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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 7 — Einsiedeln and Zurich

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Visit to Erasmus – The Swiss Fight for the Pope – Zwingli Accompanies them – Marignano – Its Lessons – Zwlngle invited to Einsiedeln – Its Site – Its Administrator and Abbot – Its Image – Pilgrims – Annual Festival – Zwingli's Sermon – A Stronghold of Darkness converted into a Beacon of Light – Zwingli called to Zurich – The Town and Lake – Zwingli's First Appearance in its Pulpit – His Two Grand Principles – Effects of his Preaching – His Pulpit a Fountain of National Regeneration.

Two journeys which Zwingli made at this time had a marked effect upon him. The one was to Basle, where Erasmus was now living. His visit to the prince of scholars gave him equal pleasure and profit. He returned from Basle, his enthusiasm deepened in the study of the sacred tongues, and his thirst whetted for a yet greater acquaintance with the knowledge which these tongues contained.

The other journey was of another character, as well as in another direction. Louis XlI. of France was now dead; Julius II. of Rome had also gone to his account; but the war which these two potentates had waged with each other remained as a legacy to their successors. Francis I. took up the quarrel–rushed into Italy–and the Pope, Leo X., summoned the Swiss to fight for the Church, now threatened by the French. Inflamed by the eloquence of their warlike cardinal, Matthew Schinner, Bishop of Sion, even more than drawn by the gold of Rome, the brave mountaineers hastened across the Alps to defend the "Holy Father." The pastor of Glarus went with them to Italy, where one day he might be seen haranguing the phalanxes of his countrymen, and allother day, sword in hand, fighting side by side with them on the battle-field–a blending of spiritual and military functions less repulsive to the ideas of that age than to those of the present. But in vain the Swiss poured out their blood. The great victory which the French achieved at Marignano inspired terror in the Vatican, filled the valleys of the Swiss with widows and orphans, and won for the youthful monarch of France a renown in arms which he was destined to lose, as suddenly as he had gained it, on the fatal field of Pavia.

But if Switzerland had cause long to remember the battle of Marignano, in which so many of her sons had fallen, the calamity was converted at a future day into a blessing to her. Ulric Zwingli had thoughts suggested to him during his visit to Italy which bore fruit on his return. The virtues that flourished at Rome, he perceived, were ambition and avarice, pride and luxury. These were not, he thought, by any means so precious as to need to be nourished by the blood of the Swiss. What a folly! what a crime to drag the flower of the youth of Switzerland across the Alps, and slaughter them in a cause like this! He resolved to do his utmost to stop this effusion of his countrymen's blood. He felt, more than ever, how necessary was a Reformation, and he began more diligently than before to instruct his parishioners in the doctrines of Holy Scripture.

He was thus occupied, searching the Bible, and communicating what, from time to time, he discovered in it to his parishioners, when he was invited (1516) to be preacher in the Convent of Einsiedeln. Theobald, Baron of Gherolds-Eck, was administrator of this abbey, and lord of the place. He was a lover of the sciences and of learned men, and above all of those who to a knowledge of science joined piety. From him came the call now addressed to the pastor of Glarus, drawn forth by the report which the baron had received of the zeal and ability of Zwingli. [1] Its abbot was Conrad de Rechenberg, a gentleman of rank, who discountenanced the superstitious usages of his Church, and in his heart had no great affection for the mass, and in fact had dropped the celebration of it. One day, as some visitors were urging him to say mass, he replied, "If Jesus Christ is veritably in the Host, I am not worthy to offer Him in sacrifice to the Father; and if He be not in the Host, I should be more unhappy still, for I should make the people adore bread in place of God." [2]

Ought he to leave Glarus, and bury himself on a solitary mountain-top? This was the question Zwingli put to himself. He might, he thought, as well go to his grave at once; and yet, if he accepted the call, it was no tomb in which he would be shutting himself up. It was a famed resort of pilgrims, in which he might hope to prosecute with advantage the great work of enlightening his countrymen. He therefore decided to avail himself of the opportunity thus offered for carrying on his mission in a new and important field.

