H373- The Reformation in Switzerland: Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin

ASSIGNMENT: Read Aland, chapter 3-4.

Huldrych Zwingli was born on January 1, 1484, and he died on October 11, 1531. During his short life he produced volumes of the most brilliant theology since Augustine. His commentaries on various Biblical books are still quite extraordinary, and his shorter tracts are still quite stirring.

Many have supposed over the years that Zwingli was merely or simply a follower of Luther. But this simply is not the case. Zwingli developed his extraordinary Biblical theology completely independently of Luther. The Zwinglian reform was a positive event (based on the power of the Gospel to transform lives) rather than a negative event (as was Luther's, who simply opposed Roman doctrine with his own).

The following timeline will demonstrate the theological development of Zwingli:

1513- Zwingli learned Greek so that he could study the teaching of Christ from the source.
1514- Zwingli opposed the Scholastic theology of human self-redemption.
1515- Zwingli read Erasmus' poem, "Expostulatio Jesu cum homine", and was profoundly affected.
1515- Zwingli learned from Thomas Wyttenbach that the death of Christ was the only remission of sin.
1515- Zwingli's reformatory program began to take shape in his mind; i.e.,
"Sola gratia", "sola fide", "sola Scriptura".
1516- Zwingli abandoned the lectionary and preached from the Gospel's directly.
1517- Zwingli began to move away from the papacy.
1518- Zwingli's theology of the Eucharist began to develop. (The elements are symbols, and not the real body and blood of Christ).
1519- Zwingli was called to Zurich as pastor and his reform began.

As one can clearly tell, Zwingli was well on the road to reforming theology long before Luther sent his 95 theses to the archbishop.

After his move to Zurich in 1519 the plague struck the city. Up to 1/3 of the population was killed, and Zwingli himself became very ill. It was after this illness that Zwingli wrote his wonderful poem, "The Plague". After the plague came to an end, Zwingli began to reform the city of Zurich and the worship of the church. Icons and images were removed from the churches and music was banned (because the singers sang for their own glory insisted of the glory of God! Perhaps many modern churches should reconsider the motivations by which their "singers" "perform"). Zwingli was not opposed to music per se, or art, for that matter. Rather, he believed that every action which a Christian performed should be for the glory of God and not for human self aggrandizement. Zwingli was himself an accomplished musician; and often he played some instrument for relaxation.

While in Zurich (where he remained from 1519 till his death in 1531), Zwingli was the leading ecclesiastic. His example both encouraged his friends and infuriated his foes. There were plots against him and plans laid to kill him. Zwingli read widely during this period of his life. His library contained such authors as Aristotle, Athanasius, Augustine, Beroald, Billican, Chrysostom, Cicero, Siculus, Erasmus, Jerome, Gregory of Nyssa, and Josephus.

He was successful in reforming the Church non-violently. There was no peasants revolt as in Germany under Luther; no tract written encouraging the princes to "kill, stab, exterminate" as Luther wrote.

The most significant writings of Zwingli are available in English. His theology has been ably examined by W.P. Stephens, and he is gaining a hearing more each day.

In Zwingli's theology there is an excellent balance of mind and heart; whereas in Luther, religion is a dry, intellectual exercise. For this reason Zwingli is the father of the modern Baptists, Quakers, and Mennonites. Zwingli was able to integrate in his own person both spiritual piety and intellectual vigor. The brief work, "The Shepherd", demonstrates the power of his piety and intellect.

The leading contributions of Zwingli's theology for modern Christianity lie in his clear explanation of the doctrines of the church: the Eucharist, Baptism, the Church, Faith, and the Bible; as well as his doctrine of God, the Trinity, and the afterlife. Zwingli was also instrumental in furthering the academic study of the Bible. Each day, preachers and priests were invited to attend lectures on the Bible and the Biblical languages. These lectures eventually led to a new (and excellent) translation of the Bible.

The Zurich Bible is still used in German speaking Switzerland (though, of course, the language has been updated).

Zwingli hoped, when he learned of Luther's work, that the two of them would be able to work together to bring about the peaceful reformation of the Church. Luther and he agreed on every major issue (with small differences), except on the Lord's Supper. In 1531 they met at Marburg in order to come to some understanding. Luther would not move, and Zwingli could not; so the summit ended without success. Zwingli's reaction was to weep bitterly over their inability to come together; but Luther scoffed at Zwingli and from that point would have nothing to do with him -- even making fun of him in letters and lectures by calling him Zwingle.

Zwingli died as he lived -- in service to God. He was serving as a chaplain in the army in 1531 because Zurich had been attacked by the Catholic Cantons (territories) of Switzerland. On the field at Cappel he was hacked down; and as he lay dying he comforted his friends with words from the Bible. Thus ended a brief but very productive life.

John Calvin also worked and lived in Switzerland. Though originally trained in Law, Calvin fled France when the persecution of Protestants began, and settled in Geneva. There he would live, for the most part, for the rest of his life. Calvin was born in 1509 and died in 1564.

The youngest of the three great reformers, his job was to consolidate and unify the more important themes of Zwingli and Luther; and thus Calvin's significance lies in his ability to pull together the major themes of the Reformation and set them forth in a clear manner. Calvin, beyond this, really made no new contribution to the work that had already been done -- he merely clarified and popularized the more difficult elements.