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§ 53. The First Confession of Basle. A.D. 1534.


Jac. Christ. Beck: Dissertatio historico-theologica de Confessione Fidei Basileensis Ecclesiæ, Basil. 1744.

Melchior Kirchhofer: Oswald Myconius, Antistes der Baslerischen Kirche, Zürich, 1813.

Burckhardt: Reformationsgeschichte von Basel, Basel, 1818.

K. R. Hagenbach: Kritische Geschichte der Entstehung und der Schicksale der ersten Basler Confession und der auf sie gegründeten Kirchenlehre, Basel, 1827 (title ed. 1828).

J. J. Herzog: Leben Joh. Œkolampads und die Reformation der Kirche von Basel, Basel, 1843, 2 vols.

Hagenbach: Leben Œkolampads und Myconius, Elberfeld, 1859. (Part II. of Väter und Bergründer der reform. Kirche.)

Escher, in Ersch und Gruber's Encyklop. Art. Helvet. Confess. Sect. II. Part V.

Beck: Symb. Bücher der ev. reform. Kirche, Vol. I. pp. 28 sqq.

The two Confessions of Basle are published in German and Latin by Niemeyer, Coll. pp. 78–122: in German alone by Beck and Böckel in their collections. The best reprint of the First Confession of Basle, in the Swiss dialect, with the Scripture proofs on the margin, is given by Hagenbach at the close of his biography of Œkolampad und Myconius, pp. 465–470.


The First and Second Confessions of Basle belong to the Zwinglian family, and preceded the age of Calvin, but are a little nearer the German Lutheran type of Protestantism.

The rich and venerable city of Basle, on the frontier of Switzerland, France, and South Germany, since 1501 a member of the Swiss Confederacy, renowned for the reformatory Œcumenical Council of 1430, and the University founded by Pius II., became a centre of liberal learning before the Reformation. Thomas Wyttenbach, the teacher of Zwingli, attacked the indulgences as early as 1502. In 1516 Erasmus of Rotterdam, at that time esteemed as the greatest scholar of Europe, took up his permanent residence in Basle, and published the first edition of the Greek Testament and other important works, though, after the peasant war and Luther's violent attack on him, he became disgusted with the Reformation, which he did not understand. He desired merely a quiet literary illumination within the Catholic Church, and formed a bridge between two ages. He died, like Moses, in the land of Moab (1536).753753   Erasmus turned his keen wit first against the obscurantism of the monks, but afterwards against the light of the Reformation. He said to Frederick the Wise at Cologne, before the Diet of Worms (within the hearing of Spalatin): 'Lutherus peccavit in duobus, nempe quod tetigit coronam pontificis et ventres monachorum.' But when Luther, Zwingli, Œcolampadius took wives, he called the Reformation a comedy which ended always in a marriage. Wolfgang Capito (Köpfli), an Alsacian, labored in Basle as preacher and professor from 1512 to 1520, in friendly intercourse with Erasmus, and was followed by Caspar Hedio (Heid), who continued in the same spirit, and corresponded with Luther. Another preacher in Basle, Wilhelm Röublin, carried on the 386Corpus Christi festival a large Bible through the city, with the inscription, 'This is the true sanctuary; the rest are dead men's bones.'

The principal Reformer of Basle is John Œcolampadius (Hausschein, b. 1482, d. 1531), who stood to Zwingli in a similar relation as Melanchthon to Luther: inferior to him in originality, boldness, and energy, but superior in learning, modesty, and gentleness of spirit. He was his chief support in the defense of his doctrine on the eucharist, and took a prominent part in the Conference with Luther at Marburg. Born at Weinsberg, he studied philology, scholastic philosophy, law, and theology with unusual success at Heilbronn, Bologna, Heidelberg, and Tübingen. When twelve years old he wrote Latin poems, and at fourteen he graduated as bachelor of arts. He excelled especially as a Greek and Hebrew scholar, and published afterwards learned commentaries on the prophets and other books of the Bible. He aided Erasmus in the edition of his Greek Testament, 1516. He was well-read in the fathers, and promoted a critical study of their writings. After having labored as preacher for some time in different places, and taken some part in the reformatory movements of Germany, he settled permanently at Basle, in 1522, as pastor of St. Martin and as professor of theology. Here he introduced, with the consent of the citizens, the German service, the communion under both kinds, and other changes. But it was only after the transition of Berne that Basle came out decidedly for the Reformation. It was formally introduced Feb. 9, 1529, according to the model of Zurich, but in a rather violent style, by the breaking of images and the dissolution of convents, yet without shedding of blood. In other respects the Reformed Church of Basle is conservative, and occupies a middle position between Zwinglianisrn and Lutheranism. Œcolampadius died Nov. 24, 1531, a few weeks after his friend Zwingli. He communed with his family, and took an affecting farewell of his wife, his three children (Eusebius, Irene, and Aletheia), and the ministers of Basle. His last words were: 'Shortly I shall be with the Lord Christ. . . . Lord Jesus save me!'754754   See the particulars in Herzog's Œkolamp. Vol. II. pp. 248 sqq. He was buried with all the honors of the city in the Minster. But the mouth of slander spread the lie that he had committed suicide, to which even Luther, blinded by dogmatic prejudice, was not ashamed to give ear. Melanchthon had great respect for Œcolampadius, stood in friendly correspondence with him, and derived from him a better knowledge of the patristic doctrine of the eucharist.


