Front Page Titles (by Subject) II.: PETITION OF CERTAIN PREACHERS OF SWITZERLAND TO THE MOST REVEREND LORD HUGO, BISHOP OF CONSTANCE, THAT HE WILL NOT SUFFER HIMSELF TO BE PERSUADED TO MAKE ANY PROCLAMATION TO THE INJURY OF THE GOSPEL, NOR ENDURE LONGER THE SCANDAL OF HARLOTRY, BUT ALL - Selected Works of Huldrich Zwingli
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II.: PETITION OF CERTAIN PREACHERS OF SWITZERLAND TO THE MOST REVEREND LORD HUGO, BISHOP OF CONSTANCE, THAT HE WILL NOT SUFFER HIMSELF TO BE PERSUADED TO MAKE ANY PROCLAMATION TO THE INJURY OF THE GOSPEL, NOR ENDURE LONGER THE SCANDAL OF HARLOTRY, BUT ALL - 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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PETITION OF CERTAIN PREACHERS OF SWITZERLAND TO THE MOST REVEREND LORD HUGO, BISHOP OF CONSTANCE, THAT HE WILL NOT SUFFER HIMSELF TO BE PERSUADED TO MAKE ANY PROCLAMATION TO THE INJURY OF THE GOSPEL, NOR ENDURE LONGER THE SCANDAL OF HARLOTRY, BUT ALLOW THE PRESBYTERS TO MARRY WIVES OR AT LEAST WOULD WINK AT THEIR MARRIAGES.*
To the Most Reverend Father and Lord in Christ, Hugo of Hohenlandenberg, Bishop of Constance, the undersigned offer obedient greeting.
Your Excellency will perhaps wonder, Most Reverend Father, what this unusual action of writing a letter to yourself means, and not without reason. For nature has ordained that the unexpected should create not only wonder, but at times even a feeling of dumfoundedness. Yet we would have you to be entirely free and undisturbed in regard to this matter which we are laying before you. For we do not come to your Excellency in regard to anything very troublesome, but to find help. For we are so sure that you are both a most pious lord and a most loving father that there is nothing we do not promise ourselves from you. And this the fact itself shows, for we should never have ventured to write to your Fatherhood unless we had had thorough confidence in it. We desire, therefore, humbly to beg you to listen kindly to what we are going to disclose a little later, to hear it graciously, and to take it in good part. This is demanded both by the matter itself which drives us to this appeal and by the office which you fill as a loving father. The matter itself, to come to it at last, is this: Your Most Reverend Fatherhood knows how for a long time the heavenly teachings which God, the Creator of all things, willed to have made plain unto the poor race of men by one no way inferior to himself, by his Son, in all things his equal, have, not without the utmost loss to the cause of salvation, been lying hidden through the ignorance, not to say evil intentions, of certain persons, and how rudely, when he had determined to recall and renew those teachings in our day by a sort of second revelation, certain persons attack or defend them. For all the efforts of these defenders are aimed at putting an end to the whole conflict by the first onset, and if they fail in this they collapse utterly, but the attacking party are so shamelessly persistent in their contention that though thrown upon their backs by the boss of the shield of Holy Writ and pierced by the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, they will not yield, but would rather contend against Christ than abandon their pretensions, until they be compelled to abandon both Christ and their own pretensions, after the fashion of the Jews of old, who having fought against the living Christ till they had slain him, pursued him even when dead, till they all likewise perished themselves. And though we do not by any means willingly predict this same ill-omened end for the present misguided lot, we cannot help fearing that it may come to pass sometime, and for that we are not without reasons. For as in the old days the Jews cast out in vain from the synagogue those who believed in Christ (for the faith grew more and more each day), so in these days of ours, if any continue to frighten away or even to destroy the real heralds of Christ, they will meet with the same result. Therefore must the words of Gamaliel be pounded into them often, that they may keep their hands off of those who bring us the commands of heaven. For if it be of God it cannot be destroyed, for it were folly for any to try to fight against God; but if it be of men it will perish of itself. Meanwhile most watchful care should be taken lest, as those poor wretches perished miserably in their doomed city, some disaster overwhelm us unawares. For the word of God has never been disregarded with safety. Therefore, Most Reverend Father, we beseech you by our Lord Jesus Christ, not to join those who aim at putting under a bushel, nay, at extinguishing, the light that came into the world to illumine all men, and who call evil good and good evil, turning sweet into bitter and light into darkness, but rather to join those who have this one desire, that the whole concourse of Christians return to their head, which is Christ, and form one body in him, and, having received the spirit of God, recognize the blessings bestowed upon them by God. And this we see is by no means the case with those who promise themselves some sort of peace, if human prescriptions be set before Christ even. In God we ought to be made one, for he himself is one. In man, who is constantly divided against himself, how is it possible that we be made one? Christ prayed to the Father to make us one in him, and shall man dare to promise us unity in him? In one God, in one faith, in one baptism we shall certainly be made one, for these are one. In some one man, when there are so many laws contradicting each other and such divergent opinions, so far are we from being made one that in no surer way can we be led astray into error and disagreement than in this. Nay, we see one and the same man often at variance with himself in these points. Those things that we set forth a little while ago and all other things that urge us to unity, whence can they be more clearly and purely got than from their very fountain head? He that draweth from that shall abound in the water that springs forth into everlasting life. But the well is deep, and we have nothing to draw with, unless he who is eager to be drawn brings us rope and bucket and windlass, and after the manner of Moses graciously opens a well for our feeble souls, at which the thirsty sheep may drink and be led back to the heavenly pastures, which surely are found in no other corner of the universe than in the Gospel. For what other fountain head is there than Christ himself, who invites us to himself freely, saying: “If any one thirsteth, let him come to me and drink.” For he desires that we all receive of his abundance, we who are in need of all things. For we have neither silver nor gold wherewith to satisfy him, but he urges us to hasten to him with joyfulness, to drink freely. Who has ever shown himself so liberal an inn-keeper among men as to suffer his wine to be poured out and distributed without charge save Christ alone, who bestows his blessings free so plentifully? And if we shall not seize the favour that offers itself to us thus freely, what hope awaits us? What excuse, pray, shall we make? Of what tortures shall we not judge ourselves worthy if we repel from us him who desires to become so near a friend? We are aware that our life differs all too widely from the pattern of the Gospel, but is the Gospel on that account to be abolished and done away with? Ought we not rather to devote ourselves vigorously to correcting our faults according to its standard and to subduing our feebleness, since it is the one thing, could we only believe it, from the inspiration of which salvation will come to us, according to the command of Christ when he sent forth his Apostles to preach the Gospel with these words: “Preach the Gospel (not your own theories or decrees or the regulations which some chance shall happen to dictate) to every creature.” And he added: “Whosoever believeth” (when the Gospel has been preached, of course), “and is baptized, shall be saved,” and on the other hand, “Whosoever believeth not, shall be damned.” Since therefore, as we have said, God, as of old he used to warn Israel time and again by the mouth of his prophets, now deigns in our day to illumine us with his Gospel, in order to renew his covenant which cannot be annulled, we have thought that this opportunity ought by no means to be neglected, nay, that we ought to strive with unremitting effort that as many as possible may share in the glory of this salvation. And inasmuch as meanwhile a report reaches us that by the wickedness of certain persons your heart has been so hardened that you mean shortly to put forth a proclamation warning us to turn aside from the Gospel if in any part it shall prove at variance with human tradition, though the report hardly deserves credence among us, yet we are moved somewhat, not indeed to hesitate in slothful fear, but to pity your lot, if things are as they are commonly reported, that this pestiferous class of men, who confound all things to serve their own purposes, has been able to extend their influence even to yourself. But heaven forbid! For we place such high hope in you that we doubt not we shall do a thing acceptable to you if we shall show the utmost faithfulness in the interests of the Gospel. For we cannot in any way be persuaded that you desire to see the duty that belongs peculiarly to your office neglected and abandoned. For Christ sent you not to baptize nor to anoint, but to preach the gospel. May heaven bless our undertaking! We have determined to spread abroad the knowledge of the Gospel with uninterrupted effort, and to do it so seasonably that none shall have a right to complain that we have done him any injury. But if we shall not attain a prosperous issue in this according to the judgment of men, there is no cause to wonder. For it is a rock of offence and a stumbling-block and a sign that is proving false. For he came unto his own, and his own received him not. For these reasons it is becoming that your Fatherhood should look with favour upon our vigorous efforts, which though perhaps uncommon are by no means unconsidered, and that you should not only permit but help and advance this business, which is Christ’s, not ours. That will be above all things honourable and worthy of a bishop. Nay it will belong to you, not to take upon your shoulders some part merely of the work undertaken, but, like Moses, to lead the way and to beat back or destroy the obstacles, so far at least as you can; and you can by encouraging and urging men to this task, or, if that is too much, by approving and favouring it, and removing grounds of offence.
For among the things that threaten most to harm the budding teachings of Christ are grounds of offence. For how, by the everlasting God, will the simple-minded commons believe in him who even whiile he preaches the Gospel is thought by them to be licentious and a shameless dog? Can any thing happen more disastrous to our sacred calling? We beg you, therefore, to show yourself as indulgent towards the second part of our petition as we believe you to be. We think that your most Reverend Fatherhood is not unaware how unsuccessfully and scantily the prescriptions in regard to chastity that have come down to our times from our predecessors have been kept by the general run of priests, and oh, that they could have vouchsafed us strength to keep their commands as easily as they gave them! Yet God willed not that this be granted to man, that this gift of gods and angels might not be put down to the credit of man, but of God only. For this is plainly shown by the words of Christ (Matthew xix. 10-12) when, after much discussion had taken place between himself and the Pharisees with regard to marriage, and his disciples said that, if the case were such as the discussion showed, it were better not to marry, he answered that not all men were capable of chastity, but only those to whom it had been given, wishing to show that it was a gift of God, that was given to some men in such wise that they might recognize that the divine goodness and not their own strength was of avail in this thing. And this is evidently indicated by what follows a little later, when, having made particular mention of eunuchs, he leaves it free to every man to keep or not to keep the law of chastity, saying, “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” He meant, no doubt, that they to whom it was granted from above were bound to keep the law. For otherwise none could hold out under it. We, then, having tried with little enough success alas! to obey the law (for the disease must be boldly disclosed to the physician), have discovered that the gift has been denied unto us, and we have meditated long within ourselves how we might remedy our ill-starred attempts at chastity. And turning the matter over on all sides, we found nothing encouraging or propitious until we began to chew the cuds, it were, like the cattle, over those words of Christ just quoted. For then a sort of loathing of ourselves began to creep over us from the odour of it until we began to be disgusted that through careless thinking we had made a law unto ourselves of that which Christ had left free, as if the maintenance of chastity depended upon our own strength. Then presently a blush of shame overspread our faces, just as Adam, when he was going to be like the gods, found first nothing but his own nakedness, then an angry God, and shortly after a whole cart-load of ills. For who would not repent when he had looked upon the pitiable result of his own carelessness? For what else is it, by the everlasting God, than absolute folly, nay even shamelessness, to arrogate to one’s self what belongs to God alone? To think one’s self able to do that than which there is nothing one is less able to do? But after that loathing of ourselves, through which we recognized at once our rashness and our weakness, the hope of a remedy began to show itself, though from afar. For weighing more carefully Christ’s words and the custom of our predecessors in this matter, we found that the whole question was far easier than we had thought. For when he says, “All men cannot receive this saying,” and again, “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it,” he prescribes no punishment for them that cannot receive it. Nay, either because of the vastness of the thing which he did not wish enjoined upon each and all, or on account of our weaknes, which he knows better than we ourselves, he did not want this thing laid up against