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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 12 — Public disputation at Zurich

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Leo Juda and the Monk – Zwingli Demands a Public Disputation – Great Council Grants it – Six Hundred Members Assemble – Zwingli's Theses – President Roist – Deputies of the Bishop of Constance – Attempt to Stifle Discussion – Zwingli's Challenge – Silence – Faber rises – Antiquity – Zwingli's Reply – Hoffman's Appeal – Leo Juda – Doctor of Tubingen – Decree of Lords of Zurich – Altercation between Faber and Zwingli – End of Conference.

EARLY in the following year (1523) the movement at Zurich advanced a step. An incident, in itself of small moment, furnished the occasion. Leo Juda, the school-companion of Zwingli at Basle, had just come to Zurich to assume the Curacy of St. Peter's. One day the new pastor entered a chapel where an Augustine monk was maintaining with emphasis, in his sermon, "that man could satisfy Divine justice himself." "Most worthy father," cried Leo Juda, but in calm and friendly tones, "hear me a moment; and ye, good people, give ear, while I speak as becomes a Christian." In a brief address he showed them, out of the Scriptures, how far beyond man's power it was to save himself. A disturbance broke out in the church, some taking the side of the monk, and others that of the Curate of St. Peter's. The Little Council summoned both parties before them. This led to fresh disturbances. Zwingli, who had been desirous for some time to have the grounds of the Reformed faith publicly discussed, hoping thereby to bear the banner of truth onwards, demanded of the Great Council a public disputation. Not otherwise, he said, could the public peace be maintained, or a wise rule laid down by which the preachers might guide themselves. He offered, if it was proved that he was in error, not only to keep silence for the future, but submit to punishment; and if, on the other hand, it should be shown that his doctrine was in accordance with the Word of God, he claimed for the public preaching of it protection from the public authority.

Leave was given to hold a disputation, summonses were issued by the council to the clergy far and near; and the 29th day of January, 1523, was fixed on for the conference. [1]

It is necessary to look a little closely at what Zwingli now did, and the grounds and reasons of his procedure. The Reformer of Zurich held that the determination of religious questions appertains to the Church, and that the Church is made up of all those who profess Christianity according to the Scriptures. Why then did he submit this matter–the question as to which is the true Gospel–to the Great Council of Zurich, the supreme civil authority in the State?

Zwingli in doing so did not renounce his theory, but in reconciling his practice with his theory, in the present instance, it is necessary to take into account the following considerations. It was not possible for the Reformer of Zurich in the circumstances to realize his ideal; there was yet no Church organisation; and to submit such a question at large to the general body of the professors of the Reformed faith would have been, in their immature state of knowledge, to risk–nay, to invite–divisions and strifes. Zwingli, therefore, chose in preference the Council of Two Hundred as part of the Reformed body–as, in fact, the ecclesiastical and political representative of the Church. The case obviously was abnormal. Besides, in submitting this question to the council, Zwingli expressly stipulated that all arguments should be drawn from the Scriptures; that the council should decide according to the Word of God; and that the Church, or ecclesiastical community, should be free to accept or reject their decision, according as they might deem it to be founded on the Bible. [2]

Practically, and in point of fact, this affair was a conference or disputation between the two great religious parties in presence of the council–not that the council could add to the truth of that which drew its authority from the Bible exclusively. It judged of the truth or falsehood of the matter submitted to it, in order that it might determine the course it became the council to pursue in the exercise of its own functions as the rulers of the canton. It must hear and judge not for spiritual but for legal effects. If the Gospel which Zwingli and his fellow-laborers are publishing be true, the council will give the protection of law to the preaching of it.

That this was the light in which Zwingli understood the matter is plain, we think, from his own words. "The matter," says he, "stands thus. We, the preachers of the Word of God in Zurich, on the one hand, give the Council of Two Hundred plainly to understand, that we commit to them that which properly it belongs to the whole Church to decide, only on the condition that in their consultations and conclusion they hold themselves to the Word of God alone; and, on the other hand, that they only act so far in the name of the Church, as the Church tacitly and voluntarily adopts their conclusions and ordinances. [3] Zwingli discovers, in the very dawn of the Reformation, wonderfully clear views on this subject; although it is true that not till a subsequent period in the history of Protestantism was the distinction between things spiritual and things secular, and, correspondingly, between the authorities competent to decide upon the one and upon the other, clearly and sharply drawn; and, especially, not till a subsequent period were the principles that ought to regulate the exercise of the civil power about religious matters–in other words, the principles of toleration–discovered and proclaimed. It is in Switzerland, and at Zurich, that we find the first enunciation of the liberal ideas of modern times.

