Helvetic Confession

Second Confession of Faith

Also, the First Helvetic Confession of Faith
Also, the Confession of Basel

General Information

The Confession of Basel is the designation applied to either of two pronouncements of doctrinal belief in the Swiss Reformed Church. The First Confession of Basel was drafted in 1531 by the German theologian Johannes Oecolampadius, who presented it to the Synod of Basel in 1534. It represented a compromise between the doctrines of Martin Luther and those of the Swiss theologian Huldreich Zwingli. The confession remained in effect until 1872.

The Second Confession of Basel, known more correctly as the First Helvetic Confession, was adopted in 1536. To a greater extent than the First Confession of Basel, it expressed the doctrines of Zwingli. It was modified by the Second Helvetic Confession (1566) and adopted as a declaration of doctrine by most European Reformed churches. The Second did not replace the First Helvetic Confession in Basel itself.

The Second Helvetic Confession of Faith
Historical Note

(provided by the Reformed Church)

The word "Helvetic" is Latin for "Swiss." The setting of the Second Helvetic Confession is Swiss-German Reformed Protestantism.

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After the great Reformer Ulrich Zwingli died in battle in 1531, Heinrich Bullinger succeeded him as minister of the church in Zurich. Bullinger was a model Reformed minister. A preacher, he expounded Scripture at least twice a week. A scholar, he wrote Latin commentaries on many books of the Old Testament and on every book of the New Testament except Revelation. An educator, he initiated a system of schools for Zurich and was rector of the Carolinum, a theological academy. A person with ecumenical and political concerns, he was in correspondence with leaders of the Reformation and with rulers throughout Europe. A pastor, he welcomed religious refugees into his own home. When the plague swept through Zurich in 1564, he insisted upon ministering to the afflicted, even though he knew he might become infected and die.

In 1561, Bullinger composed the document that later became known as the Second Helvetic Confession. He intended to attach it to his last will and testament to the Zurich church, but events in Germany soon brought it into the public arena.

The publication of the Heidelberg Catechism created trouble for the man who had ordered its preparation. Lutherans considered it too Reformed in spirit, and they demanded that Frederick the Elector, governor of the Palatinate, be brought to trial for heresy. Not a theologian himself, Frederick turned to Bullinger, who offered Frederick this confession as the basis for his defense. When the Imperial Diet, the ruling body of Germany, met for trial in 1566, Frederick was exonerated.

Meanwhile, the churches of Switzerland adopted Bullinger's confession as their new confession of faith. Soon finding wide acceptance throughout Europe and beyond, it was translated into French, English, Dutch, Polish, Hungarian, Italian, Arabic, and Turkish.

Reflecting the theological maturity of the Reformed churches, the Second Helvetic Confession is moderate in tone and catholic in spirit. From the opening paragraphs it emphasizes the church and its life and affirms the authority of the Scriptures for the church's government and reformation. By including an article on predestination, the confession asks the church to trust in God's free and gracious election of its membership in Jesus Christ. At the same time, the confession addresses the practical life of the gathered community, detailing matters of worship, church order and conflict, ministry, the sacraments, and marriage.

Helvetic Confessions of Faith

Advanced Information

The First Helvetic Confession (Confessio Helvetica prior) is the same as the Second Confession of Basel. The First Confession of Basel was written in 1534 and had acceptance only in Basel and Muhlausen. This fact of limited acceptance was characteristic of the Swiss in the 1520s-30s; they had no common confession.

Pope Paul III's call for a general council, the desire for some accommodation with the Lutherans, and the need for a common Swiss confession in preparation for the council prompted the magistrates of the Swiss cities to send delegates to Basel in 1536 to draw up a new confession. Bullinger, Oswald Myconius, Simon Grynaeus, and Leo Jud were asked to prepare the confession. Their efforts to effect an accommodation with the Lutherans did not succeed. The first draft appeared to be too Lutheran to some, and to others the doctrine of the "real presence" in the Lord's Supper was too Zwinglian. In the end, the twenty-seven articles of the first Reformed creed of "national" authority was not accepted by the Lutherans, although Luther viewed it with favor, and it was rejected by Strasbourg under Capito's leadership, and by Constance.

The issue of the "real presence" in the Lord's Supper was basically resolved for the Swiss in 1549 when Calvin and Farel visited Bullinger and they worked out the Zurich Consensus. From this point on the Zwinglian movement and the Calvinists were effectively one.

