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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 11 — The question of forbidden meats

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The Foreign Enlistments – The Worship at Zurich as yet Unchanged – Zwingli makes a Beginning – Fasts and Forbidden Meats – Bishop of Constance Interferes – Zwingli's Defense – The Council of Two Hundred – The Council gives no Decision – Opposition organised against Zwingli – Constance, Lausanne, and the Diet against Zwingli – First Swiss Edict of Persecution – Diet Petitioned to Cancel it – The Reformed Band – Luther Silent – Zwingli Raises his Voice – The Swiss Printing-press.

OUR attention must again be directed to the center of the movement at Zurich. In 1521 we find the work still progressing, although at every step it provokes opposition and awakens conflict. The first trouble grew out of the affair of foreign service. Charles V. and Francis I. were on the point of coming to blows on the plains of Italy. On the outlook for allies, they were making overtures to the Swiss. The men of Zurich promised their swords to the emperor. The other cantons engaged theirs to the French. Zwingli, as a patriot and a Christian minister, denounced a service in which Swiss would meet Swiss, and brother shed the blood of brother in a quarrel which was not theirs. To what purpose should he labor in Switzerland by the preaching of the Gospel to break the yoke of the Pope, while his fellow-citizens were shedding their blood in Italy to maintain it? Nevertheless, the solicitations of the Cardinal-Archbishop of Sion, who had sent an agent into the canton to enlist recruits for the emperor, to whom the Pope had now joined himself in alliance, prevailed, and a body of 2,700 Zurichers marched out at the gates, bound on this enterprise. [1] They won no laurels in the campaign; the usual miseries–wounds and death, widows and orphans, vices and demoralization formed its sequel, and many a year passed before another body of Zurichers left their home on a similar errand. Zwingli betook himself more earnestly to the preaching of the Word of God, persuaded that only this could extinguish that love of gold which was entangling his countrymen with foreign princes, and inspire them with a horror of these mercenary and fratricidal wars into which this greed of sordid treasure was plunging them, to the ruin of their country.

The next point to be attacked by the Reformer was the fast-days of the Church. Hitherto no change had been made in the worship at Zurich. The altar with its furniture still stood; mass was still said; the images still occupied their niches; and the festivals were duly honored as they came round. Zwingli was content, meanwhile, to sow the seed. He precipitated nothing, for he saw that till the understanding was enlightened, and the heart renovated, outward change would nought avail. But now, after four years' inculcation of the truth, he judged that his flock was not unprepared to apply the principles he had taught them. He made a beginning with the smaller matters. In expounding the fourth chapter of the first Epistle to Timothy, Zwingli took occasion to maintain that fasts appointed by the Church, in which certain meats were forbidden to be eaten at certain times, had no foundation in the Bible. [2] Certain citizens of Zurich, sober and worthy men for the most part, resolved to reduce Zwingli's doctrine to practice. They ate flesh on forbidden days. The monks took alarm. They saw that the whole question of ecclesiastical ordinances was at stake. If men could eat forbidden meats without purchasing permission from the Church, might not her commands be set at nought on other weightier points? What helped to increase the irritation were the words of Zwingli, in his sermon, which had given special umbrage to the war party:–"Many think that to eat flesh is improper, nay, a sin, although God has nowhere forbidden it; but to sell human flesh for slaughter and carnage, they hold to be no sin at all." [3]

It began to be clear how Zwingli's doctrine would work; its consequences threatened to be very alarming, indeed. The revenues of the clergy it would diminish, and it would withdraw the halberds of the Swiss from the service of Rome and her allies. The enemies of the Reformation, who up to this time had watched the movement at Zurich in silence, but in no little uneasiness, began now to bestir themselves. The Church's authority and their own pockets were invaded. Numerous foes arose to oppose Zwingli.