us, and so left it free. Therefore our souls which had been nigh unto despair were mightily refreshed when we learned those who were unable to receive the saying were threatened with no punishment by him who can send both body and soul into hell. But the fathers seemed to have cast an anxious eye in this direction too, when they showed themselves unwilling to enjoin chastity upon all without exception or to require a vow of chastity from others—the priests, at least, and even shielded human weakness with clever words, as was proper, in this way:—When the sponsor who was accustomed to make answer for all who were to be confirmed was asked, “Are they righteous, these whom you present?” he was wont to answer: “They are righteous.” “Are they well trained?” “They are well trained,” etc. When, however, they came to chastity—“Are they chaste?” he answered, “As far as human frailty allows.” Thus it appears that neither our predecessors nor the fathers in our own day wanted that bound hard and fast which Christ had suffered to be free, lest they might smear the sweet yoke of the Lord with bitter wormwood. Having, I say, thus balanced these considerations, to wit, that we are held to the maintenance of chastity by neither divine nor human law, we considered nevertheless that though chastity go free, yet animal passion ought not to roam promiscuously, but to be bounded by rule and constancy, and forced into reasonable limits, like the rest of the course of our life, which though free becomes wildness and confusion, unless it be restrained by moderation, that we sink not to the level of swine. And this we see the Maker of all things willed from the beginning of creation, when he fashioned for Adam from his rib one woman only as a helpmeet and not a group or crowd of women, and joined her presently by so firm a bond that a man leaves father and mother sooner than his wife, for the two unite to form one flesh. Furthermore, if we run through the whole of the New Testament we find nowhere anything that favours free concubinage, but everything in approval of marriage. Therefore it appears to us most true and most right that for a Christian no third possibility besides chastity or marriage is left, and that he should live chastely if that is given unto him from above, or marry a wife if he be on fire with passion, and this we shall show more clearly in a little while from the truly sacred writings. Hence we beseech your mercy, wisdom and learning, illustrious Leader, to show yourself the first to lay hold upon the glory of taking the lead over all the bishops of Germany in right thinking upon Christianity, since you see Christ bestowing especial favour upon this age of ours and revealing himself more clearly than for several ages since, while from the whole great body of bishops scarcely one or two thus far have shown themselves fairly on the side of the revivified Christianity, and while others continue to thrust ill-feigned chastity upon the unfortunate general body of our fellow bishops, do you suffer those who are consumed with passion to marry wives, since this, as has been shown, will be lawful according to Christ and according to the laws of men. From the whole vast crowd we are the first to venture to come forward, relying upon your gentleness, and to implore that you grant us this thing, not, as we think, without due consideration. For when on one side we were being crushed by human ordinances, struggling in vain against the weakness of the flesh (for the law stimulates to sin rather than restrains it), and on the other, Scripture was smiling upon us with approval, we thought it no wrong to bring forward the passages on which we rely, that it might be evident to you whether we treated them intelligently or not, and when it appeared, as we hoped, that we had employed the Scriptures righteously, that you would grant what we ask for in all humility.
The first passage of all that makes us free and that we trust to as to a sacred anchor is Matthew xix. For we reason thus from it: If Christ willed that chastity be free to us, good-by to the man who tries to make a law of it. The demonstration of the second is: If at the voice of God Peter feared to call that common which God had purified, we may boldly declare that it is not right for any man to declare that that is not lawful which God has suffered to be lawful. For if in that which is of little account God was unwilling to accept the judgment of Peter, how much less in a matter of much greater moment will he accept the judgment of one inferior to Peter? Our feeling on this point is clear enough from what has gone before, when we add that the words of Christ on the subject we are speaking of are the words of him who is the way and the truth and the life. For he says in another place, “The words which I have spoken are spirit and life.” How then were it not lawful and safe to trust to them? Nay, we shall believe accursed rather than merely wicked anything that shall have been sought out to contradict the words of God. They are spirit and life, the things that he has said. Therefore what we say is flesh and death. The second passage is Paul to the Corinthians I., ch. vii. 1 and 2: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.” Here first we concluded that he would be blest to whom it had been given of God to be able to do without a wife. And while we willingly yield this glory to those who live chastely, we are grieved that it has been denied unto us, though we bear it patiently with God’s help. Next as to the point that to avoid fornication, every man should have his own wife. He who said “every man” made exceptions of none, neither priest nor monk nor layman. Hence it is clear, as we hinted above, that for a Christian there is nothing between chastity and marriage. He must either live chastely or marry a wife. The third passage is in the same chapter, verse 9: “If they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” Therefore if one cannot contain one’s self, if one burns, let him marry. We have been so on fire from passion—with shame be it said!—that we have done many things unseemly, yet whether this should not be laid upon those to some extent who have forbidden marriage we refrain from saying now, thinking it enough that the fire of passion alone (and that so frequent and violent as to threaten the mind) is pronounced sufficient reason for marriage. The fourth passage is verse 25 in the same chapter: “Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment,” etc. Paul, the teacher of the nations, the chosen instrument of God, with whom Christ had spoken intimately from heaven more than once, says that he has no commandment of the Lord in regard to virginity, and has an unpurified man such commandment? Then too Paul had said much of the value of virginity and its advantages, and much of the trials and unhappiness of marriage, and he added, verse 35, “And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you,” wishing, though he had greatly praised the state of virginity, not to seem of opinion that it ought to be commanded. The fifth passage is 1 Timothy iii. 1, foll.: “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife,” etc. And a little later he adds “having his children in subjection with all gravity.” Here we noted that though it is a thing of high repute to be a bishop, yet he bids a bishop have a wife, whether one only or one at a time we will not now discuss. We noted also that the name bishop is the name of an office, not one of arrogant pride, and therefore we had no fear to call ourselves also bishops, that is, watchers, because the other terms which are in common use to-day either seem over-ambitious or are foreign words. With the name of watcher, however, how can any one be puffed up? Can he think it a state of high dignity and not a position of duty when the only function of a watcher is to watch? The sixth passage is from the same Paul to Titus 1, 5 and 6: “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city; if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children,” etc. And this passage is as like unto the passage above as one pea is like another. The seventh is likewise from 1 Timothy, ch. iv 1-3: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry,” etc. Here we would have those prick up their ears who make a fine show of chastity and keep it ill; for what they do secretly is wicked even to think of. The Spirit speaking in Paul says that in the latter days, in which we are no doubt also included, it shall come to pass that some will turn away from the faith unto their own works which are not of God. Also that this shall happen at the instigation of evil spirits who shall speak things good in appearance only, and shall commend them especially by the mouths of those who go about in sheep’s clothing raging like wolves, and therefore they have ever been singed in their own eyes and condemned by their own judgment. And they shall forbid marriage. Behold, Most Reverend Father, the origin of their feigned chastity! The eighth passage is ch. xiii. 4 to the Hebrews: “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled; but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” This passage seems so clearly to confirm our contention that we think it the duty of bishops (granted that they be watchers) to drive into marriage those whom they have detected in fornication. For fornication must be met, because besides exposing one to judgment it also offends one’s neighbor.
