[K:JNWTS 20/2 (Sep 2005) 66-67]

Book Review

Henry Bullinger, The Decades of Henry Bullinger. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2004. 432 pages (v. 1), 602 pages (v. 2). Cloth. ISBN: 1-8927777-38-X. $65.00.

This reprint of the Parker Society edition (1849-52) of Bullinger's major work is a welcome addition to the current availability of the 16th century Reformed corpus in the vernacular. Bullinger's impact on the English-speaking world was immense in the 16th century, as this edition demonstrates. The Parker Society project was a 19th century attempt to release the materials bearing on the English Reformation of the 16th century. Bullinger's Decades contained two sections dedicated to young King Edward VI (1537-1553). Latin editions were circulating with Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley and the 'proto'-Puritans by 1551. The first English translation appeared at the height of the Elizabethan era (1587).

In his role as successor to Ulrich/Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531) at Zurich, Bullinger (1504-1575) dedicated himself to preserving and extending the Zwinglian Reformed Reformation. His efforts to move the theological consensus of Switzerland beyond the magisterial Reformation to national confessions (i.e., his contribution to the First Helvetic Confession [1536] and his authorship of the Second Helvetic Confession [1566], not to mention his Orthodoxa Tigurinae ecclesiae ministrorum Confessio [1545]) resulted in the Consensus Tigurinus, produced jointly with Calvin in 1549.

The Decades are often regarded as sermons. While that may be true of a few, the whole is more likely a literary product articulated for the weekly "prophesyings" in Zurich. As Peter Opitz has pointed out in preparation of his definitive, critical edition of the Decades: "in their final written form, the sermons appear to be literary fiction rather than a printed version of sermons delivered in the Grossmünster" (i.e., 'Great Minster' or the central church in Zurich) ("Bullinger's Decades: Instruction in Faith and Conduct," in Bruce Gordon and Emidio Campi, eds., Architect of Reformation: An Introduction to Heinrich Bullinger, 1504-1575 [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004] 104).

The formal outline of the Decades is predictable for this era of the 16th century Reformation: Ten Commandments, Apostles' Creed, Lord's Prayer, Baptism and Lord's Supper. Opitz suggests that Bullinger attempts to follow the order of "salvation history," i.e., Pentateuch to Prophets to Gospels (ibid., 106). The result is an obvious Christocentric orientation which uses the Scriptures, the church fathers and the Reformers for support—certainly a commendable method for those who still long for the elusive consensus in Reformed theology.

James T. Dennison, Jr.