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EXT0010.1177/0014524614560493The Expository TimesGordon

The Expository Times
Huldrych Zwingli The Author(s) 2014
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DOI: 10.1177/0014524614560493

Bruce Gordon

This article provides an overview of the life and work of Huldrych Zwingli. It considers, in particular,
his relationship with Erasmus and his theological ideas, including his views on the sacraments. The
article concludes that Zwingli was a perplexing and contradictory character, whose sudden death in
October, 1531 not only differentiates him reformers like Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon, who lived
to develop their work over many decades, but also leaves many unanswered questions.

Reformers, Zwingli, Bullinger

Troubled Memories because he did not esteem his predecessor, but

rather because he was playing a game he could
In 1564 an elderly Heinrich Bullinger (1504- not win. His response formed yet another inter-
1575), head of the church in Zurich, raised his vention in the decades-long intra-Protestant
pen to a task he had prudently avoided for more conflict over the Lords Supper that burned
than thirty years. He felt compelled to defend in out of control without hope of being dowsed.3
print his predecessor, Huldrych Zwingli (1484- The severity of the renewed accusations in the
1531), but it was an unwelcome burden to pre- 1560s, nevertheless, demanded a response:
pare a public apology for a man once described Lutheran polemicists had named the Zurich
by Martin Luther as the prince of hell whose church Zwinglian, shorthand for heresy, and
books were poison.1 Although to be ranked a accused the apostates of propagating a false
prince in Luthers court of the damned was a doctrine of the nature of Christ. Most incendi-
perverse compliment, acknowledgement from ary was the charge that the Zwinglians teach-
Wittenberg of Zwinglis prodigious talent.2 ing on the Son of God did not differ from the
For Bullinger the labour was wearisome portrayal of Christ in the Quran. For Muslims
and fraught with worrying consequences, not

3 August Pieper, What makes up the different spirit

1 Heinrich Bulliger, Uff siben Klagartikel . . . kurze of which Luther accused the Zwinglians?, Wisconsin
waarhaffte nodtwendigeund bescheine Verantwortung Lutheran Quarterly 107 (2010), 166-190.
(Zurich, 1564) (Reply to the Seven Charges; reprinted
Corresponding author:
2Thomas Kaufman, Luther und Zwingli, Luther Bruce Gordon
Handbuch (Tbingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), 152-161. Email:

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2 The Expository Times

he was a prophet, not divine. Bullinger knew Current historical and popular memories are
that he could never persuade the stiff-necked a resounding rejection of the figure of Huldrych
Lutheran theologians, but he wrote instead, in Zwingli constructed in the nineteenth century
German, for the people at home and abroad. and cast in the iron statue. The Swiss reformer
He shaped the narrative of Zwinglis memory was plucked from obscurity for a particular role
to defend the principles that had accompanied alongside Luther as a harbinger of modernity,
his own three decades of building the Zurich a liberator of the conscience, and founder of
church. the state. While the Luther of Wittenberg statu-
Attempts to commemorate Huldrych Zwingli ary embodied imperial Wilhelmine Germany,
in modern, liberal Zurich have been equally attempts were made to create Zwingli as the
troubled. What story of Zwingli can be told? image of modern Protestant Switzerland,
Today, the nineteenth-century statue that casts a warrior against the forces of secularism.
the reformer with sword in one hand and Bible Biographies were written, Reformation anni-
in the other is often taken to represent a martial versaries celebrated, and a critical edition
religion noxious to Christians and secularists of Zwinglis works prepared for the Corpus
alike.4 The reformers shade is found behind Reformatorum. It was precisely the coercive
the Wasserkirche on the Limmat River, largely nature of Zwinglis reform, one that sought
ignored except by a few tourists and the occa- to suppress Catholicism, which appealed to
sional pigeon. Heinrich Bullinger, in contrast, Zurichs Brgertum. Further, his opposition to
has a more modern visage prominently carved Luther became a narrative for Swiss identity in
into the exterior wall of the Grossmnster, the face of hegemonic Bismarckian ambitions.
beside the main doors. For his anniversary in Across Europe and America in the nineteenth
2004, Bullinger was remembered as a man of century renewed interest in the Reformation
moderation, a reformer of education, an inter- focused on the great figures. Outside Zurich,
national figure, and a competent, if somewhat Zwingli was acknowledged as a courageous
dull, bureaucrat. He is something acceptable defender of the faith and member of the pan-
from the Reformation, a source of pride from theon of reformers, but very much in a sup-
another, forgotten world. Zwingli, however, is porting role, the perennial third man of the
repeated blamed for having inflicted upon the Reformation. His image was placed alongside
city a dreadful Puritanismus that is anathema Luthers in the gargantuan Protestant Dom built
to modern creeds of diversity and acceptance. in Berlin in the 1890s, while for the Calvin mon-
For contemporary denizens of Zurich, Zwingli ument erected for the 1909 anniversary Zwingli
has become the poster boy for all that is wrong was commemorated with a rather bizarre block
with organized religion: narrow mindedness, of stone to the side of the major players. In the
intolerance, and sexual repression.5 Bullinger Reformed tradition he was John the Baptist to
has become the acceptable face of the Zurich John Calvin.
reformation to compensate for Zwingli. We are In the nineteenth century it was decided
told that Bullingers goals were lofty, and if that Zwingli should be the visage of liberal
there were some infelicities such as predestina- Swiss Protestantism, and Bullinger left undis-
tion or the drowning of Baptists, well, he was a turbed. Liberal Protestants were not inter-
product of his age. ested in Zwinglis teaching on predestination
or the Lords Supper; doctrine was not their
primary concern, as the core teachings of the
4 Hedy Tschumi-Haefliger, Reformatoren-Denkmler in Augustinian-inspired reformers had been jet-
der Schweiz, Zwingliana 17 (1987), 193-262. tisoned in the Enlightenment. They sought
a symbol of Protestantism tethered to pro-
See the issue of the Swiss cultural magazine, Du Magazine
entitled Zwinglis Zrich. Das perfekte Alibi (1998).
gress. However, alongside Luther, the patriotic

