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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 9 — Extension of the reformation to Bern and other Swiss towns

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A Solemn Meeting – Zwingli Preaches with greater Life – Human Merit and Gospel Virtue – The Gospel Annihilates the one, Nourishes the other – Power of Love – Zwingli's Hearers Increase – His Labors – Conversions – Extension of the Movement to other Swiss Towns – Basle – Lucerne – Oswald Myconius – Labors in Lucerne – Opposition – Is Thrust out – Bern – Establishment of the Reformation there.

WHEN Zwingli and the citizens of Zurich again assembled in their cathedral, it was a peculiarly solemn moment for both. They were just emerging from the shadow of the "Great Death." The preacher had risen from a sick-bed which had nearly passed into a death-bed, and the audience had come from waiting beside the couches on which they had seen their relations and friends breathe their last. The Reformed doctrine seemed to have acquired a new value. In the awful gloom through which they had just passed, when other lights had gone utterly out, the Gospel had shone only the brighter. Zwingli spoke as he had never spoken before, and his audience listened as they had listened on no former occasion.

Zwingli now opened a deeper vein in his ministry. He touched less frequently upon the evils of foreign service. Not that he was less the patriot, but being now more the pastor, he perceived that a renovated Christianity was not only the most powerful renovator of his country's morals, but the surest palladium of its political interests. The fall and the recovery of man were his chief themes. "In Adam we are all dead," would he say–"sunk in corruption and condemnation." This was a somewhat inauspicious commencement of a Gospel of "good news," for which, after the terrors incident to the scenes which the Zurichers had witnessed, so many of them thirsted. But Zwingli went on to proclaim a release from prison–an opening of the sepulcher. But dead men do not open their own tombs. Christ was their life. He had become so by His passion, which was "an eternal sacrifice, and everlastingly effectual to heal." [1] To Him must they come. "His sacrifice satisfies Divine justice for ever in behalf of alI who rely upon it with firm and unshaken faith." Are men then to live in sin? Are they to cease to cultivate holiness? No. Zwingli went on to show that, although this doctrine annihilates human merit, it does not annihilate evangelical virtue: that, although no man is saved for his holiness, no man will be saved without holiness: that as God bestows his salvation freely, so we give our obedience freely: on the one side there is life by grace, and on the other works by love.

And then, going still deeper down, Zwingli would disclose that principle which is at once the strongest and the sweetest in all the Gospel system. What is that principle? Is it law? No. Law comes like a tyrant with a rod to coerce the unwilling, and to smite the guilty. Man is both unwilling and guilty. Law in his case, therefore, can but engender fear: and that fear darkens his mind, enfeebles his will, and produces a cramped, cringing, slavish spirit, which vitiates all he does. It is the Medusa-head that turns him into stone.

What then is the principle? It is love. But how comes love to spring up in the heart of a guilty and condemned man? It comes in this wise. The Gospel turns man's eye upon the Savior. He sees Him enduring His passion in his stead, bearing the bitter tree, to bestow upon him a free forgiveness, and life everlasting. That look enkindles love. That love penetrates his whole being, quickening, purifying, and elevating all his powers, filling the understanding with light, the will with obedience, the conscience with peace, the heart with joy, and making the life to abound in holy deeds, fruitful alike to God and man. Such was the Gospel that was now preached in the Cathedral of Zurich.

The Zurichers did not need any argument to convince them that this doctrine was true. They read its truth in its own light. Its glory was not of earth, but of the skies, where was the place of its birth. An unspeakable joy filled their hearts when they saw the black night of monkery departing, with its cowls, its beads, its scourges, its purgatorial fires, which had given much uneasiness to the flesh, but brought no relief to the conscience; and the sweet light of the Gospel opening so full of refreshing to their souls.