The Second Helvetic Confession began as Bullinger's personal confession written in Latin in 1562. Peter Martyr Vermigli read it shortly before his death and agreed with it, a good sign for its ultimate acceptance in the Reformed faith. In 1564 the plague broke out in Zurich, Bullinger's wife and three daughters died from it, and Bullinger contracted the disease but recovered. While the plague raged, he revised his 1562 confession and set it with his will to be delivered to the city magistrate in the event of his death.

Frederick III the Pious had come under attack for his Reformed position as seen in his church reforms in the Palatinate and in the publishing of the Heidelberg Catechism. He was accused by his Lutheran allies of being a heretic. So in 1565, in order to defend himself, he asked Bullinger to supply him with a clear exposition of the Reformed faith. Bullinger sent him a copy of his 1564 confession. Frederick was so pleased, he asked for and got permission from Bullinger to translate the confession into German. This was done prior to Frederick's appearance at the Imperial Diet in Augsburg in 1566.

At the same time the Swiss again felt the need for a new common confession, and a conference was called to meet in Zurich. Bullinger's confession was considered and a few changes were made in it, to which Bullinger consented. It was published in German and Latin on March 12, 1566, and had the approval of Berne, Biel, Geneva, The Grisons, Muhlhausen, Schaffhausen, and St. Gall. This Second Helvetic Confession (Confessio Helvetica posterior) was soon translated into a number of languages ranging from French to Arabic and was adopted by the Scots in 1566, the Hungarians in 1567, the French in 1571, and the Poles in 1578. The same month in which the confession was adopted at Zurich, Frederick III appeared before the Diet and so defended his position that he was not tried for heresy.

Due to its origin as Bullinger's personal confession, which followed the order of the twenty-seven articles of the First Helvetic Confession, the Second Helvetic Confession is really a theological treatise with thirty chapters and over twenty thousand words. This lengthy scholarly statement shows the consistency of the Reformed position with that of the Greek and Latin church fathers. Although the confession accepts the ecumenical creeds, it does not accept the primacy of Rome. Scripture is given primacy, and this is shown by the fact that the first two chapters emphasize that belief. Scripture is God's Word, which has precedence over the church fathers, councils, and church tradition. Chapters III-V deal with God, his unity, his trinity, the problem of idols, images, and with God's proper worship. The doctrine of providence and creation are the topics of chapters VI-VII, while chapters VIII-XI cover the fall, free will, predestination, where election to reprobation is not mentioned, and Christ as the true God-man and only Savior of the world. The next five chapters generally cover the way of salvation and the new life in Christ. Chapter XII discusses the law of God; XIII the gospel of Christ; XIV the repentance and conversion of mankind; XV justification of faith; XVI faith and good works where good works are done out of gratitude for God's grace and not for merit. Chapters XVII-XXI present the Reformed position on the church, the role of the ministry, and the two sacraments, baptism and the Lord's Supper. The last nine chapters cover church ordinances; XXII is on religious and ecclesiastical meetings; XXIII deals with prayers and singing; XXIV with holy days and fasting; XXV catechizing and visiting the sick; XXVI burial; XXVII rites and ceremonies; XXVIII possessions of the church; XXIX marriage and celibacy; and XXX the magistry, where the taking up of arms is affirmed but only in selfdefense and as a last resort.

The Heidelberg Catechism and the Second Helvetic Confession are the two most widely adopted and authoritative of the Reformed statements of faith.