The Convent of Einsiedeln was situated on a little hill between the Lakes of Zurich and Wallenstadt. Its renown was inferior only to that of the far-famed shrine of Loretto. "It was the most famous," says Gerdesius, "in all Switzerland and Upper Germany." [3] An inscription over the portal announced that "Plenary Indulgences" were to be obtained within; and moreover–and this was its chief attraction–it boasted an image of the Virgin which had the alleged power of working miracles. Occasional parties of pilgrims would visit Einsiedeln at all seasons, but when the great annual festival of its "Consecration" came round, thousands would flock from all parts of Switzerland, and from places still more remote, from France and Germany, to this famous shrine. On these occasions the valley at the foot of the mountain became populous as a city; and all day long files of pilgrims might be seen climbing the mountain, carrying in the one hand tapers to burn in

honor of "Our Lady of Einsiedeln," and in the other money to buy the pardons which were sold at her shrine. Zwingli was deeply moved by the sight. He stood up before that great multitude–that congregation gathered from so many of the countries of Christendom–and boldly proclaimed that they had come this long journey in vain; that they were no nearer the God who hears prayer on this mountain-top than in the valley; that they were on no holier ground in the precincts of the Chapel of Einsiedeln than in their own closets; that they were spending "their money for that which is not bread, and their labor for that which satisfieth not," and that it was not a pilgrim's gown but a contrite heart which was pleasing to God. Nor did Zwingli content himself with simply reproving the grovelling superstition and profitless rites which the multitudes whom this great festival had brought to Einsiedeln substituted for love to God and a holy life. He preached to them the Gospel. He had pity on the many who came really seeking rest to their souls. He spoke to them of Christ and Him crucified. He told them that He was the one and only Savior; that His death had made a complete satisfaction for the sins of men; that the efficacy of His sacrifice lasts through all ages, and is available for all nations; and that there was no need to climb this mountain to obtain forgiveness; that the Gospel offers to all, through Christ, pardon without money and without price. This "good news" it was worth coming from the ends of the earth to hear. [4] Yet there were those among this crowd of pilgrims who were not able to receive it as "good news." They had made a long journey, and it was not pleasant to be told at the end of it that they might have spared their pains and remained at home. It seemed, moreover, too cheap a pardon to be worth having. They would rather travel the old road to Paradise by penances, and fasts, and alms-deeds, and the absolutions of the Church, than trust their salvation to a security so doubtful. To these men Zwingli's doctrine seemed like a blasphemy of theVirgin in her own chapel.

But there were others to whom the preacher's words were as "cold water" to one athirst. They had made trial of these self-righteous performances, and found their utter inefficacy. Had they not kept fast and vigil till they were worn to a skeleton? Had they not scourged themselves till the blood flowed? But peace they had not found: the sting of an accusing conscience was not yet plucked out. They were thus prepared to welcome the words of Zwingli. A Divine influence seemed to accompany these words in the case of many. They disclosed, it was felt, the only way by which they could ever hope to obtain eternal life, and returning to their homes they published abroad the strange but welcome tidings they had heard. Thus it came to pass that this, the chief stronghold of darkness in all Switzerland, was suddenly converted into a center of the Reformed light. "A trumpet had been blown," and a "standard lifted up" upon the tops of the mountains. [5]

Zwingli continued his course. The well-worn pilgrim-track began to be disused, the shrine to which it led forsaken; and as the devotees diminished, so too did the revenues of the priest of Einsiedeln. But so far from being grieved at the loss of his livelihood, it rejoiced Zwingli to think that his work was prospering. The Papal authorities offered him no obstruction, although they could hardly shut their eyes to what was going on. Rome needed the swords of the cantons. She knew the influence which Zwingli wielded over his countrymen, and she thought by securing him to secure them; but her favors and flatteries, bestowed through the Cardinal-Bishop of Sion, and the Papal legate, were totally unavailing to turn him from his path. He continued to prosecute his ministry, during the three years of his abode at this place, with a marked degree of success. By this course of discipline Zwingli was being gradually prepared for beginning the Reformation of Switzerland. The post of Preacher in the College of Canons which Charlemagne had established at Zurich became vacant at this time, and on the 11th of December, 1518, Zwingli was elected, by a majority of votes, to the office.

The "foundation" on which Zwingli was now admitted was limited to eighteen members. According to the terms of Charlemagne's deed they were "to serve God with praise and prayer, to furnish the Christians in hill and valley with the means of public worship, and finally to preside over the Cathedral school," which, after the name of the founder, was called the Charles' School. The Great Minster, like most other ecclesiastical institutions, quickly degenerated, and ceased to fulfill the object for which it had been instituted. Its canons, spending their time in idleness and amusement, in falconry and hunting the boar, appointed a leut-priest with a small salary, supplemented by the prospect of ultimate advancement to a canon-ship, to perform the functions of public worship. This was the post that Zwingli was chosen to fill. At the time of his election the Great Minster had twenty-four canons and thirty-six chaplains. Felix Hammerlin, the precentor of this foundation, had said of it in the first half of the fifteenth century: "A blacksmith can, from a number of old horseshoes, pick out one and make it useable; but I know no smith who, out of all these canons, could make one good canon." [6] We may be sure that there were some of a different spirit among the canons at the time of Zwingli's election, otherwise the chaplain of Einsiedeln would never have been chosen as Preacher in the Cathedral of Zurich.

