Friday, 8 February 2013

Church History (full-time), 8.2: Reformation readings: Luther, Calvin and Zwingli

A politically and confessionally divided Europe in the mid-16th century

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Church History Elective (TH 7864)

Friday 8 February 2013, 10 a.m.:

8.2:
Reformation readings: Luther, Calvin and Zwingli

Introduction:

Martin Luther … posted his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517

1, Martin Luther (1483-1546):

Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a German monk, priest, professor of theology and seminal figure of the Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God’s punishment for sin could be purchased with money or secured through a believer’s good works. He confronted the sale of indulgences with his 95 Theses in 1517. His refusal to retract all of his writings at the demand of Pope Leo X in 1520 and the Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521 resulted in his excommunication.

Luther taught that salvation is not earned by good deeds but received only as a free gift of God’s grace through faith in Christ as redeemer from sin. His theology challenged the authority of the Pope by teaching that the Bible is the only source of divinely revealed knowledge and opposed sacerdotalism by considering all baptised Christians to be [art of the holy priesthood.

His translation of the Bible into the vernacular made it more accessible, and had a tremendous impact on the Church and on German culture. It fostered the development of a standard version of the German language, added several principles to the art of translation, and influenced the translation into English of the King James Version of the Bible. His hymns influenced the development of singing in churches. His marriage to Katharina von Bora set a model for the practice of clerical marriage, allowing clergy to marry.

In his later years, while suffering from several illnesses and deteriorating health, Luther became increasingly antisemitic, so that these views have contributed to his controversial status.

The locus classicus of Martin Luther’s doctrine of salvation by faith alone is found in the ‘Introduction’ he wrote to Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, as part of Luther’s famous translation of the Bible of 1522. It is worth reading the passage in which Luther defines what he means by “faith”:

Martin Luther’s Definition of Faith:

An excerpt from ‘An Introduction to Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans,’ Luther’s German Bible of 1522, by Martin Luther (1483-1546), translated by the Revd Robert E. Smith from Martin Luther’s Vermischte Deutsche Schriften, Johann K. Irmischer (ed), vol. 63, (Erlangen: Heyder and Zimmer, 1854), pp 124-125, August 1994.

Faith is not what some people think it is. Their human dream is a delusion. Because they observe that faith is not followed by good works or a better life, they fall into error, even though they speak and hear much about faith. “Faith is not enough,” they say, “You must do good works, you must be pious to be saved.” They think that, when you hear the gospel, you start working, creating by your own strength a thankful heart which says, “I believe.” That is what they think true faith is. But, because this is a human idea, a dream, the heart never learns anything from it, so it does nothing and reform doesn't come from this ‘faith,’ either.

Instead, faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1: 13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever. He stumbles around and looks for faith and good works, even though he does not know what faith or good works are. Yet he gossips and chatters about faith and good works with many words.

Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favour that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire! Therefore, watch out for your own false ideas and guard against good-for-nothing gossips, who think they’re smart enough to define faith and works, but really are the greatest of fools. Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do.

This text was translated for Project Wittenberg by the Revd Robert E. Smith of Concordia Theological Seminary and is in the public domain.

2, John Calvin (1509-1564):

John Calvin (1509-1564) ... published the first edition of his Institutes in 1536

John Calvin (1509-1564) was an influential French theologian and pastor during the Reformation, and is the principal figure in the development of Calvinism, which we also know as the Reformed or Presbyterian tradition. Calvin was trained originally trained as a humanist lawyer. He broke from the Rome ca 1530. After religious tensions provoked a violent uprising against Protestants in France, Calvin fled to Basel in Switzerland, where he published the first edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536.

In 1536 also, Calvin was invited to help reform the church in Geneva. The city council resisted the implementation of his ideas, and he men were expelled. At the invitation of Martin Bucer, Calvin moved to Strasbourg, where he became the minister in a French refugee church. He continued to support the reform movement in Geneva, and was eventually invited back to lead its church.

Following his return to Geneva, Calvin introduced new forms of church government and liturgy, despite the opposition of several powerful families in the city who tried to curb his authority. During this period, the Spaniard Michael Servetus arrived in Geneva. He was denounced by Calvin and executed by the city council. Following an influx of supportive refugees and new elections to the city council, Calvin’s opponents were forced out. Calvin spent his final years promoting the Reformation both in Geneva and throughout Europe.

