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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 9 — Gathering of a Second storm

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Persecution renewed by the Five Cantons — Activity of Zwingli — Address of the Reformed Pastors - Bern proposes Blockade of the Five Cantons — Zwingli Opposed — No Bread, etc. — Zwingli asks his Dismissal - Consents to Remain — Meeting at Bremgarten — The Comet — Alarming Portents — Zwingli's Earnest Warnings-Unheeded.

EVERY Step of the Gospel nearer their mountains made the men of the Five Cantons only the more determined to rend the treaty in which they had bound themselves to their brethren. They had already violated its spirit. The few professors of the Reformed faith in their territory they drove out, or imprisoned, or burned. In the common parishes - that is, the communes governed now by the Reformed, and now by the Popish cantons - they committed the same atrocities when their turn of jurisdiction came. They imprisoned the preachers and professors of the Reformed faith, confiscated their goods, cut out their tongues, beheaded and burned them. Calumnies were next circulated to inflame the popular wrath against the Protestants; then followed wrathful speeches; at last was heard the clang of arms; it was evident that another tempest was brewing among the mountains of the Oberland.

A General Diet of the Swiss Confederation was convoked at Baden on the 8th of January, 1531. [1] It was unable to come to any decision. Meanwhile the provocation's which the Forest Cantons were daily offering were becoming intolerable, yet how were they to be restrained? Behind those cantons stood the emperor and Ferdinand, both, at this hour, making vast preparations; and should war be commenced, who could tell where it would end? Meanwhile it was of the last importance to keep alive the patriotism of the people. Zwingli visited in person the Confederate cantons; he organized committees, he addressed large assemblies; he appealed to everything that could rouse Swiss valor. The armies of Rome were slowly closing around them; the Spaniards were in the Grisons; the emperor was in Germany; soon they would be cut off from their fellow-Protestants of other lands and shut up in their mountains. They must strike while yet they had the power. It would be too late when the emperor's sword was at their gates, and the Romanists of their own mountains had fallen like an avalanche upon them. Never had their fathers bled in so holy a cause.

The heroes of the past seemed all to live again in this one man. Wherever he passed he left behind him a country on fire.

A Diet of the Reformed cantons was held at Arau on the 12th of May, to decide on the steps to be taken. The situation, they said, was this: "The Mountain Cantons remain Roman Catholic; they divide Switzerland into two camps; they keep open the door: for the armed hordes of foreign bigotry and despotism. How shall we restore Swiss unity?" they asked.

"Not otherwise than by restoring unity of faith." They did not seek to compel the Five Cantons to renounce Popery, but they believed themselves justified in asking them to cease from persecuting the preachers of the Gospel in the common parishes, and to tolerate the Reformed doctrine in their valleys. This was the demand of the four Reformed cantons.

The Pastors of Zurich, Bern, Basle, and Strasburg assembled in Zwingli's house the 5th of September, 1530, and speaking in the name of the Reformed cantons addressed to their Popish confederates the following words: "You know, gracious lords, that concord increases the power of States, and that discord overthrows them. You yourselves are a proof of the first. May God prevent you from becoming also a proof of the second.

For this reason we conjure you to allow the Word of God to be preached among you. When has there ever existed, even among the heathen, a people which saw not that the hand of God alone upholds, a nation? Do not two drops of quicksilver unite as soon as you remove that which separates them? Away then with that which separates you from your cities, that is, the absence of the Word of God, and immediately the Almighty will unite us as our fathers were united. Then placed in your mountains, as in the center of Christendom, you will be an example to it, its protection and its refuge; and after having passed through this vale of tears, being the terror of the wicked and the consolation of the faithful, you will at last be established in eternal happiness."

"The minister's sermon is rather long," said some, with a yawn, in whose heating this address was read. The remonstrance was without effect. Zwingli earnestly counseled a bold and prompt blow — in other words, an armed intervention. He thought this the speediest way to bring the Mountain Cantons to reasonable terms. Baden, though admitting that the Five Cantons had broken the national compact, and that the atrocities they were committing in shameful violation of their own promises justified war, thought it better, nevertheless, that a milder expedient should be tried.

Uri, Schwytz, Unterwalden, Zug, and Lucerne were dependent for their daily supplies upon the markets and harvests of the plains. Shut out from these, they had no alternative but surrender or death by famine. "Let us blockade these cantons," said Bern. Zurich and Zwingli strongly disapproved of this measure. It confounded, they said, the innocent with the guilty; whereas war would smite only the latter. The blockade, however, was resolved upon and rigorously carried out. The markets of the entire region around were closed, and the roads leading to the towns blockaded. Instantaneously the Five Cantons were enclosed in a vast desert; bread, wine, and salt suddenly failed from their chalets, and the horrors of famine began to reign in their mountains. This calamity was the more severely felt inasmuch as the preceding year had been one of dearth, and the "sweating sickness" had visited their valleys, adding its ravages to the

sufferings caused by the failure of the crops. [2]

A wail of suffering and a cry of indignation arose from the mountains. A General Diet was opened at Bremgarten on the 14th of June, in presence of the deputies of several foreign Powers. The Five Cantons demanded that, first of all, the blockade should be raised; till this was done they would listen to no proposition. Bern and Zurich replied: "The blockade we will not raise till you shall have ceased your persecutions, and opened your own valleys to the free preaching of the Gospel." Conciliation was impossible; the conference broke up, and the breach remained unclosed.

