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Advocating for Poor Relief in Zurich: Heinrich Bullinger's Contributions to Religious Ideals and Policy Reforms

  • Esther Chung-Kim

Abstract

Despite the demarcations of the political and religious spheres, Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575) considered the city's system of poor relief to be a pastoral concern. The chief minister of Zurich expected the wealth from confiscated church property to be used for communal needs and believed that the magistrates needed the ministers to guide them in poor relief reforms. This article demonstrates that Bullinger's biblical interpretation was not peripheral to his political activity, but rather central to his contributions to poor relief and to the justification of his political involvement in poor relief reform. More specifically, Bullinger's involvement in poor relief reform was a consistent development from his articulation of his theological views in the 1530s, applied to the Zurich context in the 1550s, and politically supported in the 1570s. An examination of Bullinger's biblical interpretation and scriptural references in his commentaries, sermons, and speeches reveals a consistent concern for the care of the poor from the early years of his career to the end of his ministry in Zurich.

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1 Bächtold, Hans Ulrich, Heinrich Bullinger vor dem Rat: Zur Gestaltung und Verwaltung des Zürcher Staatwesen in den Jahren 1531–1575 (Bern: Peter Lang, 1982) (hereafter cited as Bullinger vor dem Rat). Bächtold's work advanced the further examination of Bullinger's political involvement in poor relief reform, which for nearly fifty years had relied mostly on the works of Alice Denzler and Elsa Dollfus-Zodel in 1920 and 1931, respectively.

2 Ibid., 277.

3 Mühling, Andreas, “Heinrich Bullinger as Church Politician,” in Architect of Reformation: An Introduction to Heinrich Bullinger, 1504–1575, ed. Gordon, Bruce and Campi, Emidio (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2004) (hereafter cited as Architect), 249.

4 Bächtold, Bullinger vor dem Rat, 275.

5 For a broader discussion on Bullinger's understanding of authority and justice in a political community, see Emidio Campi, “Bullinger's Early Political and Theological Thought: Brutus Tigurinus,” in Architect, 193–199. For example on p. 193, Campi writes, “Bullinger's view of the relationship between state and church is characterized by his overriding desire to demonstrate the religious foundations of the political ethos and of the magisterial office.”

6 Biel, Pamela, Doorkeepers at the House of Righteousness: Heinrich Bullinger and the Zürich Clergy 1535–1575 (Bern: Peter Lang, 1991), 42.

7 Ibid., 206. Biel specifically challenges the views in Baker, J. Wayne, Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenant: The Other Reformed Tradition (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1980); Walton, Robert C., Zwingli's Theocracy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967).

8 Timmerman, Daniël, Heinrich Bullinger on Prophecy and the Prophetic Office (1523–1538) (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015), 209.

9 The Synodal Ordinance of 1532, penned by Bullinger and Leo Jud, outlined the duties of a Reformed minister, which included the reading of the council's mandates, care of the poor, visiting the sick, the burial of the dead, and maintenance of a proper household. See Gordon, Bruce, The Swiss Reformation (New York: Manchester University Press, 2002), 251252 .

10 Ibid., 255.

11 Bruce Gordon, introduction to Architect, 27. Later Reformed theologians highlighted this connection between doctrine and practice as intricately intertwined in an organic relationship to each other. See Baschera, Luca, “Ethics in Reformed Orthodoxy,” in A Companion to Reformed Orthodoxy, ed. Selderhuis, Herman (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 519552 .

12 Hohl, Martin, “Heinrich Bullinger als Oekonom,” in Heinrich Bullinger: Life, Thought and Influence, ed. Campi, Emidio and Opitz, Peter (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 2007), 1:156. Bullinger was part of the earliest wave of Protestant reformers who conceived of a theological rationale for charging limited interest as long as contracts were free from abuse. While he would be shocked by interest rates charged by creditors today, at the time, Bullinger believed that such transactions would benefit society as long as they were regulated and both sides profited in some way from the exchange.

