The Reformation In German Switzerland

The Reformation In German Switzerland


1. THE POLITICAL CONDITION OF SWITZERLAND.
--Switzerland, at the time of the Reformation, was a confederation of republics or democratic states. The principal part of the confederacy included thirteen states or cantons; namely, Uri, Schwytz, Unterwalden, Lucerne, Zug, Soleure (or Solothurn), Zurich, Glarus, Berne, Freyburg, Basle, Schaffhausen, and Appenzell. The first four of these, the so-called Forest Cantons, together with Zug, remained during the religious struggle closely associated by a stubborn attachment to the Romish Church. In addition to the thirteen cantons, Switzerland numbered several allied cities and dependent territories.


The political importance of Switzerland, at the breaking-out of the Reformation, was vastly greater than it has been in recent times. The long struggle with Austrian despotism beget a military temper and aptitude, which long survived their first occasion. The different powers of Europe became covetous of Swiss valor; and from the latter part of the fifteenth century, Swiss troops won many victories in behalf of foreigners. Occasionally, in the complications of the foreign service, Swiss met Swiss in battle. The remark was provoked, that the flesh of the Swiss was cheaper than that of cattle. Great numbers were sacrificed on the fields of Italy in the bloody conflicts incited by French ambition. "Milan was rightly called the Switzer's grave." 1 Zschokke, History of Switzerland. Aside from the abhorrent spectacle of countrymen slaughtering each other in mercenary warfare, the foreign service reacted with disastrous effect upon the national spirit and the morals of the Swiss. A system which permitted foreigners to buy up the favor of the leading men of the cantons, with pensions, could not be otherwise than deleterious to the spirit of independence and nationality; while mercenaries returning from the butchering trade naturally became missionaries of vice and corruption. The vice of unchastity, in particular, became notorious.


The Romish Church offered no proper resistance to the corrupting order of things. On the contrary, papal agents were continually laboring to swell the list of Swiss mercenaries for the service of the Pope. The energetic Cardinal of Sitten wrought to this end with indefatigable zeal. Referring to his practices, Zwingli said, "With right do the cardinals wear red hats and cloaks; for, shake these garments, and out fall ducats and crowns; wring them, however, and they drip with the blood of your sons, fathers, and best friends." 2 Opera, Vol. II., Pars II. p. 350, edition of 8chuler and Schulthess. It is not strange, therefore, that patriotism as well as religious zeal called forth the utmost efforts of Zwingli to emancipate Switzerland from the curse of the foreign service. Still this position of Switzerland, between different parties bidding for her arms, gave some important opportunities to the Reformation. Rome and the Romish hierarchy admitted far more of delay and tolerance into their dealings with the reform movement than they would have conceded without the military incentive.


2. COMPARISON BETWEEN THE SWISS AND THE GERMAN REFORMATION. -- The beginning of the Swiss Reformation was independent of the Lutheran. "It was not Germany that communicated the light of truth to Switzerland, Switzerland to France, and France to England: all these countries received it from God; just as one part of the world does not communicate the light of day to the others, but the same brilliant orb imparts it direct to all the earth. One sole and same doctrine was suddenly established in the sixteenth century, at the hearths and altars of the most distant and dissimilar nations; it was everywhere the same spirit, everywhere producing the same faith." 1 D' Aubigné, Book VIII., chap.i. Zwingli expressly testifies: "I began to preach the gospel in the year 1516, that is to say, at a time when Luther's name had never been heard in this country.... It is not from Luther that I learned the doctrine of Christ, but from the Word of God." 2 Opera, I. 253, 254. But, while the Swiss Reformation was not an offshoot of the German, in all probability the former was not without very positive obligations to the latter; for it may fairly be questioned, whether the movement would ever have reached to so wide limits in Switzerland, had it not been for the prestige and aggressive energy which the cause of the Reformation acquired through the powerful agency of Luther.