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Gordon 3

Zwingli of cultural Protestantism perished in Huldrych Zwingli defies easy categorization

the trenches of the First World War. The align- as a religious figure. Luther and Calvin died
ment of Zwingli, Calvin, and others with the in their beds surrounded by weeping friends,
progressive optimism of liberal Protestantism while Zwingli perished ingloriously, run
collapsed in the face of the atrocities of the through with a sword in the chaos of darkness.
twentieth century. Giants among Reformed His bloody corpse was subjected to a heresy
theologians now turned to the Reformation in trial, desecrated, and burnt.8 His friend Oswald
light of the demise of the old order and the rise Myconius wrote a pious vita fabricating a story
of Fascism. Karl Barth and Emil Brunner strove that Zwinglis heart survived, but it was a failed
to liberate their fellow Swiss Huldrych Zwingli attempt to create a saint.9 The events were not
from the errors of cultural Protestantism.6 ambiguous. Against the will of the people of
Zurich, the reformer advocated violence and
died violently in the act poor material for
Bible and Sword: The Man martyrology or hagiography. The vicissitudes
Gazing at the statue of Huldrych Zwingli in that befell Zurich in the wake of Kappel were
Zurich the visitor might ponder the arrest- widely interpreted as Gods punishment of
ing paradox of the reformers life: Bible and apostasy.
sword together.7 Zwingli died in a nocturnal Against this dark background, the question
skirmish on 11 October 1531 having led troops remains why Zwingli was so successful. His
from Zurich to war against the Catholic Swiss career in Zurich started so well in 1519 and
Confederates, utterly persuaded that it was the ended so badly twelve years later, but in that
role of the godly to smite the enemies of the time the accomplishments are astonishing. A
Gospel. Although his death was a catastrophic brilliant author, who remains underappreciated
mishap, Zwinglis intentions were unmistak- because so little of his work exists in modern,
able; he sought to force the Catholic opponents readable translation, Zwingli wrote elegant
to accept the evangelical faith and to couple Latin prose and, like Luther, gave voice to the
the Word of God with the military might of power of faith in the language of the people. He
Zurich to achieve his martial purpose. Zwingli was a craftsman with words, and above all from
is often labeled in general histories the human- the pulpit encouraged, consoled, and admon-
ist reformer, but his character and actions are ished the people in bracing sermons shaped by
better understood in terms of the connections the words and imagery of scripture. He wove
he made between doctrine and coercion: the current events into his preaching, leaving his
faithful were forcefully admonished, Catholics listeners nodding in agreement. He was a bril-
attacked, and Anabaptists drowned. The appel- liant debater, quashing Catholic and Anabaptist
lation of Erasmian reformer only partially opponents, and, it is often remarked, Luther
captures the righteous fury of the man. himself.
Zwinglis career as a reformer was remark-
6 Peter Winzeler, Zwingli und Karl Barth, Zwingliana
ably brief. Six years after the Reformation in
17 (1987), 298-314; Matthias Freudenberg, und
Zurich, at Easter 1525, he was dead. In key
Zwingli vor mir wie eine berhngende Wand: Karl Barths
Wahrnehmung der Theologie Huldrych Zwinglis in seiner
Gttinger Vorlesung von 1922/23, Zwingliana 33 (2006), 8Bruce Gordon, Holy and Problematic Deaths: Heinrich
5-27. Bullinger on Zwingli and Luther, in Marion Kobelt-
Groch and Cornelia Niekus Moore (eds), Tod und
The fullest biography of Zwingli remains G. R. Potter,
Jenseitsvorstellungen in der Schriftkultur der Frhen
Zwingli (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979).
Neuzeit (Wolfenbttel: Harrassowitz, 2008), 47-62.
More recent is Ulrich Gbler, Huldrych Zwingli: His Life
and Work, trans. Ruth C. L. Gritsch (Philadelphia: Fortress 9 Ernst Gerhard Rsch, Bemerkungen zur Zwingli-Vita

Press, 1986). von Oswald Myconius, Zwingliana 15 (1980), 215-237.

