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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 4 — Establishment of Protestantism at Bern

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Bern prepares to Follow up the Baden Disputation – Resolves to institute a Conference – Summoned for January, 1528 – Preparations and Invitations – The Popish Cantons Protest against holding the Conference – Charles V. Writes Forbidding it – Reply of the Bernese German Deputies – Journey of Swiss Deputies – Deputies in all 350 – Church of the Cordeliers – Ten Theses – Convert at the Altar – Fete of St. Vincent – Matins and Vespers Unsung – The Magnificat Exchanged for a Mourning Hymn – Clergy Subscribe the Reformed Propositions – Mass, etc., Abolished – Reforming Laws – Act of Civic Grace – The Lord's Supper.

THE disputation at Baden had ended in the way we have already described. The champions engaged in it had returned to their homes. Eck, as his manner was, went back singing his own praises and loudly vaunting the great victory he had won. Ecolampadius had returned to Basle, and Haller to Bern, not at all displeased with the issue of the affair, though they said little. While the Romanist champions were filling Switzerland with their boastings, the Protestants quietly prepared to gather in the fruits.

The pastors, who from various parts of Switzerland had been present at the disputation, returned home, their courage greatly increased. Moreover, on arriving in their several spheres of labor they found a fresh interest awakened in the cause. The disputation had quickened the movement it was meant to crush. They must follow up their success before the minds of men had time to cool down. This was the purpose now entertained especially by Bern, the proudest and most powerful member of the Swiss Confederacy.

Bern had been halting for some time between two opinions. Ever as it took a few paces forward on the road of Reform, it would stop, turn round, and cast lingering and regretful looks toward Rome. But now it resolved it would make its choice once for all between the Pope and Luther, between the mass and the Protestant sermon. In November, 1527, it summoned a Diet to debate the question. "Unhappy Helvetia," said some, "thus torn by religious opinions and conflicts. Alas! the hour when Zwingli introduced these new doctrines." But was the, state of Switzerland so very sad that it might justly envy the condition of other countries? As the Swiss looked from his mountains he beheld the sky of Europe darkened with war-clouds all round. A fierce tempest had just laid the glory of Rome in the dust. Francis I. and Henry of England, with Milan, Venice, and Florence, were leaguing against the emperor. Charles was unsheathing his sword to spill more blood while that of recent battles was scarcely dry.

The deep scars of internecine conflict and hate were yet fresh on the soil of Germany. Ferdinand of Austria was claiming the crowns of Bohemia and Hungary, and fighting to rescue the provinces and inhabitants of Eastern Europe from the bloody scimitar of the Turk. Such was the state of Europe when the lords and citizens of Bern assembled in their Great Council on the Sabbath after Martinmas, 1527, resolved to institute in the beginning of the coming year a conference on religion, after the model of Zurich, to the intent "that the truth might not be concealed, but that the ground of Divine truth, of Christian intelligence, and of saving health might be discovered, and that a worship in conformity with the Holy Scriptures might be planted and observed." [1]

The preparations were on a scale commensurate with the rank of the city and the gravity of the affair. Invitations were sent to the four Bishops of Lausanne, Basle, Constance, and Sion, who were asked to be present either in person or by deputy, under penalty of the loss of all rights and revenues which they claimed within the canton of Bern in virtue of their episcopal dignity.

The Bernese sent to all the cantons and free towns of the Helvetic Confederacy, desiring them to send their theologians and learned men of both parties to the conference, to the end that, freely and without compulsion to any one, their common Confederacy might make profession of a common faith. They further ordered that all the pastors and cures in the canton should repair to Bern on the first Sunday of January, and assist at the conference from its opening to its close, under pain of deprivation of their benefices. Addressing the learned men of the State, "Come," said the lords of Bern, "we undertake for your safety, and guarantee you all liberty in the expression of your opinions."

One man was honored with a special invitation, Thomas Murner namely, who, as our readers may recollect, gave so comic a close to the conference at Baden. His pleasantries threatened to become serious things indeed to the Swiss. He was daily scattering among the cantons the most virulent invectives against the Zwinglians, couched in brutal language, fitted only to kindle the fiercest passions and plunge the Confederacy into war. Their Excellencies did well in giving the Cordelier an opportunity of proving his charges in presence of the conference. Murner did not come himself, but took care to send a violent philippic against the Bernese. [2]

The adherents of the old faith, with one accord, entered their protest against the holding of such a conference. They claimed to have won the victory at Baden, but it would seem they wished no more such victories. The four bishops came first with a strong remonstrance. The seven Popish cantons followed suit, conjuring the Bernese to desist from a project that was full of danger, and abide by a Church in which their fathers had been content to live and die: even the Emperor Charles wrote exhorting them to abandon their design and await the assembling of a General Council. "The settlement of the religious question," he added, "does not pertain to any one city or country, but to all Christians "