Calvin was a tireless but controversial writer. He also corresponded with many reformers, including Philipp Melanchthon and Heinrich Bullinger. In addition to the Institutes, he wrote commentaries on most books of the Bible, as well as theological treatises and confessional documents. He regularly preached sermons throughout the week in Geneva. Calvin was influenced by the Augustinian tradition, which led him to expound the doctrine of predestination and the absolute sovereignty of God.

From John Calvin, Institutes, Chapter 17:

Of the Christian Life


In undertaking to form the life of a Christian person I am entering upon a full and varied subject, which could fill a great volume if I wanted to pursue it at length. For we see how prolix are the exhortations of the early church doctors which treat only one particular virtue. That prolixity does not come from excessive babbling, for whatever the virtue we want to praise and commend, the abundance of material means that it does not seem we have discussed it well if we have not used many words. Now my intention is not to extend the teaching about Christian life which I am offering to the point of discussing each individual virtue and making long exhortations. One can find that in other people’s books, and chiefly in the homilies of the early church doctors, that is, their sermons to the populace. It is enough for me to show by what order a Christian should be led and directed to the right end of ordering his life well. I will be content, I say, to show briefly a general rule by which he can measure all his actions. Perhaps we will sometime have the opportunity to make such orations as there are in the sermons of the early church doctors. The work which we have in hand now requires that we comprise a simple teaching with the greatest brevity possible.

Now the philosophers have some goals of decency and uprightness from which they deduce the particular duties and all the acts of virtue; and so scripture also has its way of doing that, which is much better and more certain than the practice of the philosophers. There is only this difference: since they are full of ambition, the philosophers have pretended to the most noteworthy perspicacity possible to demonstrate the order and arrangement which they practice, in order to show their own subtlety. On the contrary, because He teaches without pretence or pomp, the Holy Spirit has not always observed a certain order and method, or practiced it so strictly. Nevertheless, because He sometimes uses it, He lets us know that we should not despise it. Now this scriptural order of which we speak consists in two parts. One is to imprint on our hearts the love of righteousness, something to which we are not naturally inclined. The other is to give us a certain rule which does not allow us to wander here and there or to go astray in directing our life.

As for the first point, scripture offers many very good reasons to incline our hearts to love the good; we have noted a number of them in different places, and will touch on still others here. In warning and exhorting us that we must be sanctified and hallowed, what better foundation could it begin with than to say that “our God is holy” (Lev. 19[2]; 1 Pet. 1[16])? To this foundation it adds the reason that, as we were scattered like sheep gone astray and dispersed in the labyrinth of this world, He has gathered us to be united with Him. When we hear the mention of God’s uniting with us, we ought to remember that the tie of this union is holiness. Not that we come into the company of our God by the merit of our holiness, since we must first adhere to Him in order to be holy: adhering to Him so that He may pour out His holiness on us. But because it pertains to His glory that He have no association with iniquity or impurity, we must resemble Him because we are His. Therefore scripture teaches us that this is the goal of our calling, which we must always consider if we want to (cor)respond to our God (Isa. 35[7] and elsewhere). What purpose did it serve for us to be delivered from the filth and pollution in which we were plunged, if we want to roll in that filth our whole lives? Moreover, scripture warns us that if we want to belong to the company of God’s people we must live in Jerusalem, His holy city. He consecrated and dedicated it to His honour, so it is also not lawful for it to be contaminated and polluted by impure and profane inhabitants. That is the source of these sentences: “One who walks without stain and who strives to live well, will dwell in the Lord’s tabernacle” (Ps. 15[1-2]). Moreover, in order to arouse us, scripture shows us that as God reconciled us to Himself in Christ, so He has also established us in Christ for Him to be an example and model to whom we must conform [Rom. 8:29].

3, Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) ... Swiss reformer influenced by the writings of Erasmus

Huldrych (or Ulrich) Zwingli (1484-1531) was a leader of the Swiss Reformation. He was educated at the University of Vienna and the University of Basel, and continued his studies while he was a pastor in Glarus and later in Einsiedeln, where he was influenced by the writings of Erasmus.

In 1518, Zwingli became the pastor of the Grossmünster in Zurich, where he began to preach ideas on reforming the Church. In his first public controversy in 1522, he attacked the custom of fasting during Lent. In his publications, he noted corruption in the hierarchy, promoted clerical marriage, and attacked the use of images in places of worship. In 1525, Zwingli introduced a new communion liturgy to replace the Mass.

The Reformation spread to other parts of the Swiss Confederation, but several cantons resisted. Zwingli formed an alliance of Reformed cantons that divided the Swiss Confederation along religious lines. In 1529, a war between the two sides was averted at the last moment.

