blaspheme the majesty of God and to trouble, and even to destroy the Church of God.

WAR. And if it is necessary to preserve the safety of the people by war, let him wage war in the name of God; provided he has first sought peace by all means possible, and cannot save his people in any other way except by war. And when the magistrate does these things in faith, he serves God by those very works which are truly good, and receives a blessing from the Lord.

We condemn the Anabaptists, who when they deny that a Christian may hold the office of a magistrate, deny also that a man may be justly put to death by the magistrate, or that the magistrate may wage war, or that oaths are to be rendered to a magistrate, and such like things.

THE DUTY OF SUBJECTS. For as God wants to effect the safety of his people by the magistrate, whom he has given to the world to be, as it were, a father, so all subjects are commanded to acknowledge this favor of God in the magistrate. Therefore let them honor and reverence the magistrate as the minister of God; let them love him, favor him, and pray for him as their father; and let them obey all his just and fair commands. Finally, let them pay all customs and taxes, and all other such dues faithfully and willingly. And if the public safety of the country and justice require it, and the magistrate of necessity wages war, let them even lay down their life and pour out their blood for the public safety and that of the magistrate. And let them do this in the name of God willingly, bravely and cheerfully. For he who opposes the magistrate provokes the severe wrath of God against himself.

SECTS AND SEDITIONS. We, therefore, condemn all who are contemptuous of the magistrate - rebels, enemies of the state, seditious villains, finally, all who openly or craftily refuse to perform whatever duties they owe.

We beseech God, our most merciful Father in heaven, that he will bless the rulers of the people, and us, and his whole people, through Jesus Christ, our only Lord and Savior; to whom be praise and glory and thanksgiving, for all ages. Amen.

Read the confession in its entirety


[1] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church: Volume VII: Modern Christianity, The Swiss Reformation (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1907), 221, 222.
[2] Ibid., 222.

No comments: