Heinrich Bullinger’s Correspondence

Institut für Schweizerische Reformationsgeschichte
Kirchgasse 9
CH-8001 Zürich
Tel +44 / 63 44 756
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The correspondence of the Swiss reformer Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575), the successor of Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich, is being edited at the Institute for Swiss Reformation History of the University of Zurich, beginning in 1964 and to the present, and is financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and the Reformed Church of Canton Zurich. The edition of Bullinger’s correspondence is a text-critical edition with extensive annotations and a German summary of every published letter. So far 18 volumes (including volume 10A, a supplemental volume), consisting of 2629 letters written between 1524 and September 1546, have been published by the “Theologischer Verlag” of Zurich. From volume 7 onwards, letters having been edited since the nineteenth century in reliable editions are only provided in a German précis. This represents around 15% of the edited correspondence. Up to volume 14, each letter has been provided with a short summary, mentioning only the main issues treated in the letter. Since volume 15 however, each letter is provided with an exhaustive summary in order to facilitate, even more, access to these mostly unpublished sources.

The electronic edition affords free access to the first 17 volumes (1 to 16 and 10A), published between 1973 and 2014, hence the text of 2477 letters written between 1524 and May 1546. Our search engine allows advanced search options of the letters. Volume 17 with its 152 letters written between June and September 1546 of the year 1546 (published 2015) will be integrated into the electronic edition in December 2017. Volume 18, comprising 130 letters written between October and December 1546, will presumably be in print at the beginning of 2017.

Bullinger’s correspondence, with its 12,000 letters (10,000 addressed to him and 2,000 written by him) is one of the largest surviving bodies of correspondence from the sixteenth century. It extends over a period of 50 years (1524 to 1575). Geographically, the network of this correspondence stretches from Scotland to Belarus and from Denmark to Italy. All in all, there are more than 1,100 correspondents involved, originating from many different social classes: from kings, politicians and scholars to workmen with quite rudimentary literacy skills. Almost all of the letters were written in Latin (80%) and Early Modern German (20%), except occasional letters composed in French, Italian or Greek.

Bullinger’s correspondence affords a wealth of information on political, sociological, economical, biographical, climatological and astronomical issues and constitutes an invaluable source for the history of ideas and of culture. It provides precious and often unknown indications about contemporaneous prints, sometimes about their author(s), if these prints appeared anonymously or under a pseudonym. This editorial undertaking, providing quite a lot of hitherto unpublished material, fits exactly in today’s historical trend, which is especially interested in epistolography and networking. It would also lend itself very well to researchers devoted to the evolution of Latin and of Early Modern German during the sixteenth century.

Due to its wealth and variety of information, its density (two letters every third day, so that for most events it is possible to compare different accounts), it extension over 50 years and over a large geopolitical territory, and given that letters afford a more intimate look into the past than contemporaneous printed books would be able to do, Bullinger’s correspondence, accordingly, constitutes of the most invaluable sources of information concerning the history and culture of sixteenth-century Europe.

Reinhard Bodenmann, October 2016.