Meanwhile, Zwingli’s ideas came to the attention of Luther and other reformers. They met at the Marburg Colloquy and although they agreed on many points of doctrine, they could not reach an accord on the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

In 1531, Zwingli’s alliance applied an unsuccessful food blockade on the Catholic cantons. The cantons responded with an attack at a moment when Zurich was badly prepared. He was killed in battle at the age of 47. His legacy lives on in the confessions, liturgy, and church orders of many Reformed churches of today.

Letter of Ulrich Zwingli to Erasmus Fabricius about the proceedings, on 7, 8 and 9 April 1522, of the delegates sent to Zurich by the Bishop of Constance.

How the Reverend Lord Bishop of Constance, through his delegates, the suffragan Melchior [Wattli], John Wanner (who, however, I know took part in the affair against his will), and N[icholas] Brendlin, dealt with Huldreich Zwingli, preacher at Zurich, before the Board of Ecclesiastics and the Senate on 7, 8 and 9 April.

Zwingli to Erasmus Fabricius

On 7 April the before mentioned Fathers came to our city pretty early, and I, knowing that they were coming, was trying to discover what their design was, and yet could not until late at night, when our beloved deacon, Henry Lutius, came and gave me warning that the clerk, as they call him, was getting together the whole body of priests for a meeting early next morning at the usual place of assembly of the canons. I regarded it as a happy omen that the thing had been thus neatly set on foot by a courier both lame and without grace, and began to consider in my mind how they were likely to begin their job. At length I understood, as I thought, and when day dawned and we had come together the suffragan began in the fashion that will follow when I come to describe how the matter was carried on before the Senate. His whole speech was violent and full of rage and arrogance, though he took pains to hide the fact that he had any quarrel with me. For he avoided mentioning my name as scrupulously as if it were sacred, though meanwhile there was nothing that he didn’t say against me. When the tragedian had finished shrieking out his part, I stepped forward, feeling that it was unbecoming and disgraceful to allow a speech which might do so much damage to go unrebutted, especially as I saw from their sighs and their pale and silent faces that some of the feebler priests who had recently been won for Christ had been troubled by the tirade. Therefore I made answer upon the spur of the moment to the words of the suffragan, with what spirit or feeling the good men who heard me may judge. The general gist of what I said, however, you shall hear when we come to the proceedings before the Senate. The delegates abandoned this wing as routed and put to flight, and hurried quickly to another, to the Senate, namely, where, as I have learned from Senators, the same harangue was delivered and my name was avoided in the same way, and the Senate was persuaded not to have me summoned. For they said they had no concern whatever with me. After this the opinions varied for some time, but finally they decided that the Commons (that is, two hundred men, called the Greater Senate), should meet in full assembly on the following day, and that the bishops of the city, of whom there are three of us, should be warned not to be present. For nothing was going to be said in reply to our friends, no one could contradict so sound a speech, and so on. When I discovered this, I devoted all my energy to getting us admitted to the meeting of the Senate to be held on the following day. For a long time I turned every stone in vain, for the chief men of the Senate said it could not be done, inasmuch as the Senate had voted otherwise. Then I began to cease my efforts and to plead with sighs to him who heareth the groans of those in bondage not to abandon the truth, but to come to the defence of his gospel, which he had willed to have us preach. At length on the ninth the citizens assembled, and loudly vented their indignation at their bishops not being admitted, but they of the Senate which from its number is called the Less resisted because they had voted otherwise previously. The Greater Senate, however, compelled them against their will to put the matter to vote, and it was decided that their bishops should be present and hear everything, and if need be make answer. Thus, not, as Livy says, did the greater part prevail over the better; for here both the greater and the better part prevailed. And this I have allowed myself to write, not for the sake of laying any blame upon the Lesser Senate, but to show what plotting and underhand action can accomplish. For what else were the delegates of the Bishop of Constance after but to say without witnesses whatever came into their mouths before the simple minded commons? Thanks be to God. For when the delegates were brought into the Senate, we bishops of Zurich were also admitted, Henry Engelhard, LL.D., of the nunnery, Rudolph Röschlin, Bishop of Saint Peter’s, and I, Huldreich Zwingli. Then when they had been given permission to speak, and the suffragan had extended to the assembly greeting and blessing from his Most Illustrious Leader and Bishop (for this must now at least be admitted), he began with that wonderfully sweet voice of his, than which I have scarcely ever heard one sweeter in speech. Indeed, if his heart and brain were as good, you might say that he could excel Orpheus and Apollo in sweetness, Demosthenes and the Gracchi in persuasive power. I should like to set down his speech in its entirety, but I cannot, partly because he spoke in an involved and jumbled together style, without order, and partly because so long a speech could not, I think, be remembered even by a Porcius Latro. But since I had my note-book at hand and took down the main headings, in order to be able to meet and answer them more fitly, I will first put down these headings and then subjoin what I said in reply to each of them.

