Monday, January 19, 2009

Forgotten Reformer #1: Ulrich Zwingli

I will just start this out by talking about Ulrich Zwingli. Now Zwingli is hardly a forgotten Reformer, but he is one that serves more as a punching bag today than how he ought to be treated: as the man who started the Reformation.

Now, I know that Luther is generally considered the guy who started the Reformation, and that in 1517 he posted those 95 Theses and kicked off the Reformation. However, Reformed histories spend way too much time on Luther. Go read the 95 Theses. They are not really even reformed. There were thousands of Romanists who thought indulgences were bad. Luther just wanted to improve the morality, but the Pope saw it as a challenge and the rest is history. That document is only implicitly Protestant and there is good evidence that Luther himself did not yet realize the direction he had set. Zwingli on the other hand knew exactly what he was doing. One of the reasons he does not the get the credit he deserves is because there is not one big event like the Theses you can point to as a jump start. Usually it is pointed out that Zwingli started preaching straight through the Bible and abandoned the Romanist method of preaching in 1519 or the Affair of Sausages in 1522 where he rejected Lenten fasting. However, Zwingli was Reformed before he ever reached Zurich. In 1516 he was preaching in a town called Einsiedeln. This town had a Shrine to Mary to which people made pilgrimages. It was therefore a great economic support to the town. Yet, Zwingli preached against pilgrimages and “Judaizing ceremonies” of the Romish church. He preached Christ was the only mediator and probably other evangelical doctrines making Zwingli the first Reformer. Unlike Luther, Zwingli started out going to the heart of the matter, not puttering around the edges with indulgences.

Zwingli also reformed not just the town of Zurich, but the entire canton. He did this in several ways. First, he instituted a preaching service on market day so that the farmers could also hear the word of God. Second, he hired good men to staff the Zurich Academy and help him preach in the town’s four churches. Men like Leo Juda and Casper Hedio were among his first helpers in Zurich. Third, they together translated the Bible into German so that everyone could have the Word of God. Of course the Zurich Bible was completed five years before Luther finished his. Fourth, Zwingli put good young men into the country churches. Men like Henrich Bullinger started out in the small towns in the canton of Zurich. Bullinger started in the town of Kappel, later famous for the battles and treaties signed there. In this way, Zwingli spread the Reformation to all. Zurich became the leading light of the Reformation. When the other cantons tried to reform they turned to Zurich for help.

Zwingli today is best known for his view of the sacraments. Except the problem is that his view is mangled and misrepresented. Zwinglianism is basically a synonym for Memorialism today. Yet, Zwingli did not hold to Memorialism. Zwingli clearly disagreed with Luther and would not go that far, but he was not a mere memorialist. He held the sacraments truly aided our faith when partaken rightly. Don’t forget that Calvin went to Zurich when he was thinking over the sacraments. It was to Bullinger that Calvin wrote to gain clarity on the subject. It was Bullinger who drew up the Consensus Tigurinus, which both Zurich and Geneva signed. Bullinger’s views were not that different from his mentors. If they had been the signing of that document would have caused an uproar in Zurich. It can be assumed that Zwingli’s views were faithfully represented in that document.

Zwingli is not a “forgotten” or “unknown” reformer, but he is one that does not receive the credit that is due his name. This is not to say that Zwingli is perfect. He clearly made a better pastor than politician, and his rush to arms cost him his life. Yet, Zwingli gets very little attention. Take for example the book, The Reformation Era by Harold Grimm. This book gives 155 pages to Luther, and at least 47 to Calvin by himself. Zwingli merits 13. He garners six more if you give Zwingli credit for the Marburg Colloquy with Luther. This sort of treatment of Zwingli is normal perhaps even better than normal. It is high time we start seeing Zwingli in a better light and acknowledge him as the starter of the Reformed Reformation.


Ray Fisher said...

this is the first article that I came across over the internet that hit Zwingli right, thanks for writing this, I'm posting it to my FB. I think it would be great to write up a Reformation Day tract from a Reformed standpoint and emphasize Zwingli and his brave work in Zurich. If you have written up anything longer on Zwingli i would be interested to read it. I've been calling him the Rodney Dangerfield of the Reformers for years ;-) I correct "reformed" pastors & others every chance I get on their view of the so called "zwinglian" view of the Lord's supper.