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In the sixteenth century, the organizing effort of many Reformation leaders coalesced in a newly imagined pan-Protestant community. While differences emerged from early in the Reformation, the consistent effort to resolve disagreements attested to the desire to establish the Reformation throughout Europe. In 1540, John Calvin asserted that religious reforms for Germany could be applied to France, Spain, Italy, and elsewhere in the world, as Protestants sought “to restore those things that Christ handed down, the apostles commended, and the ancient and purer church observed,” rather than to initiate something new.1 But as the vision of a pan-Protestant church faded in the 1550s, a growing criticism of Calvin’s views emerged among later Lutherans. In the aftermath of the Augsburg Interim in 1548, which resulted in a series of intra-Lutheran debates, and the widely publicized 1549 Zürich Consensus, the organizing efforts of German Reformers shifted toward preserving the genuine Lutheran legacy of the Reformation. Such confession building had major consequences for shaping the various forms of reformation and the aspiration to come up with a unifying vision “whether historical or supernatural or both, in compensation for the constant, ad hoc negotiation of relationships.”2 The disagreement over the management of the Wittenberg legacy led to the formation of multiple legacies within Protestantism.3
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.