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4 The Expository Times

teachings on faith, scripture, and justification his community, reading the theological tra-
alone, the influence of Luther was profound, dition and learning biblical languages.10 He
but the parish priest was no pale imitation of was a talented linguist who mastered Greek
the former monk. Zwingli communicated a and was competent in Hebrew, a rarity in
clear sense of a godly Christian community, his day. His priestly duties included accom-
arguing that the kingdom of God is visible panying Swiss mercenary soldiers on the
(externum), that society could be transformed Italian campaigns, where he experienced the
through the Word. Zwingli looked not to the blood baths at Novara (1513) and Marignano
conflagration at the end of time, but to the (1515). The young men of Glarus, serving on
building of Gods kingdom in the here and both sides of the conflict in the pay of rivals
now. Francis I of France and Pope Leo, killed one
At the same time, his conflict with Luther another. In the end over 8,000 Swiss bodies
over the Lords Supper was never mere seman- lay on the ground at Marignano, cut down by
tics. The German and Swiss reformers held pro- French artillery and the pikes of their coun-
foundly different interpretations of the nature of trymen: Swiss against Swiss, a nightmare that
Jesus Christ, of how God is present in the world, haunted Zwingli all his days. The young mili-
and of the relationship between the material and tary chaplain, who had supported the papacy,
spiritual worlds. The great unresolved questions was utterly traumatized and forced to leave
of the early Church came to life in the 1520s Glarus, where support for the rival French
as Wittenberg and Zurich refought Nicaea and was growing.
Chalcedon. Life took an unexpected turn in 1516 when
Zwingli went to the Benedictine monastery at
Einsiedeln, home of the Black Madonna and a
Life and Reformation major site of pilgrimage. His position was as
Born in the Toggenburg valley in the eastern Leutpriester (parish priest) and he frequently
part of the Swiss Confederation on 1 January preached to the pilgrims assembled outside the
1484 to a farming family of means, Ulrich (also monastery. Zwingli established his reputation
his fathers name: the young man later changed as a talented and compelling preacher, though
his to Huldrych, meaning in dialect rich in his time at Einsiedeln was dominated by an
grace) Zwingli was fortunate to have parents extended period of study in the monasterys
able to finance his education. His good fortune extraordinary library, full of the Greek and
continued with his uncle, a priest in Weesen Latin Fathers. Like many educated young men
on the Walensee, who took an interest in the of his age, Zwingli was enthralled by Erasmus
bright lad and provided Latin lessons. The Greek New Testament of 1516. Further, from
Toggenburg was a poor region where young 1517 he began following the writings of Martin
men were more likely to enter mercenary ser- Luther.
vice and die in battles in foreign lands than
receive an education. At the age of ten Zwingli
was sent to Latin schools in Basel and Bern.
A talented musician, he was invited to enter Zwingli visited Erasmus in Basel in the
a Dominican house to sing, but on account of winter of 1515-16, after which the two
pressure from his parents chose to travel to
Vienna and then Basel, where he completed a
10Hans Schneider, Zwinglis Anfnge als Priester, in
Magister Artium (1599-1506).
Ulrich Gbler, Martin Sallmann; and Hans Schneider (eds).
Before even studying theology, Zwingli Schweizer Kirchengeschichte neu reflektiert: Festschrift fr
was ordained and called to a parish in Glarus, Rudolf Dellsperger zum 65. Geburtstag (Bern, New York:
where he remained for ten years, tending to Peter Lang, 2011), 37-62.

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Gordon 5

men maintained a steady correspondence. 11 Reformer in Zurich

Sadly, only those letters from Erasmus to
Zwingli survive, as the Dutchmen destroyed Zwingli arrived in Zurich in 1519 and became
Zwinglis correspondence after the two men the most prominent preacher in the city, never
broke their friendship. Zwingli, like most holding back his words. He immediately
young humanists of his generation, fre- abandoned the lectionary and began to preach
quently quoted from Erasmus Adages. He lectio continua through the Gospel of Matthew.15
drew from the humanists Expostulatio the He openly declared for Luthers ideas on the
line Christ is the only solace of the needy authority of the Bible and denounced Zurichs
soul as his reformation motto. As much military alliance with France and the merce-
of Zwinglis library survives, we can see nary service.16 From his first sermon in the
the care with which he read his editions of Grossmnster, Zwingli divided the commu-
Erasmus books. There is good reason to nity, but a winning combination of Bible-based
believe that Erasmus regarded Zwingli as preaching, criticism of the distant bishop and
one of the most talented of his circle, but his hierarchy, and denunciation of the corrupt-
when the young Swiss priest embraced the ing French money won supporters, some in high
evangelical faith matters turned sour. office and from leading families. Repeatedly
The relationship did not break down imme- Zwingli thundered against venality in all its
diately. When Luther and Erasmus locked forms, quoting the passage from Leviticus 19
horns over free will, Zwingli sought to medi- that would define the Zurich reformation: Be
ate.12 Indeed, Erasmus was offered citizen- holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.
ship in Zurich following difficulties in Basel. Although Zwinglis story lacks a dramatic
When Zwingli published his Commentary on conversion moment, in his first year of office
True and False Religion (1525), in which he in Zurich a horrid event proved decisive in
openly sided with Luther against Erasmus, Zwinglis evolving sense of a merciful God.17
irreparable damage was done.13 To make mat- Plague swept through the city, taking the lives
ters worse, Ulrich von Hutten, the talented of over seven thousand men, women, and chil-
humanist and erstwhile disciple of Erasmus dren, a quarter of the population. As the plague
whom the Dutchman had repudiated, was began to ravage his community, Zwingli was
offered refuge by Zwingli on the small island away at nearby mineral springs but he hurried
of Ufenau in Lake Zurich, where he died of back to tend to the sick and dying. In time of
syphilis. This perceived chain of betrayals plague pastoral care was a death sentence, and
led Erasmus to one final act of agreement Zwinglis reward was contagion and severe ill-
with Luther: they both rejoiced at the news of ness. The suffering of a gifted poet and musi-
Zwinglis death in 1531.14 cian found expression in his Plague Song
(1520) written in three parts, before, during,