Influenced then by these passages we are at length persuaded that it is far more desirable if we marry wives, that Christ’s little ones may not be offended, than if with bold brow we continue rioting in fornication. To this your Highness will no doubt agree when you reflect that the sin of him who offends one of the little ones of Christ can scarcely be atoned for, even though a millstone be hung about his neck and he be cast into the depths of the sea. And what, pray, is a stumbling block of offence, if the shameless fornication of priests is not a stumbling block of offence? And let your Highness not deign to listen to those who snap out like this: “Behold, Most Reverend Fathers, the religion of these men! What else are they after than turning the freedom of Christ into the lust of the flesh, according to the judgment of Paul to the Galatians 5 and of Peter 1, ch. ii?” For to make no mention now of how the cohabitation of marriage is regarded by God, although we do not deny that the act proceeds distinctly from the flesh, yet we know that it is far from harmful, since Paul says (1 Corinthians vii. 28): “And if a virgin marry she hath not sinned,” because God no doubt looks without angel upon this thing on account of our weakness, or rather the sin dwelling in us. And the same Paul (Galatians v. 19) reckons it not among the works of the flesh. Yet this answer is not necessary, since it is clearly evident that if we had wished to indulge in this thing for pleasure’s sake, we should never have allowed ourselves to be tied up with the halter of wives when thus, besides suffering countless arrogances, we are cut off from the opportunity of making good the unpleasantness and other drawbacks of a long married life. But since most of us fill the office of bishops, in which above all things there should be no room for grounds of offence (for a bishop ought to be blameless, as has been made clear above), we have all tried to see how we could cease from the offence, while in other respects (if we may speak freely without boasting) we are not of such untutored morals as to be in ill repute among the flock entrusted to us for any other failing save this one alone. For the sake of Christ the Lord of all of us, therefore, by the liberty won by his blood, by the fatherly affection which you owe to us, by your pity of our feeble souls, by the wounds of our consciences, by all that is divine and all that is human, we beseech you mercifully to regard our petition and to grant that which was thoughtlessly built up be thoughtfully torn down, lest the pile constructed not in accordance with the will of our Heavenly Father fall some time with a far more destructive crash. You see what the world threatens.
Therefore your Fatherhood ought to regard it as wise foresight and not unreasonableness that we come to petition you. For unless wise aid be applied in many places it will be all up with the whole body of ecclesiastics. And please do not refer us to the decrees of the predecessors of your Fatherhood. For you see how they fail to meet the case, and delay in the hope that though we have been first beaten with rods we can then presently endure the sting of scorpions. Our weakness must be indulged, nay, something must be ventured in this matter. O happy the invincible race of Hohenlandenberg, if you shall be the first of all the bishops in Germany to apply healing to our wounds and restore us to health! For what historian will ever pass over the achievement unmentioned? What scholar will not trumpet it abroad? What poet will not sing it to coming generations? What embalming will not protect it from decay and destruction? The door of well doing is surely open before you. You have only to take care lest you do not hold your hands firmly clasped, and so let the offered opportunity slip through them. For we presage that things are going to put on a new face whether we will or no, and when this happens we shall lament in vain having neglected the opportunity of winning glory. We have on the side of our request that Creator who made the first human beings male and female; we have the practice of the Old Testament, which is much more strict than the New, under which, however, even the highest priests took upon their necks the gentle yoke of matrimony; we have Christ, who makes chastity free, nay, bids us marry, that his little children may not be offended, and our petition meets with loud approval on all sides. Nay, even Paul, speaking with the spirit of God, enjoins marriage. All the company of the pious and judicious are with us. If you disregard all this we know not how you can embrace your race with affection, for you will surpass their brave deeds, and win more than their laurels and statues, if you only grant us this favour. If, however, you cannot possibly be persuaded to grant it, we beseech you at least not to forbid it, according to the suggestion of another than ourselves. For we think you are brave enough to do right without fear of those who can even slay the body. And in fact you will have to refrain at least from interfering. For there is a report that most of the ecclesiastics have already chosen wives, not only among our Swiss, but among all peoples everywhere, and to put this down will certainly be not only beyond your strength but beyond that of one far more mighty, if you will pardon our saying so. Accordingly, scorn us not as of little account; even a rustic often speaks very much to the point. And though we be but little children, we are yet Christ’s, and far from scorning us, you may confidently trust that salvation will be yours if you receive us. As to ourselves, we shall never cease to sing your praises if you but show yourself a father to us, and shall render you willing and glad obedience. Grant a gift to your children, who are so obedient that they come to you before all things, and so trusting that in this matter, however difficult it is thought to be, they have ventured to appeal to you only. The Most High God long preserve your Excellency in prosperity and in the knowledge of God! We pray with all humility that you will take all we have said in a spirit of justice and kindness.
Einsiedeln, Switzerland, July 2d, 1522.
Your Most Reverend Fatherhood’s most obedient servants,
[* ]Zwingli’s Works, iii. 17-25. Translated by Mr. Henry Preble from the original Latin.