A full study of Ulrich Zwingli would reveal he is no "second rate" reformer. While he does not receive the attention reserved for Luther and Calvin, Zwingli shaped much of current Protestant theology. He is worth far more time than I can give him here.
I. The Swiss Situation
The Swiss Republic came into being in 1291 as a loose federation of three independent cantons (states). Each canton participated with equal representation in a Federal Diet. Other cantons joined the federation over the years. They are usually categorized as "urban" or "rural" depending on their makeup. The Renaissance heavily influenced the urban cantons with its humanism. The urban cantons also tended to be more wealthy and thus objects for the church's exploitation. Rural cantons remained orthodox. Mercenaries from the rural cantons produced much of the area's income. In many cases, these country boys signed on in papal armies.
Swiss nationalism grew and transcended cultural lines. German speaking peoples lived in the northern cantons where they lived by German traditions. Southern cantons were French both culturally and linguistically. Rarely do you see a national state forming across cultural barriers. As Swiss patriotism grew so did opposition to the use of Swiss mercenaries beyond their borders.
II. The First Swiss Reformer
Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) was born to a magistrate's family in Wildhaus on January 1, 1484. Zwingli's mother had a brother who entered the priesthood so they entrusted young Ulrich to him for his education.
Zwingli studied in Basel, Berne, and Vienna. In Vienna he studied philosophy and medieval scholasticism. He studied theology and Greek entirely on his own developing his thinking as his familiarity with Scripture grew. When he completed his education, he returned to Basel to teach. By 1506, he set his sights on Glarus where he began a ministry with the church serving from 1506-1516. At this time Zwingli was a good Catholic.
A second ministry followed at Einsiedeln. He began his transition from Catholic to Protestant in this city. During his ministry he began to note Catholic abuses. He opposed these, particularly the sale of indulgences as well as the veneration of Saints and relics. Still, he remained faithful to the church.
Like many in his day, Zwingli's morals didn't always stand up to scrutiny. In January, 1519, a church called him to Zurich. When the call came, a young woman in Einsiedeln charged him with getting her pregnant. Zwingli admitted his guilt. In his admission, Zwingli said he made an early vow not to touch a woman but found it difficult to keep. He said, "Alas, I fell and became like the dog, who according to the Apostle Peter, turned back to his own vomit." He tried some self-justification by pointing out that the girl was not the daughter of a prominent citizen but the daughter of a barber. In those days barbers had poor reputations. He also said she possessed a poor reputation and had seduced him!
Perhaps impressed with his honesty, the Zurichers called him anyway. While in Zurich, he refused to preach the church's predetermined plan. He chose instead to begin a program of preaching through the New Testament. In his preaching, Zwingli insisted on repentance, Christian purity, protection by the magistrates for widows and orphans, and justification by faith. He also prophetically denounced the Swiss mercenary system.
III. Oppression and Arguments
The city magistrates soon questioned Zwingli's teachings. They proposed a debate to work out and argue through some of his proposed changes. Zwingli and his opponents met for the first of two disputations on January 23, 1523.
Zwingli prepared 67 propositions strongly attacking Catholic positions. Basing his arguments on Scriptural authority, he claimed a right to preach Christ as sole mediator. He insisted the Lord's Supper was a memorial not a sacrifice. He saw the mass as a form of idolatry. Zwingli rejected almost all Catholic positions built on tradition rather than Scripture except infant baptism.
Several individuals opposed Zwingli. Faber, a Catholic Vicar-General, was his most important opponent. Faber argued the Catholic position skillfully insisting that Zwingli's changes could only be implemented by a Church Council. At this point Swiss patriotism entered the picture. Even though the city magistrates questioned Zwingli's propositions, they seemed more disposed to hear him than the church's emissary. In the process, the city went on record asserting its right to repudiate ecclesiastical authority and to determine its own faith.
The magistrates scheduled a second disputation for October of the same year--1523. This time, no respondent came to meet Zwingli. He then undertook to convince the city fathers of the necessity of further change. He wanted to abolish the mass completely and replace it with a simple observance of the Lord's Supper. He also wanted to abolish images and move the altar from the platform to the floor making it a simple table. He thought all believers should partake of both the wine and the bread. Of greatest importance to Zwingli was the sermon. While worshipers heard the sermon weekly they observed the Lord's Supper quarterly. Zwingli also argued that all holy days should be abolished except Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost Sunday. The magistrates adopted almost every change.
After the second disputation, Zurichers worshiped to Scripture readings, prayer and sermons. Zwingli also opposed the use of instrumental music, and when he did away with it he effectively stopped chanting and singing too. Zurich parishioners reflected their displeasure with so many changes by staying home. Attendance plummetted until the City Council legislated compulsory attendance. On Easter Sunday, 1525, Zurichers observed their first truly "Protestant" service with an observance of the Lord's Supper.
IV. The Anabaptists
Just as Luther had radical followers, Zwingli had contemporaries who did not believe he had gone far enough. These radicals rebelled and became known as Anabaptists. They received the designation because they believed in "rebaptism." They accepted adult baptism's only and required rebaptism for anyone wishing to join them. These radical reformers called upon Zwingli to implement this into his reform. Zwingli refused. Anabaptists also believed the church to be a society of convinced believers separate from the state. This latter point served as a real bone of contention between the two. You must remember, the magistrates supported Zwingli's reforms.
Since, in Anabaptist thinking, the church and state were separate, the church should be supported by voluntary contributions instead of state taxation. Scripture should be the only concern rather than pleasing the magistracy. The church should exercise strict discipline and remove those living unworthily. They admitted no infants and adults could not be baptized without evidence of repentance.
Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz were two important Anabaptist leaders. Grebel was the Anabaptist's major spokesman. He was humanistically educated and familiar with Erasmus's writings and thought. As the more intellectual of the two, Grebel effectively debated Zwingli.
With the magistracy's help, Zwingli had the council declare the Anabaptists subversive. Action followed. While Conrad Grebel died of plague, authorities drowned Felix Manz in a mockery of adult baptism in 1527. From that point on, Anabaptist persecution flared all over Europe. For their own safety, the Anabaptists fled to the mountains where they enjoyed a degree of safety. Some Anabaptist groups became fanatical claiming prophetical gifts and endorsing polygamy.
Some modern Baptist groups incorrectly like to trace their origin to the Anabaptists. The Anabaptists did prefer the name Baptist but they are not the direct forerunners of modern Baptists. They are, however, forerunners of the Mennonites, Amish, and Hutterites. The Mennonites are named for Menno Simons, a later Anabaptist leader.
V. The Wars of Kappel
Reformers in urban cantons ultimately came to blows with their rural Catholic neighbors in two wars. The rural cantons brought the issue of Swiss reform to the Swiss Diet in 1526. They noted that urban reformers entered their regions to promote reform over their objections. They asked the Diet to take action to stop proselyting. The Diet decreed that reform innovations should cease. The Diet deposed Zwingli and ordered Protestant Scriptures burned. Since the cantons maintained a semi-autonomous stance, they believed these orders abridged their rights and when pressed took up arms.
Both sides quickly formed alliances. The rural cantons aligned themselves with Austria. The urban cantons merely united with each other. Conflict erupted when Catholics burned Jacob Kaiser, a Protestant. Both sides raised armies and went to the battlefield but before any skirmish occurred negotiation produced a settlement--The Treaty of Kappel.
The treaty guaranteed certain regions to the various groups. It also agreed that once these regions were set the others would not encroach. Reformers could not keep quiet though. They believed God wanted reform in all Christendom so they continued preaching outside their areas. Rural cantons continued to objection. Urban cantons placed a trade embargo on the rural cantons to bring them into line. War resulted. In the ensuing battle, the Second War of Kappel, Zwingli died on the battlefield. His enemies cut his body into pieces and on October 31, 1531 (appropriately some thought), he was burned.
VI. A Comparison of Luther and Zwingli
Luther and Zwingli were both well educated although Zwingli's theological education was self-taught. Both studied at well respected universities. Luther's family was more religious and superstitious while Zwingli's tended to be more rationalistic. Luther's emotions led him to "heart-felt religion." Zwingli held to quiet and more rational approaches. Even here background intrudes. The Germans tended to be emotional while the Swiss were cool and philosophical. Renaissance humanism had deeper roots in Switzerland than in Germany.
Neither Luther nor Zwingli were consistent. Both claimed to follow Scripture's clear teaching, but both kept infant baptism. Zwingli receives credit for arguing the non-essentiality of the ordinance not Luther or Calvin.
Zwingli made some definite contributions to European reform in general. He abolished the mass and restored the Lord's Supper, albeit only quarterly. He abolished superfluous holidays, exalted preaching and emphasized Scriptural authority. He believed man to be a free moral agent who could act on God's requirements. Zwingli's thought influenced the Reformation in Germany, the Netherlands and in England.
You can see the major difference between Luther and Zwingli in their understanding of the Lord's Supper. At one point the two groups considered uniting their efforts. Zwingli and Luther met at Marburg to discuss it. Much commended the effort. Both reforms worked among German peoples. When the two met to iron out their differences, Luther emotionally shouted, "This is my body!" Zwingli's insistence that the Lord's Supper was simply a memorial brought only icy resistance from Luther and the talks failed.
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