13 Peter Opitz, “Bullinger's Decades: Instruction in Faith and Conduct,” in Architect, 113–114.

14 The Zürich Council had accepted the Meilen Articles proposed by rural community leaders in the aftermath of the Second Kappel War. In particular, article four prohibited clergy involvement in secular matters and preaching on political issues. See Gordon, introduction to Architect, 19. For further discussion of the ministerial transition from Zwingli to Bullinger, see Campi, Emidio, “The Reformation in Zurich,” in A Companion to the Swiss Reformation, ed. Burnett, Amy Nelson and Campi, Emidio (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 59125 . See also Kaspar von Greyerz, “Swiss Society: Family, Gender and the Poor,” in A Companion to the Swiss Reformation, 542–566.

15 Concerns about social welfare and poor relief predated Bullinger's arrival in Zürich. See Wandel, Lee Palmer, Always Among Us: Images of the Poor in Zwingli's Zürich (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 172. Wandel in particular examines the alms statute of 1520 and the poor law of 1525, which was in effect until the 1540s. According to Wandel, violent antagonism toward anything threatening civic harmony emerged when iconoclasts reacted against the material forms of Christianity, which “consumed the wealth that could feed the poor [thereby] symbolizing the absence of Christian charity.” See Wandel, , Voracious Idols and Violent Hands: Iconoclasm in Reformation Zurich, Strasbourg, and Basel (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 101.

16 Christian Moser, “Heinrich Bullinger's Efforts to Document the Zurich Reformation: History as Legacy,” in Architect, 205.

17 Timmerman, Heinrich Bullinger on Prophecy and the Prophetic Office, 220.

18 Ibid., 222.

19 Mühling, “Heinrich Bullinger as Church Politician,” in Architect, 248.

20 Timmerman, Heinrich Bullinger on Prophecy and the Prophetic Office, 216.

21 Benedict, Philip, Christ's Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002), 54. For oversight of the territorial church, eight councilmen and all the city's pastors, under the joint chairmanship of a minister and a council member, exercised jurisdiction over the doctrine and behavior of the clergy and the appointment of new ministers.

22 Biel, Doorkeepers at the House of Righteousness, 142.

23 Ibid., 146.

24 Gordon, The Swiss Reformation, 231–232.

25 Benedict, Christ's Churches Purely Reformed, 55.

26 The main sources for Bullinger's views on poverty and wealth were recorded in his commentaries, sermons, and speeches to the city council.

27 Biel, Doorkeepers at the House of Righteousness, 156–157. Bullinger defined the poor more broadly when he wrote that the Father sent Jesus “to preach the gospel to the poor, namely those who were broken-hearted or broken-minded from a lack of soundness or health.” See Bullinger, “The Fourth Decade: The First Sermon,” in Sermonum Decades quinque, de potissimis Christiane religionis capitibus, in tres tomas digestae, authore Henrycho Bullingero ecclesiae Tigurinae ministro (hereafter cited as Sermonum Decades) (Tiguri: Christopher Froschauer, 1552), 2:227r227v ; The Decades of Henry Bullinger (hereafter cited as The Decades), ed. Harding, Thomas, The Parker Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1851), 9:2. Translations are based on the Harding edition but have been slightly modified based on original texts and modernized English.

28 Biel, Doorkeepers at the House of Righteousness, 165.

29 Timmerman, Heinrich Bullinger on Prophecy and the Prophetic Office, 15.

30 Bullinger, In Acta Apostolorum Heinrychi Bullingeri commentariorum liber VI (Tiguri: Christopher Froschauer, 1533) (hereafter cited as In Acta), 55v. Bullinger's Commentary on Acts was reprinted six more times throughout his life and two times posthumously, in 1583 and 1584.