Zurich is pleasantly situated on the shores of the

lake of that name. This is a noble expanse of water, enclosed within banks which swell gently upwards, clothed here with vineyards, there with pine-forests, from amid which hamlets and white villas gleam out and enliven the scene, while in the far-off horizon the glaciers are seen blending with the golden clouds. On the right the region is walled in by the craggy rampart of the Albis Alp, but the mountains stand back from the shore, and by permitting the light to fall freely upon the bosom of the lake, and on the ample sweep of its lovely and fertile banks, give a freshness and airiness to the prospect as seen from the city, which strikingly contrasts with the neighboring Lake of Zug, where the placid waters and the slumbering shore seem perpetually wrapped in the shadows of the great mountains.

Zurich was at that time the chief town of the Swiss Confederation. Every word spoken here had thus double power. If at Einsiedeln Zwingli had boldly rebuked superstition, and faithfully preached the Gospel, he was not likely to show either less intrepidity or less eloquence now that he stood at the center of Helvetia, and spoke to all its cantons. He appeared in the pulpit of the Cathedral of Zurich for the first time on the 1st of January, 1519. It was a singular coincidence, too, that this was his thirty-fifth birthday. He was of middle size, with piercing eyes, sharp-cut features, and clear ringing voice. The crowd was great, for his fame had preceded him. It was not so much his reputed eloquence which drew this multitude around him, including so many who had long ceased to attend service, as the dubious renown, as it was then considered, of preaching a new Gospel. He commenced his ministry by opening the New Testament, and reading the first chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, [7] and he continued his expositions of this Gospel on successive Sabbaths, till he had arrived at the end of the book. The life, miracles, teaching, and passion of Christ were ably and earnestly laid before his hearers.

The two leading principles of his preaching at Zurich, as at Glarus and Einsiedeln, were–the Word of God the one infallible authority, and the death of Christ the one complete satisfaction. Making these his rallying-points, his address took a wide range, as suited his own genius, or as was demanded by the condition of his hearers, and the perils and duties of his country. Beneath him, crowding every bench, sat all ranks and conditions–states-men, burgomasters, canons, priests, scholars, merchants, and artisans. As the calm face of ocean reflects the sky which is hung above it, so did the rows of upturned faces respond to the varied emotions which proceeded from the cathedral pulpit of Zurich. Did the preacher, as was his delight, enlarge, in simple, clear, yet earnest words– words whose elegance charmed the learned, as they instructed the illiterate [8] –on a "free salvation," the audience bent forward and drank in every syllable. Not all, however; for there were those among Zwingli's hearers, and some even who had promoted his election, who saw that if this doctrine were generally received it would turn the world upside down. Popes must doff their tiara, and renowned doctors and monarchs of the schools must lay down their scepter.

The intrepid preacher would change his theme; and, while the fire of his eye and the sternness of his tones discovered the indignation of his spirit, he would reprove the pride and luxury which were corrupting the simplicity of ancient manners, and impairing the rigor of ancient virtue.

When there was more piety at the hearth, there was more valor in the field. On glancing abroad, and pointing to the tyranny that flourished on the south of the Alps, he would denounce in yet more scathing tones that hypocritical ambition which, for its own aggrandisement, was rending their country in pieces, dragging away its sons to water foreign lands with their blood, and digging a grave for its morality and its independence. Their sires had broken the yoke of Austria, it remained for them to break the yet viler yoke of the Popes. Nor were these appeals without effect. Zwingli's patriotism, kindled at the altar, and burning with holy and vehement flame, set on fire the souls of his countrymen. The knitted brows and flashing eyes of his audience showed that his words were telling, and that he had awakened something of the heroic spirit which the fathers of the men he was addressing had displayed on the memorable fields of Mortgarten and Sempach.

It was seen flint a fountain of new life had been opened at the heart of Switzerland. Zwingli had become the regenerator of the nation. Week by week a new and fresh impulse was being propagated from the cathedral, throughout not Zurich only, but all the cantons; and the ancient simplicity and bravery of the Swiss, fast perishing under the wiles of Rome and the corrupting touch of French goht, were beginning again to flourish. "Glory be to God!" men were heard saying to one another, as they retired from the cathedral where they had listened to Zwingli, says Bullinger, in his Chronicle, "this man is a preacher of the truth. He will be our Moses to lead us forth from this Egyptian darkness."

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 31st, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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