- Historical Note
- Of Sacred Scripture
- Of the Interpretation of Scripture
- Of the Ancient Fathers
- Of Human Traditions
- The Purpose of Scripture
- Of God
- Of Man and his Strength
- Of Original Sin
- Of Free Will
- Of the Eternal Counsel of God to Redeem Man
- Of Jesus Christ and that which is done by Christ
- The Purpose of Preaching the Gospel
- The Christian and his Duty
- Of Faith
- Of the Church
- Of the Ministry of the Word
- The Power of the Church
- The Election of Ministers
- Who is the Pastor?
- Duties of Ministers
- The Power and Efficacy of the Sacraments
- The Sacred Assembly
- Of Indifferent Things
- Of Heretics and Schismatics
- Of Magistrates
- Of Holy Matrimony
- A declaration or witnessing of our mind
This Confession was composed by a number of Swiss divines (Bullinager, Grynæus, Myconius, and others), delegated and assembled for the purpose, in the city of Basle, A.D. 1536. It is the first Confession which represented the faith of all the Reformed cantons of Switzerland; the preceding ones had merely a local authority. It is called the First Helvetic Confession to distinguish it from the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), which acquired still greater authority. It is also less aptly called the Second Confession of Basle (Conf. Basleensis Posterior), from the place of its composition and publication, in distinction from the First Confession of Basle, or of Mühlhausen (1534), which continued in force in these two cities. The Latin text was published first under the title: Ecclesiarum per Helvatiam Confessio Fidei summaria et generalis. It is reproduced in the Corpus et Syntagma, and in Niemeyer’s Collectio (pp. 115-122). The German text in the Swiss dialect was prepared by Leo Judæ, and is of equal authority with the Latin, although it is a free and enlarged translation.
Article 1 - Of Sacred Scripture
The Canonical Scripture is the Word of God, handed down by the Holy Spirit, and proclaimed to the world through the prophets and apostles, is the most perfect and most ancient philosophy of all, and it alone perfectly contains all godliness and sound living.
Article 2 - Of the Interpretation of Scripture
The interpretation of Scripture is to be sought from itself alone, so that it should be its own interpreter, governed by the rule of love and faith.
Article 3 - Of the Ancient Fathers1
Inasmuch as the Holy Fathers do not depart from this sort of interpretation, we receive them not only as interpreters of the Scriptures, but also as the chosen instruments of God.
Article 4 - Of Human Traditions
Regarding the rest of the traditions of men, no matter how attractive and accepted, whatever of these lead us astray, we answer with the Lord’s words: “They worship me in vain by teaching the doctrines of men.”
Article 5 - The Purpose of Scripture
The principal intent of all canonical Scripture is that God is good to the human race, and that he has declared that goodness through Christ his Son. It is by faith alone that this goodness reaches us and is received, but is made effectual by love towards our neighbours.
Article 6 - Of God
We thus speak of God, that he is of one substance: triune in persons, omnipotent. Just as he created all things by the Word, that is, his Son, out of nothing, so by his providence he governs, he preserves, and he cherishes all things righteously, truly and most wisely.
Article 7 - Of Man and his Strength
Man is the most perfect image of God on earth, having the primary place among the visible creatures, consists of soul and body, of which the body is mortal, and the soul immortal. He was created holy by God, but by his own fault fell into sin, and dragged the entire human race into that same ruin with him, and rendered them subject to the same calamity.
Article 8 - Of Original Sin
This original sin so pervaded the whole human race, that by no means could the children of wrath and the enemies of God, be cured except by Christ. For if any good fruit survives here, constantly weakened by our sins, it turns for the worse. For the power of evil overcomes us, and does not permit us to pursue reason, nor to cultivate the godliness of our mind.
Article 9 - Of Free Will
To man we do attribute free will, that we experience the wanting and willing to do good and evil. Indeed, we may do evil of our own free will, but we do not embrace and pursue good, except by the grace of Christ, enlightened and impelled by his Spirit. “For it is God who works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Salvation is from God. Destruction is from us.
