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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 8 — History of Protestantism in Switzerland From A.D. 1516 to Its Establishment at Zurich, 1525

Chapter 10 — Spread of Protestantish in eastern Switzerland

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St. Gall – The Burgomaster – Purgation of the Churches – Canton Glarus – Valley of the Tockenburg – Embraces Protestantism – Schwitz about to enter the Movement – Turns back – Appenzell – Six of its Eight Parishes embrace the Gospel – The Grisons – Coire – Becomes Reformed – Constance – Schaffhausen – The German Bible – Its Influence – The Five Forest Cantons – They Crouch down under the Old Yoke.

THE light radiating from Zurich is touching the mountain-tops of Eastern Switzerland, and Protestantism is about to make great progress in this part of the land. At this time Joachim Vadian, of a noble family in the canton of St. Gall, returning from his studies in Vienna, put his hand to the plough of the Reformation. [1] Although he filled the office of burgomaster, he did not disdain to lecture to his townsmen on the Acts of the Apostles, that he might exhibit to them the model of the primitive Church–in simplicity and uncorruptedness, how different from the pattern of their own day! [2] A contemporary remarked, "Here in St. Gall it is not only allowed to hear the Word of God, but the magistrates themselves preach it." [3] Vadian kept up an uninterrupted correspondence with Zwingli, whose eye continually watched the progress of the work in all parts of the field, and whose pen was ever ready to minister encouragement and direction to those engaged in it. A sudden and violent outburst of Anabaptism endangered the cause in St. Gall, but the fanaticism soon spent itself; and the preachers returning from a conference at Baden with fresh courage, the reformation of the canton was completed. The images were removed from the Church of St. Lawrence, and the robes, jewels, and gold chains which adorned them sold to found alms-houses. [4] In 1528 we find Vadian writing, "Our temples at St. Gall are purged from idols, and the glorious foundations of the building of Christ are being more laid every day." [5]

In the canton of Glarus the Reformed movement had been begun by Zwingli himself. On his removal to Einsiedeln, three evangelists who had been trained under him came forward to carry on the work. Their names were – Tschudi, who labored in the town of Glarus; Brunner, in Mollis; and Schindler, in Schwanden. Zwingli had sown the seed: these three gathered in the harvest. [6]

The rays of truth penetrated into Zwingli's native valley of the Tockenburg. With intense interest did he watch the issue of the struggle between the light and the darkness on a spot to which he was bound by the associations of his youth, and by many ties of blood and friendship.

Knowing that the villagers were about to meet to decide whether they should embrace the new doctrine, or continue to worship as their fathers had done, Zwingli addressed a letter to them in which he said, "I praise and thank God, Who has called me to the preaching of His Gospel, that He has led you, who are so dear to my heart, out of the Egyptian darkness of false human doctrines, to the wondrous light of His Word;" and he goes on earnestly to exhort them to add to their profession of the Gospel doctrine the practice of every Gospel virtue, if they would have profit, and the Gospel praise. This letter decided the victory of Protestantism in the Reformer's native valley. The council and the community in the same summer, 1524, made known their will to the clergy, "that the Word of God be preached with one accord." The Abbot of St. Gall and the Bishop of Coire sought to prevent effect being given to these instructions. They summoned three of the preachers–Melitus, Doering, and Farer–before the chapter, and charged them with disobedience. The accused answered in the spirit of St. Peter and St. John before the council, "Convince us by the Word of God, and we will submit ourselves not only to the chapter, but to the least of our brethren; but contrariwise we will submit to no one–no, not even to the mightiest potentate." The two dignitaries declined to take up the gage which the three pastors had thrown down. They retired, leaving the valley of the Tockenburg in peaceful possession of the Gospel. [7]

In the ancient canton of Schwitz, which lay nearer to Zurich than the places of which we have just spoken, there were eyes that were turned in the direction of the light. Some of its citizens addressed Zwingli by letter, desiring him to send men to them who might teach them the new way. "They had begun to loathe," they said, "the discolored stream of the Tiber, and to thirst for those waters whereof they who had once tasted wished evermore to drink." Schwitz, however, did not intend to take her stand by the side of her sister Zurich, in the bright array of cantons that had now begun to march under the Reformed banner.

The majority of her citizens, content to drink at the muddy stream from which some had turned away, were not yet prepared to join in the request, "Give us of this water, that we may go no more to Rome to draw." Their opportunity was let slip. They spurned the advice of Zwingli not to sell their blood for gold, by sending their sons to fight for the Pope, as he was now soliciting them to do. Schwitz became one of the most hostile of all the Helvetic cantons to the Reformer and his work.

But though the cloud still continued to rest on Schwitz, the light shone on the cantons around and beyond it.