The lords of Zurich granted the conference craved by Zwingli, and published a formal

decree to that effect. They invited all the cures or pastors, and all ecclesiastics of whatever degree, in all the towns of the canton. The Bishop of Constance, in whose diocese Zurich was situated, was also respectfully asked to be present, either in person or by deputy. The day fixed upon was the 29th of January. The disputation was to be conducted in the German language, all questions were to be determined by the Word of God, and it was added that after the conference had pronounced on all the questions discussed in it, only what was agreeable to Scripture was to be brought into the pulpit. [4]

That an ecclesiastical Diet should convene in Zurich, antl that Rome should be summoned before it to show cause why she should longer retain the supremacy she had wielded for a thousand years, appeared to the men of those times a most extraordinary and, indeed, portentous event. It made a great stir all over Switzerland. "There was much wondering," says Bullinger in his Chronicle, "what would come out of it." The city in which it was to be held prepared fittingly to receive the many venerable and dignified visitors who had been invited. Warned by the examples of Constance and Basle; Zurich made arrangements for maintaining public decorum during the session of the conference. The public-houses were ordered to be shut at an early hour; the students were warned that noise and riot on the street would be punished; all persons of ill-fame were sent out of the town, and two councillors, whose immoralities had subjected them to public criticism, were forbidden, meanwhile, attendance in the council chamber. These things betoken that already the purifying breath of the Gospel, more refreshing than the cool breeze from the white Alps on lake and city in the heat of summer, had begun to be felt in Zurich.

Zwingli's enemies called it "a Diet of vagabonds," and loudly prophesied that all the beggars in Switzerland would infallibly grace it with their presence. Had the magistrates of Zurich expected guests of this sort, they would have prepared for their coming after a different fashion.

Zwingli prepared for the conference which he had been the main instrument of convoking, by composing an abridgment of doctrine, consisting of sixty-seven articles, which he got printed, and offered to defend from the Word of God. The first article struck at that dogma of Romanism which declares that "Holy Scripture has no authority unless it be sanctioned by the Church." The others were not less important, namely, that Jesus Christ is our only Teacher and Mediator; that He alone is the Head of believers; that all who are united to Him are members of His body, children of God, and Members of the Church; that it is by power from their Head alone that Christians can do any good act; that from Him, not from the Church or the clergy, comes the efficacy that sanctifies; that Jesus Christ is the one sovereign and eternal Priest; that the mass is not a sacrifice; that every kind of food may be made use of on all days; that monkery, with all that appertains to it–frocks, tonsures, and badges–is to be rejected; that Holy Scripture permits all men, without exception, to marry; that ecclesiastics, as well as others, are bound to obey the magistrate; that magistrates have received power from God to put malefactors [5] to death; that God alone can pardon sin; that He gives pardon solely for the love of Christ; that the pardon of sins for money is simony; and, in fine, that there is no purgatory after death. [6]

By the publication of these theses, Zwingli struck the first blow in the coming campaign, and opened the discussions in the canton before the conference had opened them in the Council Hall of Zurich. [7]

When the clay (29th January, 1523) arrived, 600 persons assembled in the Town Hall. They met at tlhe early hour of six. The conference included persons of rank, canons, priests, scholars, strangers, and many citizens of Zurich. The Bishop of Constance, the diocesan, was invited, [8] but appeared only by his deputies, John Faber, Vicar-General, and James von Anwyl, knight, and Grand Master of the Episcopal Court at Constance. Deputies of the Reformation appeared only from Bern and Schaffhausen; so weak as yet was the cause in the Swiss cantons.