Article 10 - Of the Eternal Counsel of God to Redeem Man
By this fault, man was subject to damnation and incurred the righteous indignation of God, and yet God the Father never ceased to take care of him. This is clear from the first promises, and the whole law (which exposes sin, but does not extinguish it) and from Christ who was ordained for this purpose and provision.
Article 11 - Of Jesus Christ and that which is done by Christ
This Christ is the true Son of God, true God, and true man. At the appointed time he took upon himself the whole man, made of soul and body, possessing in one individual person two unmixed natures, that he might restore to life us who were dead, and made us heirs of God, and so became our brother.
He took the most holy flesh of the Godhead in union with ours, similar in all respects (with the exception of sin only, since it was necessary to be an unblemished sacrifice), born of the untouched Virgin Mary, cooperating with the Holy Spirit, and delivered it to death for the atonement of all sin.
In order that we might have a full and perfect hope and confidence of immortality, he placed his flesh, which was raised from the dead, in heaven at the right hand of his Almighty Father.
There he sits, triumphant over death, sin, and hell; the conqueror and leader, our head, our true high priest at the right hand of the Father, defending our cause and pleading it perpetually, until he fashions us into the likeness to which we were created.2
We thus wait for him who will come at the end of all ages, the true and just judge, who will pronounce the verdict on all flesh, which will be raised before that judgment, and who will lift up the godly above the heavens, and condemn the ungodly body and soul to eternal destruction.
As he alone is our mediator, intercessor, sacrifice, and the same High Priest, our Lord, and our King, so we recognize him alone, and we believe with all our hearts that he is our reconciliation, redemption, sanctification, atonement, wisdom, protection, and our only deliverer. We refuse all other means of life and salvation, except this Christ alone.
Article 12 - The Purpose of Preaching the Gospel
Therefore, in all preaching of the gospel, it must be announced first and foremost that we are saved only by the mercy of God and the merit of Christ. In order that men may understand what need they have, their sins must always be pointed out to them most clearly through the law, and their remission by the death of Christ.
Article 13 - The Christian and his Duty3
We obtain these divine benefits, and the true sanctification of the Spirit of God, by mere faith in God, and not at all by own strength or merit.
Article 14 - Of Faith
This sure and undoubted faith is the substance and apprehension of all things hoped for from the goodness of God. It comes from love itself, and it sprouts clearly the fruit of all virtues. We do not, however, attribute anything to these deeds, even if they are pious, but justification and salvation we attribute to the grace of God only.
And this indeed is the only true worship of God: faith, without confidence in works, this is the most fruitful of works.
Article 15 - Of the Church
The church is the holy assembly of all the saints and the spotless bride of Christ, whom Christ washes and purifies with his blood, and finally establishes and delivers her to her Father without spot or wrinkle, and together such stones are built upon the living rock.
Although this church is known only to the eyes of God, yet by certain external rites, instituted by Christ himself, and by the Word of God as a public and legitimate discipline, it is not only seen and known, but is so established that no one (except by God’s singular privilege) is considered to be in it without them.
Article 16 - Of the Ministry of the Word
And for this reason, we confess that the ministers of the church are God’s co-workers (which Paul also acknowledges), through whom he administers the knowledge of himself and the remission of sins, converts men to himself, raises them up, comforts them, even frightens them and judges them. However, in order to ascribe all the power and efficiency in these things to the Lord, let us ascribe the ministry to the ministers. For it is certain that this power and efficacy is not to be bound to any creature at all, but to be dispensed by the free condescension of God, how and to whom He wills. For there is no one who waters, nor who plants, but God who gives growth.4
Article 17 - The Power of the Church
But the very authority of the word, and of feeding the Lord’s flock, which is properly the power of the keys, prescribing to all — equally to the highest and to the lowest, is sacrosanct and inviolable. Either by the calling of God, or by a certain and deliberate vote of the church, it must be entrusted only to those chosen to minister.
Article 18 - The Election of Ministers
For this function is not to be granted to anyone who has not found and judged that the ministers of the Church, and those to whom this business has been entrusted by a Christian magistrate in the name of the Church, are unique both in the knowledge of the divine law, and in the innocence of life, and in the study of the name of Christ. Which, although it is the true election of God, is nevertheless rightly verified by the vote of the church and the imposition of the hands of the elders.