This was a terrible complication. Nothing but a united and bold policy, Zwingli saw, could extricate them from it. But instead of this, the Council of Zurich was every day displaying greater vacillation and feebleness. The lukewarm and timid were deserting the Reform, its old enemies were again raising their heads. Courage and patriotism were lacking to meet the ire of the mountaineers, roused by the half-measures which had been adopted. Ruin was coming on apace. The burden of the State rested on Zwingli; he felt he could no longer accept a position in which he was responsible for evils which were mainly owing to the rejection of those measures he had counseled. He appeared before the Great Council on the 26th of July, 1531, and, with a voice choking with emotion, said: "For eleven years I have preached the Gospel among you, and warned you of the dangers that would threaten the Confederacy if the Five Cantons - that is to say, the party which lives by pensions and mercenary service — should gain the upper hand. All has been of no avail. Even now you elect to the council men who covet this blood-money. I will no longer be responsible for the mischief that I cannot prevent; I therefore desire my dismissal." [3] He took his departure with tears in his eyes.

Thus was the pilot leaving the ship at the moment the storm was about to strike it. The councilors were seized with dismay. Their former reverence and affection for their magnanimous and devoted leader revived. They named a deputation to wait on him and beg him to withdraw his resignation. Zwingli took three days to consider what course he should pursue. These were days of earnest prayer. At length he reappeared in the council, his eyes dimmed, and his face bearing traces of the conflict through which he had passed. "I will stay with you," said he, "and I will labor for the safety of the State — until death."

For a moment the union and courage of Zurich revived. Zwingli began again to have hope. He thought that could he rouse to action the powerful canton of Bern, all might yet be well; the gathering tempest in the mountains might be turned back, and the iron hand that lay so heavy upon conscience and the preaching of the Gospel lifted off. He arranged a midnight meeting with the deputies of Bern at Bremgarten, and put the matter before them thus: — "What is to be done?" said he. "Withdraw the blockade? — the cantons will then be more haughty and insolent than ever; Enforce it? — they will take the offensive, and if their attack succeed, you will behold our fields red with the blood of the Protestants, the doctrine of truth cast down, the Church of Christ laid waste, all social relations overthrown, our adversaries more irritated and hardened against the Gospel, and crowds of monks and priests again filling our rural districts, streets, and temples." He paused; then solemnly added, "And yet that also will have an end." The words of Zwingli had deeply impressed the Bernese. "We see," said they, "all the disasters that impend over our common cause, and will do our utmost to ward them off."

Zwingli took his departure while it was yet dark. His disciple, the young Bullinger, who was present, and relates what was said at the interview, accompanied him a little way. The parting was most sad, for the two were tenderly attached, and in the hearts of both was a presentiment that they should meet no more on earth. [4] A strange occurrence took place at the gate of the town. As Zwingli and his friends approached the sentinels, a personage in robes white as snow suddenly appeared, and threw the soldiers into panic. So the guard affirmed, for Zwingli and his friends saw not the apparition. [5]

The Council of Zurich sank down again into their former apathy. The pensioners — the foreign gold formed the great obstacle, Zwingli felt, to the salvation of his country. It had corrupted the virtue and undermined the patriotism of the Mountain Cantons, and it had bred treachery and cowardice in even the Reformed councils. Zwingli's appeals grew more stirring every hour. "Ruin," said he, "is at the door;" but he felt that his words were spoken to dead men; his heart was almost broken.

In the August of that year a comet of unusual size appeared in the heavens. [6] As night after night, with lengthening tail and fiercer blaze, it hung suspended in the west, it attracted the gaze and awoke the terrors of all. On the night of the 15th of August, Zwingli and his friend George Muller, the former Abbot of Wettingen, contemplated it from the burying-ground of the great minister. "What may this star signify, dear Huldreich?" inquired Mailer. "It is come to light me to my grave," replied Zwingli, "and many an honest man with me." [7] "With God's grace, no," said Mailer.

"I am rather short-sighted," rejoined Zwingli, "but I foresee great calamities in the future: [8] there comes a great catastrophe; but Christ will not finally forsake us; the victory will remain with our cause."

Portent was heaped upon portent, and rumor followed rumor. Not a

locality but furnished its wonder, prognosticating calamity, and diffusing gloomy forebodings over the country. At Brugg, in Aargau, a fountain, not of water, but of blood, was reported to have opened suddenly, and to be dyeing the earth with gore. The sky of Zug was illumined with a meteor in the form of a shield, and noises as of men engaged in conflict came from the hollows of the mountains. In the Brunig Pass banners were seen to wave upborne by no earthly hand, and stirred by no earthly breeze; while on the calm surface of the Lucerne Lake spectral ships were seen careering, manned with spectral warriors. [9]

There was no need of such ghostly signs; the usual symptoms of approaching disaster were but too manifest to those who chose to read them. Zwingli perceived them in the disunion and apathy of the Reformed cantons, in the growing audacity of the enemy, and in the sinister rumors which were every day brought from the mountains. He raised his voice once more; it was in vain: the men who trembled before the portents which their imagination had conjured up, were unmoved by the sober words of the one man whose sagacity foresaw, and whose patriotism would have averted, the coming ruin.

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