The Swiss Reformation was made to differ from the German by the peculiar characteristics both of the country and of the leaders. In Germany, the opposition of the Emperor and of various princes had to be contended against. Rulers favorable to the Reformation felt obliged, in general, to proceed slowly and cautiously, taking advantage of the most favorable exigencies that might arise. In Switzerland, the chief opposition came from the nobles, who liked their foreign pensions, and from the unenlightened class, particularly the mountaineers, who clung with blind conservatism to old customs. As is apt to be the case under a democratic form of government, public opinion, when once it commanded a majority in favor of a change, asserted itself with great energy and boldness. Sweeping reform measures were carried through at a stroke in some of the principal cantons. As respects leadership also, the Swiss Reformation exhibits a more republican cast than the Lutheran. To be sure, Zwingli and his canton of Zurich took a leading part. But Zwingli had contemporaries in other cantons who stood comparatively near to him in influence; he was less the monarch of the Swiss Reformation than Luther was of the German.


The two Reformers differed quite as much as the circumstances of their countries. Luther, although he appreciated the humanistic culture, did not draw his inspiration, to any considerable extent, from the classics. Augustine and writers of a mystical vein, such as John Tauler and the author of the "German Theology," were his chief sources after the Bible. Zwingli, on the other hand, drew from the classics next to the Bible. He introduced frequent illustrations from the lives of ancient heroes, and emulated their spirit and deeds. As regards humanistic bias, he stood between Erasmus and Luther, and naturally, therefore, was better able than Luther to retain the friendship of Erasmus. In religious experience Zwingli trod a much more even course than Luther. The latter passed through mighty struggles. The gospel led him from inner conflicts and despair to peace and rejoicing. Not so with Zwingli. The gospel led him from a life which had not been wholly free from dissipation, into a growing seriousness. His conversion appeared as a gradual intensifying of religious conviction, and sanctification of life, under the impulse of an earnest study of the Scriptures. Luther's life shows more of variety and dramatic fervor; he possessed more the element of intuition and feeling. Zwingli inclined more to the logic which reasons out conclusions from definite premises. Biblical authority, as the rule of individual and church, life, and the doctrine of justification by faith, were emphasized by both; but Zwingli, as compared with Luther, dwelt less upon the latter point. Luther was often the more radical in manner, but Zwingli's straightforward logic made him, in some respects, the more radical in principle; he had less sympathy with the preceding history of the Church; was more disposed to conform every thing, with unsparing rigor, to apostolic simplicity. Hence, Zwingli, though far from being hostile to art in itself, banished images from the churches, and reduced the Lord's house to a Puritanical plainness, while Luther was inclined to a toleration of images as religious ornaments. Zwingli was far more a man of the world than Luther. Patriotic endeavors were continually associated by him with religious efforts. In contrast with Luther, who admitted with great reluctance the right of the Reformation to resort to arms even in self-defence, Zwingli countenanced an aggressive use of arms, at lease to the extent of anticipating attacks from the Romish cantons, and compelling them to a toleration of reform principles. Compare Hagenbach, Kirchengeschichte, III., Vorlesungen X., XV.


A preceding page has indicated that Zwingli's teaching on the subject of the eucharist was, more than any other peculiarity, a stone of stumbling to Luther. The consecrated elements, as Zwingli held, are nothing more nor less than symbols, so far as they are related to the person of Christ. In the eucharistic rite the communicant gives a pledge of fidelity and discipleship, and receives an aid to his faith. He eats the body of Christ only in a spiritual sense. "Spiritually to eat the body of Christ, is only with the spirit and mind to rest upon the compassion and goodness of God in Christ." Opera, IV. 53. From this standpoint, Zwingli naturally found little occasion for Luther's doctrine of a communication of divine predicates to Christ's human nature. Moreover, the mysticism and docetism involved in such a doctrine were not congenial to his way of thinking. A still further difference between the two theologians was involved in Zwingli's rejection of the traditional dogma respecting original sin. Giving heed to the rational consideration that only moral personality can sin and incur guilt, he denied any ante-natal ground of guilt, and maintained that we receive from the fallen Adam simply corruption of nature.


Teachings of this order have been made a ground of a relative disparagement of Zwingli. Even to this day, the High Church Lutheran has not been cured of the habit of descanting on the superficiality of the Swiss Reformer. But surely a readiness to impale the reason on such doctrines as the real bodily presence, the communicatio idiomatum, and original guilt, has never yet been proved to be a mark of profundity. No doubt the complete, full-rounded theologian must possess a mind duly sensitive to the mystical side of Christianity. But it is equally true, that an appeal to mystery has often been used to shelter absurdity. Without a good degree of that love of clearness and intelligibility which characterized Zwingli, Christianity has no adequate safeguard against being cumbered with worse than heathenish superstitions.