31 Bullinger, In Acta, 55v–56r.

32 Ibid., 56v.

33 Ibid., 57r. Bullinger defined disbelief in two ways: a lack of personal faith and a lack of confidence.

34 Brenz, Johannes, In Acta Apostlica Homiliae Centvm Viginti Duas (Haganau: Peter Braubach, 1535), 46v–47r.

35 Bullinger, In Acta, 57r.

36 Ibid., 57r.

37 Ibid., 57v.

38 Ibid., 57v.

39 Ibid., 70r.

40 Ibid., 70v.

41 This would be especially true by the end of the sixteenth century, when the ability of widows to run businesses and own property was curtailed by the male-dominated power structure, which sought to confine the place of women in Swiss society, especially in response to economic downturns. See Gordon, The Swiss Reformation, 267.

42 Bullinger, In Acta, 70v.

43 Gordon, The Swiss Reformation, 270.

44 Bullinger, In Acta, 72r. While Bullinger, in his Acts commentary, asserts that the work of the deacon is not a lesser work, later in his sermons, he emphasizes a hierarchy among the work of doctors, pastors, elders, and deacons, in which the deacons are lay persons, not counted as ministers. See “Fifth Decade: The Third Sermon,” in Sermonum Decades, 10:113; The Decades, 10:113.

45 Bullinger, In Acta, 70r.

46 Ibid., 70r.

47 Bullinger, “The Fifth Decade: The Fourth Sermon,” in Sermonum Decades, 10:157.

48 Bullinger, “The Fifth Decade: The Third Sermon,” in Sermonum Decades, 10:113.

49 Bullinger, “The Fifth Decade: The Fifth Sermon,” in Sermonum Decades, 10:180.

50 Bullinger, “The First Decade: The Tenth Sermon,” in Sermonum Decades, 7:180.

51 Ibid., 7:185.

52 Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana, bk. 1, chap. 28, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina (Turnhout: Brepols, 1982), 32:22.

53 Bullinger, “The First Decade: The Tenth Sermon,” in Sermonum Decades, 7:186.

54 Bullinger, “Dedicatory Letter to the First and Second Decades,” in The Decades, Appendix 2, 10:552.

55 Bullinger, “The Second Decade: The Seventh Sermon,” in Sermonum Decades, 7:343.

56 Bullinger, “The Third Decade: The Second Sermon,” in Sermonum Decades, 8:49.

57 Ibid.

58 Bullinger, “The Third Decade: The First Sermon,” in Sermonum Decades, 8:29.

59 Bullinger, “The Third Decade: The Second Sermon,” in Sermonum Decades, 8:53.

60 Bullinger, “The Fourth Decade: The Second Sermon,” in Sermonum Decades, 9:154.

61 Bullinger, “The First Decade: The Tenth Sermon,” in Sermonum Decades, 7:188–189.

62 Bullinger, “The Fourth Decade: The Tenth Sermon,” in Sermonum Decades, 9:392.

63 Ibid.

64 Bullinger, “The Third Decade: The Second Sermon,” in Sermonum Decades, 8:61.

65 Ibid., 8:63.

66 Ocker, Christopher, Church Robbers and Reformers in Germany, 1525–1547: Confiscation and Religious Purpose in the Holy Roman Empire (Boston: Brill, 2006), 155156 .

67 Bullinger, “The Fifth Decade: The Second Sermon,” in Sermonum Decades, 10:66.

68 Bullinger, Die gerechte Verwendung der Kirchengüter: Fürtrag der dieneren der kilchen zuo Zürych gemeinlich / vor einem ersammen radt der statt Zürych von waegen der kylchenguetern und anderer sachen halb gethan / anno domini MDLV des xvi. decemb., Zürich Staatsarchiv (hereafter cited as StAZ) E I 5.1a, Nr. 11, in Schriften zum Tage, ed. Bächtold, Hans Ulrich, Jörg, Ruth, and Moser, Christian (Zug: Achius Verlag, 2006), 149173 .