[3] – that is, practically to himself and the Pope. There could not possibly be stronger proofs of the importance the Romanists attached to the proposed conference, and the decisive influence it was likely to exert on the whole of Switzerland. The reply of the Bernese was calm and dignified. "We change nothing in the twelve articles of the Christian faith; we separate not from the Church whose head is Christ; what is founded on the Word of God will abide for ever; we shall only not depart from the Word of God." [4]

All eyes were turned on Zwingli. From far and near clergy and learned men would be there, but Zwingli must take command of the army, he must be the Achilles of the fight. The youthful Haller and the grey-headed Kolb had done battle alone in Bern until now, but the action about to open required a surer eye and a sturdier arm. Haller wrote in pressing terms to this "best-beloved brother and champion in the cause of Christ," that he would be pleased to come. "You know," he said, "how much is here at stake, what shame, mockery, and disgrace would fall upon the Evangel and upon us if we were found not to be competent to the task. My brother, fail not." [5]

To this grand conference there came deputies not from Switzerland only, but from many of the neighboring countries. On New Year's Eve, 1528, more than a hundred clergy and learned men assembled at Zurich from Suabia, invitations having been sent to the towns of Southern Germany. [6] The doctors of St. Gall, Schaffhausen, Glarus, Constance, Ulm, Lindau, Augsburg, and other places also repaired to the rendezvous at Zurich. On the following morning they all set out for Bern, and with them journeyed the deputies from Zurich – Zwingli, Burgomaster Roist, Conrad Pellican, [7] Sebastien Hoffmeister, Gaspard Grossmann, a great number of the rural clergy, Conrad Schmidt, Commander of Kussnacht; Pierre Simmler, Prior of Kappel; and Henry Bullinger, Regent in the college, of the same place. [8]

At the head of the cavalcade rode the Burgomaster of Zurich, Roist. By his side were Zwingli and several of the councilors, also on horseback. The rest of the deputies followed. A little in advance of the company rode the town herald, but without his trumpet, for they wished to pass on without noise. The territory to be traversed on the way to Bern was owned by the Popish cantons. The deputies had asked a safe-conduct, but were refused. "There will be abundance of excellent game abroad," was the news bruited through Popish Switzerland; "let us go a-hunting." If they seriously meant what they said, their sport was spoiled by the armed escort that accompanied the travelers. Three hundred men with arquebuss on shoulder marched right and left of them. [9] In this fashion they moved onwards to Bern, to take captive to Christ a proud city which no enemy had been able to storm. They entered its gates on the 4th of January, and found already arrived there numerous deputies, among others Ecolampadius of Basle, and Bucer and Capito of Strasburg.

The Bernese were anxious above all things to have the question between the two Churches thoroughly sifted. For this end they invited the ablest champions on both sides, guaranteeing them all freedom of debate. They heard of a worthy Cordelier at Grandson, named De Marie Palud, a learned man, but too poor to be able to leave home. The lords of Bern dispatched a special messenger with a letter to this worthy monk, earnestly urging him to come to the conference, and bidding the courier protect his person and defray his expenses on the road. [10] If Eck and the other great champions of Rome were absent, it was because they chose not to come. The doctor of Ingolstadt would not sit in an assembly of heretics where no proof, unless drawn from the Word of God, would be received, nor any explanation of it admitted unless it came from the same source. Did any one ever hear anything so unreasonable? asked Eck. Has the Bible a tongue to refute those who oppose it? The roll-call showed a great many absentees besides Eck. The names of the Bishops of Basle, Sion, Constance, and Lausanne were shouted out in accents that rung through the church, but the echoes of the secretary's voice were the only answer returned. The assemblage amounted to 350 persons – priests, pastors, scholars, and councilors from Switzerland and Germany.

The Church of the Cordeliers was selected as the place of conference. A large platform had been erected, and two tables placed on it. At the one table sat the Popish deputies, round the other were gathered the Protestant disputants. Between the two sat four secretaries, from whom a solemn declaration, tantamount to an oath, had been exacted, that they would make a faithful record of all that was said and done. Four presidents were chosen to rule in the debate. [11]

The disputation lasted twenty consecutive days, with the single interruption of one day, the fete of St. Vincent, the patron saint of Bern. It commenced on the 6th January, and closed on the 27th. On Sunday as on other days did the conference assemble. Each day two sessions were held – one in the morning, the other after dinner; and each was opened with prayer. [12]

Ten propositions [13] a were put down to be debated. They were declarations of the Protestant doctrine, drawn so as to comprehend all the points in controversy between the two Churches. The discussion on the mass occupied two whole days, and was signalized at its close by a dramatic incident which powerfully demonstrated where the victory lay.

