A Twisted Crown of Thorns ®

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Zurich and Zwingli: The people’s priest in Zurich and his contribution to the Reformation.

I had a very interesting trip recently to Germany and Switzerland as I followed a few of the Reformers. One of them stuck out. No he didn’t nail theses on walls but he knew how to get his point across. I must add here that the Reformation actually was not a one man crusade as some would want you to believe. God in his providence harnessed events in tandem to bring about one of the greatest revivals since Pentecost and the visible effects were actually out workings and fruits of birth pangs that had began with people going back to reading the scriptures.

In Zürich (Switzerland) stands a statue that has braved mischievous and militant Swiss pigeons to the hilt. It stands in the church yard of one of  the biggest cathedrals in Zürich, the Grossmünster. The statue is of the man who was called “the people’s priest” Ulrich (Huldrych) Zwingli. Zwingli was born January 1, 1484 in Wildhaus, Switzerland. Early scholarly gifts caused him to be sent to school, especially at Basel, and he learned to love the classics.

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When Zwingli became a priest he arrived in Zürich town with the announcement that he would begin to preach right through the Gospel of Matthew. This was a departure from the fragmentary reading of Scripture that had prevailed in the medieval Church. After Matthew he preached through Acts and then turned his attention to Paul’s epistles. There is a lot that the contemporary church movement would learn  from this simple man who led to spiritual reform from just beginning to preach verse by verse (expository preaching) at the Grossmünster. (Click here for Zwingli resources online)

The Grossmünster (“great minster”) is a Romanesque-style Protestant church in Zürich, Switzerland. It is near the banks of the Limmat River. Construction of the present structure commenced around 1100 and it was inaugurated around 1220. Huldrych Zwingli initiated the Swiss-German Reformation in Switzerland from his pastoral office at the Grossmünster, starting in 1520. Zwingli won a series of debates presided over by the magistrate in 1523 which ultimately led local civil authorities to sanction the severance of the church from the papacy. The reforms initiated by Zwingli and continued by his successor, Heinrich Bullinger, account for the plain interior of the church. The iconoclastic reformers removed the organ and religious statuary in 1524.

Zurich is a peaceful and quiet city. As you walk by the river side you will come across the Lindenhof. Towering above Altstadt (the old town), Lindenhof is a pleasant park with panoramic views of the city. It is the site of the Roman castrum of Turicum, the name of Zürich in Roman times. You can see the peaks of the two towers of the Grossmunster almost from every where.  When at the Lindenhof they almost seem to be in touching distance. And hey don’t forget to wink at the big clock too. Built in the 9th century, the St Peterskirche (St. Peter’s Church) is the oldest church in Zürich. It also boasts the largest clock face in Europe. The clock face of St. Peterskirche is 9m (28.5 ft.) in diameter. The minute hand alone is almost 4m (12 ft.) long! Now wait a minute….thats why time goes veeery slooooooowly in ZZZzzzurich.

Descending down from the Lindenhof you will walk through a couple of alleys to an almost secluded spot. It you are not looking for this spot you are bound to miss it. It’s a plaque that hides a dark secret. Its a plaque in memory of the Anabaptists who were drowned in the River Limmat. These “radicals” as they are usually referred to were the rebaptisers. (I will write a more comprehensive post on them another time). However the anabaptist’s plaque and cave (Tauferhohle) are quite good historical markers pointing to a turbulent period in church history. (oh yes, there is also a building that is a tribute to Conrad Grebel though it has been turned into a cafe but the inscriptions are still intact on the wall coloumns)

Back to Zwingli, by 1530, Zwinglian reforms had spread through Switzerland and south Germany. But not all of Switzerland rallied to Zwingli nevertheless his legacy lives on till today.

So, what shall we thank Zwingli for? What was Zwingli’s theology and influence?