69 Bullinger, “The Fifth Decade: The Tenth Sermon,” 10:488.

70 Ibid.

71 Ibid., 10:495.

72 Ibid.

73 Ibid., 10:479.

74 Ibid., 10:498.

75 Bullinger, “The Fifth Decade: The Fifth Sermon,” 10:179.

76 Bullinger, “The Fifth Decade: The Tenth Sermon,” 10:487–488.

77 Bullinger, Fürtrag zuhanden von Bürgermeister Röist, nach 19. Oktober 1540, in Bullinger vor dem Rat, ed. Bächtold, 237.

78 Ruth Jörg, introduction to Zur Armenfürsorge, Fürtrag Bullingers unter Mitwirkung von Rudolf Gwalther, Johannes Wolf, Ludwig Lavater, Wolfgang Haller, Huldrych Zwingli jun. und Johann Jakob Wick vor dem Rat, 23. März 1558, in Schriften zum Tage, 187.

79 Bullinger, Fürtrag vor dem Kleinen Rat, 7. März 1551, Zentralbibliothek Zürich (hereafter cited as ZBZ), Msc A 127, pp. 293–298.

80 Bächtold, Bullinger vor dem Rat, 240.

81 Bullinger, Die gerechte Verwendung der Kirchengüter, in Schriften zum Tage, 159.

82 Bullinger, Protokoll Bullingers der Kommissionssitzung vom 6./8. September 1572, StAZ: EI II 102, 349, in Bächtold, Bullinger vor dem Rat, 269.

83 Bächtold, Bullinger vor dem Rat, 240.

84 Bullinger, [Rudolf] Gwalther, and [Ludwig] Lavater, Fürtrag vor dem Kleinen Rat, 7. März 1551; ZBZ Msc A 127, pp. 293–298 in Bächtold, Bullinger vor dem Rat, 240.

85 Bächtold, Bullinger vor dem Rat, 241.

86 As of March 19, 1556, the foreign poor and sick were permitted to beg again to a limited extent. However, in 1558 the regulations against begging would be renewed. See Denzler, Alice, Geschichte des Armenwesens im Kanton Zürich im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert, (Zürich: Rascher & Cie, 1920), 187188 .

87 Ministers included Rudolf Gwalther, Hans Wolf, Ludwig Lavater, Wolfgang Haller, Ulrich Zwingli Jr., and Hans Jakob Wick.

88 Bullinger, Zur Armenfürsorge, StAZ E I 5.1a, Nr. 13, in Schriften, ed. Campi, Emidio, Roth, Detlef, and Stotz, Peter (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 2006), 6:350351 .

89 Bullinger, Zur Armenfürsorge 23. März 1558, in Schriften zum Tage, 191.

90 Bächtold, Bullinger vor dem Rat, 244.

91 Ibid., 245.

92 Bullinger, Zur Armenfürsorge 23. März 1558, in Schriften zum Tage, 191–197.

93 Ibid., 194.

94 Ibid., 194.

95 Ibid., 194.

96 Ibid., 196.

97 Ibid., 196.

98 Bullinger, Ratschlag der gelerten (über iren gethanen fürtrag der kilchengüter und armen halber vor rath gethan) vor den verordneten ingelegt 26. Aprellen ano 1558, StAZ: E I 5.1, Nr. 14, in Bächtold, Bullinger vor dem Rat, 245–246.

99 Bächtold, Bullinger vor dem Rat, 246.

100 Bullinger, Ratschlag der gelerten 26. April 1558, in Bächtold, Bullinger vor dem Rat, 247n15.

101 By 1600, the basic wages had doubled from their 1500 level, but grain prices had increased by at least two and a half times. This situation was worse for women whose wages increased at a slower rate than men's wages did. See Gordon, The Swiss Reformation, 272.

102 Egli, Emil, ed. Heinrich Bullinger Diarium (Annales vitae) der Jahre 1504–1574 (Zürich: Theologische Buchhandlung, 1985), 107.

