Select Page

Book 8 - The Swiss (1484-1522)

A History of the Reformation in the 16th Century

Today, many Christians are turning back to the puritans to, “walk in the old paths,” of God’s word, and to continue to proclaim old truth that glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no new theology. In our electronic age, more and more people are looking to add electronic books (ePubs, mobi and PDF formats) to their library – books from the Reformers and Puritans – in order to become a “digital puritan” themselves. Take a moment to visit Puritan Publications (click the banner below) to find the biggest selection of rare puritan works updated in modern English in both print form and in multiple electronic forms. There are new books published every month. All proceeds go to support A Puritan’s Mind.

Book 8 – The Swiss (1484-1522)

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 8, Chapter 1

The Reformation was not due to Germany’s influence over all Europe. At the same time that Luther was nailing his Theses to the door in Wittenberg, Switzerland, the democratic canton controlled country, was also having a Reformation of its own. The Reformation, then, is a direct result of the providence of God in its timing over the countries affected by the light of the Gospel. Ulrich Zwingli, a Swiss reformer, began preaching the good news of the Gospel in 1516, before Luther’s name was ever heard in Germany or anywhere else. Influential men used by God in this Swiss movement were Wittenbach, Zwingli, Capito, Haller, Oecolampadius, Myconius, Leo Juda, Farel, and John Calvin.

In Germany Luther was the monarch who ruled over the Gospel as it went forth into the darkness of that country. In Switzerland the distribution of the Gospel moved very differently, demonstrating the sovereignty of God over revival. It was cultivated by different men in different cantons all across the country. In Germany Luther was the Reformation. In Switzerland the Reformation spread differently, but started with Ulrich Zwingli.

Zwingli was born in 1484 to a family that lived in Wildhaus, not far from the town parish where he would spend much of his time listening to conversations between the bailiff and elders of the parish. He was interested in his country and Switzerland was something dear to his heart, for which he would rise to defend her if needs be. He was a shepherd, as was his father, and all his brothers.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 8, Chapter 2

Ulrich was sent to Wessen to receive schooling. He had an inordinate love of the truth, and was studious. He quickly outgrew the level of competency and was transferred to Basel. Again, he outgrew the school quickly and heaped up the jealousies of his peers. Lupulus, a scholar, opened a school at Berne, and the bailiff of Wildhaus and the priest of Wesen resolved to send Zwingli there since it would be more challenging to his intellect.

In 1507 a young man named Jetzer, a Dominican monk, began to see ghostly apparitions; one from purgatory and then later, Mary herself. He seemed to mimic the positions of the cross, often foamed at the mouth, and appeared as dead many times as his brother Dominican. This caused a great stir in Berne. Three others began to see these same apparitions, but the Pope intervened. These men were found wanting, and they were burned at the stake in 1509. This event, as horrible as it was, laid the foundation of threshing the floor for Zwingli to escape the hands of such men at the school.

Zwingli went to Vienna to study philosophy after finishing his studies at Berne. He went back to Basal to study literature and received a Masters of Arts there while also teaching in Saint Martin’s school. Zwingli would now apply himself to the study of divinity. Thomas Wittembach, a teacher at Tubingen, arrived at Basle and began teaching a new kind of study following classical studies instead of Medieval scholasticism. Zwingli and his friends (including Leo Juda) followed this teaching eagerly. Zwingli was ordained in 1506, preached in Rapperswyl, read his first mass at Wildhaus, and at the end of the year arrived at Glarus.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 8, Chapter 3

Zwingli was consumed with his work with his new parish. He was given fifty florins by the Pope to continue in his literary studies. Schinner, a cardinal at this time who was hungry for the Pope’s throne, influenced Zwingli because of his range of power and quick movements in the ranks of the Catholic Church. Zwingli, impressed by this man, attached himself to him. However, he began to see first hand the abuses of the church and published a work called The Labyrinth in 1510 speaking against this in poetic form.

He accompanied Schinner to Italy and began to study the Greek language with resolve to know how to translate the New Testament effectively. The basis of the Reformation of Zwingli surrounded knowing how to exegete from the original languages proficiently. He also began to understand and stand upon the infallible authority of the Holy Scripture above all else. He began comparing scripture with scripture and stood on the fact that clear passages should interpret unclear passages. He did not intend to throw away the early doctors of the church, but desired to use the Scriptures as the guide as to what they were right and wrong about. He was simply being a good exegete.

As with the other Reformers of the day, and those soon to come, Zwingli also studied the classic Greek and Roman writers. He believed God’s influence extended over the whole face of the earth and as a result desired to read the best literature to date. Such a self-education would later prepare him for both good exegesis in Greek and sound skills of rhetoric which he will exercise for the truth.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 8, Chapter 4

Erasmus influenced Zwingli greatly. Each time Erasmus would write and publish something, Zwingli bought it. Zwingli desired to meet the man and upon happenstance did in 1514 when Erasmus came to Basle. Many students came to see the celebrated Erasmus, and at this meeting Zwingli spied a young man named Oswald Myconius.

Myconius studied at Rothwyl and then became a rector of Saint Theodore’s school and afterwards of St. Peter’s. He married a young woman and remained happily with her. Soldiers returning from war brought with them their bad habits of licentiousness and knocked on Oswald’s door, then began throwing rocks, ultimately robbing him. Angered at this he attacked the soldiers and was wounded in the process. He was not a violent man, but rather, an intellectual man. Oswald’s thirst for knowledge brought him into contact with Zwingli, who praised him for his integrity, as did Erasmus.

At the same time Oswald was being noticed, another arrived named John Hausschein, in Greek known as Oecolampadius. He was born of rich parents, studied law in Bologna, and God directed him to then study divinity and theology. He was preaching in his native town when Wolfgang Capito, who he had met in while in Heidelberg, got him appointed as a preacher at Basle.

Zwingli saw the abuses of the church clearly but did not preach directly against them. Instead he worked his way through preaching the Bible and allowed it to work its way into the hearts men. 1516 seemed to be Zwingli’s starting point for Reformation.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 8, Chapter 5

Zwingli was invited to be priest and preacher in Einsidlen. While here we was invited to stay at the monastery which Conrad Rechberg had begun and was sustained by Theobald of Geroldsek. Zwingli conversed often with Theobald, who would later die with him on the battlefield, and it was here that his theology took a more full shape against the Roman Church and the Pope. He memorized the New Testament as well as parts of the Old Testament.
In this monastery Zwingli completed his education as a reformer. He abhorred the abuses of the Catholic Church and resolved to voice against them boldly. He preached regularly in the chapel at Einsidlen where people heard him with both gladness and shock. He spoke with both Cardinal Schinner and Pucci with the same resolve of seeing the Catholic Church reformed. The corruption must be stopped. Many of the Swiss cantons were already disgusted with the Catholic Church and were at a breaking point. Zwingli was simply pushing this to fruition. He was not as outspoken as Luther, but preached the truth of the Word and allowed it to run its course.

Men in various cantons began to find friendship with Zwingli based on his views of the truth and against the Catholic Church. The cantons of Glaris, Basle and Schwytz sided with him. Also, Oswald Myconius became a dear friend to him at this point. He quitted Basle and took up the citadel in Zurich. He followed Zwingli’s lead in teaching men the classics and the ancients, helping them understand the Scriptures.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 8, Chapter 6

A pivotal post became vacant in Zurich, and Myconius saw this as a providence to again set Zwingli to the task. Rome would not look kindly on having this new Reformer stationed in such a major canton. They sent a number of priests to the canton in order to apply for the position. However, Myconius pressed the delegates to consider Zwingli as perfect for the position. Zwingli decided to go and meet with those in authority, and Myconius again pressed his character and abilities to the council. On December 11th he was voted in by a majority of seventeen votes. Einsidlen was saddened at their loss and the news of the nomination. However, it was providence that brought Zwingli to the center of political interests in Switzerland.