Appenzell opened its mountain fastnesses for the entrance of the heralds of the Reformed faith. Walter Klarer, a native of the canton, who had studied at Paris, and been converted by the writings of Luther, began in

1522 to preach here with great zeal. He found an efficient coadjutor in James Schurtanner, minister at Teufen. We find Zwingli writing to the latter in 1524 as follows: "Be manly and firm, dear James, and let not yourself be overcome, that you may be called Israel. We must contend with the foe till the day dawn, and the powers of darkness hide themselves in their own black night. .. It is to be hoped that, athough your canton is the last in the order of the Confederacy, [8] ' it will not be the last in the faith. For these people dwell not in the center of a fertile country, where the dangers of selfishness and pleasure are greatest, but in a mountain district where a pious simplicity can be better preserved, which guileless simplicity, joined to an intelligent piety, affords the best and surest abiding-place for faith." The audiences became too large for the churches to contain.

'The Gospel needs neither pillared aisle nor fretted roof," said they; "let us go to the meadow." They assembled in the open fields, and their worship lost nothing of impressiveness, or sublimity, by the change. The echoes of their mountains awoke responsive to the voice of the preacher proclaiming the "good tidings," and the psalm with which their service was closed blended with the sound of the torrents as they rolled down from the summits. [9] Out of the eight parishes of the canton, six embraced the Reformation.

Following the course of the Upper Rhine, the Protestant movement penetrated to Coire, which nestles at the foot of the Splugen pass. The soil had been prepared here by the schoolmaster Salandrinus, a friend of Zwingli. In 1523 the Diet met at Coire to take into consideration the abuses in the Church, and to devise means for their removal. Eighteen articles were drawn up and confirmed in the year following, of which we give only the first as being the most important: "Each clergyman shall, for himself, purely and fully preach the Word of God and the doctrine of Christ to his people, and shall not mislead them by the doctrines of human invention. Whoever will not or cannot fulfill this official duty shall be deprived of his living, and draw no part of the same." In virtue of this decision, the Dean of St. Martin's, after a humiliating confession of his inability to preach, was obliged to give way to Zwingli's friend, John Dorfman, or Comander–a man of great courage, and renowned for his scholarship–who now became the chief instrument in the reform of the city and canton. Many of the priests were won to the Gospel: those who remained on the side of Rome, with the bishop at their head, attempted to organise an opposition to the movement. Their violence was so great that the Protestant preacher, Comander, had to be accompanied to the church by an armed guard, and defended, even in the sanctuary, from insult and outrage. In the country districts, where more than forty Protestant evangelists, "like fountains of living water, were refreshing hill and dale," the same precautions had to be taken. Finding that the work was progressing nevertheless, the bishop complained of the preachers to the Diet, as "heretics, insurrectionists, sacrilegists, abusers of the holy Sacraments, and despisers of the mass-sacrifice," and besought the aid of the civil power to put them down. When Zwingli heard of the storm that was gathering, he wrote to the magistrates of Coire with apostolic vigor, pointing to the sort of opposition that was being offered to the Gospel and its preachers in their territories, and he charged them, as they valued the light now beginning to illuminate their land, and dreaded being plunged again into the old darkness, in which the Truth had been held captive, and its semblance palmed upon them, to the cozening them of their worldly goods, and, as he feared he had ground to add, of their souls' salvation, that they should protect the heralds of the Gospel from insult and violence.

Zwingli's earnest appeal produced a powerful effect in all the councils and communities of the Grisons; and when the bishop, through the Abbot of St. Luzi, presented his accusation against the Protestant preachers, in the Diet which met at Coire on Christmas Day, 1525, craving that they should be condemned without a hearing, that assembly answered with dignity, "The law which demands that no one be condemned unheard, shall also be observed in this instance." There followed a public disputation at Ilanz, and the conversion of seven more mass-priests. [10] The issue was that the canton was won. "Christ waxed strong everywhere in these mountains," writes Salandrinus to Zwingli, "like the tender grass in spring." [11]

Nor did the reform find here its limits. Napoleon had not yet cut a path across these glacier-crowned mountains for his cannon to pass into Italy, but the Gospel, without waiting for the picks and blasting agencies of the conqueror to open its path, climbed these mighty steeps and took possession of the Grisons, the ancient Rhaetia. The bishop fled to the Tyrol; religious liberty was proclaimed in the territory; the Protestant faith took root, and here where are placed the sources of those waters which, rushing down the mountains' sides, form rivers in the valleys below, were opened fountains of living waters. From the crest of the Alps, where it had now seated itself, the Gospel may be said to have looked down upon Italy. Not yet, however, was that land to be given to it. [12]