Zwingli’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper differed from Luther’s, as we saw in the Luther lesson. They attempted, but failed, to work out their differences at the Marburg Colloquy. Zwingli rejected not only the doctrine of transubstantiation (Christ’s body and blood replace the substance of bread and wine), but also the Real Presence as held by Luther (Christ’s physical body and blood are present in, with, and under the bread and wine, which remains bread and wine).

Instead, he believed that the Lord’s Supper was a memorial or remembrance of Christ’s death which increased the faith of believers (“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes,” 1 Cor 11:26). When Jesus broke the bread and said, “This is my body,” Zwingli believed it was absurd to believe that his body was present in the bread, since Jesus sat before them alive as he spoke the words. Similarly, Jesus is physically now in heaven, having ascended bodily, and while he fills the earth as God at all times, his body remains a human body and is not omnipresent. This difference was never resolved….

[On the Anabaptists] as a movement the Anabaptists are probably older than the Reformation, since they embody ways of looking at Christ and the Christian life which were very present in medieval dissident groups. They are the Protestant version of the medieval sects which were persecuted by Rome, only now they arose in Protestant lands.

Remember that the mainstream Reformers and Rome agreed on one thing: there is only one Church, and it is to find expression as exactly one body in any locality. This often confuses Protestants who believe that liberty of conscience arose full-blown from the mind of Martin Luther. Luther indeed contended for liberty of conscience, but he meant that the individual believer should not be under the power of Roman bishops and the Pope when reading the Bible, which was God’s very word. But neither Luther, Zwingli, or Calvin had any intention of there being more than one church in a local jurisdiction. Instead, the rulers — be they Prince, Duke, or republican body — were to be won over to the Reformation by preaching, and then the rulers (if they were to be good Christians) should see to the reformation of the church in their area.

At the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, which won final tolerance of Lutheranism in the Empire, the concept of cuius regio, eius religio (“whose the region, his the religion”) was made the legal standard. Each part of the Empire could only be one religion, either evangelical or Roman Catholic. At least it was stated that if a person disagreed with the religion of his ruler, he was to be allowed to emigrate to a region which practiced his own religion. Again, there were only two legal religions, and in any one region there would be only one.

This being true, there could be only one response to the rising of an Anabaptist movement in a Protestant (or Catholic) region. It must be eliminated. Some localities chose to enforce only the “mild” punishment of banishment, but most employed some form of death penalty. Only a very few places like Strasbourg attempted to find a more humane solution to the problem.

[Finally] Zwingli was the first example of a Swiss reformer, and he was a Swiss German, not a Frenchman like John Calvin. There were differences! Nevertheless, even though Calvin’s name will always be connected to Reformed Christianity, it was Zwingli who was the archetype. He was the first to publicly deny the Real Presence; he was the first to bring “Puritan” influences and thorough reform of all outward ceremonies. “The Wittenberger would allow whatever the Bible did not prohibit; Zwingli rejected whatever the Bible did not prescribe” (Shelley, p. 250). In many ways, Lutheranism was defined by justification by faith, which limited it, but Reformed Christianity was defined by adherence to Scripture. The type of Christianity that Zwingli discovered in the Bible became, although with much variety, the faith of most Protestants. Through Zwingli and then Calvin, the Reformed theology became the greatest branch of Protestantism, even though fragmented into many movements. When it merged into the Moravian/Wesleyan/Great Awakening strains, and gave up its love for the Constantinian state church, it became modern Evangelicalism in all its strength


10 responses to “Zurich and Zwingli: The people’s priest in Zurich and his contribution to the Reformation.

  1. Jim May 14, 2012 at 19:04

    Reblogged this on Zwinglius Redivivus and commented:
    Nicely done and a good summary.

  2. evanlaar1922 May 14, 2012 at 19:47

    Had to share this on Facebook – freaking out my friends at the moment for sure as I tell them I am a direct descendant of Heinrich Bullinger

  3. Paul Barnes May 15, 2012 at 13:56

    See also http://haus-barnabas.blogspot.co.uk/ for a brief report on the Reformation Week.

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