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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 11 — Protestantism in Switzerland From Its Establishment in Zurich (1525) to the Death of Zwingli (1531)

Chapter 2 — Disputation at Baden and its results

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Alarm of the Romanists – Resolve to Strike a great Blow – They propose a Public Disputation – Eck chosen as Romanist Champion – Zwingli Refused Leave to go to Baden – Martyrs – Arrival of the Deputies – Magnificent Dresses of the Romish Disputants – The Protestant Deputies – Personal Appearance of Eck and Ecolampadius – Points Debated – Eck Claims the Victory – The Protestants Gather the Fruits – Zwingli kept Informed of the Process of the Debate – Clever Device – A Comedy – Counsels Frustrated – Eck and Charles V. Helping the Reformation.

THE victories that we narrated in a foregoing Book of this History (Book 8.) caused the utmost alarm among the partisans of the Papacy. The movement, first despised by them, and next half welcomed as holding out the hope of a little pleasurable excitement, had now grown to such a head that it threatened to lay in the dust the whole stately fabric of their riches and power. They must go wisely to work, and strike such a blow as would sweep Zwingli and his movement from the soil of Helvetia. This, said they, making sure of their victory before winning it, will react favorably on Germany. The torrent once stemmed, the waters of heresy will retreat to the abyss whence they issued, and the "everlasting hills" of the old faith, which the deluge threatened to overtop, will once more lift up their heads stable and majestic as ever.

An event that happened in the political world helped yet further to impress upon the Romanists the necessity of some instant and vigorous step. The terrible battle of Pavia projected a dark shadow upon Switzerland, but shed a gleam of popularity on Zwingli, and indirectly on the Reformation. A numerous body of Swiss mercenaries had fought on that bloody field. From five to six thousand of their corpses swelled its slain, and five thousand were taken alive and made prisoners. These were afterwards released and sent home, but in what a plight! Their arms lopped off, their faces seamed and scarred; many, through hunger and faintness, dying by the way, and the rest arriving in rags! Not only was it that these spectacles of horror wandered over the land, but from every city and hamlet arose the wail of widow and the cry of orphan. What the poet said of Albion might now be applied to Helvetia:

"Our isle be made a nourish of salt tears,
And none but women left to wail the dead." [1]

In that day of their sore calamity the people remembered how often Zwingli had thundered against the foreign service from the pulpit. He had been, they now saw, their best friend, their truest patriot; and the Popish cantons envied Zurich, which mainly through Zwingli's influence had wholly escaped, or suffered but slightly, from a stroke which had fallen with such stunning force upon themselves.

The Romanists saw the favorable impression that was being made upon the popular sentiment, and bethought them by what means they might counteract it. The wiser among them reflected, on the one hand, how little progress they were making in the suppression of Lutheranism by beheading and burning its disciples; and, on the other, how much advantage Zwingli had gained from the religious disputation at Zurich. "They deliberated," says Bullinger, "day and night," and at last came to the conclusion that the right course was to hold a public disputation, and conquer the Reformation by its own weapons – leaving its truth out of their calculations. They would so arrange beforehand as to make sure of the victory, by selecting the fitting place at which to hold the disputation, and the right men to decide between the controversialists. The scheme promised to be attended with yet another advantage, although they took care to say nothing about it, unless to those they could absolutely trust. Zwingli, of course, would come to the conference. He would be in their power. They could condemn and burn him, and the death of its champion would be the death of the movement. [2]

Accordingly at a Diet held at Lucerne, the 15th January, 1526, the Five Cantons – Lucerne, Uri, Schwitz, Appenzell, and Friburg – resolved on a disputation, and agreed that it should take place at Bern. The Bernese, however, declined the honor. Basle was then selected as the next most suitable, being a university seat, and boasting the residence within it of many learned men. But Basle was as little covetous of the honor as Bern.

After a good deal of negotiating, it was concluded to hold the disputation at Baden on the 16th May, 1526. [3]

This being settled, the cantons looked around them for powerful champions to do battle for the old faith. One illustrious champion, who had figured not without glory on the early fields of the Reformation, still survived Dr. Eck, Vice-Chancellor of Ingolstadt. Our readers have not forgotten the day of Leipsic, where Eck encountered Luther, and foiled him, as he boasted; but finding Luther perversely blind to his defeat, he went to Rome, and returned with the bull of Leo X. to burn the man who had no right to live after having been confuted by Eck. Dr. Eck was a man of undoubted learning, of unrivalled volubility – in short, the best swordsman Rome had then at her service. The choice of the Popish cantons unanimously fell on this veteran.

