The Reformation and Its Letters (Benedict)

Christ's Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism

Those who are familiar with the history and literature of the Reformation know that it was a time of much writing. The printing presses of the day – a relatively new technology in the early 16th century – seemed to be working around the clock to get Reformation literature into the hands of the people. And letters! The Reformers wrote so many letters to so man people and groups. Thankfully many of these letters have survived and we can still read them today.

Speaking of letters, I was amazed when I learned that the Heinrich Bullinger (b. 1504) was an even more prolific letter writer than Calvin or Luther, for example. No doubt many letters of the Reformers have been lost so we will never know exactly how many letters they wrote. But on this topic, read this fascinating paragraph by Philip Benedict in Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed:

The wide dissemination achieved by the writings of Bullinger, Vermigli, and Musculus spread their ideas far beyond the original heartland of the Reformation. So too did a final aspect of their work, their letter writing. Letters were one of the major means churchmen used in this period to keep abreast of events unfolding throughout Europe, to advise and console kindred spirits in distant lands, and to win converts to their views. Their reach extended beyond the original recipients, for edifying letters were often copied and passed along to other potentially interested parties without the express consent of their authors, who wrote in full awareness of this possibility. No Protestant reformer appears to have kept more couriers busy carrying letters to distant lands than Bullinger. Some fifteen thousand letters to and from him survive, more than ten times as many as survive for Zwingli and more than three times as many as for either Luther or Calvin, although it is impossible to know the fraction of each one’s correspondence lost or destroyed. Like Zwingli, Bullinger conducted his most intense epistolary relations with correspondents in and around Switzerland, most notably with the cities of Bern, Basel, Chur, Geneva, Schaffhausen, Saint-Gall, Constance, Augsburg, Strasbourg, and Heidelberg. Unlike his predecessor (Zwingli), he also corresponded frequently with people in England, Poland, Hungary, France, and Italy.

Benedict goes on to note that a team of scholars started publishing Bullinger’s letters in 1973. However, since there are so many of these letters it will take well over 100 years to translate them all at the current pace. As a side, I’m very thankful for men and women who painstakingly translate Reformation literature!

Here’s the citation for the above quote: Philip Benedict, Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed, p. 63.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015