Article 19 - Who is the Pastor?
Christ himself is the true head and shepherd of his church, he alone gives his church pastors and teachers, who in the external church use this rightfully and legitimately entrusted power of the keys. Hence we recognize them only as shepherds, and not at all a Roman head.
Article 20 - Duties of Ministers
The supreme task of this function is to preach repentance and the remission of sins through Christ: to pray unceasingly for the people, to watch tirelessly with holy studies and the Word of God, and with the Word of God as the sword of the Spirit, and with all-powerful art to persecute and weaken Satan with internal hatred, to protect the healthy citizens of Christ. Also to admonish, rebuke, rebuke, and rebuke the wicked, and those who stray further from the church, that is, by the agreement and pious consent of the covenantal church of Christ, either to expel and expose them from the whole, or to make amends in some other convenient way for the time being5, until they come to their senses and are saved. For he has returned to the church as a sick citizen of Christ, if, with converted minds and studies (wherein all this discipline is concerned), he confesses his error, and requires sound discipline on the other side, and exhilarate all the pious with a new zeal for piety.
Article 21 - The Power and Efficacy of the Sacraments
There are two signs [in the church of Christ] which are called sacraments: baptism and the eucharist. These symbols of mysterious things are not bare signs, but consist of signs and the things signified at the same time. For in baptism water is a sign, but the actual thing is regeneration and adoption into the people of God. In the eucharist the bread and wine are the signs, but the thing is the communion of the body of the Lord, salvation won, and the remission of sins. And these things are perceived by the spirit by faith, just as the body receives these signs with the mouth. For the whole fruit of the sacraments is in the things themselves.
Wherefore we assert that the sacraments are not only distinguishing marks of Christian congregation, but also symbols of divine grace, by which the ministers, to the Lord, cooperate for that end which he promises and brings about, so nevertheless, as has been said of the ministry of the word, that all saving power is ascribed to the Lord alone.
Article 22 - Baptism
We affirm that Baptism is the institution of the Lord, and the bath of regeneration which the Lord presents to his elect, as a visible sign through the ministry of the church (as has been explained above).
With this holy bath we shall therefore bathe our infants, since it is wrong to reject those born of us (who are the Lord’s people) from the fellowship of God’s people, so long as they have not been designated reprobate by the voice of God, especially since it is to be presumed that their election is pious.
Article 23 - Eucharist
But the mystical supper, is that which the Lord truly offers his body and blood, that is, himself to his own, so that he may live more and more in them, and they in him. Not that the bread and the wine, and the body and blood of the Lord, are united into one nature: neither locally included in them, nor by any carnal presence established. But the bread and wine are symbols from the Lord’s institution, to which the true communion of his body and blood, and is presented by the Lord himself through the ministry of the church, not as food for the perishable stomach, but as food for eternal life.
This is why we often use this sacred food, because by this warning we look at the death and blood of the crucified, with the eyes of faith, and our salvation, not without a taste of heavenly life, and indeed with a sense of eternal life, meditating on this spiritual, life-giving and intimate food, we are refreshed with indescribable sweetness, and we rejoice with unspeakable joy, because of the life we have found, and with all our strength, we pour out thanksgiving for the wonderful favour of Christ towards us.
Thus, it is greatly undeserved that some think we give too little to the sacred symbols. For these are holy things to be venerated, and, as it were, instituted by and received from the high priest Christ, in the manner we have said presenting the things signified, bearing witness to the thing accomplished, representing things so arduous, and by a wonderful analogy of the things signified, bringing the clearest light to these mysteries. To this end they themselves supply the aid and help of the faith, and finally, in turn, they bind us, as much as a sacred oath would, to the head of Christ and the church. This is how reverently we feel about these sacred symbols. But truly we ascribe strength and power to him who gives life and sanctifies forever, who is life, to whom be praise forever and ever. Amen.
Article 24 - The Sacred Assembly
But we consider that sacred assemblies should be conducted in such a way that above all, the Word of God is daily proclaimed to the public, that the Scriptures are daily brought out by suitable ministers and read out, that the faith of the pious should be exercised from time to time in celebrating the holy Eucharist, and that prayer for the needs of all should be constantly insisted on.