Eck was to reap from this passage-at-arms more solid laurels than mere fame. On the side of Rome the battle had begun to be maintained largely by money. The higher clergy in Suabia and Switzerland piously taxed themselves for this laudable object. The Suabian League and the Archduke of Austria raised money to hire the services of men willing and able to fight in these campaigns. There was no reason

why the doctor of Ingolstadt should give his time, and endanger, if not life, yet those hard-won honors that made life sweet, without a reasonable recompense. Eck was to be handsomely paid; [4] for, says Bullinger, quoting a very old precedent, "he loved the wages of unrighteousness." The doctor of Ingolstadt accepted the combat, and with it victory, its inseparable consequence as he deemed it. Writing to the Confederate deputies at Baden, Dr. Eck says, "I am full of confidence that I shall, with little trouble, maintain against Zwingli our old true Christian faith and customs to be accordant with Holy Scripture," and then with a scorn justifiable, it may be, in so great a personage as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ingolstadt, when descending into the arena to meet the son of the shepherd of the Tockenburg, he says, "Zwingli no doubt has milked more cows than he has read books." [5]

But Dr. Eck was not to encounter Zwingli at Baden. The Council of Zurich refused leave to their pastor to go to the conference. Whispers had come to the ears of their Excellencies that the Romanists intended to employ other weapons besides argument. The place where the conference was to be held was of evil omen; for at Baden the blood of the Wirths [6] was yet scarcely dry; and there the Popish cantons were all-powerful. Even Eck, with whom Zwingli was to dispute, had proclaimed the futility of fighting against such heretics as the preacher of Zurich with any other weapons than "fire and sword." [7] So far as the "fire" could reach him it had already been employed against Zwingli; for they had burned his books at Friburg and his effigy at Lucerne. He was ready to meet at Zurich their entire controversial phalanx from its Goliath downwards, and the magistrates would have welcomed such meeting; but send him to Baden the council would not, for that was to send him not to dispute, but to die.

In coming to this conclusion the lords of Zurich transgressed no law of charity, and their conclusion, hard though it was, did the Romanists of Switzerland no wrong. Wherever at this hour they looked in the surrounding cantons and provinces, what did they see? Stakes and victims. The men who were so eager to argue at Baden showed no relish for so tedious a process where they could employ the more summary one of the sack and rope. At Lucerne, Henry Messberg was thrown into the lake for speaking against the nuns; and John Nagel was burned alive for sowing "Zwinglian tenets." At Schwitz, Eberhard Polt of Lachen, and a priest of the same place, suffered death by burning for speaking against the ceremonies. At the same time Peter Spongier, a Protestant minister, was drowned at Friburg by order of the Bishop of Constance. Nor did the man who had won so many laurels in debate, disdain adding thereto the honors of the executioner. But a short week before the conference at Baden, Eck presided over a consistory which met in the market-place of Mersburg, and condemned to the flames as a heretic John Hugel, the Pastor of Lindau. The martyr went to the stake singing the Te Deum, and was heard amid the fires offering the prayer, "Father, forgive them." [8]

When the appointed day came the deputies began to arrive. Twelve cantons of the Confederacy sent each a representative. Zurich had received no invitation and sent no deputy. The Bishops of Constance, of Coire, of Lausanne, and of Basle were also represented at the conference. Eck came attended by Faber, the college companion of Zwingli, [9] and Thomas Murner, a monk of the order of the Carmelites. The list of Protestant controversialists was a modest one, embracing only the names of Ecolampadius from Basle, and Haller from Bern. In neither of these two cities was the Reformation as yet (1526) established, but the conference just opening was destined to give a powerful impulse to Protestantism in both of them. In Bern and Basle it halted meanwhile; but from this day the Reformation was to resume its march in these cities, and pause only when it had reached the goal. Could the Romanists have foreseen this result, they would have been a little less zealous in the affair of the conference. If the arguments of the Popish deputies should prove as strong as their dresses were magnificent, there could be no question with whom would remain the victory. Eck and his following of prelates, magistrates, and doctors came robed in garments of damask and silk. They wore gold chains round their necks; crosses reposed softly and piously on their breasts; their fingers glittered and burned with precious jewels; [10] and their measured step and uplifted countenances were such as beseemed the bravery of their apparel. If the plays of our great dramatist had been then in existence, and if the men now assembling at Baden had been a troupe of tragedians, who had been hired to act them, nothing could have been in better taste; but fine robes were slender qualifications for a discussion which had for its object the selection and adoption of those principles on which the Churches and kingdoms of the future were to be constructed. In the eyes of the populace, the Reformers, in comparison with the men in damask, were but as a company of mendicants. The two were not more different in dress than in their way of living. Eck and his friends lodged at the Baden parsonage, where the wine, provided by the Abbot of Wettingen, was excellent. It was supplied without stint, and used not less so. [11] Ecolampadius put up at the Pike Inn. His meals were quickly dispatched, and the landlord, wondering how he occupied his time in his room, peered in, and found him reading or praying. "A heretic, doubtless," said he, "but a pious one