R V Schnucker
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

Helvetic Confession of Faith

Chapter 1 - Of The Holy Scripture Being The True Word of God
Canonical Scripture
Scripture Teaches Fully All Godliness
The Preaching of the Word of God Is the Word of God
Inward Illumination Does Not Eliminate External Preaching
Chapter 2 - Of Interpreting The Holy Scripture; and of the Fathers
The True Interpretation of Scripture
Interpretations of the Holy Fathers
Traditions of Men
Chapter 3 - Of God, His Unity and Trinity
God Is One
God Is Three
Chapter 4 - Of Idols or Images of God, Christ and The Saints
Images of God
Chapter 5 - Of The Adoration, Worship and Invocation of God's Name
God Alone Is To Be Adored and Worshipped
God Alone Is To Be Invoked Through the Mediation of Christ Alone
The Saints Are Not To Be Adored, Worshipped or Invoked
The Due Honor To Be Rendered to the Saints
Relics of the Saints
Swearing by God's Name Alone
Chapter 6 - Of the Providence of God
All Things Are Governed by the Providence of God
The Epicureans
Means Not To Be Despised
Chapter 7 - Of The Creation of All Things: Of Angels, the Devil, and Man
God Created All Things
Of Angels and the Devil
Of Man
The Sects
Chapter 8 - Of Man's Fall, Sin and the Cause of Sin
The Fall of Man
Original Sin
The Sects
God Is Not the Author of Sin, and How Far He Is Said to Harden
Curious Questions
Chapter 9 - Of Free Will, and Thus of Human Powers
What Man Was Before the Fall
After the Fall
Man Does Evil by His Own Free Will
Man Is Not Capable of Good Per se
Understanding of the Arts
Of What Kind Are the Powers of the Regenerate, and in What Way Their Wills Are Free
The Regenerate Work Not Only Passively but Actively
The Free Will Is Weak in the Regenerate
In External Things There Is Liberty
Chapter 10 - Of the Predestination of God and the Election of the Saints
God Has Elected Us Out of Grace
We Are Elected or Predestinated in Christ
We Are Elected for a Definite Purpose
We Are to Have a Good Hope for All
Whether Few Are Elect
What in This Matter Is To Be Condemned
Admonitions Are Not in Vain Because Salvation Proceeds from Election
Whether We Are Elected
Temptation in Regard to Predestination
Chapter 11 - Of Jesus Christ, True God and Man, the Only Savior of the World
Christ Is True God
The Sects
Christ Is True Man, Having Real Flesh
A Rational Soul in Christ
Two Natures in Christ
Not Two but One Christ
The Sects
The Divine Nature of Christ Is Not Passible, and the Human Nature Is Not Everywhere
The Sects
Our Lord Truly Suffered
Impartation of Properties
Christ Is Truly Risen from the Dead
Christ Is Truly Ascended Into Heaven
The Sects
The Fruit of Christ's Death and Resurrection
Jesus Christ Is the Only Savior of the World, and the True Awaited Messiah
The Creeds of Four Councils Received
The Sects
Chapter 12 - Of the Law of God
The Will of God Is Explained for Us in the Law of God
The Law of Nature
The Law Is Complete and Perfect
Why the Law Was Given
The Flesh Does Not Fulfill the Law
How Far the Law Is Abrogated
Chapter 13 - Of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, of the Promises
The Ancients Had Evangelical Promises
The Promises Twofold
The Fathers Also Had Not Only Carnal but Spiritual Promises
What Is the Gospel Properly Speaking?
Of the Spirit and the Letter
The Sects
The Teaching of the Gospel Is Not New, but Most Ancient Doctrine
Chapter 14 - Of Repentance and the Conversion of Man
What Is Repentance?
True Repentance Is Conversion to God
Sacerdotal Confession and Absolution
Of the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven
Opening and Shutting (the Kingdom)
The Ministry of Reconciliation
Ministers Remit Sins
How Ministers Absolve
Diligence in the Renewal of Life
The Sects
Papal Indulgences
Chapter 15 - Of the True Justification of the Faithful
What Is Justification?
We Are Justified on Account of Christ
Imputed Righteousness
We Are Justified by Faith Alone
We Receive Christ By Faith
James Compared with Paul
Chapter 16 - Of Faith and Good Works, and of Their Reward
What Is Faith?
Faith Is the Gift of God
Faith Efficacious and Active
Concerning Good Works
Works of Human Choice
The End of Good Works
Good Works Not Rejected
We Are Not Saved by Good Works
Good Works Please God
We Teach True, Not False and Philosophical Virtues
God Gives a Reward for Good Works
There Are Not Merits of Men
Chapter 17 - Of The Catholic and Holy Church of God
The Church Has Always Existed and It Will Always Exist
What Is the Church?
One Commonwealth
Only One Church for All Times