The principal dogmatic fault of Zwingli lay in the same field with a cardinal error of Luther. The De Providentia Dei of the one involves essentially the same exaggeration of Divine sovereignty, and violence to human freedom, as does the De Servo Arbitrio of the other. On these points, however, we can hardly escape the conviction that Zwingli, had a longer period been granted him for his dogmatical development, would have imitated the example of Melanchthon, whom he resembled in rational bent of mind, and would have modified his ultra teaching. As it was, Zwingli's predestinarianism received one marked amelioration. With a liberality which finds few parallels in the sixteenth century, he regarded the Divine clemency as admitting the virtuous heathen to eternal life. In his "Exposition of the Christian Faith," addressed to the French King, he gives expression to the expectation that in the presence of God will be seen not only the biblical saints, but also Hercules, Theseus, Socrates, Aristides, Antigonus, Numa, Camillus, the Catos, the Scipios, in short, every good man, every faithful soul, who has lived or shall yet live upon the earth. Opera, IV. 65.


3. CHIEF EVENTS. --Ulrich Zwingli was born at the mountain town of Wildhaus, Jan. 1, 1484. The promising talents of the child caused his parents to seek the best educational advantages. Zwingli studied at an early age in Basle and Berne, where he was schooled in the classics. For two years he applied himself to philosophy, after the pattern of the scholastic system, in Vienna. This was not a very welcome task, as he had little relish for mere formalities and subtleties of intellectual procedure. At a second sojourn in Basle, he continued his study of the languages, theology, philosophy, and music. For the last branch he showed a remarkable love and aptitude, and learned to play on a variety of instruments. His stay in Basle brought him into association with men of free-spirited and evangelical temper, such as his teacher Wyttenbach, and his fellow-student Leo Juda.


For several years prior to 1516, Zwingli served as pastor of Glarus. During this time his eyes were more than ever opened to the evils of the foreign service. Nevertheless he obeyed the requirements put upon him, and twice accompanied the troops to Italy. Meanwhile he zealously studied the classics and the New Testament. His literary tastes naturally made him an admirer of Erasmus, and he purchased and read his writings as fast as they appeared. Erasmus seems to have reciprocated, in a measure, this appreciation, and sent him a complimentary letter. "I congratulate the Helvetian nation," he wrote, "which you and those like to you, by your most excellent studies and morals, are laboring to polish, and are preparing for renown." 1 Opera, Epist., sub anno 1514.


In 1516 Zwingli was transferred to Einsiedeln. Here his preaching began to assume an evangelical tone. This place contained a noted shrine of the Virgin, and was a great pilgrim resort. Zwingli sought to antagonize the superstitions which centered here, not indeed by open attack, but by a faithful inculcation of gospel truth. While pursuing his office at Einsiedeln, he heard of the peddling of indulgences by Samson, and raised his voice against the abomination. A little later, he used his influence to prohibit the entrance of this vender of papal wares into Zurich,--an attempt the more easily successful, as it had the sanction of the Bishop of Constance. The practices of Samson in Switzerland were just about as shameless as those of Tetzel in Germany, but they were by no means such a cause of awakening. The Swiss Reformation received, comparatively, but a trivial impulse from the mercenary tour of Samson.


