Heinrich Bullinger

Heinrich Bullinger (July 18, 1504 - September 17, 1575) was a Swiss reformer, the successor of Huldreich Zwingli as head of the Zurich church. A much less controversial figure than Calvin or Luther, his importance has long been underestimated. Recent research has shown, though, that he was one of the most influential Reformed theologians of the 16th century.


The son of Dean Heinrich Bullinger by his wife Anna (Wiederkehr), he was born at Bremgarten, Aargau.

He studied at Emmerich and Cologne, where the teaching of Peter Lombard led him, through Augustine of Hippo and Chrysostom, to first hand study of the Bible. Next the writings of Luther and Melanchthon appealed to him.

Appointed teacher (1522) in the cloister school of Kappel, he lectured on Melanchthon's Loci Communes (1521). He heard Zwingli at Zürich in 1527, and next year accompanied him to the disputation at Berne.

In 1529 Bullingers father was dismissed in Bremgarten due to his Evangelical confession. Shortly afterwards, though, his son held a sermon in his hometown which made the citizens burn their pictures of saints and elect the young priest for their pastor. In the same year, he married Anna Adlischweiler, a former nun. His marriage was happy and regarded as a shining example. His house was continually filled with fugitives, colleagues and people searching for advice or help. Bullinger was a caring father of his eleven children who liked to play with them and wrote verses to them for Christmas. All his sons became pastors themselves.

After the defeat at Battle of Kappel (October 11, 1531), where Zwingli fell, Bremgarten had to return to the Catholic faith. Bullinger and two other pastors had to leave the town, though the people did not like to see them go.

Bullinger arrived with his wife and two little children in Zurich, where he already on the Sunday after his arrival stood in Zwingli's pulpit in the Great Minster and, according to a contemporary description, "thundered a sermon from the pulpit that many thought Zwingli was not dead but resurrected like the phoenix". In December of the same year, he was, at the age of 27, elected to be the successor of Zwingli as antistes of the Zurich church. He accepted the election only after the council had assured him explicitely that he was in his preaching "free, unbound and without restriction" even if it necessitated critique of the government. He kept his office up to his death in 1575.

A strong writer and thinker, his spirit was essentially unifying and sympathetic, in an age when these qualities won little sympathy.

Bullingers hospitality and charity was exemplary and Zurich accepted many Protestant fugitives from northern Italy (Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi was a descendant of such fugitives) and after the death of Henry VIII also from England. When these returned to England after the death of Mary I of England, they took Bullingers writings with them who found a broad distribution. From 1550 to 1560, there were in England 77 editions of Bullinger's Latin "Decades" and 137 editions of their vernacular translation "House Book", a treatise in pastoral theology (in comparison, Calvins Institutions had two editions in England during the same time). Some historians count Bullinger together with Bucer as the most influential theologian of the Anglican reformation.

Though Bullinger did not leave Switzerland after becoming antistes of Zurich, he conducted an extended correspondence all over Europe and was so well informed that he edited a kind of newspaper about political developments.

His controversies on the Lord's Supper with Luther, and his correspondence with Lelio Sozini, exhibit, in different connections, his admirable mixture of dignity and tenderness. With Calvin he concluded (1549) the Consensus Tigurinus on the Lord's Supper. He died at Zürich and was followed as antistes by his son-in-law Rudolf Gwalther.

Among his descendants was the noted Biblical scholar E. W. Bullinger.

  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.


Bullingers works comprise 127 titles. Already during his lifetime they were translated in several languages and counted among the best known theological works in Europe.

Theological works

His main work were the Decades", a treatise in pastoral theology, in the vernacular called "House Book".

The (second) Helvetic Confession (1566) adopted in Switzerland, Hungary, Bohemia and elsewhere, was originally believed to be his work. However, it has been recently demonstrated that Peter Martyr Vermigli played a decisive role in this document as well. The volumes of the Zürich Letters, published by the Parker Society, testify to his influence on the English reformation in later stages.

Many of his sermons were translated into English (reprinted, 4 vols., 1849). His works, mainly expository and polemical, have not been collected.


Besides theological works, Bullinger also wrote some historical works of value. The main of it, the "Tiguriner Chronik" is a history of Zurich from Roman times to the Reformation, others are a history of the Reformation and a history of the Swiss confederation.


There exist about 12,000 letters from and to Bullinger, the most extended correspondence preserved from Reformation times. He mainly wrote in Latin with some quotes in Hebrew and Greek, about 10 percent in Swiss German.

Bullinger was a personal friend and advisor of many leading personalities of the reformation era. He corresponded with Reformed, Anglican, Lutheran, and Baptist theologians, with Henry VIII of England, Edward VI of England, Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth I of England, Christian II of Denmark, Philipp I of Hesse and Frederick III, Elector Palatine.

External references

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.