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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 15 — Establishment of Protestantism in Zurich

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The Greater Reforms – Purification of the Churches – Threatening Message of the Forest Cantons – Zurich's Reply – Abduction of the Pastor of Burg – The Wirths – Their Condemnation and Execution – Zwingli Demands the Non-celebration of the Mass – Am-Gruet Opposes – Zwingli's Argument – Council's Edict – A Dream – The Passover – First Celebration of the Supper in Zurich – Its Happy Influence – Social and Moral Regulations – Two Annual Synods – Prosperity of Zurich.

AT last the hour arrived to carry out the greater reforms. On the 20th of June, 1524, a procession composed of twelve councillors, the three city pastors, the city architect, smiths, lock-smiths, joiners, and masons might have been seen traversing the streets of Zurich, and visiting its several churches. On entering, they locked the door from the inside, took down the crosses, removed the images, defaced the frescoes, and re-stained the walls.

"The reformed," says Bullinger, "were glad, accounting this proceeding an act of worship done to the true God." But the superstitious, the same chronicler tells us, witnessed the act with tears, deeming it a fearful impiety. "Some of these people," says Christoffel, "hoped that the images would of their own accord return to their vacant places, and astound the iconoclasts by this proof of their miraculous power." [1] As the images, instead of remounting to their niches, lay broken and shivered, they lost credit with their votaries, and so many were cured of their superstition.

The affair passed off without the least disturbance. In all the country churches under the jurisdiction of Zurich, the images were removed with the same order and quiet as in the capital. The wood was burned, and the costly ornaments and rich robes that adorned the idols were sold, and the proceeds devoted to the support of the poor, "those images of Christ." [2]

The act was not without significance; nay, rather, rightly considered, it was among the more important reformations that had been hitherto brought to pass in the canton. It denoted the emancipation of the people from the bonds of a degrading superstitiom. Men and women breathed the "ampler ether and the diviner air" of the Reformed doctrine, which condemned, in unmistakable language, the use of graven images for any purpose whatever. The voice of Scripture was plain on the subject, and the Protestants of Zurich now that the scales had fallen from their eyes–saw that they were to worship God, and Him only, in spirit and in truth, in obedience to the commandments of the Almighty, and in accordance with the teaching of Jesus Christ.

Again there came a pause. The movement rested a little while at the point it had reached. The interval was filled up with portentous events. The Diet of the Swiss Confederation, which met that year at Zug, sent a deputation to Zurich to say that they were resolved to crush the new doctrine by force of arms, and that they would hold all who should persist in these innovations answerable with their goods, their liberties, and their lives. Zurich bravely replied that in the matter of religion they must follow the Word of God alone. [3] When this answer was carried back to the Diet the members trembled with rage. The fanaticism of the cantons of Lucerne, Schwitz, Uri, Unterwalden, Friburg, and Zug was rising from one day to another, and soon blood would be spilt.

One night Jean Oexlin, the pastor of Burg, near Stein on the Rhine, was dragged from his bed and carried away to prison. The signal-gun was fired, the alarm-bells were rung in the valley, and the parishioners rose in mass to rescue their beloved pastor. [4] Some miscreants mixed in the crowd, rioting ensued, and the Carthusian convent of Ittingen was burned to the ground.

Among those who had been attracted by the noise of the tumult, and who had followed the crowd which sought to rescue the pastor of Burg, carried away by the officers of a bailiff whose jurisdiction did not extend to the village in which he lived, were an old man named Wirth, Deputy-Bailiff of Stammheim, and his two sons, Adrian and John, preachers of the Gospel, and distinguished by the zeal and courage with which they had prosecuted that good work. They had for some time been objects of dislike for their Reformed sentiments. Apprehended by the orders of the Diet, they were charged with the outrage which they had striven to the utmost of their power to prevent. Their real offense was adherence to the Reformed faith. They were taken to Baden, put to the torture, and condemned to death by the Diet. The younger son was spared, but the father and the elder son, along with Burkhard Ruetimann, Deputy-Bailiff of Nussbaumen, were ordered for execution.