Zwingli was instructed on his duties when he arrived formally in order to curb his innovative spirit. However, he was dismayed that everything was continually done for the gain of money to the church. He laid the foundation of Reformation in Switzerland by preaching from the whole of the Gospels and not just fragments for certain holy days. He began with Matthew and moved through the book expositing it line by line which was quite radical for the day. He pressed upon them the need for holy living, repentance, and the authority of the Scriptures to bind their consciences for all of life. Myconius had never seen such a man speak with so much authority. However, it was not Zwingli who was the authority, but the Holy Scriptures he was implementing on a wayward people. Zwingli remained indefatigable in his study and labored over the word for the cause of Christ and for the edification of the people.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 8, Chapter 7

Indulgences were slowly being brought to Zurich by the hand of Samson. He was forbidden to enter Berne but was able to make his way into the city secretly by friends he had there. He made it to the main chapel where he addressed the people to recite certain prayers in order to be freed from purgatory, which also included the buying of indulgences. Even though he was heckled by some who knew the truth, the superstitions overran the people and they followed the monk’s lead.

Samson traveled through Argovia and Baden with his pockets filled with money, and pressed on towards Zurich. At the end of February he arrived at Bremgarten, where he met with Dean Bullinger. In this house, though, he had a son named Henry, who would later be the cause of much reformation. At twelve years old he went singing from door to door to earn money, as Luther did, and at age sixteen he opened up the New Testament for the first time and found salvation there.

As Zwingli saw the monk coming closer to Zurich with indulgences, he preached fervently against it, not through attacking the indulgences, but by magnifying the work of Jesus Christ and His atonement for sin. The Helvetic Diet, in siding with Zwingli for the most part, recoiled Samson at the gates of the city instructing him that he ought not enter. Samson pressed on in and entered the Diet, spoke of papal bulls against those who would rival the Pope, but was dismissed because of the need to withdraw the decree of excommunication that he pronounced on the Dean of Bremgarten for disagreeing with him and being sympathetic to the changes in Switzerland.

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

Zwingli pressed on in his studies and continued to preach and teach the Word of God with fervor. The Lord was prospering his work and his fame grew throughout all Switzerland. However, the devil was at work, and the plague struck. When news reached him of the incoming pestilence, it was already too late and Zwingli had been touched by it. It seemed as though he was so sick that he would never rise again from his bed. The city of Zurich was filled with anxiety and distress over the number of lives it was claiming, as well as it touching their prince of preachers. However, after a time, the sovereignty of God’s providence saw to it that Zwingli would recover and he began to grow well again.

After his recovery, as soon as he had the strength, Zwingli wrote to his family informing them that he had survived. The plague itself, though, was used by God in the conversion of many souls distressed about their eternal condition after seeing such horrors as the pestilence raging through the countryside.

Myconius, upon being invited back to his homeland of Lucerne, decided to leave. Zwingli and Myconius wept about his leaving. Zwingli said that the departure of his friend was more terrible than the plague itself. As the plague made him weak, so the leaving of Myconius enfeebled his mind and distressed him for a time. But the arrival of an old friend named Bunzli, who had been Zwingli’s instructor at Basle, consoled him greatly.
At this same time Capito was invited to Mentz to appear in the court there as an authority, and Conrad Grebel, a future Anabaptist dissenter, began to rise on the scene.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 8, Chapter 9

Zwingli held to the same convictions and truths as Luther, but Zwingli held to a faith that depended on deep reasoning. He was especially attracted to the intricacies and harmony of the Biblical doctrines and how they coalesced. The key to understanding the history of salvation was the fall of Adam and the circumstances surrounding that epoch of man. His preaching reflected the need to discuss the depravity of man, and the people who listened to his preaching regularly were horrified that men were in such a miserable condition. Thus, Zwingli preached again the false power of human works in salvation. He then began to trace arguments surrounding the will of man how such a will operated under depravity and divine grace.