11Christine Christ, Das Schriftverstndis von Zwingli und 15 Peter Opitz, The Authority of Scripture in the Early
Erasmus im Jahre 1522, Zwingliana 16 (1983), 111-123.
Zurich Reformation (1522-1540), Journal of Reformed
12Volker Leppin, Adams Wille und Gottes Provenienz: Theology 5 (2011), 296-309.
Die Bestreitung des freien Willens in Zwinglis 16 Christian Moser and Hans Rudolf Fuhrer, Der lange
Commentarius, Zwingliana 22 (1995), 37-43.
Schatten Zwinglis: Zrich, das franzsische Soldbndnis
13Richard Stauffer, Einfluss und Kritik des Humanismus und eidgenssische Bndnispolitik, 1500-1650 (Zurich:
in Zwinglis Commentarius de vera et falsa religione, Verlag Neue Zrcher Zeitung, 2009).
Zwingliana 16 (1983), 97-110. 17Christoph Burger, Die Entwicklung von Zwinglis Reden
14Jaques Courvoisier, Zwinglis Tod im Urteil der ber Gottes Gte, Barmherzigkeit und Gerechtigkeit,
Zeitgenossen, Zwingliana 15 (1982), 607-620. Zwingliana 19 (1992), 71-76.

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6 The Expository Times

and after his illness.18 On his return to health, During 1523 figures such as Konrad Grebel,
the thirty-six year-old priest wrote: who had been close friends and members of
Zwinglis inner circle, began to express dissat-
Although I must the punishment of death isfaction with the pace of reform.22 They were
sometime endure, perhaps with greater anguish, uncomfortable with Zwinglis alliance with
than would now have happened, Lord! Since political forces, as this closeness, in their eyes,
I came so near? So will I still the spite and compromised the Gospel. Further, they were
boasting of this world and bear joyfully for the
alarmed by Zwinglis willingness to accept tra-
sake of the reward by Thy help.19
ditional doctrines that lacked clear scriptural
warrant, notably infant baptism. The radicals
Reform stirred in Zurich in 1522 with the
were not simply defined by their rejection of
infamous sausage eating incident, when sev-
Zwingli, but proposed a way of reform to a dif-
eral of Zwinglis friends, including the printer
ferent form of the Christian church.23
Christoph Froschauer, broke the Lenten fast by
Although the Reformation was not formally
consuming meat. Zwingli did not participate,
introduced till Easter 1525, the direction of events
but quickly took to print and disputation to
was clear. In 1524 the churches of Zurich were
defend the freedom of a Christian and denounce
closed, images and organs removed, and the walls
the Churchs decree on fasting. 1523 was the
whitewashed. Zwingli married Anna Reinhart, with
breakthrough year for the reform movement.
whom he had been living in secret, and the Zurich
Most significant were two disputations held in
magistrates took control of the major churches in
Zurich in January and October: the first con-
the city. Early in New Year 1525 the first adult bap-
cerned the nature of Gospel preaching, while
tisms in the city led to disputations between Zwingli
the second focused on images and the mass.
and those who opposed infant baptism. It was a
Briefly, before 600 participants, the city council
decisive moment for the Reformation: the tradition
backed Zwinglis preaching in the city, while
of the Church was upheld over sola scriptura.
at the second disputation Zwingli put his case
In 1525 Zwingli wrote his most systematic the-
for the removal of all religious images from the
ological work, A Commentary on True and False
churches and insisted on the idolatrous nature
Religion, which gave shape to Reformed doctrine.
of the mass.20 The reform of worship lay at the
After a close vote in the Zurich Council, the city
heart of Zwinglis vision of pure religion.21 He
broke with the Roman church and a new order of
prevailed both because his opponents were no
the Lords Supper, without music, was celebrated
match and because he had formed an alliance
in the Grossmnster.24 This event was followed by
with politically powerful families.
the Reformation mandate that defined the nature
of the new church. Overnight the Catholic priests
of the hundred and twenty parishes of Zurich and
18Thomas Martin Schneider, Der Mensch als Gef its rural territories became Reformed preachers.
Gottes: Huldrych Zwinglis Gebetslied in der Pest und die
Frage nach seiner reformatorischen Wende, Zwingliana 35
(2008), 5-21. 22H. Wayne Pipkin, They went out from us, for they were
19S. Jackson, Huldreich Zwingli: The Reformer of German not of us: Zwinglis Judgement of the Early Anabaptists,
Switzerland (14841531) (New York and London: G. P. Zwingliana 19 (1992), 279-292. Also, C. Arnold Snyder,
Putnam and Sons, 1900), 131132. The Birth and Evolution of Swiss Anabaptism (1520-
1530), Mennonite Quarterly Review 84 (2006), 501-645.
Martin Krner, Bilder als Zeichen Gottes:
Bilderverehrung und Bildersturm in der Reformation, 23 Andrea Strbind, Eifriger als Zwingli. Die frhe