From the Church of the Cordeliers, Zwingli passed to the cathedral, to proclaim from its pulpit, in the hearing of the people, the proofs he

had maintained triumphantly in the debate. At one of the side altars stood a priest, arrayed in pall and chasuble and all necessary sacerdotal vestments for saying mass. He was just about to begin the service when Zwingli's voice struck upon his car. He paused to listen. "He ascended into heaven," said the Reformer in a slow and solemn voice, reciting the creed; "and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty," pausing again; "from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead." "These three articles," said Zwingli, "cannot stand with the mass." The words flashed conviction into the mind of the priest. His resolution was taken on the spot. Stripping off his priestly robes and flinging them on the altar, he turned his eyes in the direction of Zwingli, and said in the hearing of all in the cathedral, "If the mass rest on no better foundation, I will neither read it now, nor read it more." [14] This victory at the very foot of the altar was hailed as an omen of a full triumph at no great distance.

Three days thereafter was the fete of St. Vincent. The canons of the college waited on the magistrates to know the pleasure of their Excellencies respecting its celebration. They had been wont to observe the day with great solemnity in Bern. "Those of you," said the magistrates to the canons, "who can subscribe the 'ten Reformed propositions' ought not to keep the festival; those of you who cannot subscribe them, may." Already the sweet breath of toleration begins to be felt. On St. Vincent's Eve all the bells were tolled to warn the citizens that tomorrow was the festival of the patron saint of their city. The dull dawn of a January morning succeeded; the sacristans made haste to open the gates of the cathedral, to light the tapers, to prepare the incense, and to set in order the altar-furniture: but, alas! there came neither, priest nor worshipper at the hour of service. no matins were sung under the cathedral roof that morning.

The hour of vespers came. The scene of the morning was renewed. No evensong broke the silence. The organist was seated before his instrument, but he waited in vain for the coming of canon to mingle his chant, as the wont was, with the peal of the organ. When he looked about him, half in terror, and contrasted the solitude around him with the crowd of vested canons and kneeling worshippers, which used on such occasions to fill choir and nave of the cathedral, and join their voices with the majestic strains of the Magnificat, his heart was full of sadness; the glory had departed. He began to play on the organ the Church's mourning hymn, "O wretched Judas, what hast thou done that thou hast betrayed thy Lord?" and the music pealed along roof and aisle of the empty church. It sounded like a dirge over the fall of the Roman worship. "It was the last piece," says Ruchat, "that was played on that organ, for soon thereafter it was broken in pieces." [15]

The conference was at an end. The Reformers had won an easy victory. Indeed Zwingli could not help complaining that Eck and other practiced champions on the Roman side had not been present, in order to permit a fuller development of the strength of the Protestant argument. [16] Conrad Treger of Friburg, Provincial of the Augustines, did his best, in the absence of the doctor of Ingolstadt, to maintain the waning glory and tottering authority of Rome; but it is not surprising that he failed where Eck himself could not have succeeded. The disputants were restricted to Scripture, and at this weapon Zwingli excelled all the men of his time. [17]

The theologians had done their part: their Excellencies of Bern must now do theirs. Assembling the canons and ecclesiastics of the city and canton, the magistrates asked them if they wished to subscribe the Reformed theses. The response was hearty. All the canons subscribed the articles, as did also the Prior and Sub-Prior of the Dominicans, with six: of their brethren, and fifty-two cures and other beneficed clergy of the city as well as the rural parts. [18]

Having dismissed the members of the conference with honor, defraying the expenses of those they had specially invited, and appointing a guard of 200 armed men to escort the Zurich deputies through the territory of the Five Cantons, the magistrates set about bringing the worship into conformity with the Reformed creed which the clergy had so unanimously subscribed. The lords in council decreed that the observance of the mass should cease in Bern, as also in those landward parishes whose cures had adopted the Reformed confession. The sacrifice abolished, there was no further need of the altar. The altars were pulled down. A material object of worship stands or falls with a material sacrifice; and so the images shared the fate of the altars. Their fragments, strewed on the porch and floor of the churches, were profanely trodden upon by the feet of those whose knees had so recently been bent in adoration of them. There were those who witnessed these proceedings with horror, and in whose eyes a church without an altar and without an image had neither beauty nor sanctity.

"When the good folks of the Oberland come to market," said these men, "they will be happy to put up their cattle in the cathedral."

An august transaction did that same building – albeit its altars were overturned and its idols demolished witness on the 2nd of February, 1528. On that day all the burgesses and inhabitants of Bern, servants as well as masters, were assembled in the cathedral, at the summons of the magistrates, and swore with uplifted hands to stand by the council in all their measures for the Reformation of religion. [19] Secured on this side,

the magistrates published an edict on the 7th of February, in thirteen articles, of which the following are the chief provisions: –

1st. They approved and confirmed the "ten propositions," ordaining their subjects to receive and conform themselves to them, and taking God to witness that they believed them to be agreeable to the Word of God.