But the rest of the useless and innumerable vagaries of ceremonies, vessels, veils, clothes, candles, altars, gold, and silver, inasmuch as they serve to pervert religion, especially idols and images (which are profane and scandalous for worship), and all such profane things, let us keep far away from our sacred house.
Article 25 - Of Indifferent Things6
The things that are properly called indifferent, a pious man can use them as freely as he can everywhere, and at all times. But he must do so knowingly and out of charity, that is, he will use them only for the edification of all.
Article 26 - Of Heretics and Schismatics
Let us also guard against those who depart from the holy fellowship of the Church, either bringing in or following other dogmas. With what evil do the Anabaptists today work with the first! If they obstinately do not obey the admonition of the church and Christian learning, we judge that they should be restrained by the magistrate, lest they contaminate the flock of God.
Article 27 - Of Magistrates
Every magistrate is from God, and his duty (unless he prefers to exercise tyranny), is to defend and ensure that religion is defended against all blasphemy, and just as the prophet teaches from the Word of the Lord, to execute it in maturity. In this respect, he must take care above all, that the pure Word of God is preached to the people in a pure and sincere manner, and that the gospel truth is not withheld from any people. He must quickly see to it that all citizens are formed by correct and diligent training and discipline, that there is a just provision of the ministers of the church, and that the poor are cared for. This part, the church’s authorities oversee.
Finally, magistrates, judge the people according to unbiased laws: to preserve the public peace, to foster the republic, and you are to punish the offender with wealth, body, and life. For what he does, he renders the worship due to God.
We know that we, (even if we are free in Christ) both in body and in all our faculties, and in the earnest [truth] of the soul with faith, are to submit to the magistrate in holiness (inasmuch as the dominions of this man do not openly fight with him for whose sake we honour the magistrate).
Article 28 - Of Holy Matrimony
Marriage, which is divinely instituted for men who are fit for it, and who are not otherwise called to live celibately, we also consider to be not be contrary to holy orders. As the church inaugurates and sanctifies by exhortation and prayer, so it is the interest of the magistrates, that it should be dignified and honoured, and that it should not be ended except for just causes.
Accordingly, we reject monastic celibacy and the impure chastity of those people (whom they call spiritual), and this whole cowardly way of life. It is an abominable opinion of superstitious men, equally repugnant to the church and the republic.
Article 29 - A declaration or witnessing of our mind7
It is not our mind here to prescribe by these brief chapters a certain rule of the Faith to all Churches and congregations, for we know no other rule of faith but the Holy Scripture. Therefore, we are in accordance with those who agree with these things, whether or not they use another manner of speaking or a Confession different and apart to this document in words. Instead, the matter should be considered, rather than the words. Therefore, we make this free for all men to use their own manner of speech, as they shall perceive most profitable for their churches and we shall use the same liberty. And if any man will attempt to corrupt the true meaning of this, our Confession, we shall give both a confession and a defence of the principle and truth.
It was our pleasure to use these words at this present time, that we might declare our opinion in our religion and worshipping of God.
1. Wishart swaps articles 3 and 4 in his translation.
2. Wishart adds “and brynge us to be partakers of eternall lyfe.” which corresponds to the Leo Judæ’s German “und in die Gemeinschaft seines göttlichen Wesens einführe.” This was not found in the Latin source published by Philip Schaff.
3. Wishart, Corpus et Syntagma Conf., and the German combine articles 13 and 14.
4. This sentence is not found in Niemeyer’s Collectio and has been inserted from the Corpus et Syntagma Conf. (1654), p. 69. It is found in Wishart’s translation.
5. Wishart and Corpus et Syntagma Conf., and the German read “by the pious consent of those who were chosen from among the ministers and magistrates, to exclude discipline, or to punish them for the time being by some other convenient means,”
6. In the Latin text of the Corpus et Syntagma Conf. and of Niemeyer the order of this and the following article is reversed.
7. This was present in George Wishart’s translation, but not in the Latin or German sources, and has been translated into contemporary English.
English Translation of the First Helvetic Confession by Peter Chapman, licensed under CC BY 4.0.