corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

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 5 — Zwingli's progress towards emancipation

Resource Toolbox

 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24

 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15


Zwingli returns Home – Goes to Vienna – His Studies and Associates – Returns to Wildhaus – Makes a Second Visit to Basle – His Love of Music – The Scholastic Philosophy – Leo Juda – Wolfgang Capito – Ecolampadius – Erasmus – Thomas Wittembach – Stars of the Dawn – Zwingli becomes Pastor of Olarus – Studies and Labors among his Parishioners – Swiss drawn to Fight in Italy – Zwingli's Visit to Italy – Its Lessons.

THE young Zwingli gave instant obedience to the injunction that summoned him home; but he was no longer the same as when he first left his father's house. He had not yet become a disciple of the Gospel, but he had become a scholar. The solitudes of the Tockenburg had lost their charm for him; neither could the society of its shepherds any longer content him. He longed for more congenial fellowship.

Zwingli, by the advice of his uncle, was next sent to Vienna, in Austria. He entered the high school of that city, which had attained great celebrity under the Emperor Maximilian I. Here he resumed those studies in the Roman classics which had been so suddenly broken off in Bern, adding thereto a beginning in philosophy. He was not the only Swiss youth now living in the capital and studying in the schools of the ancient enemy of his country's independence. Joachim Vadian, the son of a rich merchant of St. Gall; Henry Loreti, commonly known as Glarean, a peasant's son, from Mollis; and a Suabian youth, John Heigerlin, the son of a blacksmith, and hence called Faber, were at this time in Vienna, and were Zwingli's companions in his studies and in his amusements. All three gave promise of future eminence; and all three attained it; but no one of the three rendered anything like the same service to the world, or achieved the same lasting fame, as the fourth, the shepherd's son from the Tockenburg. After a sojourn of two years at Vienna, Zwingli returned once more (1502) to his home at Wildhaus.

But his native valley could not long retain him. The oftener he quaffed the cup of learning, the more he thirsted to drink thereof. Being now in his eighteenth year, he repaired a second time to Basle, in the hope of turning to use, in that city of scholars, the knowledge he had acquired. He taught in the School of St. Martin's, and studied at the University. Here he received the degree of Master of Arts. This title he accepted more from deference to others than from any value which he himself put upon it. At no period did he make use of it, being wont to say, "One is our Master, even Christ." [1]

Frank and open and joyous, he drew around him a large circle of friends, among whom was Capito, and Leo Juda, who afterwards became his colleague. His intellectual powers were daily expanding. But all was not toil with him; taking his lute or his horn, he would regale himself and his companions with the airs of his native mountains; or he would sally out along the banks of the Rhine, or climb the hills of the Black Forest on the other side of that stream.

To diversify his labors, Zwingli turned to the scholastic philosophy. Writing of him at this period, Myconius says: "He studied philosophy here with more exactness than ever, and pursued into all their refinements the idle, hair-splitting sophistries of the schoolman, with no other intention than that, if ever he should come to close quarters with him, he might know his enemy, and beat him with his own weapons." [2] As one who quits a smiling and fertile field, and crosses the boundary of a gloomy wilderness, where nothing grows that is good for food or pleasant to the eye, so did Zwingli feel when he entered this domain. The scholastic philosophy had received the reverence of ages; the great intellects of the preceding centuries had extolled it as the sum of all wisdom. Zwingli found in it only barrenness and confusion; the further he penetrated into it the more waste it became. He turned away, and came back with a keener relish to the study of the classics. There he breathed a freer air, and there he found a wider horizon around him.

Between the years 1512 and 1516 there chanced to settle in Switzerland a number of men of great and varied gifts, all of whom became afterwards distinguished in the great movement of Reform.

Let us rapidly recount their names. It was not of chance surely that so many lights shone out all at once in the sky of the Swiss. Leo Juda comes first: he was the son of a priest of Alsace. His diminutive stature and sickly face hid a richly replenished intellect, and a bold and intrepid spirit. The most loved of all the friends of Zwingli, he shared his two master-passions, the love of truth and the love of music. When the hours of labor were fulfilled, the two regaled themselves with song. Leo had a treble voice, and struck the tymbal; to the trained skill and powerful voice of Ulric all instruments and all parts came alike. Between them there was formed a covenant of friendship that lasted till death. The hour soon came that parted them, for Leo Juda was the senior of Zwingli, and quitted Basle to become priest at St. Pilt in Alsace. But we shall see them re-united ere long, and fighting side by side, with ripened powers, and weapons taken from the armoury of the Divine Word, in the great battle of the Reformation.