The tumult on this weighty affair of "forbidden meats" increased, and the Bishop of Constance, in whose diocese Zurich was situated, sent his suffragan, Melchior Bottli, and two others, to arrange matters. The suffragan-bishop appeared (April 9th, 1522) before the Great Council of Zurich. He accused Zwingli, without mentioning him by name, of preaching novelties subversive of the public peace; and said if he were allowed to teach men to transgress the ordinances of the Church, a time would soon come when no law would be obeyed, and a universal anarchy would overwhelm all things. [4] Zwingli met the charge of sedition and disorder by pointing to Zurich, "in which he had now been four years, preaching the Gospel of Jesus, and the doctrine of the apostles, with the sweat of his brow, and which was more quiet and peaceful than any other town in the Confederacy." "Is not then," he asked, "Christianity the best safeguard of the general security? Although all ceremonies were abolished, would Christianity therefore cease to exist? May not the people be led by another path than ceremonies to the knowledge of the truth, namely, by the path which Christ and His apostles pursued?" He concluded by asking that people should be at liberty to fast all the days of the year, if so it pleased them, but that no one should be compelled to fast by the threat of excommunication. [5] The suffragan had no other reply than to

warn the councillors not to separate themselves from a Church out of which there was no salvation. To this the quick retort of Zwingli was, "that this need not alarm them, seeing the Church consists of all those in every place who believe upon the Lord Jesus–the Rock which St. Peter confessed;–it is out of this Church," said he, "that there is no salvation." The immediate result of this discussion – an augury of greater things to come–was the conversion of one of the deputies of the bishop to the Reformed faith – John Vanner. [6]

The Council of Two Hundred broke up without pronouncing any award as between the two parties. It contented itself with craving the Pope, through the Bishop of Constance, to give some solution of the controverted point, and with enjoining the faithful meanwhile to abstain from eating flesh in Lent. In this conciliatory course, Zwingli went thoroughly with the council. This was the first open combat between the champions of the two faiths; it had been fought in presence of the supreme council of the canton; the prestige of victory, all men felt, remained with the Reformers, and the ground won was not only secured, but extended by a treatise which Zwingli issued a few days thereafter on the free use of meats. [7]

Rome resolved to return to the charge. She saw in Zurich a second Wittemberg, and she thought to crush the revolt that was springing up there before it had gathered strength. When Zwingli was told that a new assault was preparing against him, he replied, "Let them come on; I fear them as the beetling cliff fears the waves that thunder at its feet." It was arranged that Zwingli should be attacked from four different quarters at once. The end of the Zurich movement, it was believed, was near.

The first attacking galley was fitted out in the port of Zurich; the other three sailed out of the episcopal harbour of Constance. One day, the aged Canon Hoffman tabled in the chapter of Zurich a long accusatory writing against the Reformer. This, which was the opening move of the projected campaign, was easily met. A few words of defense from Zwingli, and the aged canon was fain to flee before the storm which, at the instigation of others, he had drawn upon himself. "I gave him," writes Zwingli to Myconius, "a shaking such as an ox does, when with its horns it tosses a heap of straw up in the air."

The second attack came from the Bishop of Constance. In a pastoral letter which he issued to his clergy, he drew a frightful picture of the state of Christendom. On the frontier stood the Turk; and in the heartof the land were men, more dangerous than Turks, sowing "damnable heresies." The two, the Turk and the heresies, were so mixed up in the bishop's address, that the people, whoso minds the pastoral was intended to influence, could hardly avoid concluding that the one was the cause of the other, and that if they should imbibe the heresy, their certain doom was to fall by the scimitar of the Turk.

The third attack was meant to support the second. It came from the Bishop of Lausanne, and also took the shape of a pastoral letter to the clergy of his diocese. It forbade all men, under pain of being denied the Sacrament in their last hours, or refused Christian burial, to read the writings of Zwingli or of Luther, or to speak a word in private or public, to the disparagement of the "holy rites and customs of the Church." By these means, the Roman ecclesiastics hoped utterly to discredit Zwingli with the people. They only extended the reputation they meant to ruin. The pastoral was taken to pieces by Zwingli in a tractate, entitled Archeteles (the beginning and the end), which over flowed with hard argument and trenchant humor. [8] The stereotyped and vapid phrases in which the bishops indulged, fell pointless compared with the convincing reasonings of the Reformer, backed as these were by facts drawn from the flagrant abuses of the Church, and the oppressions under which Switzerland groaned, and which were too patent to be denied by any save those who had a hand in their infliction, or were interested in their support. [9]

The first three attacks having failed to destroy Zwingli, or arrest his work, the fourth was now launched against him. It was the most formidable of the four. The Diet, the supreme temporal power in the Swiss Confederacy, was then sitting at Badin. To it the Bishop of Constance carried his complaint, importuning the court to suppress by the secular arm the propagation of the new doctrines by Zwingli and his fellow-laborers. The Diet was not likely to turn a deaf ear to the bishop's solicitations. The majority of its members were pensioners of France and Italy, the friends of the "foreign service" of which Zwingli was the declared and uncompromising foe. They regarded the preacher of Zurich with no favorable eye. Only the summer before (1522), the Diet, at its meeting in Lucerne, had put upon its records an order "that priests whose sermons produced dissension and disorder among the people should desist from such preaching." This was the first persecuting edict which disgraced the statute-book of Helvetia. [10]