At Zurich, where Zwingli began his labors on the first day of the year 1519, he appeared emphatically as the evangelical preacher, and gave an extended course of New-Testament expositions. Opposition, and even designs of violence against his person, were not wanting. But Zwingli was a man of peculiarly fearless temper, and in more than one respect was qualified to commend a powerful influence. He was of noble personal appearance, of eloquent address, and of a genial temper. With heroic decision and energy, he combined an air of reasonableness and tender consideration. To patrician and peasant he was alike affable. "He invited the country people," said one of his enemies, "to dine with him, walked with them, talked to them of God, put the devil into their hearts, and his books into their pockets." Pressing steadfastly forward, Zwingli gained the council of the canton, and brought his cause to a decided preponderance. He had no such stormy crisis to pass through as that which fell to the lot of Luther. He was comparatively unmolested by the Pope. Indeed, he received a pension from the Pope (ostensibly for the purchase of books), up to the year 1520, when he voluntarily declined it; and as late as the beginning of 1523, Pope Adrian VI. sent him a flattering letter. This, however, indicates no temporizing on the part of Zwingli, but the force of political motives with the Pope, who coveted the support of Zurich, this being the only canton which in the preceding years had taken a firm position against the alliance with France. Very near the time that this letter was written, Zwingli conducted a disputation, and argued triumphantly against Romish corruptions of gospel faith and practice. Another disputation the same year contributed greatly to the advance of reformed opinions. The Zurich government soon proceeded to banish images from the churches, accomplishing legally and peaceably a measure which in too many instances in Switzerland, and in connection with the Reformed Church generally, was carried through with iconoclastic violence. The mass, also, was abolished, and in its place the eucharist was celebrated with primitive simplicity (1524-25).


As appears from the above, the civil government was a leading factor in the management of ecclesiastical affairs at Zurich. This accorded with Zwingli's theory of church administration. At the same time he did not look upon the civil government as vested with an arbitrary power, but rather as an agent for executing in an orderly manner the will of the congregation. His practice, as he himself has described it, was first to expound from the pulpit any subject of common interest, until a general conviction was wrought in the minds of the people respecting its proper settlement. Then it was carried before the great council of the canton, which, in consultation with the servants of the Church, took the necessary measures. The highest legislative authority rested thus with the government, though means were taken to give a good degree of weight to public opinion, or the will of the congregation. 1 Opera, iii. 339.


The year 1524 has sometimes been given as the date of Zwingli's marriage with Anna Reinhardt, a woman of high reputation and of great worth. It is quite certain, however, that the marriage took place two years earlier, but out of prudential considerations was made known only to a few at that date, and was not published to the world until 1524.


While the Reformation was being perfected in Zurich, evangelical movements were carried on, though generally with more show of opposition, in several other cantons. In Berne, Berthold Haller labored cautiously, but with steadfast purpose. While he had some influential friends in the government, many of the aristocracy were opposed to him. They were jealous of the political bearing of the religious agitation. And, in fact, the progress of the Reformation in Berne was at the same time a progress of democracy against oligarchy. After near approaches to defeat, the party of reform obtained at length, in 1527, the ascendency in the government; and a disputation held at the beginning of the next year, in which Zwingli took part, sealed the victory of the evangelical cause in Berne.


In Basle the Reformation was favored with the labors of a man whose culture, mental breadth, and pure character entitle him to rank next to Zwingli among the Swiss leaders. Discreet and peace-loving, but at the same time resolute and courageous, Œcolampadius was well qualified to win the good opinion of sincere and earnest minds, and to lead the evangelical cause through the rather perilous mixture of elements in Basle, to ultimate ascendency. After seven or eight years of effort, he saw this result realized in 1529. Considerable significance attaches to Œcolampadius, in connection with the theory of church polity. Though he would not shut out the State from all interference with ecclesiastical affairs, he was jealous for the independence of the Church. In 1530 we find him addressing to Zwingli most earnest words upon this theme, declaring that a magistracy which usurped authority over the Church was, as intolerable as Antichrist himself, and claiming that discipline ought to be supervised, not by a secular tribunal, but by a spiritual, -- the immediate representatives of the congregation. 1 Opera, vol. viii., Epist. CXVII. sub anno 1530. " With right," says Hagenbach, "Œcolampadius is designated as that one among the German reformers, who, on this subject, served as a forerunner of Calvin and Knox, though in a spirit milder than theirs, and remote from Puritanical hardness." 2 Johann Oecolampad und Oswald Myconius, Leben und Ausge wählte Schriften.


The reform movement made good progress in Schaffhausen, St. Gall, Glarus, and Appenzell. It gained a foothold also in the dependent territories or common bailiwicks. As both Roman and Reformed cantons claimed a right over these, a religious division within their limits was naturally a source of dispute and friction.


