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The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Philip Schaff Vol. XII:
This document has been edited for clarity - jmf
HULDRYCH ZWINGLI (1484–1531)
Swiss reformer - Father of the Swiss Reformation
Early Life and Education
Initial Doubts at Einsiedeln of Roman Catholicism
Leut-Priestship at Zurich and Marriage
Increasing Alienation from the Roman Church
The Final Rupture
Peasant and Anabaptist Disturbances
The Conference at Baden
Eucharistic Conference with Luther at Marburg
Unsuccessful Plans against the Hapsburgs and the Pope
Diet of Augsburg and Work in Zurich
Civil War and Death of Zwingli

Early Life and Education

Huldreich Zwingli, the Reformer of German Switzerland as preacher of Evangelical truth, contemporary with, but independent of, Martin Luther, was born at Wildhaus (near Zurich), in the valley of the Toggenburg, Jan. 1, 1484; and died at Cappel (10 mi. South of Zurich) Oct. 11, 1531. His first name is variously rendered Ulric, Ulrich, Ulricus, Huldricus, and Huldryeh, while his last name, which appears in Latin as Zwinglius and in English as Zwingle, was originally Zwilling (" Twin "). His father, Ulrich Zwingli, was the chief magistrate of the village. His father's brother, Bartholomew, was the village priest. His mother's maiden name was Margaretha Meili, and her brother, Johannes (d. 1524), was abbot of the Benedictine abbey of Fischingen, while a near relative, probably an uncle, was abbot of Old St. John's, near Wildhaus. Zwingli was the third of his parents' eight sons. In 1487 his uncle Bartholomew moved to Wesen (about 10 mi. South of Wildhaus) on the Walensee, where he was pastor and dean, and then, or a little later, he took his nephew into his house and sent him to the village school. Being a friend of the New Learning, and noticing the promise of the child, he determined to educate him for the Church, but in agreement with the new ideas; accordingly he sent him to the school of Gregory Buenzli in Klein Basel, in 1494, and in 1498 to that of Heinrich Woelfli (Lupulus) in Bern. There the lad particularly distinguished himself, and made many friends. He, like Luther, was a born musician and fond of company. These qualities induced the Dominicans to invite him to live in their monastery, but when his father and uncle heard of this, they took him out of the city, lest he should become a monk, and sent him to Vienna. For the next two years he studied there (1500-02), and in 1502 he matriculated at Basel, took his B.A. degree there in 1504, and his M.A. in 1506, teaching meanwhile in the school of St. Martin's Church. In 1506 he became pastor at Glarus, where he remained for ten years.

Initial Doubts at Einsiedeln of Roman Catholicism

Being a scholar, Zwingli applied himself to his books and laid deep and wide foundations. He also manifested his abilities as a preacher, and with flaming zeal denounced the evils of the time, the chief of these, to his patriotic mind, being the hiring out of the Swiss to any one other than the Pope to fight as mercenaries, an occupation which, in numerous cases, resulted in their moral ruin. Because some of the leading persons in his congregation were carrying on this traffic, his opposition awoke their animosity and made his position so uncomfortable that he was glad to accept a call to be preacher at Einsiedeln, only a few miles from Glarus, and the chief place of pilgrimage for Switzerland, South Germany, and Alsace. There he met with great numbers of people, including many prominent men, and thus he clarified his thinking on the burning questions of the day. He had a candid mind, and his faith in traditional orthodoxy had already received several shocks. Thomas Wyttenbach was the first one to question in his hearing the traditional base of the Church's teaching, in 1505-06, and a little later he came upon a service book containing the liturgy as used in Mollis, near Glarus, two hundred years before, and found that it expressly enjoined that the cup was to be administered to a babe after its baptism. Again, when on a campaign in Italy as chaplain of the Glarus contingent in the papal army, he discovered that the Milan liturgy differed in many points from that used elsewhere. Meditation on these points showed him that the Church had really not taught absolutely the same truths from the beginning, nor had it observed everywhere the same practices. Like all other Humanists, he read Erasmus, and from him learned that the source of doctrine was the Bible and not the Church. By 1516 he had learned, thanks to Erasmus, to read the New Testament in the original language. He began to drink truth from the fountain rather than through the more or less troubled stream of tradition. Then, when he met leading men at Einsiedeln, and found that the corruption of the Church, clergy and theology was a common theme, he ventured to discuss these matters in the pulpit. He also exalted the Bible above the Church as the guide into truth, and Jesus Christ above the Virgin Mary as the intercessor with the Father, and in so doing he acted independently of Luther, in fact, he was unaware of him at this juncture. In later times, Zwinglli always pretended to be ignorant of what Luther wrote, and it was his constant boast that he had started the Reformation in Switzerland independently of Luther. It was a drawback to the general cause of the Reformation that these two Reformers did not fraternize. Because Zwingli would not accept Luther's doctrine of the Lord's Supper, Luther declared him to be of a different spirit; and Zwingli found much in Luther's teachings with which he strongly disapproved.