The burgomaster, Marx Roist, presided. He was, says Christoffel, "a hoary-headed warrior, who had fought with Zwingli at Marignano." He had a son named Gaspar, a captain in the Pope's bodyguard, nevertheless he himself was a staunch Reformer, and adhered faithfully to Zwingli, although Pope Adrian had tried to gain him by letters full of praise. [9] In a vacant space in the middle of the assembly sat Zwingli alone at a table. Bibles in the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages lay open before him. All eyes were turned upon him. He was there to defend the Gospel he had preached, which so many, now face to face with him, had loudly denounced as heresy and sedition, and the cause of the, strifes that were beginning to rend the cantons. His position was not unlike that of Luther at Worms. The cause was the same, only the tribunal was less august, the assemblage less brilliant, and the immediate risks less formidable. But the faith that upheld the champion of Worms also animated the hero of Zurich. The venerable president rose. He stated briefly why the conference had been convoked, adding, "If any one has anything to say against the doctrine of Zwingli, now is the time to speak." [10] All eyes were turned on the bishop's representative, John Faber. Faber had formerly been a friend of Zwingli, but having visited Rome and been flattered by the Pope, he was now thoroughly devoted to the Papal interests, and had become one of Zwingli's bitterest opponents.

Faber sat still, but

James von Anwyl rose. He tried to throw oil upon the waters, and to allay the storm raging, not indeed in the council chamber– for there all was calm–but in Zurich. The deputies, he said, were present not to engage in controversy, but to learn the unhappy divisions that were rending the canton, and to employ their power in healing them. He concluded by dropping a hint of a General Council, that was soon to meet, and which would amicably arrange this whole matter.

Zwingli saw through a device which threatened to rob him, of all the advantage that he hoped to gain from the conference. "This was now," he said, "his fifth year in Zurich. He had preached God's message to men as contained in His own Word;" and, submitting his theses, he offered to make good before the assembly their agreement with the Scriptures; and looking round upon all, said, "Go on then, in God's name. Here I am to answer you." [11] Thus again challenged, Faber, who wore a red hat, rose, but only to attempt to stifle discussion, by holding out the near prospect of a General Council. "It would meet at Nuremberg within a year's time." [12]

"And why not," instantly retorted the Reformer, "at Erfurt or Wittemberg?" Zwingli entered fully into the grounds of his doctrine, and closed by expressing his convictions that a General Council they would not soon see, and that the one now convened was as good as any the Pope was likely to give them. Had they not in this conference, doctors, theologians, jurisconsults, and wise men, just as able to read the Word of God in the original Hebrew and Greek, and as well qualified to determine all questions by this, the alone infallible rule, as any Council they were ever likely to see in Christendom? [13]

A long pause followed Zwingli's address. He stood unaccused in the midst of those who had so loudly blamed and condemned him out of doors.

Again he challenged his opponents: he challenged them a second time, he challenged them a third time. No one spoke. At length Faber rose–not to take up the gauntlet which Zwingli had thrown down, but to tell how he had discomfited in argument the pastor of Fislisbach, whom, as we have already said, the Diet at Baden had imprisoned; and to express his amazement at the pass to which things had come, when the ancient usages which had lasted for twelve centuries were forsaken, and it was calmly concluded "that Christendom had been in error fourteen hundred years!"

The Reformer quickly replied that error was not less error because the belief of it had lasted fourteen hundred years, and that in the worship of God antiquity of usage was nothing, unless ground or warrant for it could be found in the Sacred Scriptures. [14]

He denied that the false dogmas and the idolatrous practices which he was combating came from the first ages, or were known to the early Christians. They were the growth of times less enlightened and men less holy. Successive Councils and doctors, in comparatively modern times, had rooted up the good and planted the evil in its room. The prohibition of marriage to priests he instanced as a case in point. [15]

Master Hoffman, of Schaffhausen, then rose. He had been branded, he said, as a heretic at Lausanne, and chased from that city for no other offense than having preached, agreeably to the Word of God, against the invocation of the saints. Therefore he must adjure the Vicar-General, Faber, in the name of God, to show him those passages in the Bible in which such invocation is permitted and enjoined. To this solemn appeal Faber remained silent.

Leo Juda next came forward. He had but recently come to Zurich, he said, as a laborer with Zwingli in the work of the Gospel. He was not able to see that the worship of the Church of Rome had any foundation in Scripture. He could not recommend to his people any other intercessor than the one Mediator, even Christ Jesus, nor could he bid them repose on any other expiation of their sins than His death and passion on the cross. If this belief of his was false, he implored Faber to show him from the Word of God a better way.