Zwingli centered his preaching around the doctrines of God’s grace in Christ and the election of the people of God in the decreed council of God’s will based on Christ’s work. Zwingli commented that if Luther preaches Jesus Christ then “he is doing what I am doing.” In doing this the uniformity of the two Reformers can only be explained by true revival based on the sovereignty of God. No two men, in such a dark estate, at the same time, could have come up with preaching these doctrines if it were not for the grace of Jesus Christ and the working of the Spirit of God.

Zwingli needed help in this reformation and Staheli and Luti came to his side to be his friends forever. Yet, even in the midst of consolation of friends, and powerful preaching, the Roman monks were plotting against the reformer to do him harm, as well as those who followed him. An old man named Galster had found the truth in Zwingli’s preaching, was tracked down by order of the Roman council, caught and beheaded.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 8, Chapter 10

The Lord raised up another helper for Zwingli named Haller, a young man about twenty-eight years old, but somewhat timid. Zwingli encouraged him to stand steadfast for the faith, and he was a preacher in the cathedral in Bernese. Zwingli, by this encouragement succeeded in his strengthening of the young man, and he preached fervently for the cause of the Gospel throughout his appointed canton.

In Lucerne the Gospel met with many obstacles, and the senate was called to discuss the matters arising in the city. Adversaries called Zwingli Lutheran, hoping to stir up the senate. He was called a seducer of children and the youth of the country. But although difficulties remained in Lucerne, in Zurich the Gospel flourished under Zwingli’s preaching.

In 1521, Zwingli was engaged in studying the fathers of the church, and there, in the lecture hall he found Henry Bullinger listening. Bullinger felt a call to follow the example of Zwingli in his Gospel preaching and reformation. Another young man also became highly influenced by Zwingli names Gerold Meyer whom Zwingli sent to Mentz to preach there. And while Zwingli was affecting young men and old, out of the lowliest of chapels in Basle another voice was heard – that of Wolfgang Wissemburger, the son of a councilor of state. Though the monks in that city opposed him, he continued to preach the sound truth of the Christian faith, and placed Basle upon the map of Reformation.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 8, Chapter 11

Zwingli not only preached the Gospel, but he began to draw distinctions between the teaching of men and the teaching of the Bible. Human tradition cannot stand up against the authority of the Word. He attacked fasting days, meat days, and all manners of superstitions that the Catholic Church had developed over its long tyranny.

While Lent was ensuing, and Zwingli was preaching against such superstitions, Faber, zealous for the papacy, began opposing Zwingli’s work. April 7, 1522 three ecclesiastical deputies from the bishop of Constance entered Zurich to oppose Zwingli as well. They gathered the clergy of the city in order to lord over them their views against such reformation and to have the clergy submit to the authority of the Pope. At this point the Reformation in Switzerland was at its height of danger. The council of the city, two hundred, could in fact follow these bishops into oblivion and overthrow the clergy of the city. They attempted to keep Zwingli out of the conference, though he tried to enter at every turn. They summoned him, Engelhard and Roeschli to appear before the court.

The Bishops attempted to overthrow the work of Zwingli in terms of his disruption of Lent, and the need to disregard eating certain food as necessary. Zwingli, though, at a crucial point in the council and debate, stood up and said that his work had been a product of the Spirit of God working in the canton, and that Christ is the foundation of the church, not Peter (which was a direct attack against the papacy). The coadjutor blushed and remained silent. This bought Zwingli, and the reformation time. The council broke without making a decision, and it seemed the council was simply buying time against the Roman ambassadors, but they favored Zwingli in the end.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 8, Chapter 12

Luther had written to Zwingli and commended him on the work he was accomplishing for the sake of the Gospel. Though encouragements came from like-minded brothers, at least at this time, others were plotting Zwingli’s demise. Assassins were waiting for him, and he was providentially warned by someone not to go there. God was watching over Zwingli.