While on their way to the place where they were to die, the Cure of Baden addressed them, bidding them fall on their knees before the image in front of a chapel they were at the moment passing. "Why should I pray to wood and stone?" said the younger Wirth; "my God is the living God, to Him only will I pray. Be you yourself converted to Him, for you have not worn the grey frock longer than I did; and you too must die." It so happened that the priest died within the year. [5] Turning to his father, the younger Wirth said, "My dear father, from this moment you shall no longer be my father, and I shall no longer be your son; but we shall be brothers in Jesus Christ, for the love of Whom we are now to lay down our lives. We shall today go to Him who is our Father, and the Father of all believers, and with Him we shall enjoy an everlasting life." Being come to the place of execution, they mounted the scaffold with firm step, and bidding

each other farewell till they should again meet in the eternal mansions, they bared their necks, and the executioner struck. The spectators could not refrain from shedding floods of tears when they saw their heads rolling on the scaffold. [6]

Zwingli was saddened but not intimidated by these events. He saw in them no reason why he should stop, but on the contrary a strong reason why he should advance in the movement of Reformation. Rome shall pay dear for the blood she has spilt; so Zwingli resolves; he will abolish the mass, and complete the Reformation of Zurich.

On the 11th of April, 1525, the three pastors of Zurich appeared before the Council of Two Hundred, and demanded that the Senate should enact that at the approaching Easter festival the celebration of the Lord's Supper should take place according to its original institution. [7] The Under-Secretary of State, Am-Gruet, started up to do battle in behalf of the threatened Sacrament. "'This is my body,'" said he, quoting the words of Christ, which he insisted were a plain and manifest assertion that the bread was the real body of Christ. Zwingli replied that Scripture must be interpreted by Scripture, and reminded him of numerous passages where is has the force of signifies, and among others he quoted the following:–

"The seed is the Word," "The field is the world," "I am the Vine," "The Rock was Christ." [8]

The secretary objected that these passages were taken from parables and proved nothing. "No," it was replied, "the phrases occur after the parable has ended, and the figurative language been put aside." Am-Gruet stood alone. The council were already convinced; they ordered that the mass should cease, and that on the following day, Maundy Thursday, the Lord's Supper should be celebrated after the apostolic institution. [9]

The scene in which Zwingli had been so intensely occupied during the day, presented itself to him when asleep. He thought that he was again in the Council Chamber disputing with Am-Gruet. The secretary was urging his objection, and Zwingli was unable to repel it. Suddenly, a figure stood before him and said, "O, slow of heart to understand, why don't you reply to him by quoting Exodus 12:11–'Ye shall eat it [the lamb] in haste: it is the Lord's Passover'? [10] Roused from sleep by the appearance of the figure, he leaped out of bed, turned up the passage in the Septuagint, and found there the same word ejsti (is) used with regard to the institution of the Passover which is employed in reference to the institution of the Supper. All are agreed that the lamb was simply the symbol and memorial of the Passover: why should the bread be more in the Supper? The two are but one and the same ordinance under different forms. The following day Zwingli preached from the passage in Exodus, arguing that that exegesis must be at fault which finds two opposite meanings in the same; word, used, as it here is, in the same form of expression, and recording the institution of the same ordinance. If the lamb was simply a symbol in the Passover, the bread can be nothing more in the Supper; but if the bread in the Supper was Christ, the lamb in the Passover was Jehovah. So did Zwingli argue in his sermon, to the conviction of many of his hearers.

In giving an account of the occurrence afterwards, Zwingli playfully remarked that he could not tell whether the figure was white or black. [11] His opponents, however, had no difficulty in determining that the figure was black, and that Zwingli received his doctrine from the devil.