This second appeal brought Faber to his feet. But, so far as proof or authority from the Bible was concerned, he might as well have remained silent. Not deigning even a glance at the Canon of Inspiration, he went straight to the armoury of the Roman Church. He pleaded first of all the unanimous comment of the Fathers, and secondly the Litany and canon of the mass, which assures us that we ought to invoke the mother of God and all the saints. Coming at last to the Bible, but only to misinterpret it, he said that the Virgin herself had authorised this worship, inasmuch as she had foretold that it would be rendered to her in all coming time: "From henceforth all generations shall call me blessed." [16] And not less had her cousin Elizabeth sanctioned it when she gave expression to her surprise and humility in these words: "Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" [17] These proofs he thought ought to suffice, and if they were not to be held as establishing his point, nothing remained for him but to hold his peace. [18]

The Vicar-General found a supporter in Martin Blantsch, Doctor of Tubingen. He was one of those allies who are more formidable to the cause they espouse than to that which they combat. "It was a prodigious rashness," said Dr. Blantsch, "to censure or condemn usages established by Councils which had assembled by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. The decisions of the first four General Councils ought to

receive the same reverence as the Gospel itself: so did the canon law enjoin (Distinction XV.); for the Church, met in Council by the Holy Spirit, cannot err. To oppose its decrees was to oppose God. 'He that heareth you heareth me, and he that despiseth you despiseth me.' [19]

It was not difficult for Zwingli to reply to arguments like these. They presented a pompous array of Councils, canons, and ages; but this procession of authorities, so grandly marshalled, lacked one thing–an apostle or evangelist to head it. Lacking this, what was it? Not a chain of living witnesses, but a procession of lay figures. Seeing this discomfiture of the Papal party, Sebastien Hoffman, the pastor of Schaffhausen, and Sebastien Meyer, of Bern, rose and exhorted the Zurichers to go bravely forward in the path on which they had entered, and to permit neither thebulls of the Popes nor the edicts of the Emperor to turn them from it. This closed the morning's proceedings.

After dinner the conference re-assembled to hear the decree of the lords of Zurich. The edict was read. It enjoined, in brief, that all preachers both in the city and throughout the canton, laying aside the traditions of men, should teach from the pulpit only what they were able to prove from the Word of God [20] "But," interposed a country cure, "what is to be done in the case of those priests who are not able to buy those books called the New Testament? " So much for his fitness to instruct his hearers in the doctrines of a book which he had never seen. "No priest," replied Zwingli, "is so poor as to be unable to buy a New Testament, if he seriously wishes to possess one; or, if he be really unable, he will find some pious citizen willing to lend him the money." [21]

The business was at an end, and the assembly was about to separate. Zwingli could not refrain giving thanks to God that now his native land was about to enjoy the free preaching of the pure Gospel. But the Vicar-General, as much terrified as Zwingli was gladdened by the prospect, was heard to mutter that had he seen the theses of the pastor of Zurich a little sooner, he would have dealt them a complete refutation, and shown from Scripture the authority of oral traditions, and the necessity of a living judge on earth to decide controversies. Zwingli begged him to do so even yet.

"No, not here," said Faber; "come to Constance." "With all my heart," replied Zwingli; but he added in a quiet tone, and the Vicar-General could hardly be insensible to the reproach his words implied, "You must give me a safe-conduct, and show me the same good faith at Constance which you have experienced at Zurich; and further, I give you warning that I will accept no other judge than Holy Scripture." "Holy Scripture!" retorted Faber, somewhat angrily; "there are many things against Christ which Scripture does not forbid: for example, where in Scripture do we read that a man may not take his own or his sister's daughter to wife?" "Nor," replied Zwingli, "does it stand in Scripture that a cardinal should have thirty livings. Degrees of relationship further removed than the one you have just specified are forbidden, therefore we conclude that nearer degrees are so." He ended by expressing his surprise that the Vicar-General should have come so long a way to deliver such sterile speeches.

Faber, on his part, taunted the Reformer with always harping on the same string, namely, Scripture, adding, "Men might live in peace and concord and holiness, even if there were no Gospel." The Vicar-General, by this last remark, had crowned his own discomfiture. The audience could no longer restrain their indignation. They started to their feet and left the assembly-hall. So ended the conference. [22]


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Saturday, September 22nd, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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