Bullinger on 1 Cor. 1:21

Reading Heinrich Bullinger’s commentary on 1 Corinthians (1534), one notices some remarkable similarities to John Calvin’s commentary, to be published some twelve years later (1546). This is especially evident in his comments on 1 Cor. 1:21, “For it pleased God through the foolishness of what we preach to save those who believe”:

Let no one wonder at the counsel of God, who revealed the gospel when he wished it to begin to dawn on mortals. It is like this: God fashioned this whole world with the decoration of his majesty–for which reason the Greeks adapted their name for the world, κόσμου, [related to κοσμειν, ‘to order’ or ‘to adorn’]–in order that all nations or educated peoples might know and call on God through this most beautiful spectacle. For so sings the prophet, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1 ESV). And the Philosophers who were believed wise by the consensus of the whole world, did not undertake their praise of it from anything other than what they laboured to examine and investigate in the natures of things. And yet, things were less fortunate when, not only with the common people, but also with the philosophers themselves, this effort ceased. For, by his works and the nature of things and his wonderful governance, they either did not know God, wondering rather at hidden things, or knowing him rightly, they did not worship him, seeking their own praise rather than the praise of the divine. This is explained more fully by the Apostle in Romans 1. Then, since with this he would not succeed, God, who does not want the human race to perish, instead accommodated himself to the capacity of mortals, and, led by his native goodness, altered himself in all appearances [i.e., took on a human life] in order to watch over them. Here he also approached this matter another way, and indeed, through “the foolishness of preaching”–meaning, “through foolish preaching,” in a Hebrew way of speaking.

Ne quis miraretur de Consilio dei, quo uoluit euangelium citra sapientiae splendorem illucescere mortalibus, retegit illud. Est autem tale. Condidit deus uniuersum hunc mundum in ornamentum maiestatis suae, unde & Graeci nomen mundo κόσμου accommodauerunt, ut omnes Gentes uel per hoc pulcherrimum spectaculum eruditae, deum cognoscerent & inuocarent. Sic enim cecinit propheta, ‘Coeli enarrant gloriam dei, & opus manuum eius annunciat firmamentum.’ Et Philosophi qui totius orbis consensu sapientes crediti, id laudis non aliunde assequuti sunt, quam quod in rerum naturis excutiendis & inuestigandis laborarunt. Atqui sinistrius cum apud uulgus, tum apud ipsos philosophos cessit iste conatus. Nam deum ex opere suo atque rerum natura admirabilique administratione uel non cognouerunt, res conditas admirati, uel cognitum rite non coluerunt, suam potius quam numinis laudem quaerentes, quemadmodum copiosus exponitur ab apostolo in 1. in Rom. cap. Proinde cum hac non successisset, deus qui genus mortalium perire non uult, quin potius se ad captum attempterat mortalium, et in omnes formas se, natiua bonitate ductus, uertit, ut seruet, etiam hic diuersa negotium istud aggressus est, nempe per stultitiam praedicationis, id est, per stultam praedicationem. Est enim modus loquendi Hebraicus.

Heinrich Bullinger, In priorem D. Pauli ad Corinthios epistolam (Zürich: Christoffel Froschouer, 1534), fol. 15v-16r.

There are some interesting connections with Calvin here, particularly with the idea that humanity ought to have known God through created things. Calvin speaks of a speculum, a mirror of God’s wisdom: “For in creatures God sets before us a very clear mirror of his marvelous wisdom” (Comm. 1 Cor. 1:21), through which humanity could have come to know God if they hadn’t abused it. Interestingly, Bullinger here speaks of creation as a spectaculum, that “most beautiful spectacle,” through which they “might know and call on God.” Speculum and spectaculum: not, I think, a coincidence.

Both also speak of God choosing to adapt himself to humanity’s failings. Calvin speaks of God approaching us alia via, by another way, using the same verb here as Bullinger uses (aggressus est, ‘to approach’) to speak of approaching us by the Incarnation, and by the foolishness of preaching. Calvin, however, does not specify this alia via, but it is clear he means the same as Bullinger: since humanity had wandered away, God sent Jesus in the flesh–another way–in order to call us back to him.

One interesting difference, I think, though perhaps it is only a matter of emphasis, is where Calvin and Bullinger locate the moral failure on the part of humanity. Bullinger says that the philosophers and common people “ceased” their effort to know God, for two reasons: they either (i) were more curious about hidden things than about God or (ii) they preferred their own glory to the worship of God. Calvin, on the other hand, does not mention particular ways in which humanity is at fault in this, but only that it is our own fault: “Thus, it is to be imputed to our own vice that we do not acquire a saving knowledge of God before we are emptied of our own understanding.” His emphasis is more on this latter: that because of our moral failing, we first must become foolish, empty of our own ideas about God, before we can then come to God in his revelation.

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