On the Thursday of Easter-week the Sacrament of the Supper was for the first time dispensed in Zurich according to the Protestant form. The altar was replaced by a table covered with a white cloth, on which were set wooden plates with unleavened bread, and wooden goblets filled with wine. The pyxes were disused, for, said they, Christ commanded "the elements" not to be enclosed but distributed. The altars, mostly of marble, were converted into pulpits, from which the Gospel was preached. The service began with a sermon; after sermon, the pastor and deacons took their place behind the table; the words of institution (1 Corinthians 11:20- 29) were read; prayers were offered, a hymn was sung in responses, a short address was delivered; the bread and wine were then carried round, and the communicants partook of them kneeling on their footstools [12]

"This celebration of the Lord's Supper," says Christoffel, "was accompanied with blessed results. An altogether new love to God and the brethren sprang up, and the words of Christ received spirit and life. The different orders of the Roman Church unceasingly quarrelled with each other; the brotherly love of the first centuries of Christianity returned to the Church with the Gospel. Enemies renounced old deep-rooted hatred, and embraced in an ecstacy of love and a sense of common brotherhood, by the partaking in common of the hallowed bread. 'Peace has her habitation in our town,' wrote Zwingli to Ecolampadius; 'no quarrel, no hypocrisy, no envy, no strife. Whence can such union come but from the Lord, and our doctrine, which fills us with the fruits of peace and piety?'" [13]

This ecclesiastical Reformation brought a social one in its wake. Protestantism was a breath of healing–a stream of cleansing in all countries to which it came. By planting a renovating principle in the individual heart, Zwingli had planted a principle of renovation at the heart of the community; but he took care to nourish and conserve that principle by outward arrangements. Mainly through his influence with the Great Council, aided by the moral influence the Gospel exercised over its members, a set of regulations and laws was framed, calculated to repress immorality and promote virtue in the canton. The Sunday and marriage, those twin pillars of

Christian morality, Zwingli restored to their original dignity. Rome had made the Sunday simply a Church festival: Zwingli replaced it on its first basis–the Divine enactment; work was forbidden upon it, although allowed, specially in harvest-time, in certain great exigencies of which the whole Christian community were to judge.

Marriage, which Rome had desecrated by her doctrine of "holy celibacy," and by making it a Sacrament, in order, it was pretended, to cleanse it, Zwingli revindicated by placing it upon its original institution as an ordinance of God, and in itself holy and good. All questions touching marriage he made subject to a small special tribunal. The confessional was abolished. "Disclose your malady," said the Reformer, "to the Physician who alone can heal it." Most of the holy-days were abrogated. All, of whatever rank, were to attend church, at least once, on Sunday. Gambling, profane swearing, and all excess in eating and drinking were prohibited under penalties. To support this arrangement the small inns were suppressed, and drink was not allowed to be sold after nine o'clock in the evening. Grosser immoralities and sins were visited with excommunication, which was pronounced by a board of moral control, composed of the marriage-judges, the magistrates of the district, and the pastors–a commingling of civil and ecclesiastical authority not wholly in harmony with the theoretic views of the Reformer, but he deemed that the peculiar relations of the Church to the State made this arrangement necessary and justifiable for the time.

Above all he was anxious to guard the morals of the pastors, as a means of preserving untarnished the grandeur and unimpaired the power of the Word preached, knowing that it is in the Church usually that the leprosy of national declension first breaks out. An act of council, passed in 1528, appointed two synodal assemblies to be held each year–one in spring, the other in autumn. All the pastors were to convene, each with one or two members of his congregation. On the part of the council the synod was attended by the burgomaster, six councillors, and the town clerk. The court mainly occupied itself with inquiries into the lives, the doctrine, and the occupations of the individual pastors, with the state of morals in their several parishes. [14]

Thus a vigorous discipline was exercised over all classes, lay and cleric. This regime would never have been submitted to, had not the Gospel as a great spiritual pioneer gone before. Its beneficent results were speedily apparent. "Under its protecting and sheltering influence," says Christoffel, "there grew up and flourished those manly and hardy virtues which so richly adorned the Church of the Reformation at its commencement." An era of prosperity and renown now opened on Zurich. Order and quiet were established, the youth were instructed, letters were cultivated, arts and industry flourished, and the population, knit together in the bends of a holy faith, dwelt in peace and love. They were exempt from the terrible scourge which so frequently desolated the Popish cantons around them.

Zwingli had withdrawn them from the "foreign service," so demoralising to their patriotism and their morality, and while the other cantons were shedding their blood on foreign fields, the inhabitants of the canton of Zurich were prosecuting the labors of peace, enriching their territory with their activity and skill, and making its capital, Zurich, one of the lights of Christendom.

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