Zwingliana 19 (1992), 223-232. Tuferbewegung in der Schweiz (Berlin: Duncker &

Humblot, 2003).
Pamela Biel, Personal Conviction and Pastoral Care:
Zwingli and the Cult of Saints 1522-1530 Zwingliana 16 24Gerhard Aeschbacher, Zwingli und die Musik im
(1985), 442-469. Gottesdienst, Zwingliana 19 (1992), 1-11.

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Gordon 7

The Bible and its interpretation were the towards Zwingli remained unabated and the
heart and soul of Zwinglis reform, most clearly breach proved irreparable. Although Zurichs
expressed in the founding of the Prophezei in teaching on the sacraments was popular in south-
1525.25 Prophecy for Zwingli meant above all ern German lands, the citys position outside the
interpretation of the Bible, and several times a Holy Roman Empire led to increasing isola-
week the leading scholars of the city gathered tion. In 1530 Zwingli prepared his Defence of
in the Grossmnster to work through the whole the Faith for Charles V at the Diet of Augsburg.
of the Old Testament. Beginning with Genesis, The book remains Zwinglis fullest theological
a passage would be read and expounded in the work, and insufficiently known, but it appeared
Greek of the Septuagint, the Hebrew of the to little effect. Zurichs theology was excluded
Masoretic text, and the Latin of the Vulgate.26 from the doctrinal discussions within the Empire
The fruits of the discussion would be made and, in the wake of the Confession of Augsburg,
available in the biblical commentaries and Zwingli became a marginal figure.
translations that began to appear in the later Zwingli had taken on Luther and lost, not
1520s. At the end of the session, the exegetical because he had the weaker arguments, but because
insights were translated into the vernacular and he could not match the influence of the Wittenberg
Leo Jud, Zwinglis close friend, would preach professor in German lands. In addition, there were
to the people on the passage. The interpretive problems at home. Zwinglis ambition within
work of the scholars, intended to feed sermons, the Swiss Confederation was to break Catholic
bible commentaries, and translations of the resistance to the faith. In 1529 and 1531, in the
Bible, was the lifeblood of Zwinglis church. two Kappel Wars, Zurich and her allies attempted
Early success soon gave way to discord. to starve their Catholic neighbours into submis-
Division between Zwinglis Zurich and Luthers sion. They caused great suffering, but ultimately
Wittenberg emerged quickly after the prominent failed. Zwingli used the pulpit and his connections
Catholic churchman Johannes Eck gleefully within the Zurich Council to press for aggres-
observed that the two men were not saying the sion, though he was losing influence in the city
same thing about the body of Christ in the Lords on account of antagonism to his plans. In October
Supper. Discord over the sacrament, and what 1531 he accompanied the troops to battle, a deci-
Christ meant with his words This is my Body, sion that cost him his life. The Peace of Kappel
quickly scuppered hopes for a wider Protestant forced the humiliated Protestant Confederates to
alliance. Zwingli and Luther met at Marburg in pay punitive reparations and set a precedent for
1529, and although there was a degree of agree- Reformation Europe by creating a formal arrange-
ment, they parted in animosity. Luthers enmity ment by which communities of different confes-
sions would co-exist. Zwingli and his vision of a
Swiss Confederation governed by the Gospel (and
25 On the Prophezei, see Traudel Himmighfer, Die Zrcher Zurich) vanished, and Bullinger was left to deal
Bibel bis zum Tode Zwinglis (1531). Darstellung and with the consequences.
Bibliographie (Mainz: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1995),
esp. 213-235; also, Bruce Gordon, The Swiss Reformation
(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002) esp. Theological Ideas
26 Peter Opitz, Zwinglis Exegesis of the Old Testament,
Like Luther, Zwingli came to the Reformation
in Magne Saebo (ed.), Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. faith through a deep and profound fear of God.27
The History of its Interpretation, vol. 2 (Gttingen, Unlike for the German reformer, however, for
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2008), 422-423; Gerald Hobbs,
Zwingli and the Study of the Old Testament, in Edward
27 A useful summary is W. P. Stephens, Zwingli: An
J. Furcha (ed.), Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531), Legacy of
a Radical Reform, (Montreal, McGill University Press, Introduction to His Thought (Oxford: Oxford University
1985), 144-178. Press, 1986).