Leut-Priestship at Zurich and Marriage

It is not likely that Zwingli was brought into any trouble by his doctrine at Einsiedeln; rather it was welcome and increased his reputation. So, when the position of leut-priest (preacher and pastor) in the Great Cathedral in Zurich fell vacant in the latter part of 1518, he was suggested for the place. Then it was brought to light certain facts that resulted in humiliation before his friends and became a source of triumph to his foes. Like the clergy about him, he believed himself absolved from the obligation of chastity by which he was bound due to his vow of celibacy. Lapses from sexual purity were too common to be considered objections in a priest, but the charge against him was made that he had seduced a girl of good family, and this was considered a valid reason for rejecting his nomination. He was written to in regard to these claims and his reply on the subject has been preserved. He denied the charge of seduction, but frankly admitted the charge of habitual sexual impropriety, and he does it in a jesting tone which shows that he had no conception that his offense was any other than a trifling one. The assembly ot the Great Minster (Cathedral) in Zurich agreed to this view and elected him. Therefore, when he came to Zurich to assume the role of leut-priest, he was a confessedly lustful man, but only the pure in heart can see God; the Gospel had not yet entered his heart. It so happened that in his parish was a beautiful widow, Anna Reinhard (b. 1484), a Zurich innkeeper's daughter, who had married (1504) Hans Meyer von Knonau, from a noble family in Zurich, He died in 1517. Her son, Gerold, was in the Great Minster Latin school when Zwingli came to Zurich and made the acquaintance of the mother. When their intimacy passed the bounds of propriety is unknown, but certain it is that from the spring of 1522 Zwingli and Anna Reinhard were living together in what was euphemistically called a " clerical marriage." Such arrangements, while not put on par with marriage, were entered into without stigma, as it was assumed that without an extraordinary supply of divine grace it was not possible for a priest to live in purity; and in fact, very few did, so it was deemed preferrable for the morals of the community that priests should have nominal wives. They were expected to, and probably did, live faithful to these women, and the women to them. When, however, the relations between Zwingli and Anna Reinhard were formed, many Protestant priests had married their mistresses or other women, and it was expected that Zwingli, who was the head of the reform movement in Zurich, would show equal courage and set a good example. Why he did not has been explained on the ground of his reluctance to face the monetary and social complications involved in a commoner marrying a widow of the nobility; but at last he married her, on Apr. 2, 1524. Between 1526 and 1530 four children were born to him, but there are no direct descendants of his now living.

Increasing Alienation from the Roman Church

Zwingli held the leut-priestship from 1519 to 1522, and till the end of his life retained the preachership in the Great Minster. His fame spread through all German Switzerland and southern Germany. His sermons as printed are long, rambling, and dull, though clear and simple in style, but, in the process of the expansion they have undergone, all their liveliness has probably been removed. Having uncommon Biblical and patristic scholarship, a frank, candid, independent, and progressive nature, and a great desire to advance the interests of his country in religious, political, and social matters, he won general approval from the start, not only as a preacher but as a man. When a preacher of indulgences named Bernhardin Samson appeared on the scene (1519), Zwingli successfully opposed him - a course which received the approval of the hierarchy, for the fathers of Trent recognized that there were abuses connected with the proclamation of indulgences When the plague broke out in Zurich in 1520, Zwingli labored so diligently among his people that, worn out, he fell sick himself and looked into the eyes of death. He used the position won by his devotion and independence to advance reform, but very cautiously and by attacking externals first. Thus he showed that fasting in Lent had no Scriptural support, which teaching was eagerly taken up by those who wanted to have good meals all the year round; next, that tithes had only state and church laws to rest upon, but no Scripture, this teaching being heartily welcomed by those who paid taxes and groaned under them. He had his say in regard to the proper way to treat beggars, who were considered by the good people about him as aids in devotion and pathways to heaven, but whom he denounced as nuisances and would have changed into self-supporting members of the community, and he showed how this might be done. Next came simplification of the Breviary and plans for a liturgy in the vernacular and a much altered service for the administration of the Lord's Supper. Proceeding step by step, with the assent of the magistrates in Zurich, he eventually alarmed the local hierarchy, who appealed to Constance, where their bishop lived, and the bishop sent to Zurich an investigation committee which sat Apr. 7--9, 1522, but found no advantage against the manifest satisfaction of the citizens with the positions Zwingli had taken. It was evident that the wave of reform had passed from Germany into Switzerland.

