Huldrych Zwingli

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Huldrych Zwingli

"The Sixty-Seven Articles of Ulrich Zwingli" (1523)

Reprinted in Confessions and Catechisms of the Reformation

Edited by Mark A. Noll
Published in 1977

While Martin Luther was taking his stand against the Roman Catholic Church in Germany (see Martin Luther entry), Swiss pastor Huldrych (also spelled Ulrich) Zwingli (1484–1531) was leading a similar movement in Zurich, Switzerland. In 1518 Zwingli followed Luther in denouncing the church's practice of selling indulgences (partial forgiveness of sins), then he went on to attack other abuses. Zwingli was a preacher at the Great Minster, the main church in Zurich, in 1519 when he began a series of lectures on the book of Matthew in the New Testament (second part of the Bible, the Christian holy book). In his lectures he used simple terms and referred to events in every day life. This approach contradicted the policies of the church. Catholic priests were considered authorities on the Bible and they were not allowed to help their parishioners interpret the Scripture. Despite some opposition from traditional priests, Zwingli's unusual method was soon adopted by his fellow priests at Great Minster.

On March 5, 1522, in the home of the printer Christoph Froschauer (died 1564), some of Zwingli's friends and supporters broke the rule of fasting (abstaining from food) during Lent by eating sausages. Lent is a forty-day period prior to Easter, the celebration of Christ's rising from the dead. (Christ is the name given to Jesus of Nazareth, founder of the Christian religion.) Christians devote this time to prayer, penance (showing sorrow for sins), and reflection. As a sign of fasting and additional penance, Catholics are not permitted to eat meat during Lent. Zwingli turned this event into a public issue in his sermon, which he followed with a pamphlet. Not only did he support the actions of Froschauer and the others, but he also claimed that it was the right of every individual to choose freely what to eat.

The question of fasting triggered discussion of other issues. In January 1523, Zwingli invited the leading clergy of various cantons (Swiss states), including the bishop of Constance (head of the church district based in Constance), to the Zurich town hall for a disputation. (In the sixteenth century a disputation was the generally accepted means for settling conflict.) Most of his opponents refused to accept the invitation, and the bishop sent his personal adviser as an observer. Zwingli presented sixty-seven theses (subjects for debate), which are now known as "The Sixty-Seven Articles of Ulrich Zwingli." In this document he offered solutions to major problems in the church. Since the audience consisted mainly of his supporters, he easily convinced them to accept his plan. Zwingli's sixty-seven theses therefore became an outline for religious reform in Zurich.

The following excerpts from "The Sixty-Seven Articles of Ulrich Zwingli" reflect the main issues raised by Zwingli.

Things to Remember While Reading Excerpts from "The Sixty-Seven Articles of Ulrich Zwingli":

  1. In his sixty-seven articles Zwingli defined numerous church abuses. Among practices no longer considered acceptable by him and his followers were pilgrimages (religious journeys), processions (ceremonies in which clergy file into a church), incense (material burned to produce a fragrant odor), noisy hymns, and the purchase of prayers and indulgences. Zwingli also advised his audience not to spend their money on such things as gambling and lavish clothing, but instead to use it to feed the poor and support widows and orphans.
  2. Zwingli took a stand against praying to saints (people declared as holy by the Catholic Church) and asking them for help and favors. He thought people could learn such qualities as humility, faith, and hope from the lives of the saints, but he believed in praying directly to God. Zwingli further questioned the belief that saints worked miracles. When he was a preacher at a monastery (house of a men's religious order) earlier in his career he had seen crowds of pilgrims flocking to shrines and praying for miracles, and he felt that the church was taking advantage of their superstition to get rich.
  3. Compare "The Sixty-Seven Articles of Ulrich Zwingli" with the "Ninety-Five Theses" of Martin Luther. Notice that both Zwingli and Luther rejected the teaching that the church is the sole intermediary, or link, between God and Christians. Each man believed that an individual's faith should be based solely on his or her understanding of the Scriptures, and that forgiveness of sins comes directly from God without the involvement of priests. Yet Luther was primarily attacking the sale of indulgences, whereas Zwingli challenged nearly every church practice and policy. Although Luther is called the father of the Protestant Reformation, Zwingli played a more active role in the early stage of the reform movement.