The cathedral, although a spacious building, could not contain the crowds that flocked to it. Zwingli labored with all his might to consolidate the movement. He admirably combined prudence with his zeal. He practiced the outward forms of the Church in the pale of which he still remained. He said mass: he abstained from flesh on fast-days: but all the while he labcured indefatigably to diffuse a knowledge of Divine truth, knowing that as the new growth developed, the old, with its rotten timber, and seared and shrivelled leaves, would be cast off. As soon as men should come to see that a free pardon was offered to them in the Bible, they would no longer scourge themselves to merit one, or climb the mountain of Einsiedeln with money in their hand to buy one. In short, Zwingli's first object, which he ever kept clearly in view, was not the overthrow of the Papacy, but the restoration of Christianity.

He commenced a week-day lecture for the peasants who came to market on Friday. Beautifully consecutive and logical was his Sunday course of instruction. Having opened to his flock the Gospel in his expositions of St. Matthew, he passed on to the consideration of the Acts of the Apostles, that he might show them how Christianity was diffused. He next expounded the Epistles, that he might have

an opportunity of inculcating the Christian graces, and showing that the Gospel is not only a "doctrine," but also a "life." He then took up the Epistles of St. Peter, that he might reconcile the two apostles, and show the harmony that reigns in the New Testament on the two great subjects of "Faith" and "Works;" and last of all he expounded the Epistle to the Hebrews, showing the harmony that subsists between the two Dispensations, that both have one substance, and that one substance is the Gospel– Salvation of Grace– and that the difference lay only in the mode of revelation, which was by type and symbol in the one case, by plain literal statements in the other. "Here they were to learn," says Zwingli, "that Christ is our alone true High Priest. That was the seed I sowed; Matthew, Luke, Paul, Peter have watered it, but God caused it to thrive." And in a letter to Myconius, of December 31st, 1519, [2] he reports that "at Zurich upwards of 2,000 souls had already been so strengthened and nourished by the milk of the truth, that they could now bear stronger food, and anxiously longed for it." Thus, step by step, did Zwingli lead his hearers onward from the first principles to the higher mysteries of Divine revelation.

A movement like this could not be confined within the walls of Zurich, any more than day can break and valley and mountain-top not catch the radiance. The seeds of this renovation were being cast by Zwingli into the air; the winds were wafting them all over Switzerland, and at many points laborers were preparing a soil in which they might take root and grow. It was in favor of the movement here that the chief actors were not, as elsewhere, kings, ministers, and princes of the Church, but the people. Let us look around and note the beginnings of this movement, by which so many of the Helvetic cantons were, at no distant day, to be emancipated from the tyranny of the Papal supremacy, and the superstitions of the Papal faith.

We begin on the northern frontier. There was at that time at Basle a brilliant cluster of men. Among the first, and by much the most illustrious of them all, was Erasmus, whose edition of the New Testament (1516) may be said to have opened a way for the Reformation. The labors of the celebrated printer Frobenius were scarcely less powerful. He printed at Basle the writings of Luther, and in a short time spread them in Italy, France, Spain, and England. [3] Among the second class, the more distinguished were Capito and Hedio. They were warm friends and admirers of Zwingli, and they adopted in Basle the same measures for the propagation of the Reformed faith which the latter was prosecuting with so much success at Zurich. Capito began to expound daily to the citizens the Gospel according to St. Matthew, and with results thus described in a letter of Hedio's to Zwingli in 1520: "This most efficacious doctrine of Christ penetrates and warms the heart." [4] The audiences increased. The doctors and monks conspired against the preacher, [5] and raised tumults.