The Final Rupture

After three years of preaching, Zwingli judged that the time was ripe for a bolder step. Consequently he prepared sixty-five theses, not at all like the ninety-five of Luther, which were on the single topic of indulgences and were intended primarily for a university audience, while Zwingli's theses were for a popular audience and covered all the points of the " Gospel," as he called it. In accordance with the Swiss plan that before radical measures were taken in a canton there was to be a public debate as to their expediency, presided over by the burgomaster, a meeting was held in the town hall of Zurich on Jan. 29, 1523. All the clergy were invited, and the frankest expression of opinion was courted. As a matter of fact, there was no real debate, but only a dialogue between Zwingli and the vicar-general of Constance. The decision of the magistracy was that the doctrines Zwingli had preached were enjoined on all priests in the canton. This was satisfactory so far, but only as an entering wedge. Zwingli kept on applying the " Gospel " to practical matters and began preparations for a second discussion, which was held Oct. 26-28, 1523, this being still less a debate between the Old and the Reform Church parties, since it was almost entirely in the hands of the latter. Of special interest is the part which the radicals among the followers of Zwingli played. They accepted his whole program, but they were for immediate application of its practical teaching, and wished Zwingli to accept some of its logical consequences-both of which courses were hostile to his cautious nature. The decisions of the magistracy after this discussion were, however, radical enough to suit any but a radical, for they removed the images and pictures out of the churches, made the vernacular the language of the religious services, and, still more startlingly, stripped the mass of all its incrustations through the centuries and brought it back, as far as possible, to its first institution. A third disputation was held Jan. 19--20, 1524, but this was a last desperate attempt of the Old Church party to stem the tide of change which Zwingli had set in motion. By the end of 1524 church life in Zurich was quite different in many of its outward manifestations from that in any other Swiss city. The convents for men and women had been abolished, and the music had been silenced in the churches, a strange turn of events for one so fond of music as Zwingli, and defensible only on his theory that the Reformed Church should have no practice which recalled the Old Church as music did. The mass alone stood, and that was so wrapped up with the life of the people that he hesitated to destroy it before the people were fully prepared to accept a substitute. At last the decree went forth that on Thursday of Holy Week, Apr. 13, 1525, in the Great Minster, the Lord's Supper would be for the first time observed according to the liturgy Zwingli had composed. On that eventful day men and women sat on opposite sides of the table which extended down the middle aisle, and were served bread on wooden platters and wine from wooden beakers. The contrast to the former custom was shocking to many, yet the new way was accepted. With this radical break with the past, the Reformation in Zurich may be said to have been completed.

Peasant and Anabaptist Disturbances

No sooner had the Reformation been established than internal troubles nearly disrupted the State. First came the peasants with their undoubted grievances, although they did not give the trouble they made in Germany, both because their demands were less radical, and because the authorities, on the advice of Zwingli, were more conciliatory. But the other disturbing element, the detested, the dreaded, the misunderstood and persecuted Anabaptists, were the real trial. They did not originate in Zurich, but the earliest members of the party in Zurich were members of Zwingli's congregation. He had taught them to ask Scripture proof for doctrines and practices seeking church acceptance, and they accordingly asked him to give such proof for infant baptism. Because he could not, he was at first inclined to grant that logically the practice had no Scriptural support; but when they pressed him to declare himself plainly, they only stirred his anger. He fell back upon the assumptions of the Old Church, and for a man so radical on all other points he showed a singular reluctance to accept the consistent teaching of his Anabaptist friends. It was only when it became manifest to him that rejection of infant baptism would lead to churches being established around a membership composed of the spiritually regenerate, and to necessity of "unchurching" all who could not make a public confession of an experience of grace and the abolition of secular authority in religious matters, that Zwingli felt compelled to oppose it with all his might. He sought to silence them by sermon and treatise, and because they would not keep silence he became their persecutor. This attitude can be explained only by his acceptance of the propriety of suppressing what is deemed to be erroneous, even at the expense of life, on the claim that it is better that a few should die for their erroneous faith than that they should be allowed to live and propagate their errors. This doctrine was accepted by Protestants and by Roman and Greek Catholics in the sixteenth century, and the Protestants alone have since repudiated it.