It is interesting to think that the light spread on the east as far as to Constance and its lake, where a hundred years before John Huss had poured out his blood. After various reverses the movement of reform was at last crowned, in the year 1528, by the removal of the images and altars from the churches, and the abolition of all ceremonies,

including that of the mass itself. [13] All the districts that lie along the banks of the Thur, of the Lake of Constance, and of the Upper Rhine, embraced the Gospel. At Mammeren, which adjoins the spot where the Rhine issues from the lake, the inhabitants flung their images into the water. The statue of St. Blaise, on being thrown in, stood upright for a short while, and casting a reproachful look at the ungrateful and impious men who had formerly worshipped and were now attempting to drown it, swam across the lake to Cataborn on the opposite shore. So does a monk named Lang, whom Hotfinger quotes, relate. [14]

After a protracted struggle, Protestantism gained the victory over the Papacy in Schaffhausen. The chief laborers there were Sebastian Heftmeister, Sebastian Hoffman, and Erasmus Ritter. On the Reformed worship being set up there, after the model of Zurich in 1529, the inhabitants of Eastern Switzerland generally may be said to have enjoyed the light of Protestant truth. The change that had passed over their land was like that which spring brings with it, when the snows melt, and the torrents gush forth, and the flowers appear, and all is fertility and verdure up to the very margin of the glacier. Yet more welcome was this spiritual spring-time, and a higher joy did it inspire. The winter–the winter of ascetic severities, vain mummeries, profitless services, and burdensome rites–was past, and the sweet light of a returning spring-time now shone upon the Swiss. From the husks of superstition they turned to feed on the bread and water of life.

Perhaps the most efficient instrument in this reform remains to be mentioned. In every canton a little band of laborers arose at the moment when they were needed. All of them were men of intrepidity and zeal, and most of them were pre-eminent in piety and scholarship. In this distinguished phalanx, Zwingli was the most distinguished; but in those around him there were worthy companions in arms, well entitled to fight side by side with him. But the little army was joined by another combatant, and that combatant was one common to all the German-speaking cantons – the Word of God. Luther's German edition of the New Testament appeared in 1522. Introduced into Switzerland, it became the mightiest instrumentality for the furtherance of the movement. It came close to the conscience and heart of the people. The pastor could not be always by their side, but in the Bible they had an instructor who never left them. By night as well as by day this voice spoke to them, cheering, inspiring, and upholding them. Of the dissemination of the Holy Scriptures in the mother tongue, Zwingli said, "Every peasant's cottage became a school, in which the highest art of all was practiced, the reading of the Old and New Testament; for the right and true Schoolmaster of His people is God, without Whom all languages and all arts are but nets of deception and treachery. Every cow and goose herd became thereby better instructed in the knowledge of salvation than the schoolmen." [15] From the Bible eminently had Zwingli drawn his knowledge of truth. He felt how sweetly it works, yet how powerfully it convinces; and he desired above all things that the people of Switzerland should repair to the same fountains of knowledge. They did so, and hence the solidity, as well as the rapidity, of the movement. There is no more Herculean task than to change the opinions and customs of a nation, and the task is ten times more Herculean when these opinions and customs are stamped with the veneration of ages.

It was a work of this magnitude which was accomplished in Switzerland in the short space of ten years. The truth entered, and the heart was cleansed from the pollution of lust, the understanding was liberated from the yoke of tradition and human doctrines, and the conscience was relieved from the burden of monastic observances. The emancipation was complete as well as speedy; the intellect, the heart, the conscience, all were renovated; and a new era of political and industrial life was commenced that same hour in the Reformed cantons.

Unhappily, the five Forest Cantons did not share in this renovation. The territory of these cantons contains, as every traveler knows, the grandest scenery in all Switzerland. It possesses the higher distinction of having been the cradle of Swiss independence. But those who had contended on many a bloody field to break the yoke of Austria, were content, in the sixteenth century, to remain under the yoke of Rome. They even threatened to bring back the Austrian arms, unless the Refrained cantons would promise to retrace their steps, and return to the faith they had cast off. It is not easy to explain why the heroes of the fourteenth century should have been so lacking in courage in the sixteenth. Their physical courage had been nursed in the presence of physical danger. They had to contend with the winter storms, with the avalanches and the mountain torrents; this made them strong in limb and bold in spirit. But the same causes which strengthen physical bravery sometimes weaken moral courage. They were insensible to the yoke that pressed upon the soul. If their personal liberty or their material interests were assailed, they were ready to defend them with their blood; but the higher liberty they were unable to appreciate. Their more secluded position shut them out from the means of information accessible to the other cantons. But the main cause of the difference lay in the foreign service to which these cantons were specially addicted. That service had demoralised them. Husbanding their blood that they might sell it for gold, they were deaf when liberty pleaded. Thus their grand mountains became the asylum of the superstitions in which their fathers had lived, and the bulwark of that, base vassalage which the other cantons had thrown off.


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Monday, September 24th, 2018
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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