European Reformers.


Ulrich Zwingli

It was
Ulrich Zwingli  who was mainly responsible for the introduction
of a stern almost Puritan type of Protestant theology into Switzerland. Zwingli`s
early work was later developed by Calvin, in much the same way as Philip Melancthon formulated Martin Luther`s ideas of a more elaborate and
ceremonial form of Protestantism.

Born of peasant stock in the valley of
the Tockenburg the young Ulrich had early contact with the Bible through
his grandmother who regularly read it to him. As he grew up he became more
and more enthused with the Scriptures and convinced of  the cardinal
rule that the Bible alone was the truth. He also developed an intense
dislike of war and especially the way the Swiss at that time were a
principal supplier of mercenaries to fight the battles of others in Italy
and Spain.  As a patriot, Zwingli had been chaplain  to Swiss
mercenaries at the battles of Novara (1513) and Marignano (1515).Deeply influenced by
the Humanist Erasmus whom he met in 1515, he was sickened and angered 
by the sight of thousands of widows and orphans left destitute; or whose
bread winner was incapable of work, because of wounds and limbs that had
been cut off.  In this respect he was an early advocate of

Zwingli  began to reflect on
evangelical beliefs and the abuses in the Church  and became minister
at the Great Minster, Zurich. Working with the council he preached the New
Testament and began to reform the people. Zwingli was soon under attack
from the papists with the usual allegations of heresy. His appointment to
the cathedral of Zurich placed him on centre stage for Protestantism
where, using his acknowledged eloquence, he brought light into the peoples
lives. The response was great and gratifying with other Swiss towns taking
up the Reformed creed – Bern (1528) Basle (1529), St Gall (1528), and 
Schaffhausen  (1529).

Zwingli `s position was not exactly
helped by the arrival in Zurich of Thomas Munzer, allegedly an Anabaptist
who recruited two Swiss disciples – Conrad Grebel and Felix Manx. They
came to Zwingli seeking assistance to create a new church – an `heaven on
earth` . Zwingli rejected them and their twisted creed. Eventually, as
their excesses got stranger, the magistrates ordered a debate on 15
January 1525, which Zwingli easily won. Tougher measures ensued against
the Anabaptists ( who were not the true followers of re-baptism) . Zwingli
strongly counselled restraint and to allow settlement by peaceful means
and the word of God to overcome them. But the excesses took on the form of
sedition and overturn of government which could not be tolerated, and led
to the execution of Felix Manx by drowning. Zwingli had no part in these

He continued to be assailed by the
legions of Rome  and twice overcame the bishop of Constance in
debates. Finally  In 1526,he was challenged to debate with Dr Eck,
Vice Chancellor of Ingoldstadt – a man of  undoubted learning and
renowned for his volubility. He was also a vain and a greedy man, who was
well paid for his services. Bullinger said of him ” he loved the wages of
unrighteousness.”  The papists tried to set the debate in their own
backyard at Baden where the intention was to seize Zwingli and proceed
with charges of heresy. But Zwingli  and the Council of Zurich saw
the dangers and declined.

On the appointed day representatives from
the twelve Cantons attended along with the bishops in all their richness
and splendour. The Protestant clergy of basle who took on the debate, were
assisted by John Oecolampadius from Basle and Heller from Bern who were
not yet committed to the Reformation. In a crude attempt at censorship,
official  note takers were appointed by the papists and prohibition
placed on any other records being made. However, students arranged a
system of note taking by an accomplished young man, Jerome Walsch, who
listened attentively and wrote notes afterwards. They also organised
messengers to take the information to Zwingli in Zurich, who in turn
overnight, wrote comments and advice which was relayed back for the next
day`s debate. Eck knew he was beaten but not unexpectedly the papist
adjudicators ruled that the Zwinglian heresy had been crushed. But the
conduct and behaviour of the papists had lasting effect on the
representatives from Bern and Basle whose cities soon became Reformed.

In Bern there were already doubts about
papacy, and being the strongest of the Swiss Confederacy, in November 1527
they proposed a debate on the theme “Unhappy Helvetia”. The papists
supporters again ranted and raved and sought  deferral of the debate.
The Emperor himself, Charles V, sent word of his opposition to it and that
they ought to await a General Council to decide ( in his and the Pope`s
favour). None of the leading debaters, such as Eck or the Catholic
bishops, appeared for the debate.  But over 350 priests, pastors ,
scholars and councillors from Switzerland and Germany assembled in the
Church of the Cordeliers on 6 January 1528. Ten propositions, a statement
of the Protestant faith, were put down for discussion which continued
until the 27th January. It was a resounding success for the Reformers not
least because the debate was based on the Scriptures and not papist dogma.
Subsequently the Bern magistrates declared for the Reformation in a decree
issued on 7 February 1528 which included ( as in Zurich) a prohibition on
foreign military service.

In Basle there was serious confrontations
between the two camps, each crying they were prepared to die for their
beliefs. Several times the city Senate sought to pacify the sometimes
bloody meetings but were undecided which they supported. The night of 8th
February  1529 was a tense one as the Senate deliberated the demands
of the reformers, Regrettably a group of citizens feared the intrusion of
Austrian troops and panicked. This led to the breaking into the Cathedral
and the breaking up of many images and statues they found. The iconoclasts
rampaged through the city destroying as they went, but their action did
cause the Senate to decide to join the Reformation and ceded all demands.
An edict followed on Friday 12 February 1529.

  Having failed to stop Zwingli the
papists eventually resorted to their customary last gasp method of the
sword. Increasingly concerned at Zwingli`s success, the five Forest
Cantons of Switzerland leagued with Austria in a treaty of 23 April 1529.
The Austrians promised 6000 troops with 400 horse and artillery. In the
cantons Reformers were attacked and a leading minister Pastor Keyser was
burnt at the stake. The Forest Cantons then decided to take their
cleansing rage into the other regions precipitating civil war. The
response from Zwingli was a plan to form a union of the Reformed cantons
and cities which came into being at the end of 1529. Meanwhile Zurich
declared war and sent some 4000 picked soldiers to do battle but after a
fortnight of negotiations a peace was patched up. A period of relative
peace ensued with several discussions of Zwingli`s proposal for a union of
Reformed countries, not just the cantons of Switzerland.

 In October 1531 the Forest Cantons sent and army
of 8000 against the Reformed states, seizing the passes through the Alps
so that Zurich was not alerted. A further 12,000 papists troops spread
through the other cantons inflicting terror and death. Zurich belatedly
sent two councillors to investigate what was happening and too late sent a
vanguard of 600 men to Kappel to await support. Further delay meant that a
total of about 700 were forced into battle. Overwhelming force and a
tactical blunder that allowed the papists to attack through the forests
was the end of a brave defence. Zwingli himself was injured by a flying
stone and when recovered he was recognised by two camp followers and killed
by an officer named Bockinger from Unterwalden. So ended Zwingli on the 11
October 1531.

 In his work he was ably assisted by

John Oecolampadius (1482-1531) a retiring individual, but a brilliant
linguist in Greek and Hebrew, for which he was greatly valued and
respected by the likes of Erasmus. Latterly the leadership role was taken by
Johann Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1576). In forming his creed

he reached deadlock with Luther over the eucharist and
subsequently lost the support of the German princes. He was the first of
the Reformers to believe  that Christ was spiritually present 
at the eucharist and that the secular ruler  had a right to act in
church matters. These beliefs set him apart from other Reformers, but did
not diminish the Protestant cause.

John Calvin.

Martin Luther.