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Book 16 - Switzerland - Catastrophe (1528-1531)

A History of the Reformation in the 16th Century

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For a full treatment of the Reformation, see my work: The Reformation Made Easy – C. Matthew McMahon.

Book 16 – Switzerland – Catastrophe (1528-1531)

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 16, Chapter 1

As the Reformation advanced, its desire was to advance without force but with the spiritual weapons of the Word of God and the Spirit of God. The sword cannot place men into the kingdom of Christ. The Spirit of God must do this through regeneration. However, arms and diplomacy began to infiltrate the Reformation surrounding Zwingli. He felt that it was important to not only deal with spiritual questions, but also questions of the state. He decided it was his lot to help promote alliances and liberty through the evangelical states.

The Roman Catholics despised the alliances between the states. The evangelicals set the Catholics that sat on city councils at check on many fronts. Various other cantons were forced to consider the evangelical course and Thurgovia and Rheinthal also voted under some duress to have Gospel preaching throughout their cities. In opposition to the alliances being made, Austria made negotiations with some of the cantons to aid them in turning to the German monarch for support instead of these alliances. Zurich held a conference in order to discuss the matter and sent a representative to the mountain cantons in order to help alleviate the matter. Zwingli wanted to give them an ultimatum, but Berne thought that would provoke civil war. Unfortunately tension mounted and a nearby pastor (Keyser) traveling with his family was arrested and burnt alive by the Catholic influences there.

Zwingli spoke out against this and encouraged the people not to fear to take up arms against such intolerable cruelty.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 16, Chapter 2

Zwingli believed that if he could crush the Catholic mountain rebellion and alliance with Austria, that there would finally be free preaching throughout Switzerland. The discontented evangelicals found solace in Zwingli, the reformer and political advisor. Though he was summoning the people to be forceful against their enemies, he thought this was acceptable since he only had the freedom of the Gospel in mind.

Anthony ab Acker was sent to Baden with an army of five hundred men and Zurich responded with tumult. Men everywhere began raising up arms. Four thousand men gathered under Captain George Beruer at Cappel. This stirred the councils and they petitioned Zwingli to not go to war with the Romish cantons, but Zwingli did not want to sit idly by and watch the Romans amass an army against the Gospel. Men were amassing in various cantons ready to go to blows with the Catholics. The first division of Zurich of two thousand men were ready to march under the command of William Toming. Before setting out, Aebli, a landamman of Glaris rode up with news. Five cantons are ready to march with you, but Aebli believed he could obtain peace so that the towns would not be overrun with war. Aebli retuned to Zug and the army stood down, believing Aebli was an honorable man and spoke sincerely. If bloodshed could be averted this would the way history should follow. Aebli’s message retuned, and the cantons would not find peace, but were ready to fight.

A conference was to be heard between the two armies. Delegates went hoping to avert the battle. A treaty was made June 26, 1529, but only liberty of conscience was gained and not the free preaching of the Gospel that Zwingli hoped for.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 16, Chapter 3

Although liberty of conscience was breaking forth, that meant that those of the evangelical persuasion had power to enact reforms in the cities that still needed reformation. In Schaffhausen they removed the “God” set in her church and replaced him with the Bible, ridding them of the Romish mass. In Zurzack evangelicals marched into the church while a priest was preaching, and Tufel stopped him. The priest ran out of the church and the images were torn down in the church. Tufel’s name meant “devil” and the Roman Catholics believed the devil has entered the canton and sparked that aspect of the Reformation there. The forest cantons also moved towards reformation under the preaching of Fridolin Brunner. And the villages of Schwanden and Ruti, high mountain villages, were transformed by the vote of the people against the mass. Finally in the suburbs of Appenzell in Rhodes, reform took place, but Catholic dissenters were afraid that it would carry over the Alps into Italy.

In looking at the Swiss reformation on Italy, nothing could be more glorious than the translation of the Bible into Italian. A monk of the Augustinian order named Egidio a Porta struggled with the Reformation for a long time and believed God told him to finally approach Zwingli and he would tell him what to do. Zwingli told him to translate the Bible into Italian and he would have it published. Egidio accomplished this at the end of 1526 and he desired the full reformation of Italy.