The Conference at Baden

The years of Zwingli's life from 1524 to 1529 were extremely busy, and were passed almost entirely in Zurich. One occasion for a visit outside of it was very pressing. At Baden, a famous watering place, only twelve miles northwest of Zurich, there was a disputation between the Old Church representatives and the Zwingli party from May 21 to June 8, 1528. It was thought to be dangerous for Zwingli to personally attend because the Old Church party sought his death. But though not present in person, Zwingli had the closest connection with those from Zurich who spoke for him, and gave them daily instruction. The debates were probably as fair as such debates can be, but things were exactly reversed from what they were in the Zurich debates, for the speakers and the audience were overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. Of course each side claimed the victory. In 1528 Zwingli was in Bern and played the most prominent part in the formal introduction, through magisterial action, of the Reformation into that city.

Eucharistic Conference with Luther at Marburg

To this period of Zwingli's life also belongs the debate with Luther over the Lord's Supper, one of the great misfortunes the consequences of which are felt today. As Luther said at Marburg, he and Zwingli were not of the same spirit. Zwingli taught that the sacraments were signs and symbols of holy things, but in themselves had no power to cleanse, So that in the Lord's Supper there is a bringing back to memory of the work of grace done by Jesus Christ, who lives before the believer, though there is no application of grace through the sacrament itself. He had a clear mind upon this point, and the mystical view in any of its phases had no attractions for him. Consequently, the interchange of reading material between himself and Luther accomplished little, and only angered Luther. Thus baptism and the Eucharist, which were intended by Christ to be unifying practices, produced by their varied interpretation a breach between the Old Church and Protestants and between parties among the Protestants. Among the leaders of the Protestants was Philip the Magnanimous, Landgrave of Hesse (a.k.a. Philip of Hesse), who desired to see unity among Protestants upon the Eucharist, and to this end arranged a meeting in his castle at Marburg between Zwingli and Luther, which had one good result. Luther discovered that he and Zwingli had much in common. Although the territory through which Zwmgli had to pass on his way to Marburg was, with the exception of a few miles, friendly to Protestants, yet so panic-stricken were Zwingli and all his friends at the possibility of encountering members of the Old Church on their own ground that the Reformer considered himself to be doing a bold thing in obeying the summons of the landgrave. He left Zurich by stealth, without permission of the government and with a false statement to his wife as to his destination, but nothing happened to him. As it was thought unwise to pit him directly against Luther, he was introduced to Melanchthon, but nevertheless the debate was between the German and the Swiss chief reformers. Both sides boasted of victory, and the usual interchange of disgraceful epithets followed the debate which the Landgrave had hoped would seal their union.

Unsuccessful Plans against the Hapsburgs and the Pope

After his return to Zurich Zwingli prosecuted more vigorously those political schemes which were intended to result in a union of all Protestants, and also of states which were not Protestant, against the house of Hapsburg and the pope, in the interest of religious liberty. The time Zwingli gave to these negotiations must have been considerable, for he sought to unite in this "Christian Burgher Rights," as he called his league, bodies as widely scattered as France and the Republic of Venice. What might have come of this scheme if his life had been longer continued is, of course, impossible to say, but in 1530 he saw the making of the Schmalkald League, which shut off Lutheran membership in the Christian Burgher Rights, and the final refusal of France and Venice to enter. Inside of Switzerland Zwingli's schemes for religious liberty were equally unsuccessful, since the Five Forest Cantons, i.e., the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Luzern, and Zug, all adjoining Zurich, refused to allow the preaching of the Reformed faith within their borders. War actually broke out; but at Kappel, ten miles south of Zurich, where the opposing armies were about to come to blows, a hasty and ill-considered peace was patched up. The Forest Cantons refused to ratify the action of their representatives, and so the bill for the war was left unpaid by them, and the gospel preachers were still excluded from their territories. Zwingli saw clearly that such a peace was transitory, but though he wished that the cantons might be forced to keep the promises they had made, he did not desire to have them forced by the cruel measures which the Protestant cantons adopted, namely, by preventing the Forest Cantons from buying necessary things, especially salt, by blocking their entrance into the lower levels where alone these things could be obtained.

