Front Page Titles (by Subject) Ulrich Zwingli and the Reformation in Switzerland - Selected Works of Huldrich Zwingli
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Ulrich Zwingli and the Reformation in Switzerland - Huldrych Zwingli, Selected Works of Huldrich Zwingli 
Selected Works of Huldrich Zwingli, (1484-1531) The Reformer of German Switzerland, translated for the First Time from the Originals, ed. Samuel Macauley Jackson (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1901).
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Ulrich Zwingli and the Reformation in Switzerland
A few individuals with distinctive, complex minds and troubled consciences dominate the early history of the Reformation.* The learning and wit of Erasmus, the personal religious anguish of Luther, the intense, practical efficiency and cosmopolitanism of Zwingli and Calvin, and the social fury of Thomas Müntzer often seem to dwarf not only the hundreds of lesser figures who in fact accomplished the ecclesiastical and social reforms of the sixteenth century, but to detach these men themselves from any recognizable social background and intellectual tradition. Ulrich Zwingli’s career is the history of the personal intellectual and religious growth of one such individual, yet it is also deeply rooted in the urban life of the city of Zürich and the more complex political history of the Reformation in Switzerland. Like Erasmus and Luther, Zwingli influenced the thought of reformers and Catholics alike, and the dissident strains of the Zürich reform movement influenced many communities and touched the reformation of England and Scotland. Yet the novelty of Zwingli’s ideas and the wide appeal some of them held for other reformers sometimes distract attention from his intense regional outlook, his influence on the city of Zürich, his uniquely Swiss career and personality. With Erasmus and Luther, Zwingli represents both traditional and novel strains of religious thought and programs for ecclesiastical and social reform. Far more than they, however, his life was bound up with the structure of a single city, and his importance becomes fully clear only in the context of his theocratic reforms in Zürich.
Desiderius Erasmus (1466(?)-1536) was the greatest scholar of his day.1 His work on the textual criticism of Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers, his broad and lively secular learning, his scathing attacks on ecclesiastical and social abuses, and his unfulfilled concept of the regeneration of Christian society touched nearly all thinking men of the sixteenth century. Those whom his scholarly works did not or could not reach were stung by his mastery of scornful, withering Latin satire, a vein which was to contribute much to both the vernacular and the Latin literatures of the sixteenth century. Martin Luther (1483-1546), steeped in late medieval scholastic theology and possessed of an extraordinary personal religious sensibility, attacked Church dogma and ecclesiastical practices, not only on the basis of textual inaccuracies and institutional perversity, but also on the strength of his own profound reinterpretation of Pauline theology, firmly rooted in his own religious experience and his study of Scripture.2 The intellectual and institutional world in which these men lived and worked was that of late medieval Christendom. They reflected and extended that world, and the influence of their work helped to change it forever. Erasmus was a former monk released from his vows who practiced the still-novel career of an independent man of letters. Luther was a professor of theology at the new University of Wittenberg in Saxony. His theological development was highly personal, and he concentrated his energies upon the reform of dogma and the eradication of institutional abuses. He became content, as he grew older, to leave the civil framework of reform in the hands of those powers which had ruled his world for several centuries—the princes of the independent German states. Both men’s thought reached out into a wider and more cosmopolitan world. Erasmus was the friend of popes, the emperor’s tutor, a correspondent of kings, prelates, civil servants, and scholars alike. Luther came quickly to the attention of the highest authorities in the Christian world, and only the support of his prince, the Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony, and the sluggishness of imperial institutions protected him from these powers. Both Erasmus and Luther began as characteristic types of late medieval culture, and the surroundings in which they lived and worked exerted a considerable influence on the development and the wide impact of their ideas.
Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) shared at different times the interests of both Erasmus and Luther, and he too lived and worked in a social setting which was a recognizable type of late medieval society. Born in rural northeastern Switzerland, Zwingli spent his career as a reformer in Zürich, a small, independent city-state ruled by a commercial patriciate and extending its political and economic control across a wide countryside. The reform programs of Erasmus and Luther concentrated upon learning, individual spiritual development, and broad problems of ecclesiology; hence, they appealed to a wide range of thought and could be applied across a broad band of social and political structures. Zwingli, on the other hand, concentrated his reform ideas upon a practical, almost juridical center, and his work shaped the unique social institution created by the Reformation, the urban theocracy. His work in Zürich set the pattern for later reforms at Bern and at Geneva under Calvin.
