Helvetic Confessions

   The two Helvetic Confessions were a 16th-century attempt to define the common beliefs of the various Swiss Reformed churches. The second confession was eventually adopted by other Reformed churches throughout Europe, and remains part of the Reformed heritage even today.
   The early Reformed churches in Switzerland had no common confession of faith. The first attempt at such a doctrinal statement, the Basel Confession of 1534, was accepted only in Basel and Muhlausen. In 1536, Heinrich Bullinger, Oswald Myconius, Simon Grynaeus, Leo Jud, and others gathered in Basel to revise the earlier confession. Their First Helvetic Confession retained the perspective of Zurich reform leader Ulrich Zwingli. This attempt won wider acceptance, but its attempts to reconcile Lutheran and Zwinglian positions on the Eucharist satisfied neither camp, and the 27 articles were rejected by Lutherans and other Protestants at the important centers of Strasbourg and Constance.
   In 1549, John Calvin, William Farel, and Bullinger worked out the Zurich Consensus, which satisfied all the Reformed churches in German- and French-speaking Switzerland. In 1561, Bullinger quietly composed a personal statement of faith based on the First Helvetic Confession of 1536, as an attachment to his will. It took on a public role when Bullinger sent it to Frederick III, the elector of the Palatinate, to use in his defense of the Heidelberg Cathechism in 1566. Frederick was exonerated, and Bullinger's confession was published. As the Second Helvetic Confession, it was officially adopted by the Protestant Swiss cantons in 1566.
   The lengthy document covers the authority of the Bible, the Triune God, the salvation offered in Christ, creation, the fall, human redemption, and the church. It carefully distinguishes the Protestant from the Catholic position, and the Reformed position from that of the Anabaptists. It incorporated the Zurich Consensus on the sacraments, stating, "Sacraments are mystical symbols, or holy rites, or sacred actions, instituted by God himself consisting of his Word, of signs, and of things signified."
   The confession was subsequently adopted by the Reformed churches in France (1571), Hungary (1567), and Poland (1571). In 1566, though already having a confession of its own, the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) gave the Helvetic Confession its approval; it was informally received in Holland and England. It remains the official doctrinal statement of the Reformed Churches of Eastern Europe (and their foreign affiliates). In 1967, it was added to the Book of Confessions of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., which brought it into the 1983 merger that produced the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
   Further reading:
   ■ Joel R. Beeke and Sinclair B. Ferguson, eds., Reformed Confessions Harmonized: With an Annotated Bibliography of Reformed Doctrinal Works (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1999)
   ■ A. C. Cochrane, Reformed Confessions of the 16th Century (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985)
   ■ Jack Rogers, Presbyterian Creeds: A Guide to the Book of Confessions (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985)
   ■ J. Gordon Melton, The Encyclopedia of American Religions: Religious Creeds, 2 vols. (Detroit: Gale Research, 1988, 1994).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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