Excerpt from "The Sixty-Seven Articles of Ulrich Zwingli"

I, Ulrich Zwingli, confess that I have preached in the worthy city of Zurich these sixty-seven articles or opinions on the basis of Scripture, which is called theopneustos (that is, inspired by God). I offerto defend andvindicate these articles with Scripture. But if I have not understood Scripture correctly, I am ready to be corrected, but only from the same Scripture.

Notice, Pope, What Follows!

17. That Christ is the only, everlasting High Priest can be determined by the fact that those who have passed themselves off as high priests oppose, and evenrepudiate, the honor and power of Christ.

How the Prosperity of the Clergy Should Be Christ

23. Christ condemns the prosperity and splendor of the world. Therefore, we conclude that those who accumulate wealth for themselves in his nameslander him monstrously when they make himpretense for their own greed andwantonness.

Prohibition of Foods

24. Christians are not obligated to do works that God has not commanded. They may eat all foods at all times. From this we learn thatdecretals regulating cheese and bread are a Roman fraud.

Of Festivals and Pilgrimages

25. Time and place have been made subject to Christ, not the Christian to them. From this is to be learned that those who bind Christians to times and places rob them of their proper freedom.

Cowls, Badges, and the Like

26. Nothing is more displeasing to God thanhypocrisy. From this we conclude that everything which makes itself out to be splendid before men is a great hypocrisy andinfamy. So much for monks'cowls, badges,tonsures, and the like.

Orders and Sects

27. All Christians are brothers of Christ one with another and should call no one on earth father. So much for orders,sects, cliques, and the like.

The Marriage of Clergy

28. Everything that God permits or has not forbidden is proper. From this we learn that marriage is proper for all people.

The Impure Priest Should Take a Wife


Vindicate: To free from blame.


Repudiate: To refuse to have anything to do with.


Slander: False charges that damage another's reputation.


Pretense: A false reason or excuse.


Wantonness: Lavishness.


Decretals: Decrees.


Hypocrisy: The act of expressing feelings or beliefs that one does not actually hold true.


Infamy: Disgrace.


Cowls: Long hooded cloaks worn by monks (men who belong to religious orders).


Tonsures: The shaving of a monks' head when admitted to the Roman Catholic Church.


Sects: Religious groups.


Cliques: Exclusive groups of people.

29. All those who are in the church sin if they do not make themselves secure through marriage once they understand that God has granted marriage to them for the sake of purity.

Vows of Purity

30. Those who take a vow ofchastity assume madly or childishly too much. From this is to be learned that those who make such vows are treating godly people wantonly.

Of Excommunication

31. No private person mayexcommunicate anyone else, but the church—that is, the communion of those among whom the one subject to excommunication lives—along with its guardians may act as a bishop.

32. The only one who should be excommunicated is a person who commits a public scandal.

Of Unclaimed Goods

33. Unclaimed goods should not be given to temples,cloisters, monks, priests, ornuns, but to the needy, if it is impossible to return them to their rightful owner.

Secular Authority from God

35. Butsecular authority does have rightful power and is supported from the teaching and action of Christ.

36. Everything that the so-called spiritual estate claims by right or for the protection of its rights belongs properly to the secular authorities, if they have a mind to be Christians.

37. To these authorities all Christians are obliged to be obedient, with no exceptions;

38. So long as the authorities do not command anything in opposition to God.

39. Therefore all secular laws should be conformed to the divine will, which is to say, that they should protect the oppressed, even if the oppressed make no complaint.

40. Only these secular authorities have the power to put someone to death without provoking God. But only those should be executed whoperpetrated a public scandal, unless God has decreed otherwise.

41. If secular rulers properly serve with counsel and assistance the ones for whom God has given them responsibility, they in turn are obligated to offer them bodilysustenance.


Chastity: Abstention from sex.


Excommunicate: To deprive a person of the right of church membership.


Cloisters: Monasteries or nunneries.


Nuns: Women belonging to a religious order.


Secular: Not belonging to a religious order or congregation.


Perpetrated: Committed as in a crime.


Sustenance: Supplying the necessities of life.

42. But if rulers act unfaithfully and not according to the guiding principles of Christ, they may be replaced by God.

43. The sum of the matter is that the best and most secure government exists where the ruler governs with God alone, but the most evil and insecure where the ruler governs according to his own heart.

Of Prayer

44. True worshipers call upon God in spirit and in truth, without a lot of fuss before men.

45.Hypocrites do their deeds to be seen before men; they receive their reward in this age.

46. It must therefore follow that singing orclamoring in church, carried on without devotion and only for the praise of self, is done either for renown from men or profit.

Of Offense

47. A person should choose to suffer physical death before offending a Christian or bringing a Christian into disgrace.

48. The one who takes offense out ofimbecility or ignorance, without cause, should not be allowed to remain sick or mean-spirited; rather, such a one should be nurtured to recognize what is really sin and what is not.

49. I know of no greater offense than that priests are not allowed to have lawful wives, while they are allowed to payconcubines. What a disgrace!

Of Forgiveness of Sins

50. God alone forgives sins, only through Christ Jesus his Son, our Lord.

51. Whoeverascribes this power to the creature takes away God's glory and gives it to someone who is not God. This is trulyidolatry.

52. Therefore, confession to a priest or a neighbor should not be done for the forgiveness of sins, but for the sake of receiving counsel.

53. Assigned works of satisfaction (except excommunication) are the product of human counsel; they do not take away sin; and they are imposed on others in order to terrorize them.

Of Purgatory

57. The true holy Scripture knows nothing of apurgatory after this life.


Hypocrites: Those who put on a false appearance of religion or virtue.


Clamoring: Noisy shouting.


Imbecility: State of being feebleminded.


Concubines: Women whom men live with but to whom they are not married.


Ascribes: Refers to a supposed source.


Idolatry: Worship of a physical object, such as a statue or picture, as a god.


Purgatory: The place between heaven and hell.

58. The judgement of the departed is known to God alone.

59. And the less God has caused to make known to us about it, the less we should try to find out about it.

60. I do not condemn it if a person concerned about the dead calls upon God to show them mercy. Yet to fix the time for this (seven years for amortal sin ) and to lie about such matters for the sake of gain is not human butdiabolical.

Of the Priesthood and Its Ordained

61. Of the kind ofordination that priests in recent times have invented, the holy Scripture knows nothing.

62. Scripture recognizes no priests except those who proclaim God's Word.

63. Scripture asks that honor be offered to those who preach the Word, that is, that they be given physical sustenance.

Of Dealing with Misdeeds

64. Those who acknowledge their misdeeds should not be required to suffer for anything else, but should be allowed to die in peace. Thereafter any goods they leave to the church should be administered in a Christian way.

65. God will certainly deal with those who refuse to acknowledge their misdeeds. Therefore, we should not do them any bodily harm, unless they are leading others astray so obviously that it cannot be ignored.

But let no one undertake to argue withsophistry or human wisdom, but let Scripture be the judge (Scripture breathes the Spirit of God), so that you can either find the truth or, if you have found it, hold on to it.

Amen. God grant it!

Mortal sin

Mortal sin: A deliberately committed sin that deprives the soul of sanctifying grace.


Diabolical: Characteristic of the devil (figure of evil).


Ordination: The act of being invested officially with a ministerial or priestly authority.


Sophistry: Subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation.

What happened next…

During the years to come, Zwingli turned Zurich into an evangelical city. ("Evangelical" was a term used to refer to the reform movement in Germany.) Those who disagreed with Zwingli were forced either to comply or to leave. As early as 1524, some of Zwingli's supporters claimed his reforms did not go far enough. Among them were the Anabaptists, who formed their own movement called the Swiss Brethren (see Elizabeth entry). They were seen as a threat by the Zwinglians, who banished Anabaptists from Zurich. In 1526 a Catholic-dominated conference was held in Baden, Switzerland. Zwingli was invited but he did not attend because he feared for his personal safety. The council condemned his reforms as the works of the "Antichrist [enemy of Christ] of the Great Minster."

