Zwingli, Huldrych (1484–1531)

views updated May 29 2018


ZWINGLI, HULDRYCH (14841531), Swiss reformer and church leader. Born into a peasant family in Toggenburg, an Alpine valley in the eastern part of modern-day Switzerland, Zwingli studied at the universities of Vienna and Basel (14981506), where he was exposed to the major currents that would shape his theology: late medieval Scholasticism and humanism. Research beginning in the late twentieth century has pointed to the particular importance of Desiderius Erasmus (1466?1536) and John Duns Scotus (c. 12661308) to his theological formation. Zwingli was ordained to the priesthood and served first in Glarus, one of the smallest cantons of the Swiss Confederation, before going to the great Benedictine monastery of Einsiedeln (1516), whose rich library resources afforded the young priest the opportunity to deepen his knowledge of patristic and medieval writers. He preached at the yearly official pilgrimages made by the citizens of Zurich to the Black Madonna of Einsiedeln, and his sermons made him well known in the city. In 1519 he was called to the Grossmünster in Zurich as a stipendiary priest.

Zwingli's preaching, in which he denounced corruption and called on the people to purify themselves before God, created the mood for reform, but it was a small circle of like-minded priests, printers, and magistrates who pushed the movement forward. Events took shape around two disputations in 1523 for which Zwingli wrote his Sixty-seven Theses, his first major work. Zwingli sought to reform church and society, but he recognized that to do this he required the support of Zurich's magistrates, who in turn needed to be reassured that reform did not imply social revolution. His vision of Christian government was drawn from the Old Testament, with the prophet (Zwingli) advising the ruler (the Zurich town council), who was responsible for enforcing the laws of the state.

Zwingli's position in Zurich was never wholly secure. The establishment of the new Reformed order in Zurich at Easter 1525 was largely due to the influence of a couple of key magistrates who backed Zwingli. At the center of Zwingli's vision was the reform of worship, and the Reformation commenced in Zurich with a celebration of the new liturgy of the Lord's Supper. His reforms, however, revealed a mixture of late medieval and Erasmian impulses; institutional changes, as well as moral legislation, were drawn from the reform councils of the fifteenth century, and, like Erasmus, Zwingli believed that education was the key to the creation of a Christian society.

Institutional reform under Zwingli was halting, largely because from 1525 until his death he was involved in a series of heated polemical exchanges. Zwingli faced opposition from Catholics, his former mentor Erasmus, the so-called Anabaptists, and most famously, from Martin Luther. Virtually all of Zwingli's theological writings were hastily compiled responses to particular crises or attacks. Thus his work cannot be treated as systematic theology. The three major events in Zwingli's career after 1525 were the Baden disputation (1526), which he refused to attend for fear of being arrested and executed, the Bern disputation (1528), which saw the Reformation adopted in major parts of the Swiss Confederation, and the Colloquy of Marburg(1529), where he and Luther came face to face. Zwingli's desire to bring the Reformation to the rest of the Swiss Confederation led to alliance building that made war with the Catholic states probable. This led to the disastrous First and Second Kappel Wars of 1529 and 1531. Zwingli was killed in a surprise attack on the night of 11 October 1531.

On account of their acrimonious falling out with respect to the celebration of the Lord's Supper, specifically the nature of Christ's presence in the Eucharist, the question of Luther's influence on Zwingli has remained, for confessional reasons, highly contentious. Certainly Zwingli keenly followed the "Luther affair" of 15171521, and read all the German reformer's works, which were being printed in Basel. On key theological points, such as "faith alone" and "scripture alone," they were in agreement, but Zwingli had an entirely different agenda, which led to a theology of a different character. Zwingli's theology was shaped by two crucial aspects: first, his experience of serving in military campaigns (15131515) and observing with horror the effects of the mercenary trade on the Swiss; and second, the form of Christian humanism prevalent in southwestern Germany and the Swiss lands. The type of humanism that shaped Zwingli's thought concentrated on the practical Christian life and reform of the church, emphasizing the role of the Old Testament. To this we can attribute most of the major themes in Zwingli's thought: the utter sovereignty of God, the covenantal nature of God's relationship with humanity, God's demand that his people be "pure," and the centrality of ethics and the life of the regenerated Christian.

Zwingli was not a national reformer; his cause was closely linked with the particular aspirations of Zurich. Nevertheless, the clarity of his thought carried his ideas across Europe, and there can be no doubt that he was the founder of the Reformed tradition.

See also Bullinger, Heinrich ; Erasmus, Desiderius ; Luther, Martin ; Lutheranism ; Marburg, Colloquy of ; Reformation, Protestant ; Zurich .


Gordon, Bruce. The Swiss Reformation. Manchester, U.K., 2002.

Potter, G. R. Zwingli. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1976.

Stephens, W. P. The Theology of Huldrych Zwingli. Oxford and New York, 1986.

Bruce Gordon

Huldreich Zwingli

views updated May 21 2018

Huldreich Zwingli

The Swiss Protestant reformer Huldreich Zwingli (1484-1531) paved the way for the Swiss Reformation. His influence on the church-state relations of the cantons that became Protestant was profound and durable.