The Catholic Church
Parts of Forms of the Church
The Particular Church
The Two Peoples
The Church the Temple of the Living God
Christ the Sole Head of the Church
No Disorder in the Church
Dissensions and Strife in the Church
Of the Notes or Signs of the True Church
Outside the Church of God There Is No Salvation
The Church Is Not Bound to Its Signs
The Church Appears at Times To Be Extinct
Not All Who Are in the Church Are of the Church
We Must Not Judge Rashly of Prematurely
The Unity of the Church Is Not in External Rites
Chapter 18 - Of The Ministers of The Church, Their Institution and Duties
God Uses Ministers in the Building of the Church
The Ministry Is Not To Be Despised
Who the Ministers Are and of What Sort God Has Given the World
Christ the Teacher
Ministers of the New Testament
Papal Orders
Concerning Monks
Ministers Are To Be Called and Elected
Priesthood of All Believers
Priests and Priesthood
The Nature of the Ministers of the New Testament
Ministers as Stewards of the Mysteries of God
The Power of Ministers of the Church
The Lord Reserves True Power for Himself
The Power of the Office and of the Minister
The Power of Ministers Is One and the Same, and Equal
Order To Be Preserved
When and How One Was Placed Before the Others
The Duties of Ministers
Even Evil Ministers Are To Be Heard
The Worker Is Worthy of His Reward
Chapter 19 - Of the Sacraments of the Church of Christ
The Sacraments [Are] Added to the Word and What They Are
Some Are Sacraments of the Old, Others of the New, Testaments
The Number of Sacraments of the New People
The Author of the Sacraments
Christ Still Works in Sacraments
The Author and the Ministers of the Sacraments To Be Distinguished
The Substance or Chief Thing in the Sacraments
The Similarity and Difference in the Sacraments of Old and New Peoples
Our Sacraments Succeed the Old Which Are Abrogated
In What the Sacraments Consist
The Consecration of the Sacraments
Signs Take Name of Things Signified
The Sacramental Union
The Sects
The Thing Signified Is Neither Included in or Bound to the Sacraments
The Purpose for Which Sacraments Were Instituted
Chapter 20 - Of Holy Baptism
The Institution of Baptism
One Baptism
What it Means To Be Baptized
We Are Baptized with Water
The Obligation of Baptism
The Form of Baptism
The Minister of Baptism
Chapter 21 - Of the Holy Supper of the Lord
The Supper of the Lord
The Author and Consecrator of the Supper
A memorial of God's Benefits
The Sign and Thing Signified
Spiritual Eating of the Lord
Christ as Our Food Sustains Us in Life
Christ Received by Faith
Spiritual Food
Eating Necessary for Salvation
Sacramental Eating of the Lord
Unbelievers Take the Sacrament to Their Judgment
The Presence of Christ in the Supper
Other Purposes of the Lord's Supper
Preparation for the Supper
The Observance of the Supper with Both Bread and Wine
Chapter 22 - Of Religious and Ecclesiastical Meetings
What Ought To Be Done in Meetings for Worship
Meetings for Worship Not To Be Neglected
Meetings Are Public
Decent Meeting Places
Modesty and Humility To Be Observed in Meetings
The True Ornamentation of Sanctuaries
Worship in the Common Language
Chapter 23 - Of the Prayers of the Church, of Singing, and of Canonical Hours
Common Language
Free Prayer
The Method To Be Employed in Public Prayers
Canonical Hours
Chapter 24 - Of Holy Days, Fasts and the Choice of Foods
The Time Necessary for Worship
The Lord's Day
The Festivals of Christ and the Saints
Public and Private Fasting
Characteristics of Fasting
Choice of Food
Chapter 25 - Of Catechizing and of Comforting and Visiting the Sick
Youth To Be Instructed in Godliness
The Visitation of the Sick
Chapter 26 - Of the Burial of the Faithful, and of the Care to Be Shown
The Burial of Bodies
The Care of the Dead
The State of the Soul Departed from the Body
The Apparition of Spirits
Chapter 27 - Of Rites, Ceremonies and Things Indifferent
Ceremonies and Rites
Diversity of Rites
Things Indifferent
Chapter 28 - Of the possessions of the Church
The Possessions of the Church and Their Proper Use
The Misuse of the Church's Possessions
Chapter 29 - Of Celibacy, Marriage and the Management of Domestic Affairs
Single People
How Marriages Are To Be Contracted
Matrimonial Forum
The Rearing of Children
Chapter 30 - Of the Magistracy
The Magistracy Is from God
The Duty of the Magistrate
The Duty of Subjects
Sects and Seditions

Also, see:
Helvetic Confession text

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in December 1997.

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