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8 The Expository Times

the Swiss priest, transformation emanated not Zwinglis understanding of the pulpit as the
from a personal crisis of spiritual torment but locus of prophetic witness to the Bible was
from an Old Testament sense that an idola- expressed in his The Shepherd, which appeared
trous people stood before the immediate judge- in 1524.
ment of God. The immorality of the mercenary
service, Zwingli reckoned, was a cancerous Do you not think, O pious Christian, that God
growth in the body of the church. Wherever reveals himself and his Word with special zeal
Zwingli looked, he saw institutional corruption, to this sinful age, because such a wantonness,
venality, and false worship; the Word was not such a destruction of piety, justice, virgins, the
truth and faith, and in addition the shameless
preached and priests, like himself, who desired
grasping, robbery, usury, and inflation, all which
sexual relations had their consciences burdened have been brought about by the papists, have for
by the churchs cruel and arbitrary demand for the most part been adopted by the majority of the
clerical celibacy. rulers?31
With Luther, Zwingli believed he lived at a
crucial moment in Gods historical relationship For Zwingli the heart of the Christian faith
with humanity. Divine judgement was upon the was the atonement. For He, Zwingli wrote,
people, but the Word of God was offered as a who is blameless, suffered death for us sinners,
healing balm to a scabrous church. God spoke and paid to obtain for us the wonderful justifi-
directly to the people in scripture, and through the cation of God to which no human can attain. So
guidance of the Spirit, Gods truth was proclaimed he has opened up the way to God for us through
from the pulpit. Zwingli was passionate about the his free gift of grace. Whoever hears this and
preaching of the Word of God, and was a talented believes without doubt shall be saved. This is
orator.28 Long associated with a repudiation of the the Gospel!32 Humans are the instruments
arts, Zwingli was an accomplished musician with through whom God works. They are by nature
a heightened aesthetic of drama.29 The cleansed evil. Zwingli adopted Augustines teaching on
churches of Zurich were not intended to reflect the sinfulness of humanity yet maintained an
absence, but formed rather a creative space in optimistic natural theology that allowed him to
which the people heard the Word, sat in commu- speak of the salvation of virtuous pagans, much
nity, and had their eyes directed to the symbols of to Luthers chagrin.
the faith. The configuration of pulpit, table, and Zwingli spoke of God as the source of all
baptismal font expressed the biblical narrative in goodness (summum bonum). In particular, he
which the faithful participated within their par- emphasized Gods holiness and purity over
ticular locality.30 against the fallen, polluted nature of humanity
and creation. Purity became the watch word
of Zwingli and his successors. Insofar as men
28Lee Palmer Wandel, Brothers and Neighbors: The and women possess any goodness, they do so
Language of Community in Zwinglis Preaching, through participation in God. This position
Zwingliana 17 (1988), 361-374. led Zwingli to an especial concern with the
29Jeremy Begbie, Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in regenerating character of the Holy Spirit and
the World of Music (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, human sanctification. Although he preserved
2007), 112-118.
30 Bruce Gordon with Luca Baserca and Christian Moser, 31The Shepherd, Z III, 27, 21-28. Original texts cited from
Emulating the Past and Creating the Present: Reformation
Huldreich Zwinglis smtliche Werke, (Berlin, Leipzig,
and the Use of Historical and Theological Models in Zurich
Zurich: Schwetschke, Heinsius, Berichthaus, Theologischer
in the Sixteenth century, in Luca Bascera, Bruce Gordon,
Verlag, 1905-1991). The volumes are designated with Z
and Christian Moser (eds), Following Zwingli. Applying
the Past in Reformation Zurich (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014),
1-39. 32 Divine and Human Righteousness, Z II 478, 1-6.

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Gordon 9

the Augustinian anthropology, Zwingli was There is no human capability to respond in

especially attentive to the transformation of the faith, and the Spirit cannot be bound to crea-
inner person (soul) and its manifestation in the turely things or determined by the human. What
regenerate Christian life. Zwinglis theology is revealed to the believer through the Spirit is
was constructed around polarities, the abso- God as Father, an all powerful, yet approach-
lute distinctions he drew between, for example, able deity who loves his children. Thus one
spirit and flesh, inward and outward, created must be drawn to God and deified, so that we
and uncreated. might be fully emptied and cleansed . . . for thus
The stress on Gods absolute simplicity, we are being transformed into God. This is not
however, proved one of the more controver- a work of the flesh but of the Spirit of God.34
sial aspects of Zwinglis thought, raising the Faith is assurance in the merit of Christ,
question of the nature of Christ and a position a divine gift that has only God as its object.
Bullinger had to defend decades later. Curiously, Individuals are freed from any sense of having
however, whereas Bullinger answered accusa- to merit faith and, as Luther had argued, justifi-
tions that Zurich denied Christs divinity, the cation is a wholly divine act. For Zwingli, how-
accusations in the 1520s were quite the oppo- ever, the discussion of faith was always closely
site. Luther had attacked Zwinglis teaching on linked to human response, in which life is trans-
the Son of God precisely because the German formed to doing Gods work in the world. The
thought the Swiss had too radically separated greater faith grows, Zwingli writes, the more
Christs human and divine natures, undoing also the work of good things grows. Further, the
the Chalcedonian formula. Although he wrote more faith develops, the more God is in you.
extensively about the humanity of the Son The more God is in you, the greater the work of
of God, without doubt, Zwingli emphasized good within you.35 The Spirit speaks the inner
Christs divinity. He was unequivocal that Word to women and men of Christ, who gives
Christs authority lay in his divine nature, and faith. Without doubt Zwinglis thought was
that it was through his divinity that the cruci- deeply influenced by the tradition of Platonism,
fixion was salvific. In his humanity he is lamb particularly in his language of how the faithful
and sacrificial offer because he takes away the are drawn towards God by the Fathers love.
sins of the world [see 1 John 29], not because A crucial text for Zwingli is John 6:44, For no
he is man, but because He is both God and man. one comes to the Father unless the Father who
According to his humanity he could suffer, sent me draws him. God acts directly on the
but in the power of his divinity He raises us to human soul to provide assurance of salvation.36
life.33 The basis for salvation is Gods election,
The Holy Spirit played a central part in which Zwingli regarded as belonging to divine
Zwinglis theology. The Third Person alone providence.37 The centrality of predestination
brings knowledge of God, of self, and of
Christs humanity and divinity. The Spirit also 34 Susan Schreiner, Are You Alone Wise?: The Search for
endows the faithful with certainty. Zwingli Certainty in the Early Modern Era (New York: Oxford
spoke of knowledge of Christ as a gift of the University Press, 2010), 65.
Spirit. So great is the depravity of human sin 35 Auslegen und Grnde der Schlureden, Z II 183, 7-11.
that men and women can only be taught directly
by God, teaching that takes place through the 36 Schreiner, Are You Alone Wise?, 63.
Spirit. Without the Spirit, he writes, flesh per- 37 W. P. Stephens, Election in Zwingli and Bullinger:

verts the Word of God and makes the opposite. A Comparison of Zwinglis Sermonis de providentia Dei
anamnema (1530) and Bullingers Oratio de moderatione
servanda in negotio providentiae, praedestinationis, gratiae
33Antwort ber Strauens Bchlein, Das Nachmal Christi et liberi arbitrii (1536), Renaissance and Reformation
betreffend, Z V 489, 5-8. Review 7 (2005), 42-56.

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10 The Expository Times

in Zwinglis writing is striking.38 Through the watching over the lives of the people.43 Against
divine decree, God graciously elected those the Anabaptists, Zwingli regarded the church as
who receive faith, without consideration of embracing the whole community, the elect and
human merit. Be assured that he who believes reprobate, as the corpus Christianum, while in
has been elected by the Father and predestined response to the Catholics, he rejected its sacra-
to eternal salvation, and he who does not believe mental character. Zwinglis democratic sympa-
has been rejected by the free election of God.39 thies were reflected in his belief that the people of
Zwingli closely linked election and faith, the church retained the ius reformandi, an author-
although the former necessarily precedes the ity to judge the preaching of their shepherd. Order
latter as the elect were chosen in Christ before was to be maintained: the clergy performed the
the moment of creation. Zwingli assured nerv- sacraments, the magistrates controlled the affairs
ous parishioners that faith was a sign of elec- of the church beyond preaching of the Word, and
tion. For who has faith is called, who is called inveterate sinners were punished. A common
is predestined, who is predestined is elected, form of liturgy was introduced and the ministers
and who is elected is foreordained. But Gods were soon placed under the authority of a synod.
election remains firm. Therefore they who have Lay people were to be punished for not attend-
faith are justified.40 Faith for Zwingli is a cer- ing services. The model was drawn from the Old
tain knowledge of Gods redeeming love in Testament. The prophet Nathan stood alongside
Christ; it is sign of salvation. Those who have King David. The monarch wielded the sword of
faith know they are elect.41 state, requiring obedience from the church and its
For Zwingli, sin is the choice of self and members and punishing criminals. The church
creation over God and divine gifts. Above all, it possessed the prophetic authority to admonish
is the idolatrous preference for the material over the rulers when they acted against Gods will, as
the spiritual. Repentance flows from the Gospel Nathan denounced the adulterous David.
and leads to the abandonment of the sinful self
for the godly life that transforms the person and
the world. In his emphasis on sanctification of The Sacraments
the Christian, Zwingli rejected Luthers polarity The most enduring presumption about Zwingli
of Law and Gospel in favour of a more positive remains his teaching on the Lords Supper, repeat-
role for Law by which men and women are daily edly designated memorialist or real absence.44
conformed to the image of Christ. The ceremo-
nial laws have been fulfilled in Christ, but the
commandment of love remains and belongs to 43 Robert J. Bast, Constructing Protestant Identity: The
salvation. For him who is pious (Gotshulder Pastor as Prophet in Reformation Zurich, in Gudrun Litz et
a root of Zwinglis name, Huldrych) the law al. (eds), Frmmigkeit Theologie Frmmigkeitstheologie:
is Gospel.42 Contributions to European Church history: Festschrift fr
The Body of Christ, the church, possesses Berndt Hamm zum 60. Geburtstag (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 350-
362. Hans Rudolf Lavater, Regnum Christi etiam externum
the prophetic role of preaching the Gospel and
- Huldrych Zwinglis Brief vom 4. Mai 1528 an Ambrosius
Blarer in Konstanz, Zwingliana 15 (1981), 334-337.
44The literature on the subject is extensive. A selection
38Peter Stephens, The Place of Predestination in Zwingli includes Thomas J. Davis, This Is My Body: The Presence
and Bucer, Zwingliana 19 (1992), 393-410. of Christ in Reformation Thought (Grand Rapids, Mich.:
39 Schreiner, Are You Alone Wise?, 64. Baker Academic, 2008), 156-165, and his Discerning
the Body: The Eucharist and the Christian Social Body in
40 Ibid. Sixteenth Century Protestant Exegesis, Fides et Historia
37-38 (2005-6), 67-81; Lee Palmer Wandel, Eucharist in
the Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
42 Auslegen und Grnde der Schlureden, Z II 323, 13-14. 2006).