An exact contemporary of Martin Luther, Huldreich Zwingli experienced and contributed to the profound changes in religious and intellectual life that, arising in the early 1500s, permanently affected Western ern civilization. He was born on Jan. 1, 1484, in the village of Wildhaus, one of ten children. His experience with ecclesiastical traditions came early, through an uncle who was a priest. Huldreich was destined by his parents for the priest-hood.

Early Years and Education

Zwingli's education was markedly humanistic. In 1494 he was sent to school at Basel and in 1498 to Bern, where a famous classicist, Heinrich Wölflin, fired a love in him for ancient writers, including the pagans, that he never lost. In 1500 Zwingli entered the University of Vienna to study philosophy, and there too the ideals of humanism were nurtured and deepened in him, for at that time the university boasted the presence of Conradus Celtes, one of the leading scholars of the humanistic tradition. Zwingli also acquired a deep appreciation and understanding of music and learned to play several instruments.

At the age of 18 Zwingli was again in Basel, where he studied theology. In 1506 he received his master's degree and was ordained a priest by the bishop of Constance. After celebrating his first Mass at Wildhaus, he was elected parish priest of Glarus a few miles away. He spent ten years in Glarus, a decade that in several important respects formed the most decisive period of his life. He developed his character as a reformer, his knowledge and love of Greek, his admiration for the great humanist Erasmus, and his bitterness at the corruption in the Church. Zwingli became so enamored of Homer, Pindar, Democritus, and Julius Caesar that he refused to believe that they and other great pagans were unredeemed because they had not known Christ.

By 1516, when Zwingli moved to Einsiedeln in the canton of Schwyz, he was already arriving at doctrinal opinions divergent from those of Rome. He not only attacked such abuses as the sale of indulgences and the proliferation of false relics but also began to speak openly of a religion based only on the Bible. Independently of Luther, Zwingli concluded that the papacy was unfounded in Scriptures and that Church tradition did not have equal weight with the Bible as a source of Christian truth.

Reformation in Zurich

Zwingli's preaching was so impressive that he was asked to become the vicar, or people's priest, of the Grossmünster in Zurich. This city bristled with intellectual activity, and on Dec. 10, 1518, he eagerly accepted the offer. At Zurich, under his leadership, the Swiss Reformation began. He preached against the excessive veneration of saints, the celibacy of the priesthood, and fasting. When his parishioners were accused of eating meat during Lent, he defended them before the city council and wrote a forceful tract on the subject. His stand against the celibacy of the clergy brought down the wrath of the bishop of Constance upon him. In 1523 Zwingli admirably defended his position on this topic with 67 theses presented in a public disputation. The city council not only found itself in accord with him but also voted to sever the canton from the bishop's jurisdiction. Thus Zurich adopted the Reformation.

During the 1520s Zwingli wrote much; not all of his writings were theological. Unlike Luther and John Calvin, the Swiss reformer possessed a profound patriotic element, a quality that caused him to inveigh heavily against the pernicious practice of hiring out soldiers to fight as mercenaries in the wars of other nations. In 1521 he convinced Zurich to abolish this policy.

Zwingli's Theology

The doctrinal matter that set Zwingli apart from Luther on the one hand and Roman Catholicism on the other was that of the Eucharist. Zwingli denied the real presence of Christ in the Host and insisted that the Eucharist was not the repetition of Christ's sacrifice but only a respectful remembrance.

Since Jesus was God as well as man one performance of the act of redemption was enough. Moreover, the Scriptures contain all Christian truth and what cannot be found therein must be ruthlessly cast from the true Church. Thus the concept of purgatory, the hierarchy, the veneration of relics and images, the primacy of the pope, and canon law must all be cast aside. Zwingli expressed these views in the 67 theses of 1523 and in the tract De vera et falsa religione of 1525. In general, his theology was absorbed in and superseded by that of Calvin.

Zwingli's disagreement with Luther was fundamental, and after the two reformers met at Marburg in 1529 and had a profitless discussion, it became clear that no unification of their movements could result. Zwingli was also unsuccessful in winning over all of Switzerland to his cause. Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Lucerne, and Zug—the conservative forest cantons—remained faithful to Roman Catholicism and formed a league to fight Protestant movements.

Tensions grew, and civil war threatened in 1529 and then broke out in 1531. Zwingli counseled the war and entered the fray as chaplain at the side of the citizens of Zurich and their allies. He was slain at the battle of Kappel on Oct. 11, 1531. His body was abused by the victorious Catholics, who quartered it and burnt it on a heap of manure.

Further Reading

Studies of Zwingli are S. M. Jackson, Huldreich Zwingli (1901), and Oskar Farner, Zwingli, the Reformer: His Life and Work (trans. 1952). The clearest exposition of Zwingli's doctrines is in Philip Schaff, The Swiss Reformation (1892). Roland H. Bainton, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (1953), is brief but very helpful. For a charmingly written general account see Preserved Smith, The Age of the Reformation (1920).

Additional Sources

Gabler, Ulrich, Huldrych Zwingli: his life and work, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986.

Swengel, Jean, Threads of time, Shippensburg, PA: Treasure House, 1994. □

Zwingli, Huldrych (1484–1531)

views updated May 11 2018

Zwingli, Huldrych (14841531)

Swiss church reformer, a contemporary of Martin Luther who established the Reformed branch of the Protestant movement. The son of a village magistrate, Zwingli was born in the village of Wildhaus in eastern Switzerland. He received an education in the classics at the universities of Basel and Vienna, and was ordained as a priest in 1506, when he became pastor of the town of Glarus. He served as a chaplain to Swiss mercenaries in Italy and in 1516 became vicar of Einsiedeln, an important Benedictine monastery where a large library gave Zwingli opportunity for study and research. Soon after this appointment he began preaching reform of the Catholic Church. Zwingli found no foundation for the Papacy in the books of the Bible and increasingly viewed the Catholic Church as a corrupt and decadent institution.

In 1519 Zwingli was appointed vicar to the Grossmunster church in Zurich. Having studied the New Testament translation of Desiderius Erasmus, he developed his own reformist doctrine, and began preaching criticisms of important Catholic institutions, such as monasticism and the selling of indulgences (remissions of sin). He saw the Catholic Mass as a pagan blasphemy on true Christianity; he rejected the notion of purgatory, the veneration of saints, the practice of fasting during Lent, and the Catholic stricture of priestly celibacy. In 1522, he declared that the Bible, and not the church, provided the authority for all questions of Christian doctrine. Many priests of the city took up his cause, which he set out in the Sixty-Seven Articles in 1523. After witnessing a public debate between Zwingli and a representative of the pope, the city fathers followed his reforming impulse, ordering all priests in the city to comply with Zwingli's instruction and in 1524 removing the statues, relics, musical instruments, and works of art that were now deemed idolatrous from the city's churches. In the next year Zwingli published his major written work, The Commentary on True and False Religion.

Zwingli believed, like Martin Luther, in the key Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone. But he differed with Luther in the question of the presence of Christ in the bread and wine of Masswith Luther holding that Christ is actually present, and Zwingli that the bread and wine are only symbolic representations of Christ's body and blood. The two reformers debated the question at the famous Marburg Colloquy of 1529. The disagreement created a rift in the Protestant movement between Lutheranism and Zwingli's Reformed branch.

In Zurich, the more radical branch of Anabaptists emerged to challenge Zwingli's authority, while the forest cantons of Switzerland that remained loyal to the Catholic Church took up arms against the Protestants. In 1531 Zwingli was mortally wounded at the Battle of Kappel. His body was quartered and burned on a manure pile by his enemies, who were determined that no relics of him would remain to inspire veneration by his followers. In the years that followed, the Zwinglian movement gave way to the new doctrines preached by John Calvin.

See Also: Luther, Martin; Calvin John; Reformation, Protestant

Zwingli, Ulrich

views updated Jun 08 2018

Zwingli, Ulrich (1484–1531). Swiss Reformer. After ordination in 1526, he became pastor at Glaurus, where he devoted himself to the study of Erasmus, biblical languages, patristic theology, and the memorization of the Pauline epistles. In 1516 he became chaplain of the Cloister at Einsiedeln where blatant abuses strengthened his desire for reform. He was appointed priest at the Zurich ‘Great Church’ in 1518, gradually using his expositions to encourage reform. Zwingli defended his views in sixty-seven theses, on which he wrote Auslegung und Gründe der Schlussreden, i.e. his own commentary, and obtained the active support of the Zurich City Council, but a second disputation in 1523 led to a breach with two of his more radical colleagues, Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz, with Zwingli fearing that their ‘Free Church’ convictions would alienate the magistracy. Zwingli opposed their views about believers' baptism, insisting on the baptism of all infants. At the same time, he encountered further theological difficulty over relationships with the Lutherans, with the 1529 Colloquy of Marburg failing to reconcile the eucharistic views of German and Swiss Protestants. The Swiss Cantons fought over their divergent ecclesiastical loyalties, and the intensely patriotic Zwingli was killed at the battle of Cappel in 1531.

Zwingli placed great emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit. Thus although (as with Luther) scripture has supreme authority, only the Spirit enables perception of its truth: prayer precedes perusal. Baptism he related to covenant theology, and the Last Supper he understood, not as initiating a sacrificial mass, but as mediating the opportunity for faith to perceive the presence of Christ and to receive the benefits thereof.

Zwingli, Ulrich

views updated Jun 08 2018

Zwingli, Ulrich (1484–1531) Swiss Protestant theologian and reformer. Zwingli was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1506, but his studies of the New Testament in Erasmus' editions led him to become a reformer. By 1522, he was preaching reformed doctrine in Zürich, a centre for the Reformation. More radical than Martin Luther, Zwingli regarded communion as mainly symbolic and commemorative. He died while serving as a military chaplain with the Zürich army during a battle against the Catholic cantons at Kappel.