It had remained a dead letter hitherto, but now the Diet resolved to put it in force, and made a beginning by apprehending and imprisoning Urban Weiss, a Protestant pastor in the neighborhood of Baden. The monks, who saw that the Diet had taken its side in the quarrel between Rome and the Gospel, laid aside their timidity, and assuming the aggressive, strove by clamor tand threats to excite the authorities to persecution.

The Reformer of Zurich did not suffer himself to be intimidated by the storm that was evidently brewing. He saw in it an intimation of

the Divine will that he should not only display the banner of truth more openly than ever in the pulpit of Zurich, but that he should wave it in the sight of the whole Confederacy. In the June following, he summoned a meeting of the friends of the Gospel at Einsiedeln. This summons was numerously responded to. Zwingli submitted two petitions to the assembly, to be signed by its members, one addressed to the Diet, and the other to the Bishop of the diocese. The petitions, which were in substance identical, prayed "that the preaching of the Gospel might not be forbidden, and that it might be permitted to the priests to marry." A summary of the Reformed faith accompanied these petitions, that the members of the Diet might know what it was they were asked to protect, [11] and an appeal was made to their patriotism, whether the diffusion of doctrines so wholesome, drawn from their original fountains in the Sacred Scriptures, would not tend to abolish the many evils under which their country confessedly groaned, and at once purify its private morals, and reinvigorate and restore its public virtue.

These petitions were received and no further cared for by those to whom they were presented. Nevertheless, their influence was great with the lower orders of the clergy, and the common people. The manifesto that accompanied them laid bare the corruption which had taken place in the national religion, and the causes at work in the deterioration of the national spirit, and became a banner round which the, friends of Gospel truth, and the champions of the rights of conscience, leagued themselves. Thus banded together, they were abler to withstand their enemies. The cause grew and waxed strong by the efforts it made to overcome the obstacles it encountered. Its enemies became its friends. The storms that warred around the tree Zwingli had planted, instead of overturning it, cleared away the mephitic vapors with which the air around it was laden, and lent a greater luxuriance to its boughs. Its branches spread wider and yet wider around, and its fibres going still deeper into the soil, it firmly rooted itself in the land of the Swiss.

The friends of the Reformation in Germany were greatly encouraged and emboldened by what was now taking place in Switzerland. If Luther had suddenly and mysteriously vanished, Zwingli's voice had broken the silence which had followed the disappearance of the former. If the movement stood still for the time on the German plains, it was progressing on the mountains of Switzerland. The hopes of the Protestants lived anew. The friends of truth everywhere could not but mark the hand of God in raising up Zwingli when Luther had been withdrawn, and saw in it an indication of the Divine purpose, to advance the cause of Protestantism, although emperors and Diets were "taking counsel together" against it. The persecuted in the surrounding countries, turning their eyes to Switzerland, sought under the freer forms and more tolerant spirit of its government that protection which they were denied under their own. Thus from one day to another the friends of the movement multiplied in Helvetia.

The printing-press was a powerful auxiliary to the living agency at work in Switzerland. Zurich and Basle were the first of the Swiss towns to possess this instrumentality. There had been, it is true, a printing-press in Basle ever since the establishment of its University, in 1460, by Pope Pius II.; but Zurich had no printing-press till 1519, when Christopher Froschauer, from Bavaria, established one. Arrving in Zurich, Froschauer purchased the right of citizenship, and made the city of his adoption famous by the books he issued from his press. He became in this regard the right hand of Zwingli, to whom he afforded all the facilities in his power for printing and publishing his works. Froschauer thus did great service to the movement.

The third city of Switzerland to possess a printing-press was Geneva. A German named Koln, in 1523, printed there, in the Gothic character, the Constitutions of the Synod of the Diocese of Lausanne, by order of the bishop, Sebastien de Mont-Faulcon. The fourth city of the Swiss which could boast a printing establishment was Neuchatel. There lived Pierre de Wingle, commonly called Pirot Picard, who printed in 1535 the Bible in French, translated by Robert Olivetan, the cousin of Calvin. This Bible formed a largo folio, and was in the Gothic character. [12]

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