Front Page Titles (by Subject) III.: Ulrich Zwingli's Early Life and Education, 1484-1518 - Selected Works of Huldrich Zwingli
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III.: Ulrich Zwingli’s Early Life and Education, 1484-1518 - 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’s Early Life and Education, 1484-1518
Zwingli was not born in the city with which his name has long since been associated, but in the small village of Wildhaus in the old country of Toggenburg in the northeastern part of the Confederation. Zwingli was born into a prosperous peasant family, his father later becoming the headman of the village. Of Zwingli’s seven brothers and sisters, two—Jacob and Andreas—also became priests, although they predeceased their brother. Zwingli’s uncle Bartholomew was also a priest, and he later became dean of Wesen. It was this uncle who, with Zwingli’s father, supervised the boy’s early education at home and sent him to Basel to study Latin from 1494 to 1496 and to Bern for literary study from 1496 to 1498. These years prepared Zwingli for his studies at the University of Vienna, which he entered in 1498. Throughout his later life, and in all of his writings, Zwingli never lost the influences of his rural upbringing, in spite of his ambitious course of university study and his later association with the city of Zürich. He took great pride in his social origins, for it was no disgrace in Switzerland to come from a family of prosperous, free peasants, and images of rural life abound in his literary and theological works. Throughout his life Zwingli spoke the dialect of Swiss-German like a peasant, a dialect which, Luther was later to remark, was “a shaggy, tangled German, which makes you sweat before you understand it.”7 Zwingli’s childhood, although doubtless touched frequently by severe rural Christian discipline, seems to have been both happy and normal. His later references to his home life and childhood offer little out of the ordinary to the psychohistorian, and much of his later deliberateness and independence seem to indicate, if anything, a secure childhood and a strong sense of family support.
Zwingli’s studies at Vienna were interrupted in 1499, when he may have been dismissed for a time, but they were resumed and completed by 1502, when Zwingli went to Basel for a Master’s degree. He remained at Basel from 1502 to 1506, studying at a distinguished university in a wealthy, cosmopolitan city, where he soon earned the reputation of a good Latin scholar and seems to have enjoyed the company of a lively group of humanists. Zwingli’s studies at Basel were otherwise of a conventional sort, based upon the old Latin translations of Aristotle, the philosophy and theology of Aquinas and Duns Scotus, and the Sentences of Peter Lombard, a work which had been the standard collection of theological authorities for advanced study since the late twelfth century. The philosophy of Scotus and the lectures of Thomas Wyttenbach on Peter Lombard appear particularly to have influenced Zwingli’s later approaches to theology.
In 1506 Zwingli was invited by the population of Glarus to become its priest. He was hastily ordained and settled down in the small rural town to care for the spiritual needs of its people, continue his own literary and theological studies, and fulfill that unique function of a Swiss rural pastor—serving as chaplain to the men of the town on their military campaigns as mercenary soldiers in the service of other political powers. In 1514 men from Glarus were present under Pope Julius II at the battle of Pavia, although it is doubtful whether Zwingli accompanied them. In 1513 and 1515, however, Zwingli was present at the battles of Novara and Marignano, and he witnessed at the latter the massacre of the outnumbered and divided Swiss. It may have been in the wake of the disaster of Marignano that Zwingli’s revulsion against the mercenary system fully developed. Zwingli’s life at Glarus was marred by one other problem, this one personal. His inability to remain sexually continent had troubled Zwingli during his years at Glarus and was to plague him through his arrival in Zürich. In his sexual appetites—which were probably not very dissimilar from those of other Swiss rural clergy—he saw a problem which he reported to have caused him considerable remorse and which his enemies were later to make much of.
It was during his stay at Glarus that Zwingli first became acquainted with the writings of Erasmus, and with his eloquent and fierce denunciations of abuses in ecclesiastical institutions and in society in general. Much of Zwingli’s personal library has survived from this period, and a large proportion of it is devoted to the writings of Christian humanists, Erasmus being best represented, along with the works of the Church Fathers and the Latin classics. Zwingli met Erasmus in 1515, and the ensuing correspondence between the two men continued until the late 1520s, when Zwingli’s religious views lost Erasmus’ sympathies.
In 1516 Zwingli was offered the benefice at the famous Benedictine monastery of Einsiedeln, one of the oldest and most venerated shrines in Europe. Its miracle-working statue of the Virgin attracted huge pilgrimages, and the post was an important one. Appointing a vicar to perform his ecclesiastical duties in Glarus, Zwingli moved to Einsiedeln, where he remained for two years. During this period he continued his studies, now concentrating upon the Epistles of St. Paul and further developing his Erasmian critique of ecclesiastical abuses. Erasmus and the New Testament seem to have occupied his time and his mind, as his notes in his library volumes indicate.
In 1518 Zwingli was called—over some local objections—to the post of People’s Priest as the Zürich Grossmünster. His reputation as pastor, patriot, and scholar had given him some fame outside of Einsiedeln and Glarus, and some of the most influential citizens of Zürich, including the humanist Oswald Myconius, appear to have been influential in his selection. During the preliminary stages of his candidacy, Zwingli’s sexual lapses at Glarus and Einsiedeln were charged against him, as was his accomplished musicianship. But his supporters carried the day, and on January 1, 1519, his thirty-fifth girthday, Zwingli preached and celebrated Mass as People’s Priest at the Zürich Grossmünster.
[7. ]Cited by George R. Potter in “Zwingli and Calvin,” Hurstfield, Reformation Crisis, 32-43.