Another of those remarkable men who, from various countries, were now directing their steps to Switzerland, was Wolfgang Capito. He was born at Haguenau in Germany in 1478, and had taken his degree in the three faculties of theology, medicine, and law. In

1512 he was invited to become cure of the cathedral church of Basle. Accepting this charge he set to studying the Epistle to the Romans, in order to expound it to his hearers, and while so engaged his own eyes opened to the errors of the Roman Church. By the end of 1517 so matured had his views become that he found he no longer could say mass, and forbore the practice. [3]

John Hausschein, or, in its Greek form, Ecolampadius–both of which signify "light of the house"–was born in 1482, at Weinsberg, in Franconia. His family, originally from Basle, was wealthy. So rapid was his progress in the belles lettres, that at the age of twelve he composed verses which were admired for their elegance and fire. He went abroad to study jurisprudence at the Universities of Bologna and Heidelberg. At the latter place he so recommended himself by his exemplary conduct and his proficiency in study, that he was appointed preceptor to the son of the Elector Palatine Philip. In 1514 he preached in his own country. His performance elicited an applause from the learned, which he thought it little merited, for he says of it that it was nothing else than a medley of superstition. Feeling that his doctrine was not true, he resolved to study the Greek and Hebrew languages, that he might be able to read the Scriptures in the original. With this view he repaired to Stuttgart, to profit by the instructions of the celebrated scholar Reuchlin, or Capnion. In the year following (1515) Capito, who was bound to Ecolampadius in the ties of all intimate friendship, had made Christopher of Uttenheim, Bishop of Basle, acquainted with his merits, and that prelate addressed to him an invitation to become preacher in that city, [4] where we shall afterwards meet him.

About the same time the celebrated Erasmus came to Basle, drawn thither by the fame of its printing-presses. He had translated, with simplicity and elegance, the New Testament into Latin from the original Greek, and he issued it from this city, accompanied with clear and judicious notes, and a dedication to Pope Leo X. To Leo the dedication was appropriate as a member of a house which had given many munificent patrons to letters, and no less appropriate ought it to have been to him as head of the Church. The epistle dedicatory is dated Basle, February 1st, 1516. Erasmus enjoyed the aid of Ecolampadius in this labor, and the great scholar acknowledges, in his preface to the paraphrase, with much laudation, his obligations to the theologian. [5]

We name yet another in this galaxy of lights which was rising over the darkness of this land, and of Christendom as well. Though we mentionhim last, he was the first to arrive. Thomas Wittembach was a native of Bienne, in Switzerland. He studied at Tubingen, and had delivered lectures in its high school. In 1505 he came to that city on the banks of the Rhine, around which its scholars, and its printers scarcely less, were shedding such a halo. It was at the feet of Wittembach that Ulric Zwingli, on his second visit to Basle, found Leo Juda. The student from the Tockenburg sat him down at the feet of the same teacher, and no small influence was Wittembach destined to exert over him. Wittembach was a disciple of Reuchlin, the famous Hebraist. Basle had already opened its gates to the learning of Greece and Rome, but Wittembach brought thither a yet higher wisdom. Skilled in the sacred tongues, he had drunk at the fountains of Divine knowledge to which these tongues admitted him. There was an older doctrine, he affirmed, than that which Thomas Aquinas had propounded to the men of the Middle Ages–an older doctrine even than that which Aristotle had taught to the men of Greece. The Church had wandered from that old doctrine, but the time was near when men would come back to it. That doctrine in a single sentence was that "the death of Christ is the only ransom for our souls." [6] When these words were uttered, the first seed of a new life had been cast into the heart of Zwingli.

To pause a moment: the names we have recited were the stars of morning. Verily, to the eyes of men that for a thousand years had dwelt in darkness, it was a pleasant thing to behold their light. With literal truth may we apply the words of the great poet to them, and call their effulgence "holy: the offspring of heaven first-born." Greater luminaries were about to come forth, and fill with their splendor that firmanent where these early harbingers of day were shedding their lovely and welcome rays. But never shall these first pure lights be forgotten or blotted out. Many names, which war has invested with a terrible splendor, and which now attract the universal gaze, grow gradually dim, and at last will vanish altogether. But history will trim these "holy lights" from century to century, and keep them burning throughout the ages; and be the world's day ever so long and ever so bright, the stars that ushered in its dawn will never cease to shine.

