Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Forgotten Reformer #3: Berthold Haller

Another forgotten Reformer who languishes in the shadow of John Calvin is the Reformer of Bern: Berthold Haller. Berthold Haller was born in 1492 in Wurttenburg. The man learned at the feet of a professor in Bern who taught the evangelical gospel. Later Haller went onto Pforzheim where he met Melanchthon. He came back from his studies a clear thinking Reformed believer and he taught those truths to his flock in Bern. He was already preaching the evangelical gospel before he ever met Zwingli, which was in 1521. Haller was a key figure in the Baden disputation of 1525, which was officially judged to be won by the Romanists by the Romanist city council of Baden, although the fact Baden declares for the Reformation less than five years later cries of a different winner. Haller also served as a leader at the Bern Disputation the following year in 1526. As the pastor of Bern, it was Haller who wrote the Ten Theses that were debated. Of course the Reformed City Council gave the victory to the Reformers, and then Oecolampadius and Zwingli subscribed to the Ten Theses making it the first consensus Reformed document. Haller should be remembered at least for that contribution.

However, we ought to remember him for even more. Let us not forget that Geneva was a small city state that would not exist without the protection of the Canton of Bern. It was always to the people at Bern that Calvin and Farel had to report. Bern was the authority over Geneva. Bern was in a unique position as the link between the French speaking Reformation and the German speaking Reformation. The majority of Bern spoke German, but the small district of Vaud spoke French. This made Bern a power player in the French side of the Reformed Reformation. Refugees from France poured into Vaud as well as Geneva, and Bern helped make sure that both places were stocked with good Reformed ministers. Now a lot of that happened after the death of Berthold Haller in 1536, but all of the ground work for it was laid by Berthold.

Berthold Haller also ought to be remembered as one of the men who held the Reformation together. For this he gets little to no credit today. The Reformation was not a smooth ride from Zwingli to Calvin as some text books might make you think. The year 1531 was a devastating year for the Reformed Reformation. That year the Romanists crushed the Protestant Swiss in a war and saw the death of Zwingli on the battlefield. An illness killed John Oecolampadius in that same year. The two leading lights of the Reformation were snuffed in one fell swoop not to mention the first military set back had occurred which of course produced a treaty favorable to the Romanists and made the advancement of the Reformation even more difficult. The Synod of Bern in 1532 may well have stemmed the tide of Romanism and reasserted the Reformed Reformation. Bern was characterized by massive strife, mostly over Bern’s unwillingess to aid Zurich in the war, which was lost, and council and church now stood at each others’ throats. The Romanists were using this to gain a foothold in Bern. The late treaty had made it very easy for the Romanists to send Roman evangelists into the area. Haller, with the help of Wolfgang Capito (who we will look at next), saved the church at Bern. Reunion took place and all 300 men in attendance wept at the beautiful sight of a church reunited and the power of forgiveness in Christ. After such a powerful display the Romanists did not stand a chance and soon left. Basel and Zurich were able to set up the successors to Oecolampadius and Zwingli. During that brief time of distress Haller stood forth and served as the leader of the Reformed faith. His display of the power of forgiveness and reconciliation is not often how we think of the Reformation progressing, but it is indeed a witness that cannot be stopped.

This forgotten Reformer is really one of the great heroes of the faith.