With the manner of a consummate tragedian he said that

(1) certain persons were teaching new, obnoxious and seditious doctrines (wieder wärtig und aufrührig lehren in German), to wit: that

(2) no human prescriptions and no ceremonials ought to be regarded. If this doctrine prevailed, it would come to pass that not only the laws of the state but even the Christian faith would be done away with, although

(3) ceremonies were a sort of manuductio or “leading by the hand” to the virtues (for he was pleased to use this word manuductio even before people who did not understand Latin, because, no doubt, the German term eine einleitung, “an introduction,” did not seem to him strong enough (or, if you will, fine enough). Ceremonials were in fact, he said, a source of virtue (ein ursprung), though he afterwards had the boldness to deny before all those witnesses that he used the word;

(4) they were also teaching that Lent ought not to be kept, for certain persons in this city had ventured to withdraw from other Christians and from the Christian Church, though this statement also he afterwards denied with as much shamelessness as stubbornness. My lord Brendlin bore witness that he had not used that expression, though the whole Senate still bears witness that he used it. So persistently do these people fancy that they are free to say off-hand whatever they please and to deny off-hand what they have said, almost at the moment of saying it. He said

(5) that they had eaten meat in Lent to the scandal of the whole republic of Christ; though

(6) this was evidently not permitted by the gospels, they yet ventured to declare that they might do it in accordance with the writings of the Evangelists and Apostles; they had violated

(7) the decrees of the Holy Fathers and the councils, and

(8) a most ancient custom which

(9) we never could have kept so long if it had not emanated from the Holy Spirit. For Gamaliel in the Acts of the Apostles had said: “Let them alone; for if this work is of God,” etc. Then he urged the Senate

(10) to remain with and in the Church, for outside of it no one had salvation. For

(11) the things which were being taught so wrongheadedly were being taught without grounds. And not having satisfied himself in what he had said before about ceremonials, he fell

(12) to speaking of them again, saying that they were the only means by which the humbler Christians were brought to the recognition of salvation, and that it belonged to the duties of the people’s priests (for that is the way bishops and preachers are named now-a-days by those counterfeit bishops, to keep their name sacred) to teach the simple-minded populace that there were certain symbols which denoted certain things, and that it was their function to explain and set forth the meaning and value thereof. At length, after the above turn in his speech, he began to discourse

(13) upon grounds of offence, not unlearnedly, I confess, only I wish that he had cited as happily the things against himself as those for him. He added that Christ enjoined with as much emphasis as he put upon any precept, that offences be avoided, for he added that most clear mark of indignation, “Woe!” “Woe to the world from offences!” Going back also to Paul, from whose epistles he had quoted many things before he discoursed upon “Woe,” he called to witness

(14) that in order not to offend the Jews he had suffered Timothy to be circumcised. And what he ought to have said among his first remarks about seditious teachings, he talked on after everything else, saying

(15) that no one ought to trust his own ideas; for that even Paul had been unwilling to depend upon his own notions, and had gone to Jerusalem to compare his gospel with the Apostles, etc. And after a very beautiful peroration to his remarks he rose, and was on the point of going away with his allies, when I addressed them in the following terms:

“My Lord suffragan” (and in this I made an indiscreet and ignorant enough blunder; for they tell me I should have said “most merciful Lord,” but being unskilled in polished ways I take hold like a clophopper) “and fellow-ecclesiastics,” I said “wait, I pray, until I make explanation in my own behalf.” For that my fellow-bishops allowed me to do. To this he said; “It has not been enjoined upon us to engage in discussion with any one.” “And I,” said I, “have no intention of entering into discussion, but what I have thus far been teaching these excellent citizens I would willingly and gladly set forth to you who are both learned men and delegates sent here, so to speak, with full powers; that the greater faith may be had in my teachings if you shall have voted them right, and if not, that the opposite may take place.” “We have said nothing,” said he, “in opposition to you, and therefore there is no need for you to make explanation.” But I said: “Though you have refrained from mentioning my name, yet all the force and power of your words were aimed and hurled at me. For, as a matter of fact, they were dealing with me in the style of the old gladitorial combats between Mirmillons and Gauls, wherein the Mirmillon cried: “It is not you I am aiming at, Gaul, it is the fish I am aiming at.” So my name was kept out of sight and not mentioned, in order that most serious charges, if it please the gods, might be developed against me, whose name is Zwingli. While we were thus contending together, M. Roest, President of the Senate, tried by entreaty to persuade the men of Constance to listen, to which entreaty the suffragan replied that he knew with whom he should have to deal if he listened. Huldreich Zwingli was too violent and choleric to make any duly and moderately carried on discussion possible with him. I answered: “What wrong have I ever done you? And what kind of a way of doing is this, to worry so harshly and bitterly a guiltless man who has done his duty by Christianity, and to refuse to hear any explanation? I have always felt myself bound to hope, unless I am mistaken (but perhaps I am mistaken), that if anyone ever came forward to contradict the truth and teachings of the gospel, it would come to pass that the High Prelate of Constance would rush to its aid before all others and hear the whole case, and this by your help especially, whom he has even now employed as delegates because of your pre-eminent learning. For what would ye do if I wanted to go to him without your knowledge? If I feared to meet you? If I refused to have your opinion in the matter? Now, when I do nothing of the kind, but ask your presence in order to give an account of my faith and teachings, how have you the face to venture to refuse it? It could not have failed to rouse suspicion if I had allowed you to go away, even though you desired it; now when I appeal of my own accord to your judgment and justice, do you dare to abandon me?” Then said they: “Our Reverend Master did not wish us to enter into a dispute with any one, so it is impossible for us to hear you. If you wish to take any point of doctrine to the bishop you are free to do so; if you need anything apprize him of it.” But I said: “I beg of you if you are not willing from any other consideration to vouchsafe me this favour, yet grant me this wish for the sake of our common faith, our common baptism, and for the sake of Christ, the giver of life and salvation, and if you may not listen as delegates, you still may as Christians.” When I had thus adjured them the citizens began to murmur in their indignation, so that at last, driven by the urgent request of the president and the unworthiness of their course, they went back to their seats. Thereupon I began to speak in defence of the teachings of Christ to the best of my ability, and made answer to their main heads in about this fashion:

1. My lord suffragan has stated that certain persons were teaching seditious and obnoxious doctrines, but I cannot be persuaded that he means this to be taken of me, who for nearly four years now have been preaching the gospel of Christ and the teachings of the Apostles with so much energy. And yet it savours somewhat of this, inasmuch as he made the statement before the Senate. For what concern were it of mine if such teachings were preached elsewhere, provided they were not preached at Zurich? Therefore, since it is not likely that the suffragan spoke of the affairs of outsiders, it is clear that his remarks were aimed at me. However much they disguise it, it is evident that here is the David to whom this Nathan imputed the wrong. But as to the gospel, it is no wonder that in one place or another there should be differences between those who cling doggedly to ἐντάλωατα, that is, human prescriptions, and those who are unfriendly to the same. For Christ prophesied most clearly that this would come to pass, saying: “I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and it shall come to pass that a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” Yet there was no need of this answer either. For Zurich more than any other of the Swiss cantons is in peace and quiet, and this all good citizens put down to the credit of the gospel.