103 Ibid.

104 Bächtold, “Gegen den Hunger Beten: Heinrich Bullinger, Zürich und die Einführung des Gemeinen Gebetes im Jahre 1571,” 44, Appendix 3 “Kommentar zum Umschlagbild: Der harte Winter 1570/1571.” Bächtold's commentary is based on Johannes Jakob Wick, Nachrichtensammlung, ZBZ Msc. F 19, pp. 191r, reproduced in Vom Beten, vom Verketzern, vom Predigen: Beiträge zum Zeitalter Heinrich Bullingers und Rudolf Gwalthers, ed. Ulrich, Hans Bächtold, Rainer Henrich, and Kurt Jakob Rüetschi (Zug: Achius, 1999), 944 .

105 Bächtold, “Gegen den Hunger Beten,” 42, Appendix 2 “Zürcher Ratsmandat zur Einführung des Gemeinen Gebets mit beigefügtem Gebetstext, 19. September 1571,” reproduced in Vom Beten, vom Verketzern, vom Predigen, 42.

106 Bullinger, Vorschlag zur Bekämpfung von Armut und Bettelei, 31. August 1571, StAZ E II 102, S. 299–315, in Schriften zum Tage, 356.

107 Bächtold, Bullinger vor dem Rat, 256.

108 Bullinger, Ratschlag zuhanden der Kommission über die Armenfrage, 4. Mai 1571, ZBZ Msc A 70, pp. 598–603, in Bullinger vor dem Rat, 257.

109 Bullinger, Fürtrag vor den Almosenpflegern, 13. Mai 1572, ZBZ Msc A 127, pp. 441–444, in Bullinger vor dem Rat, 264–265.

110 Bächtold, Bullinger vor dem Rat, 265.

111 Bullinger and Gwalther, Vorschlag zur Bekämpfung, in Schriften zum Tage, 353.

112 Bullinger and Gwalther, Vorschlag zur Bekämpfung, esp. “Was man moechte den armen zuo werchen gäben,” in Schriften zum Tage, 347–348.

113 Bullinger and Gwalther, Vorschlag zur Bekämpfung, in Schriften zum Tage, 349–350.

114 See Pfister, Ulrich, “Appendix: a note on the administrative structure and social stratification in the countryside of Zürich during the Ancien Régime,” in Braun, Rudolf, Industrialization and Everyday Life, trans. Hanbury, Sarah Tenison (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 194. Reports at this time showed the need to address poverty in the surrounding regions in the village parishes of the Zurich countryside. See Bullinger, “Liste der Armen (Zahl der Unterstützungsbedürfigtgen) in den Geminden der Zürcher Landschaft,” in Auszug aus einem Protokoll Bullingers der Kommissionssitzung vom 6./8. September 1572, in Bullinger vor dem Rat, Appendix 10, pp. 329–331.

115 Bullinger and Gwalther, Vorschlag zur Bekämpfung, in Schriften zum Tage, 350.

116 Bächtold, Bullinger vor dem Rat, 269.

117 Bullinger, Abschiedsbrief an die Obrigkeit, 2. August 1575, StAZ E I 1.4, in Schriften zum Tage, 364.

118 Ibid.

119 Bullinger, Abschiedsbrief an Bürgermeister, Räte und Burger, 2. August 1575, in Schriften zum Tage, 365.

120 Ibid.

121 Bächtold, Bullinger vor dem Rat, 275.

122 Ruth Jörg, introduction to Schriften zum Tage, 339. According to Jörg, the magnitude of poor relief could not be easily remedied, especially by the weakly-organized communities of Zürich. See also Brady, Thomas Jr., Turning Swiss: Cities and Empire, 1450–1550 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

123 Jörg, introduction to Schriften zum Tage, 340–341.

124 Ibid., 342.

The author wishes to thank Amy Nelson Burnett, Sujin Pak Boyer, Christiane Miesner, and the anonymous reviewers of Church History for their helpful comments and suggestions.

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