Zwingli’s penchant for institutional, deliberate, practical reform is illustrated by several contrasts between him and his two great contemporaries. Starting out as a rural scholarly priest who was devoted to Erasmian learning, Zwingli accompanied his parishioners, the Swiss mercenary soldiers, to the wars in Italy in 1513 and 1515. He knew personally Cardinal Matthias Schinner, the papal agent for the recruiting of mercenaries, and himself received a papal pension for his work in recruiting armies and serving as a military chaplain. During these years Zwingli’s intellectual cosmopolitanism was broadened and deepened by his familiarity with warfare and diplomacy on the new sixteenth-century scale, and his earlier intellectual Erasmian pacificism was transformed by his experience into a practical affection for his countrymen and a hatred of the economic and political systems which consumed them in such great numbers in the wars of others.3 When Erasmus complained of war, however articulately, he complained as a philosopher; Zwingli’s complaints were those of a frequent participant. This Zwinglian characteristic of ideas modified by experience and concern for others is also reflected in Zwingli’s relation to the thought of Luther. Although, to be sure, the full development of Zwingli’s theology did not take place until he had begun to read Luther’s works, Zwingli’s life as an urban priest made him acutely sensitive to the social consequences of ecclesiastical reform, and, like most city-dwellers, Zwingli was to prove far more open to compromise and delay in matters of abrupt change, more sensitive to the consciences and the customs of urban and rural society. Both Luther and Zwingli came harshly to reject radical reforms which threatened the stability of their societies and actively to persecute the representatives of these movements. Yet Luther attacked peasants’ rebellions and radical critics of his theology with an enormous hostility, and he was willing to urge the civil authorities to deal savagely with those whom he rejected. Luther had no parishioners. Zwingli, the city priest, deeply rooted in the life of Zürich, was sympathetic to peasant grievances, and could not conceive of personal reform outside concurrent social change. The political powers of Luther’s world were stronger after his reformation than at its beginning. Zwingli’s more deliberate reform program produced the urban theocracy, the Christian city-state ruled by godly magistrates and pastors, the ideal which influenced not only Bern, Strasbourg, and Geneva, but Münster and the early Massachusetts towns as well. In sharing some of the interests and all the intensity of his two great contemporaries, then, Zwingli contributed his own theology and his own concept of the reformed polity. He developed, not only doctrinal change, but the mechanisms for deep-seated urban reforms.
In the selections from his writings printed below, the social aspects of the Zwinglian reformation in Zürich stand out sharply. These works reflect and illuminate the social and political difficulties of early reform movements as much as they do Zwingli’s own development as a theologian, and they thus contribute to our understanding of the increasingly important questions touching the social and institutional history of the Reformation and the impact of Reformation theology upon social, cultural, and political institutions.
To appreciate the complex social and theological dimensions of the Zürich phase of the Swiss Reformation, it is useful to consider the religious, social, and political life of late medieval Switzerland, and the milieu in which Zwinglian theology reached its full development: the city-state, with its magistrates, social strata, and political structure. The Reformation, wherever it occurred, did not touch dogma and liturgy alone. In changing the inner lives of men and women, it changed their social lives as well, the principles according to which they married, raised children, and conceived of themselves as members of ecclesiastical, economic, and political communities. In so doing it helped to shape the theories and institutions of social welfare which so marked the late fifteenth and sixteenth century commonwealths. The city-state of Zürich during the years 1519 to 1531 plays an important role not only in Reformation and general European history, but also in the history of urban life and organization. If the purely confessional interests of many Reformation historians have often clouded that significance, it was not clouded for Zwingli, the citizen-body of Zürich, the magistrates, and the clergy who supported or opposed his reforms. In Zürich, the Reformation meant practical, pragmatic changes in the life and character of the city as well as in its forms of religious belief and expression. Zwingli was the first of the major reformers whose career touches both aspects of Reformation life.
[* ]I would like to thank Professor Werner L. Gundersheimer for his kindness in reading an early draft of this essay and making several helpful suggestions. Any errors and infelicities that remain, however, are entirely my own.
[1. ]A good biography is J. Huizinga, Erasmus and the Age of Reformation (New York, 1957). A convenient selection of Erasmus’ writings is W. T. H. Jackson, ed., Essential Works of Erasmus (New York, 1965). Now standard for general Reformation history are G. R. Elton, ed., The New Cambridge Modern History, Vol. II, The Reformation, 1520-1559 (Cambridge, 1962), and H. G. Koenigsberger and G. L. Mosse, Europe in the Sixteenth Century (New York, 1970). See also Owen Chadwick, The Reformation (Baltimore, 1964) and the beautifully illustrated and concise work of A. G. Dickens, Reformation and Society in Sixteenth-Century Europe (New York, 1966). Joel Hurstfield, ed., The Reformation Crisis (New York, 1966) offers the diverse views of a number of scholars, and Hans J. Hillerbrand, The Reformation in its Own Words (New York, 1964) collects in translation a large and widely chosen group of sixteenth-century writings. Lewis Spitz, The Protestant Reformation (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1966) offers a smaller anthology of source materials. Most of these works have important sections on Zwingli. The most recent survey of spiritual life is Francis Rapp, L’Eglise et la vie religieuse en occident à la fin du Moyen Age (Paris, 1971).
[2. ]For Luther, see Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York, 1950) and Robert H. Fife, The Revolt of Martin Luther (New York, 1957). A convenient selection of Luther’s works is John Dillenberger, Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings (Garden City, N. Y., 1961). For Luther and Zwingli, see below, note 18.
[3. ]A good survey of the problem of mercenary soldiers during this period is V. G. Kiernan, “Foreign Mercenaries and Absolute Monarchy,” in Trevor Aston, ed., Crisis in Europe 1560-1660 (Garden City, N. Y., 1967), 124-49.