2nd. They released their subjects from the jurisdiction of the Bishops of Basle, Constance, Sion, and Lausanne.

3rd. They discharged the deans and chapters from their oath of obedience, the clergy from their vow of celibacy, and the people from the law of meats and festivals.

4th. The ecclesiastical goods they apportioned to the payment of annuities to monks and nuns, to the founding of schools and hospitals, and the relief of the poor. Not a penny did they appropriate to their own use. [20]

5th. Games of chance they prohibited; the taverns they ordered to be closed at nine o'clock; houses of infamy they suppressed, banishing their wretched inmates from the city. [21]

Following in the steps of Zurich, they passed a law forbidding the foreign service. What deep wounds had that service inflicted on Switzerland! Orphans and widows, withered and mutilated forms, cowardly feelings, and hideous vices had all entered with it! Henceforward no Bernese was to be at liberty to sell his sword to a foreign potentate or shed his own or another's blood in a quarrel that did not belong to him. In fine, "they made an inscription," says Sleidan, "in golden letters, upon a pillar, of the day and the year when Popery was abolished, to stand as a monument to posterity." [22]

The foreign deputies did not depart till they had seen their Excellencies of Bern honor the occasion of their visit by an act of civic clemency and grace. They opened the prison doors to two men who had forfeited their lives for sedition. Further, they recalled all the exiles. "If a king or emperor," said they, "had visited our city, we would have released the malefactors, exhorting them to amendment. And now that the King of kings, and the Prince who owns the homage of our hearts, the Son of God and our Brother, has visited our city, and has opened to us the doors of an eternal prison, shall we not do honor to him by showing a like grace to those who have offended against us? " [23]

One other act remained to seal the triumph which the Gospel had won in the city and canton of Bern. On Easter Sunday the Lord's Supper was celebrated after what they believed to be the simple model of primitive times. "That Sunday was a high day." Bern for centuries had been in the tomb of a dark superstition; but Bern is risen again, and with a calm joy she celebrates, with holy rites, her return from the grave. Around the great minister lies the hushed city; in the southern sky stand up the snowy piles of the Oberland, filling the air with a dazzling brightness. The calm is suddenly broken by the deep tones of the great bell summoning the citizens to the cathedral. Thither all ranks bend their steps; dressed with ancient Swiss simplicity, grave and earnest as their fathers were when marching to the battle-field, they troop in, and now all are gathered under the roof of their ancient minister: the councilor, the burgess, the artizan; the servant with his master, and by the side of the hoar patriarch the fresh form and sparkling eye of youth. On that cathedral floor is now no altar; on its wall no image. No bannered procession advances along its aisles, and no cloud of incense is seen mounting to its roof; yet never had their time-honored temple – the house where their fathers had worshipped – appeared more venerable, and holy, than it did in the eyes of the Bernese this day.

Over the vast assembly rises the pulpit; on it lies the Bible, from which Berthold Haller is to address to them the words of life. Stretching from side to side of the building is the Communion table, covered with a linen cloth: the snows of their Alps are not whiter. The bread and the cup alone are seen on that table. How simple yet awful these symbols! How full of a gracious efficacy, and an amazing but blessed import, presenting as they do to the faith of the worshipper that majestic Sufferer, and that sublime death by which death has been destroyed! The Mighty One, he who stood before Pilate, but now sitteth on the right hand of God, is present in the midst of them, seen in the memorials of his passion, and felt by the working of his Spirit.

The sermon ended, Haller descends from the pulpit, and takes his stand, along with the elders of the flock, at the Communion table. With eyes and hands lifted up he gives thanks for this memorial and seal of redemption. Then a hymn, sung in responses, echoes through the building. How noble and thrilling the melody when with a thousand tongues a thousand hearts utter their joy! The song is at an end; the hushed stillness again reigns in aisle and nave of the vast fabric. Hailer takes the bread, and breaking it in the sight of all, gives it to the communicants, saying, "This is my body; take, eat." He takes the cup, and says, "This cup is the New Testament in my blood, shed for you; drink ye all of it." Within that "sign" lies wrapped up, to their faith, the Divine and everlasting "thing signified."

They receive, with the bread and wine, a full forgiveness, an eternal life – in short, Christ and the benefits of his redemption. Faith opens the deep fountains of their soul, their love and sorrow and joy find vent in a flood of tears; scarcely have these fallen when, like the

golden light after the shower, there comes the shout of gladness, the song of triumph: "They sing a new song, saying, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing: for thou hast redeemed us unto God with thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation: and hast made us unto our God kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth." [24] Such was the worship that succeeded the pantomimic rites and histrionic devotion of the Romish Church.


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Friday, September 21st, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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