2. As to the reproach, in the next place, that it is taught that no human prescriptions nor ceremonials ought to be kept, I will acknowledge frankly that I desire to see a fair portion of the ceremonials and prescriptions done away with, because the things prescribed are in great part such as also Peter in the Acts says cannot be endured. Nor am I going to listen to those who say that Peter spoke of the old ceremonials and prescriptions. Be it understood, though, that if I should grant them this it is still clear that Peter was of opinion that Christians ought to be free from burdens and bitterness of the kind. But if Peter deprecated that old yoke so greatly, which was yet much lighter than that which we bear to-day, what think ye he would have done if there had been question of a heavier one? Now that the old yoke would have been more endurable to Christians than ours (to say nothing for the nonce of the decrees of the pontiffs, which are much more numerous and onerous than the commands of Moses,) is shown well enough by the excessive observation of fasts, the careful selection of foods, and the enforced leisure of feast days. For how trifling will the fasts of the Jews become which they ordained at times for those in great sorrow, if you compare them with these stated forty days’ fasts of ours, institutions fit for serfs, and those that are ordained in a sort of unbroken and continuous row in honour of the saints! Furthermore, if you compare the selection of foods, its observation is more onerous among the Christians than among the Jews. They abstained from certain kinds of food, but not at a fixed period, with the exception of the Passover. We abstain from numerous kinds and for long seasons. And in the enforced leisure of feast days we surpass the Jews very greatly. But if Peter did not want the Christians worried by the lighter yoke much less would he approve the heavier. I denied, however, that I was of opinion that no human prescriptions at all ought to be kept or enacted. For who would not joyfully accept what was decided by the concurrent opinion of all Christians? But on the other hand, the decrees of certain most unholy spirits, who after the manner of the Pharisees would lay unbearable burdens upon the necks of men and not touch themselves even with the tip of their fingers, were an abomination. And as to his having said, with a view to rouse the Senate to anger, that we should fail to obey the laws of the state, I said this was not the spirit of Christ or of the Apostles. For Christ had said: “Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s,” etc., and had paid the tribute or tax. Nay, at his birth his parents reported his name according to the proclamation of Cæsar; while the Apostles taught “Render unto all their due, tribute to whom tribute is due, etc., and obey them who are set in authority over you, and not only the good,” etc. Hence it was evident that he had spoken more vigorously than truly, as would be made still clearer by an illustration. For all the peoples of the whole world had obeyed the laws most rigorously, even before the man Christ was born. Nay, Christianity was the most powerful instrument for the preservation of justice in general, and the faith of Christ could not be done away with even if all ceremonials were done away with altogether. Nay, ceremonials achieved nothing else than the cheating of Christ and his faithful followers and doing away with the teachings of the Spirit, calling men away from the unseen to the material things of this world, but this could not be described and explained in short compass.

3. Then I showed that the simple-minded people could be led to the recognition of the truth by other means than ceremonials, to wit, by those by which Christ and the Apostles had led them without any ceremonials as far as I had been able to learn through the sacred writings, and that there was no danger that the people were not capable of receiving the gospel, which he who believes can understand. They can believe, therefore they can also understand. Whatever takes place here is done by the inspiration of God, not by the reasoning of man, as Christ also thanked the Father, saying: “I thank thee, O, Father, etc., because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.” And Paul (I Cor. 1) says that “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.”

4. I had nowhere taught that Lent ought not to be kept, though I could wish that it were not prescribed so imperiously, but were left free to the individual. But he for whom Lent was not enough might fast for the rest of the year also; there would not be wanting men to advise fasting, and I presaged that they would be likely to effect more than those who thought that at the frown of their power and the threat of excommunication, everything would fall to pieces with a crash as at the frown of Jove.

5. Certain persons, and they by no means bad ones, had ventured to eat flesh, and they were not tainted, but since they had not been forbidden by the divine law to eat flesh, they seemed rather to have eaten it in witness of their faith than to any one’s reproach. And this was clear from the fact that presently when told by me that they ought to take into account the possible cause of offence they stopped, so that there was no need of this fine delegation, inasmuch as the evil died out of itself, granting that it was an evil. Still I wondered exceedingly that I had been a minister of the gospel in the diocese of Constance for fifteen years and had thus far never known of the men of Constance having sent anywhere so magnificent a delegation to investigate how the affairs of the gospel were going on, but now when they had found a very trifling observance not broken as much as they seemed to wish, they filled everything with their lamentations, and accused the people of Zurich of being the only ones who had the effrontery to meditate withdrawing from the Christian communion. Yet when the suffragan denied that expression, as I have said, and Brendlin supported his denial, though the whole Senate cried out in rebuttal, I allowed their denial in somewhat these terms: Since you deny the expression, show that it escaped you unawares and I will easily pardon it; as far as I am concerned you shall be free to correct any utterances you please. But the Republic of Christ has suffered no offence and no disgrace if some few persons have failed to keep human tradition.

6. And I showed that it was an unsound contention that the gospel writings nowhere clearly allowed the eating of flesh. For Mark (ch. 7) speaks in this fashion: “There is nothing from without a man that entering into him can defile him.” Here I showed by the argument from the preceding (in the way they manipulated the sacred writings) that the argument of the following held good in this way: Therefore, whatever is outside of a man cannot by entering into him defile him. Words are signs to me. A general negative is no sign. If he had said “no food,” he would have left out the category of drinks; if he had said “no drink,” he would have left out that of food. Therefore, it pleased him who is the Truth to say “nothing.” Then he added “cannot even defile.” Hear! The Voice of Truth declares it cannot; man, who is a liar, for all men are liars, says it can. Here the man squirms and says these words are not so clear, and must be interpreted in this way, but the preceding words must be regarded and the words that follow, though this is what follows: “Do ye not perceive that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man it cannot defile him, because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?” What can be said more clearly, if you please, even though you regard the preceding and the following?