The First Confession of Basle (Confessio Fidei Basileensis prior) was prepared in its first draft by Œcolampadius, 1531,755755   See Herzog, 1.c. Vol. II. pp. 217–221, and Hagenbach, Joh. Œkol. und Oswald Mycon. pp. 350 sqq. Œcolampadius, in his last address to the Synod of Basle, Sept. 26, 1531, added a brief, terse confession of faith, and a paraphrase of the Apostles' Creed. But the assertion that he composed the Confession of Basle in its present shape, and sent it to the Augsburg Diet, 1530, rests on a mistake, and has no foundation in any contemporary report. brought into its present shape by his successor, Oswald Myconius,756756   His proper name was Geisshüssler. He was born at Luzerne, 1488; taught and preached at Zurich; after Zwingli's death he moved to Basle, was elected Antistes or first preacher, died 1552, and was buried in the Minster. He must not be confounded with Friedrich Myconius, or Mecum, the Lutheran reformer of Thuringia, and court chaplain at Gotha (d. 1546). 1532, and first published by the magistrate with a preface of Adelberg Meyer, burgomaster of Basle, Jan. 21, 1534.757757   Under the title, 'Bekanntnuss unseres heiligen Christlichen Glaubens wie es die Kylch (Kirche) zu Basel halt.' It is signed by 'Heinrich Rhyner, Rathschreiber der Statt Basel.' See the German text, with the marginal notes, at the close of Hagenbach's biography of Œcolampadius and Myconius. A Latin edition appeared 1561 and 1581, which was reproduced in the Corpus et Syntagma Confess., under the title 'Basiliensis vel Mylhusiana Confessio Fidei. anno M.D.XXXII. Scripta Germanice. Latine excusa 1561 et 1581.' Here the date of composition (1532) is given instead of the date of publication (1534). The more usual spelling is Basileensis and Mühlhusana. A better Latin edition was issued, 1647, by the Basle Professors—Theod. Zwinger, Sebastian Beck, and John Buxtorf—for the use of academic disputations; and this Niemeyer has reprinted, pp. 85 sqq. Two or three years afterwards it was adopted and issued by the confederated city of Mühlhausen, in the Alsace; hence it is also called the Confessio Mühlhusana (or Mylhusiana).

It is very simple and moderate. It briefly expresses, in twelve articles, the orthodox evangelical doctrines of God, the fall of man, the divine providence, the person of Christ, the Church and the sacraments, the Lord's Supper (Christ the food of the soul to everlasting life), Church discipline, the civil magistrate, faith and works, the judgment, ceremonies and celibacy, and against the views of the Anabaptists, who were then generally regarded as dangerous radicals, not only by Luther, but also by the Swiss and English Reformers. This is the only Reformed Confession which does not begin with the assertion of the Bible principle, but it concludes with this noteworthy sentence: '"We submit this our Confession to the judgment of the divine Scriptures, and hold ourselves ready always thankfully to obey God and his Word if we should be corrected out of said holy Scriptures.'758758    'Postremo, hanc nostrum Confessionem judicio Sacræ Biblicæ Scripturæ subjicimus: eoque pollicemur, si ex prædictis Scripturis in melioribus instituamur (etwas besseren berichtet), nos omni tempore Deo et sacrosancto ipsius verbo, maxima cum gratiarum actione, obsecuturos esse.'


'This Confession,' says the late Professor Hagenbach of Basle,759759   Joh. Œkolampad und Oswald Myconius, p. 353; comp. his History of the Conf. pp. 190 sqq. 'has remained the public Confession of the Church of Basle to this day. It is, indeed, no longer annually read before the congregation as formerly (on Maundy-Thursday at the ante-communion service), but ministers at their ordination are still required to promise "to teach according to the direction of God's Word and the Basle Confession derived therefrom." A motion was made in the city government in 1826 to change it, but the Church Council declared such change inexpedient. Another motion in 1859 to abolish it altogether was set aside. But the political significance of the Confession can no longer be sustained, in view of the change of public sentiment in regard to the liberty of faith and conscience.'

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