Diet of Augsburg and Work in Zurich

On June 30, 1530, the famous Diet of Augsburg convened. To it Zwingli sent a brief confession of faith and tried, probably unsuccessfully, to get it into the emperor's hands. It was a personal confession, but is one of the most interesting documents of the Reformation. In it he thus expresses himself respecting the Eucharist: "I believe that in the holy Eucharist-i.e., the supper of thanksgiving - the true body of Christ is present by the contemplation of faith; i.e., that they who thank the Lord for the kindness conferred on us in his Son acknowledge that he assumed true flesh, in it truly suffered, truly washed away our sins in his own blood; and thus everything done by Christ becomes present to them by the contemplation of faith. But that the body of Christ in essence and really-i.e., the natural body itself - is either present in the supper or masticated with our mouth or teeth, as the papists and some who long for the fleshpots of Egypt assert, we not only deny, but firmly maintain is an error opposed to God's Word." Zwingli played a prominent part in Protestantism and made Zurich a prominent place. His educational work was important. He was a born teacher, and when at Glarus had pupils, some of whose letters have been preserved and show how well he had taught them. His little book which was his present to his stepson reveals the wise teacher, and so, as soon as his other engagements permitted, he accepted the post of rector of the Carolinum, the school of the Great Minster in Zurich (1525), and did much to improve the curriculum, besides teaching there in the religious department. But not education and instruction alone claimed his attention. He was the great man of Zurich, and was consulted on every topic by everybody from the chief magistrate to the lowliest citizen. His correspondence often compelled him to toil late into the night after the crowded days, and there came from his pen a stream of treatises, in Latin when be sought the widest public, or in German when he had his own nation more in view. These treatises were sometimes hastily written and are often of little present interest, but most of them are still worthy of reading. They are controversial, as those in exchange with Luther's on the Eucharist; expository of his position on theology in general or upon particular points; practical, giving guidance to the preachers about him how to preach the Gospel; or patriotic, noble utterances against war and the mercenary service. These writings show the broad-mindedness of Zwingli, and give ground for the claim that if he were living today he would be in all respects a modern man.

Civil War and Death of Zwingli

But this life of strenuous endeavor in so many directions was drawing to its close, not through the weakening of its bodily powers, not because under a strain the brain had given way, but because the fratricidal strife which had been temporarily avoided broke out again. On May 15, 1531, the cantons which had accepted the Reformation assembled, and learning that the Forest Cantons, which were strongly Roman Catholic, had flatly refused to keep the treaty which they had signed through their representatives the year before, resolved to bring them to terms by preventing them from crossing their borders, as they would have to do if they would purchase wheat, salt, iron, steel, and other necessary things. It was a cruel measure, as already said, and Zurich resisted it, but was outvoted. As soon as this edict came to execution, it brought the Forest Cantons to warlike preparation, and since Zurich lay directly in their path as they descended from the mountains, they attacked it first. On Oct. 9, 1531, their troops crossed the Zurich border, which was only twelve miles from the city, and the news reached there that evening. Strangely enough, there seems to have been no apprehension that war was so near, and, consequently, there was no adequate preparation. It was a mob rather than a little army of the famous Swiss soldiers which rushed out of the city. Their objective was Kappel, and there they were joined the next day, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 1531, by the main army. With it was Zwingli, dressed in armor, though he was a non-combatant stayed in the rear of the battle. He was the chief pastor of Zurich and his presence was to be expected. It was a foregone conclusion that Zurich would be overthrown. She bad only 2,700 men against 8,000 and they were very badly led. Overwhelmed, it took only a short time to be almost annihilated. Five hundred Zurichers were slain, among them representatives of every prominent family in the city. But the greatest of them was Zwingli. Wounded first by a spear, and then struck on the head by a stone, he was put out of his misery by a sword thrust. He lay unrecognized for awhile, but when it became known that the corpse was that of Zwingli, it was treated with every indignity because he was held to be the author of the regulations which had brought on the war, which was not true, and also as the leader of the Reformation, which was true. The body was given over to the hangman, who quartered it as if it had been that of a traitor, and then burned it, as if that of a heretic. The war ended in a treaty which was, of course, favorable to the Forest Cantons, though not so harsh as might have been expected. But all Zwingli's plans for a league of princes, cantons, and cities against pope and emperor, and all his hopes of providing the Old Church cantons with Reformed Church missionaries were forever ended. Much that he stood for in church practice and in theology did not long outlive him. Music was restored to the churches (1598) and his eucharistic views were superseded among the Reformed by those of Calvin. Yet, as he becomes better known, his clear-headedness, his independence, and his progressiveness will gain him increasing fame, and men will put him beside Luther as a leader of the Protestant host.
 
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