On January 6, 1528, a disputation was allowed to take place in Bern, Switzerland. The debate lasted until the end of January, leaving no doubt that reforms Zwingli had demanded in Zurich would be carried out in the canton of Bern. One region, the Bernr Oberland, tried to resist, asking the neighboring states of Valais, Uri, and Unterwalden for spiritual and, eventually, military support. To reprimand the rebellious subjects, Bern sent in troops. The Bernr Oberland protestors soon gave up and accepted reforms. Zwingli had reached the summit of his power and influence. He had long dreamed of forming a Protestant Swiss Confederation (an alliance of cantons in Switzerland), but he needed the help of allies in Germany.

Zwingli dies in battle

Zwingli finally met Luther the first time at a conference in Marburg, Germany, in 1529. The participants drew up fifteen articles that defined the Protestant faith. The Marburg meeting took place between the two Kappel Wars, religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants. A truce was signed by both parties in 1529, but neither side seemed completely satisfied. When Zwingli returned home from the meeting, events seemed to develop in his favor. But shortly thereafter he met open resistance from the Catholic cantons, which were joined by opponents in his own ranks. Zwingli proposed a quick military campaign to put down opposition. Soon news reached Zurich that Catholic forces had gathered near Zug. Zurich's troops hurried in from all sides, but it was impossible to form orderly units on such short notice. Facing the well-prepared Catholic troops near Kappel in October 1531, the Protestant army of about fifteen hundred men fought bravely, but with no chance of victory. After only a few days, the Protestant alliance was defeated. Zurich lost about five hundred men in battle, among them its spiritual leader, Huldrych Zwingli. After Zwingli's death, his colleague Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575) became the pastor at Great Minster and the leader of the reform movement in Switzerland. In 1536 Bullinger played an important role in compiling the First Helvetic Confession, a statement of reform goals based largely on Zwingli's views. In 1549 Bullinger joined the French reformer John Calvin (1509–1564; see entry) in drafting the Consensus of Tigurnius, which moved Swiss reform efforts toward Calvinism (a strict form of Protestantism).

Did you know…

  1. Many Catholic clergymen in northern Switzerland were married, and Zwingli was among them. Secretly, he had married Anna Reinhart and had fathered several children. Together with ten other priests he sent a petition to the bishop of Constance asking for church recognition of their marriages. To strengthen their argument, they pointed out that the "bishops" (founders) of the early Church had been married men.
  2. Zwingli contended that pictures and statues of saints only encouraged idolatry, so they should be taken down. Many of his most enthusiastic followers took his word literally, and from 1523 until 1525 they stripped decorations, statues, and pictures from all Catholic churches in Zurich. They frequently used violent tactics, causing disturbances in cantons that refused to adopt Zwingli's new methods.
  3. The reform council in Zurich brought formal charges against Anabaptists and executed some of them. In 1527 the Anabaptist leader Felix Mantz was one of those put to death. Zwingli supported this harsh policy, and it contributed to a decline in his popularity.
  4. Luther was said to have had a haughty way about him when speaking to Zwingli. Luther considered Zwingli a coarse fanatic (one who holds extreme beliefs) who was trying to show off his Greek and Latin because his German was so poor. When the two men finally met at the conference in Marburg in 1529, they reportedly parted without shaking hands.

For More Information


Gäbler, Ulrich. Huldrych Zwingli: His Life and Work. Translated by Ruth C. L. Gritsch. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986.

Web Sites

Protestant Reformation. [Online] Available, April 10, 2002.

"Zwingli, Ulrich." [Online] Available[email protected]%20Zwingli%20%20Huldreich%20or%20Ulrich, April 10, 2002.

Zwingli and Luther. [Online] Available, April 10, 2002.

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