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Gordon 11

Such convenient or polemical labels tell us little be how, where, and what he wants.46 God acts
of how Zwingli understood memory (memoria). upon the inner person, leaving no salvific role
The term, derived from Platonism, does not mean for external elements such as water in baptism
mere recollection but a transformative, unifying and bread and wine in the Lords Supper.
experience in which temporal distance is over- The same principle was at work in Zwinglis
come as the believer is grafted into the body of understanding of baptism, which developed
Christ through the work of the Spirit. Far from in response to Anabaptist criticism that there
prosaic ritual, Zwingli advocated an almost mysti- is no scriptural warrant for infant baptism.
cal experience through his absolute distinction of For Zwingli, baptism was a rite of initiation,
Flesh and Spirit. The efficacy of the Eucharist can- a mark of entry into the church. However, in
not in any manner be dependent on human senses. no way was the ritual of washing with water,
Yet, the bread and wine of the Lords Supper, as a human act, to be confused with the work of
well as the water of baptism, are outward signs God. Baptism as a ritual does not summon God,
of faith that engage the senses and direct them to nor does it cause anything to happen. Like the
Christ. The bread and wine are symbols through Lords Supper, baptism was an outward expres-
which the Spirit works, thus they are beneficial sion of what God has already done in Christ.
only to those who receive them in faith. In them- The child enters the church not because he/she
selves they do not convey grace or impart faith. believes, but because God has already created
Zwingli was desperate to deny agency to a mate- a covenantal relationship with his church into
rial object. If we ask why, then we approach the which the child is initiated without any account
enigma of his character. of individual faith or merit.
Zwingli associated the senses with the The elect and reprobate of sixteenth-century
material and the cognitive with the spiritual, Zurich passed side by side through the doors
yet they were entirely separate. In a tradi- of Zwinglis church, sat together, heard scrip-
tional manner, Zwingli saw worship and ture read and preached, prayed, and received
prayer as movement from the senses to the the bread and wine as one congregation. The
contemplative. The Spirit works through out- Christian community in this world was a mixed
ward symbols (bread and wine on the table) body that would only be separated for eternity
to transform believers to purer contempla- by the judgement of God, who alone knows his
tion, to unity with the Church Universal. The chosen. Zwinglis godly city was not on a hill;
aesthetic of whitewashed churches was to it was an earthly Jerusalem.
draw the eye to the heart of the faith: table,
pulpit, baptismal font, and, above all, the
open Bible. Zwinglis liturgy was a narrative Conclusion
of salvation as the covenantal story of Gods Zwinglis contradictions and contrary
redemption of ancient Israel fulfilled on the impulses continue to perplex. A man brought
cross was brought into the immediate experi- to spiritual awakening by slaughter on the bat-
ence of worshipping men and women.45 The tlefield in Italy died on a Swiss battlefield. He
biblical account is not distant history, but the was a musician and poet who banished music
peoples story. and images from churches. He was a disciple
Zwingli saw Catholic and Lutheran teach- of Erasmus who advocated religious coer-
ing on the sacraments as an assault on Gods cion. His doctrine of the Lords Supper was
freedom. It divides his singular will, that is, to
46 Quotation from Joar Haga, Was there a Lutheran
45Scott A Gillies, Zwingli and the Origin of the Reformed Metaphysics? The Interpretation of communicatio
Covenant 1524-7, Scottish Journal of Theology 54 (2001), idiomatum in Early Modern Lutheranism (Gttingen:
21-50. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012), 36.

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12 The Expository Times

a sublime expression of the unity of the peo- No one anticipated Zwinglis demise in
ple with the church universal, yet his teach- October 1531. Sudden death always leaves
ing rent the veil of the Reformation. In many unanswered questions and work unfinished.
respects, Zwinglis enigmatic career stemmed Zwingli died in medias res, making it difficult
from an extraordinary and restless creativity to compare him with reformers like Luther,
during a brief period of years. He could inspire Calvin, and Melanchthon, who lived to develop
and infuriate. He built church reform around their work over many decades. Had Zwingli,
a circle of friends, yet those who challenged like his contemporary Luther, lived fifteen more
him were driven out. We find in Zwingli the years, how different might things have looked?
force and limitations of the early Reformation: We can only speculate. There was no sign
the brilliance of transformative ideas, the rhe- that the torrent of his publications would have
torical force of voices from the pulpit, and slowed. At the same time, there was evidence
the vision of a purer church and community. that he was losing his hold on Zurich. Perhaps
Yet, never far away were costly political com- his future was exile. One of the ponderables of
promises, an inability to deal with opposing the Reformation is: what if, in October 1531,
voices, and the rocky marriage of prophetic the reformer of Zurich had heeded the advice of
authority and institutional church. friends and stayed at home?

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