At length, the forest cantons, embittered by the progress of the innovations, went so far as to conclude an alliance with the Austrians, for the upholding of the old faith. This abhorrent league, joined with such acts as the burning alive of the pastor Keyser, greatly incensed the Reformed cantons. The ardent Zwingli urged that it was time to unsheathe the sword of Gideon. Matters came well-nigh to an outbreak. The armies of the two parties were drawn up against each other, when peace was concluded. The terms were favorable to the Reformed. The Austrian alliance was to be given up, and a spirit of mutual toleration was to be cultivated by Romanists and Protestants. This occurred in June, 1529. In the following months, the course of events made it clearly apparent that the Protestant cause had received a fresh impulse.


Zwingli, however, was not satisfied with the outlook. He saw the threatening attitude of the Roman Catholic powers of Germany. He felt that there could be no safety for evangelical teaching or national integrity, until the Romish cantons, humbled and deprived of their undue preponderance, should allow a fair chance to the Reformation in all Switzerland. The feelings which the exigency awakened in his mind are well indicated by the following words written by him to a senator of Constance in 1530: "Corrupt or insensate must those be who sit still and yawn, instead of putting forth every effort to collect men and means, that the Emperor may see that in vain he strives to restore the Romish faith, to seize the free cities, and to bring into subjection the Helvetians. Six months ago we had authentic information respecting his plans. The cities are to be attacked separately, to-day one, to-morrow another, and so one after another till all are reduced; then their arms are to be taken away, their treasures, their machines of war, and all their resources. No faith should be placed in the friendship of tyrants. Demosthenes has warned us that nothing is so hateful to them as the freedom of cities." 1 Opera, Epist. XXXVI. sub anno 1530.


The manner in which the representatives of the Romish cantons were entertained at the Diet of Augsburg, the severity with which they persecuted ally defection from the Romish faith in their jurisdictions, and their refusal, manifestly on the ground of religious bias, to help in redressing an encroachment upon the territorial rights of the Confederacy, made it probable, in the opinion of their opponents, that they were in secret understanding with Charles V., and were looking to the complete uprooting of Protestantism in Switzerland. 1 The surmise was natural, though a proof that an alliance with Charles was actually consummated is wanting. On their side, the Romish cantons were angered by the rather aggressive manner in which the Reformed cantons pressed for ascendency in the common bailiwicks, and were afforded an occasion of complaint in their negotiations for a defensive alliance with the Protestant princes of Germany Zwingli urged instant combination and action on the part of the Reformed cantons. But his summons met with a tardy response. The most impolitic of half-measures was resorted to, the withholding of supplies from the five Romish cantons. Threatened with want, these cantons flew to arms. Zurich, compelled to meet the onset alone and unprepared, suffered a grievous defeat at the battle of Cappel (Oct. 11, 1531). Zwingli was present at the battle, encouraging the soldiers with his voice, but making no use of his weapons. The gloomy forebodings, which he had cherished since the discarding of his resolute counsels, were realized. Wounded, and too far gone to speak, he shook his head to the Romish soldiers who summoned him to confess to a priest and to call upon the Virgin, and so invited from them the death-thrust. He died, as he had lived, the self-controlled, resolute, courageous man. His last words are said to have been, "What matters this misfortune? They may kill the body, but they cannot kill the soul!" His enemies, as if themselves aware of the limits of their power, exercised their rage to the full upon the dead body. They quartered the corpse, burnt it to ashes, mixed there with the ashes of swine, and scattered the dishonored dust to the four winds.


The disastrous issue, as it was not a product of Zwingli's planning, is obviously no proof against his sagacity in worldly affairs. Judging after the manner of men, had his counsels been followed, not only would an open field have been gained for the Reformation in Switzerland, but also an open field for the growth of a national strength and prosperity such as has never yet been realized. Zwingli was a pioneer in the scheme of the political as well as the religious regeneration of his country; and there have not been wanting historians who have pronounced him the greatest leader in the former relation, no less than in the latter, whom Switzerland has produced. 1 So Ranke, III. 254. Häusser says: "It was Zwingli who first entertained the great idea of giving a general constitution to the Swiss cantons, similar to the representative democracy which has sitar three centuries been realized; of putting an end to the unnatural supremacy of the small forest cantons, of depriving the prefects of their jurisdiction,and of giving to the larger cantons the position to which they were entitled by their extent, power, property, and culture. Zwingli was the greatest political as well as ecclesiastical reformer whom Switzerland has ever seen." (Period of the Reformation, chap. x.) The defect in the Zurich Reformer was not a lack of political wisdom, but a lack of that higher wisdom which distrusts the efficacy of earthly weapons in the work of promoting Christ's kingdom. It should be observed, however, in justice to Zwingli, that the use of arms, which he counseled, seemed to him to be not so much aggressive warfare as a necessary prudence in self-defence. He believed that the sword was about to descend, that the Emperor and his Roman Catholic allies were preparing to unite their forces for the suppression of the gospel. Nor can it be said that he was wrong in imputing such designs to them. The words which Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, addressed to his brother the Emperor, after the battle of Cappel, show how it was hoped that the defeat of Protestantism in Switzerland might be utilized for its suppression throughout Germany.


It was indeed a grievous blow which had befallen the friends of the gospel. While the treaty which was concluded secured freedom of religion to the Reformed cantons, it was in other respects unfavorable. The whole tragedy of civil war tended to the prejudice of the Reformation in Switzerland. Its progress was arrested, and not a little territory was lost. A Roman Catholic reaction seemed imminent even in the chief seats of evangelical teaching, now that the voice of the intrepid Zwingli had been hushed.


But competent leadership was not wanting in the hour of need. (Œcolampadius, it is true, was removed from the stage of action. His death--a scene rarely surpassed for spiritual beauty--occurred shortly after that of Zwingli. An accomplished laborer, however, was found to take up his work at Basle, -Oswald Myconius, who, in the capacity of a teacher, had been a stanch supporter of Zwingli from the beginning of his career. At Zurich, Henry Bullinger stepped into the place of the fallen chief. In the earlier part of his long administration he received the efficient aid of Zwingli's co-laborer, Leo Juda.


Bullinger was not in all respects a man of Zwingli's type. He was not dowered with the same restless energy, zest for affairs, and talent for incisive address. But he had qualities eminently adapted to the serious exigencies of the time. He brought a steady hand to the helm. With patience and moderation he combined firmness and unwearied industry. He managed his relations to the government with exemplary discretion. While in his conception, as in that of Zwingli, Church and State were intimately connected, he held comparatively aloof from civil affairs. At the same time he refused to receive from the magistrate any instructions which would interfere with the free and unreserved proclamation of the gospel. He gained his ends by convincing proof of reasonableness and unselfishness. Men were made to feel that they could depend at once upon his honesty and his practical wisdom. On occasion, his courage and faith rose to a heroic standard, and became a pillar of strength to the Protestant cause. Amid the desperate straits of the Smalcald war, he wrote to Myconius: "The Smalcald war is a Gordian knot. Still the Lord will untie it to the honor of His name and the good of His Church. Even should He give over His servants into the hands of the Emperor, the conquered will yet gain the victory over the conqueror. You know the ways of the Lord. The victory of Daniel at Babylon was more glorious than any victory of Jehoiachin or Zedekiah at Jerusalem would have been." 1 Pestalozzi, Heinrich Bullinger, Leben und Ausgewählte Schriften.


Bullinger's influence extended through a wide circle. As a friend of the persecuted he was brought into sympathetic relations with great numbers who suffered for their faith. Victims of intolerance from the jurisdictions of the Roman Catholic cantons, from Italy, from England, and other countries, were partakers of his generous hospitality. He was in correspondence with representatives of the Reformed Church in many quarters. He kept up quite active communication with England, especially during the reign of Edward VI., and some of his works were early translated into English. The sermons, called Decades as being arranged in a series of tens, are an example. As late as 1586 the Southern Convocation ordained that every minister having cure and being under the degree of master of arts and bachelor of law, should obtain a copy of these sermons in English or Latin, and read a portion of them each week (Wilkins. Concilia, iv. 321.)
In his attitude toward the English Establishment, he was sparing of criticism; and the counsels which he gave to the refugees who returned in the reign of Elizabeth were in accord with his very tolerant views respecting differences in externals. Thus the ministry of Bullinger, which reached beyond the term of forty years, was a benediction to the churches abroad, as well as to that of which he was the honored pastor and trusted guide.