7. They added the words “contrary to the decrees of the Holy Fathers and the councils.” I answered that Engelhard, the ornament of our city, had carefully weighed with me those in which our friends placed greatest confidence, and that no such asseveration could be made from those which they treated as a sacred anchor. For the question was not whether Lent ought to be done away with, but whether it was permissible by the law of Christ to eat meat at that time. While I forbid no man’s fasting, I leave it free to him.

8. They had also added: “and contrary to very ancient custom.” Here I frankly granted that it was the custom, and not a bad one. But if it were the custom, why was a proclamation added? I promised that I would certainly see to it that the custom should not be wantonly interrupted.

9. And if this custom (he continued) had not been inspired by the divine spirit it would not have lasted so long, in accordance with the words of Gamaliel. I answered that this and other things which were not from the mind of God would be done away in their own good time. For “every plant,” says Christ in Matthew, “which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up.” But selection of foods neither Christ nor the Apostles had prescribed. Therefore no one ought to be surprised if unhappy mortals are turning their eyes towards freedom, since Christ in his loving kindness has now illumined the world more brightly with his gospel by a sort of second revelation.

10. After this the weighty speaker made his turn to the Senate, appealing to them to stay with and in the Church, for outside of it none were saved. This I met thus: “Let not this exhortation move you, most excellent citizens, as if you had ever abandoned the Church of Christ. For I am persuaded of you that you hold in fresh remembrance what is said in the narrative of Matthew, that the foundation of the Church is that rock which gave his name to Peter the faithful confessor. No one lays other foundation than this, nor can do so. Nay, in every nation and place, everyone who confesses the Lord Jesus with his tongue and believes in his heart that God raised him from the dead shall be saved, whether he be among the Indians or the Scythians, and it is fixed beyond controversy that outside of that Church none is saved, within which we all believe ourselves to be the more firmly as we glory the more certainly in the hope of the glory of the sons of God.” Here I might have dragged the man forth and laid bare his notion of the Church, but I preferred to spare him, that he might repent at length of having said before the whole Senate that I was too rough spoken to make it possible to discuss with me. When he had thus made his exhortation I began to look to the end of his remarks, but things turned out differently from what I hoped. For he turned back to this other point and said:

11. That rubbish (for thus, if I mistake not, that crowd call the gospel teaching) was taught without foundation in Scripture. Here again I fled to the protection of the words of Mark vii., as a sort of Achilles’ shield, and shot forth these shafts: Do you want clearer proofs presented to you? Is not Christ worthy of belief? Or Mark? I have gathered many passages together, but I abstain from giving the rest now in order not to nauseate the Fathers. Here my lord Englehard opportunely drew a New Testament from his pocket and bade me interpret the passage of Paul’s Epistle to Timothy i. 4. I took the book and translated the passage into German, and it is wonderful how they all breathed a sigh of relief, recognizing the passage, most of them, from the exposition of that epistle that I had made the year before. So much difference does it make at what point things are said.

12. Immediately leaving these points, he brought the ceremonials out into battle line again, wounded however, and I attempted to rout them completely again thus: His point that it was the duty of the people’s priests to set forth the meaning of the ceremonials I upset in this way. The gospel of Christ had been committed to me to preach assiduously; what the ceremonials indicated those would set forth who lived by them. I admit that I purposely, though quietly, meant to touch the man’s sore point in this. For what else do those suburban bishops do but stuff their purses with illusions of consecrating things? But if any master of ceremonials ventured to preach other than the truth to the sheep entrusted to me, I declared I would not stand it.

13. Now what he had said about offences I should have approved in general, if all his words had not seemed to point toward keeping those who were weak always weak, though it is the duty of the stronger, as those fellows wish and ought to be regarded, προσλαμβάνεσϑαι, that is, to take up and comfort and help the weak, that they may also be made strong. Yet this one thing I added: Since he had spoken much of the anxious care of the High Prelate of Constance to avoid or guard against offence to the Church, had he no exhortation to his priests at last after Christ’s fashion, bidding them to put their own immunity behind them and bear the general burdens with the rest of the Christian brethren, and to pay tax and tribute? For Christ, in order not to give ground of offence to those who exacted the tribute money, paid it and performed a miracle besides, but it could not be denied that all the people in every nation were complaining because the priests and monks and nuns were supported in idleness, contributing neither labour nor money for the uses of the State. They complained bitterly after they had left the Senate that this had been brought in outside the subject, as they say, but it seems to me that nothing could have been said more appropriately at this point, when they were talking of the High Prelate of Constance being so anxious about grounds of offence.

14. In the next place, though I was aware that Paul had suffered Timothy to be circumcised, yet I maintained that he could not be persuaded by any means to allow Titus to be circumcised, and I tried to give the reason for both acts, namely, that with Timothy, while Christianity was still in the green blade, he had suffered the Macedonians to be circumcised that no breach of the peace might arise, but after the new doctrine had grown somewhat more vigorous, and Paul had learned by his perception of this that Titus could be saved without any disturbance, he saved him. Here I put forth all my strength to persuade the Senators to abide by the ancient custom until either the bonds of that yoke were loosened for us or the world itself consented together more clearly for the taking up again of freedom.

15. Finally I said that those could rightfully be said to rely on their own notions and ideas who struggled against the accepted Scriptures and put human traditions before the teachings of heaven, not those who protected themselves by no other weapons or defences than the sacred writings, for the former trusted in flesh and blood, the latter in the truth of heaven alone, not one jot of which could ever pass away.

Though I was aware that Paul had compared his gospel with the Apostles finally, I also knew that he did not do it for fourteen years. And though I perceived what they were after with that illustration, their side was weakened rather than propped up by it. For I had insisted a little while before so obstinately that they should be present at my explanation for no other reason than that they might see clearly how I handled the sacred writings; nay, that I was ready to give an account of the faith that was in me before the dwellers in heaven, or on earth, or in hell. And finally, having begged the Senate to take in good part all that I had said, I stopped speaking, except that when the suffragan began to snap out something more and to drive it in vigorously, that it had been decreed by the Holy Fathers and the councils that meat should not be eaten in Lent, I also began to contend more recklessly and to deny that it had been decreed by any councils, at least by any general ones. At last when he had finished his appendix we adjourned the Senate.

These, dear Brother Erasmus, are the wounds I received and inflicted in the assembly of the Ecclesiastics and Senators; these the means with which I ran to the aid of the feeble. It has all been written down off hand as it was spoken, for the suffragan had brought a prepared speech with him, but I was forced to fight and defend myself as I stood. If I have said anything more briefly or more fully than it occurred, I think this should be attributed to human weakness, which hardly recognizes how little power it has in remembering. Yet the main drift of the proceedings in general I have touched upon, whether in the Senate or in the body of Ecclesiastics or in private discussion. For the evening after the morning they had spoken before the body of Ecclesiastics, I stumbled upon them by accident and talked much with them. Thus I learned just where their sore point was. Good by, and if you write to my friend Oechsli, greet him for me.

Zwingli’s Works, ed. Schuler u. Schulthess, iii., 7-16. Translated from the original Latin by Henry Preble, New York.

Notes:

The City Council, hence the members in it are called councillors, but the Latin form Zwingli used has been allowed to stand. This body was in two parts, the Small Council, which contained only 50 members, and only half of these were on duty at any one time, and the Great Council, also called the Council of the Two Hundred, which included the Small Council. The Great Council was the deciding body on all legislative matters of importance, the Small was the executive committee, and both were representative bodies. The chief officer was the burgomaster, here called the President of the Senate. See my biography of Zwingli, pp 42-44.

Zwingli uses this term of the people’s priests or preachers of the three parish churches in Zurich, viz., the Great Minster, Minster of Our Lady, and Saint Peter’s.

Henry Engelhard had been people’s priest at the cathedral of Our Lady since 1496. He had also been a canon of the Great Minster, but in 1521 resigned so that Zwingli might be appointed. This act of disinterestedness shows what a fine character he was. He remained ever one of Zwingli’s friends. He died in 1551, a very old man. Rudolph Röschlin, people’s priest at Saint Peter’s, was very slow in accepting the Reformation, was at the time of this episcopal visit an old man, and a few weeks after it resigned his place and was succeeded by Zwingli’s bosom friend, Leo Jud.

Next: 8.3: The Anglican Reformation

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. These notes and readings were prepared for presentations at a seminar on 8 February 2013 as part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course, Year I.

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