The Bishop of Constance drew up a mandate against Zwingli stating that he was reviving doctrines that had already been condemned. Zwingli wrote back with a great blow in his work Archeteles. After this the Bishop did not further pursue the mandate. Zwingli, with one swoop of his pen had struck the mandate to the ground.

In Zurich there was still one more place where the light of Gospel had not yet entered. It was a Dominican nunnery. There the council sent Zwingli to make a visit and to spread the good news of Christ, which he happily did.

While Zwingli was visiting the nunnery, the Swiss canton of Schwytz had been struck down in a battle at the Bicocca. They had made a desperate charge against the enemy and did not overcome. Zwingli wrote to the Schwytz canton and encouraged them not to take up foreign arms in this way. However, the Schwytz canon was overrun with those opposed to Zwingli and became the canton most vehemently against the work that Zwingli was trying to accomplish for the Reformation, and for the good of this country which he loved with a deep love.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 8, Chapter 13

Francis Lambert arrived in Zurich on July 12th looking for Zwingli. He was a friend of the reformation, or so it seemed, and Zwingli allowed him to preach in the chapel since he insisted he followed the writings of Luther. He preached four sermons against Rome, but in his last he upheld the invocation of Mary and the saints. Zwingli exclaimed that he was greatly mistaken. They agreed to meet in order to discuss this and when Zwingli had finished leading him through aspects of both the Old Testament and New Testament Lambert exclaimed how blessed he was to received such a knowledge of the truth.

Oswald Myconius saw that Lucerne was against him and he was not consoled. He was sent help, though, providentially, in a man named Conrad Schmidt of Kussnacht who preached and proclaimed the truth of the Word against Rome. However, the people did not respond well to either Myconius or Conrad. They seemed to have stopped up their ears. What would God’s response be to such a people?

In 1521 another young man named Appenzel (Walter Klarer by name) returned from the university of Paris to his home canton. He read some of Luther’s works and began to preach the Gospel mightily.

At this same time Zwingli decided to secretly marry a woman named Anna Reinhardt, the widow of Meyer von Knonau, Gerold’s mother. From Zwingli’s arrival she had been one of his most faithful listeners. His secrecy to this marriage seems awkward knowing his resolve in so many other areas.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 8, Chapter 14

In 1522 a meeting of the clergy in Einsidlen took place. Here they gathered to break off the human yoke of tradition to fortify the propagation of the Gospel and of divine things. Zwingli said that a petition should be enacted that allowed preachers in every canton to preach the Gospel unhindered, as well as abolishing celibacy that was binding upon all priests. Everyone consented to these things. Among the signers of this declaration were Zwingli, Myconius, Heido, Capito, Oecolampadius, Meyer, Hoffmeister and Vanner. It marks a harmonious time in the Swiss Reformation where all of these men acted as one.

The banner of truth was lifted high in the city of Einsidlen. These clergy appealed to the heads of the state and of the Church. They advertised their letter at the gates of the Episcopal palace and of the national council. The men left full of encouragement and went back to their respective pulpits under the watchful eye of God’s providence.

Just days after this, the magistrates of Zurich had to begin contending with Conrad Grebel and Claus Hottinger – Anabaptism dissenters. It was in Lucerne that their commotion would be the greatest.

Amidst strife from within and without Zwingli was personally attacked by vicious rumors. Unfortunately these rumors made their way to Wildhaus where his family heard of them. This struck Zwingli in his heart the most. He wrote to them appealing to the need to follow Jesus Christ at all cost, no matter how slanderous the enemy would become.

Offsite Banner Ad:

Help Support APM

Search the Site

Reformed Theology at A Puritan's Mind