As much as cantons were reforming slowly, the Catholics were also gaining cities and members to their cause as well. Zurich attentively watched the progress of these cantons, and the two parties widened the breach created even more extensively.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 16, Chapter 4

The Reformation had taken a turn towards political involvement, and Zwingli could think of nothing other than a Christian State to rise up. Some people believe that Zwingli’s political career was the height of his fame, but those acknowledging the Biblical manner of freedom see this involvement in the state as his greatest downfall. Zwingli played the reformer as well as the magistrate. He even met with Phillip of Hesse, he who was overcome by the sword at Augsburg, and agreed that this course of action in politics was the right course for the Swiss reformation.

Berne raised its voice against the idea of a Christian state, thinking that an alliance with Phillip of Hesse and the evangelical states would be dangerous. However, Zwingli viewed the alliance between Charles and Clement as a grave problem, and unless the Catholic influence was overthrown once and for all in Switzerland, the Reformation would be over.

Zwingli agitated the various cantons and cities against one another which caused an uproar all though Switzerland because of his views politically. Zurich then made a declaration that one who rejects the emperor would reject the Pope as well, thus the empire should be rejected. Zwingli saw Charles as a tyrant, and that the people, as a unified whole, should oppose him. At Marburg both Zwingli and Phillip of Hesse drew up an alliance against the emperor.

Zwingli’s preaching shifted to politics. He did not only desire the free proclamation of the Gospel through Switzerland, but he desired to see the country transformed politically as well. This became the focus of his preaching and influence.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 16, Chapter 5

The authorities of the cantons thought that creating religious liberty through means of war was dangerous. Zwingli’s plans for reform in this manner did not go over well at a Diet held at Arau. Zurich and Berne simply could not give in to killing their brothers, the Waldstettes, and then proclaiming the Gospel, for those who died would have their fates sealed. Zwingli continued to preach for the reconstruction of the state, but the Christian in him soon diminished and all that was left was the patriot.

Moved by Zwingli’s preaching, the cities of Zurich, Berne, and others, decided to shut off supplies to the cantons that were opposing them. Interestingly enough, when such discord was streaming through the country, it was not Switzerland that was an attempted remedy but France and its intervention in this regard. Zurich intervened over France in the Five Cantons and told them that if the free preaching of the Word was allowed, then they would give aid. France, secretly, though, told them they would come to their aid, and that they could not allow the free preaching of the Word as Zurich understood it.

The five Cantons opposed Zurich and Berne, and a Diet held there stood their ground. Zurich and Berne pressed the cantons to acknowledge that in persecuting the ministers and burning one at the stake, they were violating the treaty on the liberty of free conscience that had been drawn up.
Zwingli saw that the Reformation was in danger, but what could he do to stop its destruction? War was the only answer. He preached in Zurich stating that unless the Council followed his advice, he would step down as reformer.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 16, Chapter 6

The Five Cantons opposed to the Reformation decided to hold a Diet at Lucerne and voted for war. Zurich was asleep and the Waldstettes were strategizing for war against their patriotic brothers. The rumor of war broke out over the land, and when it reached Zwingli he did not believe it. But in four days rumor had it that Zurich would be attacked by these cantons in a civil war.

Zwingli preached on October 8th for the last time. A messenger interrupted the sermon and brought news that the Cantons were indeed assembled and ready to make war the next day. Zurich and their allies marched into the surrounding town and entered the deserted churches tearing down the images and idols as they marched closer to the battle at Lucerne.

The ever-marching Five Cantons frightened the other Swiss allies. Some smaller regiments were dispatched under various leaders hoping to meet the enemy while on route. It seems that Cappel would be the place where the battle met. Zwingli parted with his family knowing he would not return. He actually preached this many days prior stating that all of this hardship took place to accomplish his death. Not only just in Zwingli’s, but in every house there was lamentation and weeping. There were not enough men gathered together to fight effectively, and those who were going to battle knew it. They should have had four thousand men, but so far, only seven hundred had gathered to fight in the critical place where the enemy would show his face.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 16, Chapter 7

Though the Five Cantons were ready to attack Cappel, the city itself was still in a state of mild confusion. They had not assembled properly and were attempting to have their army in order, and the stations of the men were being plotted along with the artillery stations around the battlefield. The Five Cantons moved into Zug and they stopped to take an oath of war there. The small number of men in Cappel saw the oath bound Cantons marching forward and prepared to fight them, though outnumbered. Zwingli, upon his march with the army of Zurich to the location of Cappel, even prayed to heaven that God would intervene and deliver those men.