We have seen the seed dropped into the heart of Zwingli; the door now opened by which he was ushered into the field in which his great labors were to be performed. At this juncture the pastor of Glarus died. The Pope appointed his equerry, Henri Goldli, to the vacant office; [7] for the paltry post on the other side of the Alps must be utilised. Had it been a groom for their horses, the shepherds of Glarus would most thankfully have accepted the Pope's nominee; but what they wanted was a teacher for themselves and their children, and having heard of the repute of the son of the Bailiff of Wildhaus, their neighbor, they sent back the equerry to his

duties in the Pontifical stables, and invited Ulric Zwingli to become their pastor. He accepted the invitation, was ordained at Constance, and in 1506, being then in his twenty-second year, he arrived at Glarus to begin his work. His parish embraced nearly a third of the canton.

"He became a priest," says Myconius, "and devoted himself with his whole soul to the search after Divine truth, for he was well aware how much he must know to whom the flock of Christ is entrusted." As yet, however, he was a more ardent student of the ancient classics than of the Holy Scriptures. He read Demosthenes and Cicero, that he might acquire the art of oratory. He was especially ambitious of wielding the mighty power of eloquence. He knew what it had accomplished in the cities of Greece, that it had roused them to resist the tyrant, and assert their liberties: might it not achieve effects as great, and not less needed, in the valleys of Switzerland? Caesar, Livy, Tacitus, and the other great writers of Rome, he was perfectly familiar with. Seneca he called a "holy man." The beautiful genius, the elevation of soul, and the love of country which distinguished some of the great men of heathendom, he attributed to the influence of the Holy Ghost. God, he affirmed, did not confine his influence within the limits of Palestine, he covered therewith the world. "If the two Catos," said he, "Scipio and Camillus, had not been truly religious, could they have been so high-minded?" [8]

He founded a Latin school in Glarus, and took the conduct of it into his own hands. He gathered into it the youth of all the best families in his extensive parish, and so gained them to the cause of letters and of noble aims. As soon as his pupils were ripe, he sent them either to Vienna, in the University of which Vadian, the friend of his youth, had risen to the rank of rector, or to Basle, where Glarean, another of his friends, had opened a seminary for young men. A gross licentiousness of manners, united with a fiery martial spirit, acquired in the Burgundian and Suabian wars, had distinguished the inhabitants of Glarus before his arrival amongst them. An unwonted refinement of manners now began to characterise them, and many eyes were turned to that new light which had so suddenly broken forth in this obscure valley amid the Alps.

There came a pause in his classical studies and his pastoral work. The Pope of the day, Julius II., was warring with the King of France, Louis XII., and the Swiss were crossing the Alps to fight for "the Church." The men of Glarus, with their cardinal-bishop, in casque and coat of mail, at their head, obeying a new summons from the warlike Pontiff, marched in mass to encounter the French on the plains of Italy. Their young priest, Ulric Zwingli, was compelled to accompany them. Few of these men ever returned: those who did, brought back with them the vices they had learned in Italy, to spread idleness, profligacy, and beggary over their native land. Switzerland was descending into an abyss. Ulric's eyes began to be opened to the cause which was entailing such manifold miseries upon his country. He began to look more closely at the Papal system, and to think how he could avert the ruin which, mainly through the intrigues of Rome, appeared to impend over Swiss independence and Swiss morals. He resumed his studies. A solitary ray of light had found its way in the manner we have already shown into his mind. It had appeared sweeter than all the wisdom which he had acquired by the laborious study of the ancients, whether the classic writers, whom he enthusiastically admired, or the scholastic divines, whom he held but in small esteem. On his return from the scenes of dissipation and carnage which had met his gaze on the south of the Alps, he resumed the study of Greek, that he might have free access to the Divine source whence he knew that solitary ray had come.

This was a moment big with the fate of Zwingli, of his native Switzerland, and in no inconsiderable degree of the Church of God. The young priest of Glarus now placed himself in presence of the Word of God. If he shall submit his understanding and open his heart to its influence, all will be well; but if, offended by its doctrines, so humbling to the pride of the intellect, and so distasteful to the unrenewed heart, he shall turn away, his condition will be hopeless indeed. He has bowed before Aristotle: will he bow before a Greater speaking in this Word?

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
Search Historical Writings
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology