Ulrich Zwingli Protestant Reformer

1484 - 1531


 Ulrich Zwingli - Protestant Reformer

 

Ulrich Zwingli, a leader of the Reformation in Switzerland, was born on 1 January 1484 in Wildhaus in the Toggenburg valley in Switzerland.  His father was a farmer and he was also the chief magistrate of the area.  Zwingli studied at the University of Vienna and the University of Basel, where he received a Master of Arts Degree in 1506.

Zwingli, as with all the Protestant Reformers, was formerly a Roman Catholic priest, performing his first mass in Wildhaus on 29 September 1506.  He became the priest in Glarus, where he stayed for ten years.  During this time Zwingli supported the Papal States in a political dispute and, in return for his support, Pope Julius II awarded Zwingli an annual pension.  When political allegiances in Glarus changed, Zwingli moved to Einsiedeln.  During his time at Glarus and Einsiedeln, Zwingli continued to study, learning Greek and Hebrew, and he also was heavily influenced by the writing of Erasmus, who Zwingli visited when he lived in Basel.

With his reputation growing as a preacher and writer, Zwingli was appointed the priest at the Grossmunster at Zurich, on 11 December 1518.  He preached his first sermon in this church on 1 January 1519 from Matthew's Gospel.  He preached through Matthew and then the Acts of the Apostles, the New Testament Epistles and the Old Testament.  In his sermons Zwingli began to attack many of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church as he found them to be contrary to the Word of God.  When there was opposition to his preaching, Zwingli stated that he was not an innovator and the sole basis for his doctrine was Scripture.
Zwingli, like Luther, spoke out strongly against the selling of an indulgence to finance the building of St Peter's in Rome, and in early 1519, an indulgence seller named Bernhardin Sanson was refused entry into Zurich by the council.

In August 1519, Zurich was struck by an outbreak of plague which killed 2500 people out of a population of 17000 in the city. Many people left the city, but Zwingli remained and continued his pastoral duties. In September, he caught the disease and was extremely ill for three months, nearly dying.
During Lent in 1522, on the first fasting Sunday, 9 March, Zwingli and around twelve followers deliberately broke the Roman Catholic fasting rule by eating two smoked sausages; an act which Zwingli defended in a sermon preached the following Sunday entitled Regarding the Choice and Freedom of foods.  Zwingli also publicly opposed clerical celibacy and he secretly married a widow Anna Reinhard, with a public wedding ceremony taking place on 2 April 1524.

On 3 January 1523, Zurich city council invited the clergy of the city and outlying region to a meeting to allow the differing factions to present their opinions. The Roman Catholic bishop of Constance was invited to attend or to send a representative. The council would decide who would be allowed to continue to proclaim their views in the city. This meeting, the first Zurich disputation, took place on 29 January 1523 and was attended by six hundred people, including a representative of the Roman Catholic bishop.  The council decided that Zwingli would be allowed to continue preaching and that all other preachers should teach only in accordance with Scripture.

One of Zwingli's fellow preachers publicly called for the removal of images in churches. The city council decided to hold a second disputation to discuss both images and the mass. About nine hundred people attended this meeting, but the Roman Catholic bishop did not send a representative. The disputation started on 26 October 1523.   Zwingli again took the lead in the disputation.   A follower of Zwingli, made a suggestion, that pastors preach on this subject of images. He believed that the opinions of the people would gradually change and the voluntary removal of images would follow.  In November the council supported this motion.  The council decided on the orderly removal of images in Zurich, but rural congregations were granted the right to remove them based on majority vote.

Evidence of the effects of the Reformation were seen in early 1524: Candelmas was not celebrated, processions of robed clergy ceased, and worshippers did not go with palms or relics on Palm Sunday.  The Roman Catholic bishop of Constance publicly defended the mass and the veneration of images but Zwingli wrote an official response for the council and the result was the severance of all ties between the city and the Roman Catholic diocese.

Although the council had hesitated in abolishing the mass, the decrease in the observance of traditional Roman Catholic ceremonies allowed pastors to be unofficially released from the requirement of celebrating mass.  Zwingli wrote a communion liturgy in the German language and shortly before Easter, Zwingli and his followers asked the council to abolish the mass and to introduce the new public order of worship. On 13 April 1525, Zwingli celebrated communion under his new liturgy. Wooden cups and plates were used to avoid any outward displays of formality. The congregation sat at set tables to emphasise the meal aspect of the sacrament. The sermon was the focal point of the service and there was no organ music or singing.
Zwingli differed from Martin Luther over his belief concerning communion.  A conference between the two Reformers was held at Marburg in 1529 but they were unable to come to any agreement.  Zwingli and his followers eventually formed the Reformed Church.

Many of the Swiss cantons accepted the Reformed Faith, however some of the cantons remained Roman Catholic, and formed an alliance with Austria to suppress the Reformation.  This led to the persecution and murder of some Protestants.  Four cantons took up arms to defend the Reformation but a compromise was reached whereby Roman Catholics promised toleration to Protestants living in Roman Catholic cantons.  When the Roman Catholic cantons continue to persecute Protestants another civil war broke out with an 8000 strong Roman Catholic army invading Zurich.

The members of the Reformed Church formed an army of 2700 men, including Zwingli, who joined the army as a chaplain.  During the battle of Kappel in 1531 Zwingli was wounded in the leg, while he was lying on the ground one of the enemy killed him with his sword.  Zwingli was only forty seven when he was killed.  His successor at Zurich was Heinrich Bullinger, under whose leadership the Helvetic Confession was produced, which laid out the teaching of the Reformed Church.

 

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