Eck was still the same man we saw him at Leipsic – his shoulders as broad, his voice as Stentorian, and his manner as violent. If the logic of his argument halted, he helped it with a vigorous stamp of his foot, and, as a contemporary poet of Bern relates, an occasional oath. In striking contrast to his porter-like figure, was the tall, thin, dignified form of his opponent Ecolampadius. Some of the Roman Catholics, says Bullinger, could not help wishing that the "sallow man," so calm, yet so firm and so majestic, were on "their side."

It is unnecessary to give any outline of the disputation. The ground traversed was the same which had been repeatedly gone over. The points debated were those of the real presence, the sacrifice of the mass, the adoration of Mary and the saints, worshipping by images, and purgatory, with a few minor questions. [12] The contest lasted eighteen days. "Every day the clergy of Baden," says Ruchat, "walked in solemn procession, and chanted litanies, to have good success in the disputation." [13] Eck reveled in the combat, and when it had ended he claimed the victory, and took care to have the great news published through the Confederacy, exciting in the Popish cantons the lively hope of the instant restoration of the old faith to its former glory. But the question is, who gathered the spoils? We can have no difficulty in answering that question when we think of the fresh life imparted to Bern and Basle, and the rapid strides with which, from this time forward, they and other cities advanced to the establishment of their Reformation.

Eck felt the weight of Zwingli's arm, although the Reformer was not present in person. The Popish party, having appointed four secretaries to make a faithful record of the conference, prohibited all others from taking notes of the debate, under no less a penalty than death. Yet, despite this stern law, evening by evening Zwingli was told how the fight had gone, and was able, morning by morning, to send his advice to his friends how to set the battle in order for the day. It was cleverly done. A student from the Vallais, Jerome Walsch, who professed to be using the baths of Baden, attended the conference, and every evening wrote down from memory the course the argument had taken that day. Two students did the office of messenger by turns. Arriving at Zurich overnight, they handed Walsch's notes, together with the letters of Ecolampadius, to Zwingli, and were back at Baden next morning with the Reformer's answer. To lull the suspicions of the armed sentries at the gates, who had been ordered to keep a strict watch, they carried on their heads baskets of poultry. Even theologians, they hinted, must eat. If Dr. Eck, and the worthy divines with him, should go without their dinner, they would not be answerable for what might happen to the good cause of Romanism, or to those who should take it upon them to stop the supplies. Thus they came and went without its being suspected on what errand they journeyed.

After the serious business of the conference, there came a little comedy. In the train of the doctor of Ingolstadt, as we have already said, came Thomas Murner, monk and lecturer at Lucerne. The deputies of the cantons had just given judgment for Eck, to the effect that he had triumphed in the debate, and crushed the Zwinglian heresy. But Murner, aspiring to the honor of slaying the slain, rose, in presence of the whole assembly, and read forty charges, which, putting body and goods in pledge, he offered to make good against Zwingli. No one thought it worth while to reply.

Whereupon the Cordelier continued, "I thought the coward would crone, but he has not shown face. I declare forty times, by every law human and divine, that the tyrant of Zurich and all his followers are knaves, liars, perjurers, adulterers, infidels, thieves, sacrileges, gaol-birds, and such that no honest man without blushing can keep company with them." [14] Having so spoken he sat down, and the Diet was at an end.

Thus we behold, at nearly the same moment, on two stages widely apart, measures taken to suppress Protestantism, which, in their results, help above all things to establish it. In the little town of Baden we see the deputies of the cantons and the representatives of the bishops assembling to confute the Zwinglians, and vote the extinction of the Reform movement in Switzerland. Far away beyond the Pyrenees we see (March, 1526) the Emperor Charles sitting down in the Moorish Alcazar at Seville, and indicting a letter to his brother Archduke Ferdinand, commanding him to summon a Diet at Siftres, to execute the Edict of Worms. The disputation at Baden led very directly, as we shall immediately see, to the establishment of Protestantism in the two important cantons of Bern and Basic. And the Diet of Spires (1526), instead of an edict of proscription, produced, as we have already seen an edict of toleration in favor of the Reformation. The Chancellor of the University of Ingolstadt and the head of the Holy Roman Empire, acting without concert, and certainly not designing what they accomplish, unite their powerful aids in helping onward the cause of the world's emancipation. There is One who overrules their counsels, and makes use of them to overthrow that which they wish to uphold, and protect that which they seek to destroy.

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Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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