At noon a council at Cappel desired to convene in hopes of peace, but there was no time for this. At one o’clock the Cantons fired the first shot against the citizens of Cappel. Shots were fired throughout the next two hours, and the army of Zurich, of whom Zwingli marched, finally came to the aid of her bothers who were already engaged in battle. The plan was to send small bands of men at various stages of the battle through to meet the enemy and stop them in order to overpower their advancement. The five Cantons did not fully advance but simply continued to fire shots over into the city and the surrounding forests. Cappel thought that the full advancement and strike of the Five Canton army would happen the next day. However, some impertinent men on the side of Cappel forced the hand of the Five Cantons and they readied their whole army to advance in a single blow at that very hour.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 16, Chapter 8

The squirmishes that were taking place in milieu gun fire now changed. The Five Cantons fired in union upon the battlements of Cappel and the full advancement of the enemy’s army move forward to attack. The army used the woods for cover and slowly advanced firing against Cappel. The armies moved forward while at the same time sending in squirmishes to fight and disrupt the stations and men of Cappel.

John Kammli charged with holding the defense of the standards, was overtaken when his lines were thinned out. The most distinguished men of Zurich fell one after the other as the enemy, swift and sound of military strategy, advanced upon them. The enemy was victorious at every turn, and they were even allowing the men they were attacking to surrender at certain points since their victories were so thorough.

Zwingli was at his post, but was struck by a stone hurled by the enemy, in the head. He rose again but was struck two others in the legs that toppled him. “They may kill the body, but they cannot kill the soul.” These were Zwingli’s last words. He fell back in a meadow by a tree and there he lay incapacitated. Two soldiers were advancing through the field and came upon Zwingli. Captain Fockinger saw Zwingli lying there and had heard his last words, recognizing it was Zwingli. He raised his sword and cut Zwingli across the neck and killed him shouting “Die heretic, die.” Zwingli was forty eight years old when he died on the battlefield.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 16, Chapter 9

Zwingli was dead. Zurich was in an uproar and the people were panicking. The Catholics would not overrun the cantons and set up popery once again, in as many places as they could. The people feared for the lives of those ministers still alive. They hid Leo Juda in a town home fearing for his life. Myconius had found out that Zwingli had been killed and his cry “Zwingli is no more!” echoed through the city. The city held a funeral and Leo Juda orated the eulogy.

The moment Ferdinand found out that Zwingli had fallen, he was overcome with joy and sent news to king Charles of the victory. The Pope sent more troops to reinforce such a victory at Cappel. They arrived in Zug and joined with their Catholic brothers. They overran Cappel and desired to setup the papacy against the city, and in fact, in all of Christendom. However, this presumption was just that – presumption. The Gospel already disseminated throughout the country would not allow the false hopes the enemy to raise it head for long, and God would be glorified by the work that was about to take place, even though Zwingli was dead.

However, humanly speaking, all seemed a bitter catastrophe. The evangelical army was slowly disbanded. The Five Cantons called for a council and meeting, and Zurich attended. They were instructed to attempt to keep the faith as much as they could. In the meeting many of the smaller cantons were given over to the Five, and Zurich pressed for the faith to remain established in its respective cities. Zurich had only preserved the faith, but the strength of force was still a threat upon them. The treaty was finished there and peace seemed to loom in the air.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 16, Chapter 10

“The restoration of popery immediately commenced in Switzerland.” The altars, the idols, the images, and the mass were reestablished in many of the smaller cantons that had formally threw them off. The army of the Five Cantons continued secretly to overthrow small cities and all over the countryside Catholic churches were reestablished.

Though such Catholic influences were again rearing their head, the Reformation was more concerned with the death of Zwingli. Oecolampadius was exceedingly saddened at the loss of his friend, and spoke highly of him in commemoration of the enduring work he accomplished on behalf of the Gospel. At the same time the plague came to Basle and Oecolampadius caught it. The people feared for his life. He called for his children and talked with them about the everlasting glories of Christ, and that night, he gave up his life.

Zwingli and Oecolampadius were now dead and the church was twice stricken with grief in a short time. Even Luther in Germany was moved at their deaths. He said, “Their death filled me with such intense sorrow, that I was near dying myself.” If this was all not enough, Henry Bullinger had been ill treated in Bremgarten and was forced to flee.

The Reformation was hindered to a great extent for taking the path of war instead of fighting with the spiritual weapons of the word and prayer. God intervened with those who would try to erect a spiritual kingdom by carnal means. His plan though was not to simply cast down Switzerland, but raise up others who would later take the torch of Reformation and carry it further than Zwingli had done.

Bible Verse:

“I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless,” (Gen. 17:1).

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