The Cardinal–Archbishop of Mainz, desiring to possess so great a scholar, invited Capito to Mainz, [6] On his departure, however, the work did not cease. Hedio took it up, and beginning where Capito had stopped, went on to expound the Gospel with a courageous eloquence, to which the citizens listened, although the monks ceased not to warn them against believing those who told them that the sum of all Christian doctrine was to be found in the Gospel. Scotus, said they, was a greater doctor than St. Paul. So broke the dawn of the Reformation in Basle. The number of its disciples in this seat of learning rapidly increased. Still it had a long and sore fight before obtaining the mastery. The aristocracy were powerful: the clergy were not less so: the University threw its weight into the same scale. Here was a triple rampart, which it cost the truth much effort to scale. Hedio, who succeeded Capito, was himself succeeded by Ecolampadius, the greatest of the three. Ecolampadius labored with zeal and waited in hope for six years. At last, in 1528, Basle, the last of all the Helvetic cantons, decreed its acceptance of the Reformed faith. [7]

At Lucerne, Myconius endeavored to sow the good seed of the Gospel; but the soil was unkindly, and the seed that sprang up soon withered. It was choked by the love of arms and the power of superstition. Oswald Geishauser – for such was his name till Erasmus hellenised it into Myconius–was one of the sweetest spirits and most accomplished minds of that age. He was born at Lucerne (1488), and educated at Basle, where he became Rector of St. Peter's School. In 1516 he left Basle, and became Rector of the Cathedral School at Zurich. He was the first of those who sought to dispel the ignorance of his native Switzerland by laboring, in his vocation as schoolmaster, to introduce at once the knowledge of ancient letters and the love of Holy Scripture. He had previously contracted a friendship with Zwingli, and it was mainly through his efforts and counsel that the Preacher of Einsiedeln was elected to fill the vacant office at Zurich. The two friends worked lovingly together, but at length it was resolved that Myconius should carry the light to his native city of Lucerne. The parting was sad, but Myconius obeyed the call of duty and set out.

He hoped that his office as head-master in the collegiate school of this city would afford him opportunities of introducing a higher knowledge than that of Pagan literature among the citizens around the Waldstatter Lake. He began his work very quietly. The writings of Luther had preceded him, but the citizens of Lucerne, the strenuous advocates at

once of a foreign service and a foreign faith, abominated these books as if they had proceeded from the pen of a demon. The expositions of Myconius in the school awakened instant suspicion. "We must burn Luther and the schoolmaster," [8] said the citizens to one another. Myconius went on, notwithstanding, not once mentioning Luther's name, but quietly conveying to the youth around him a knowledge of the Gospel. The whisperings soon grew into accusations.

At last they burst out in fierce threats. "I live among ravenous wolves," we find him writing in December, 1520. [9] He was summoned before the council. "He is a Lutheran," said one accuser; "he is a seducer of youth," said another. The council enjoined him not to read anything of Luther's to his scholars–not even to mention his name–nay, not even to admit the thought of him into his mind. [10] The lords of Lucerne set no narrow limits to their jurisdiction. The gentle spirit of the schoolmaster was ill-fitted to buffet the tempests that assailed him on every side. He had offered the Gospel to the citizens of Lucerne, and although a few had accepted it, and loved him for its sake, the great majority had thrust it from them. There were other cities and cantons that, he knew, would gladly welcome the truth which Lucerne had rejected. He resolved, therefore, to shake off the dust from his feet as a witness against it, and depart. Before he had carried his resolution into effect, the council furnished him with but too good evidence that the course he had resolved upon was the path of duty. He was suddenly stripped of his office, and banished from the canton. He quitted the ungrateful city, where his cradle had been placed, and in 1522 he returned to Zwingli at Zurich. [11] Lucerne failed to verify the augury of its name, and the light that departed with its noblest son has never since returned.

Bern knew to choose the better part which Lucerne had rejected. Its citizens had won renown in arms: their city had never opened its gates to an enemy, but in the morning of the sixteenth century it was conquered by the Gospel, and the victory which truth won at Bern was the more important that it opened a door for the diffusion of the Gospel throughout Western Switzerland.

It was the powerful influence that proceeded from Zurich which originated the Reformed movement in the warlike city of Bern. Sebastian Meyer had "by little and little opened the gates of the Gospel" to the Bernese. [12] But eminently the Reformer of this city was Berthold Haller. He was born in Roteville, [13] Wurtemberg, and studied at Pforzheim, where he was a fellow-student of Melanchthon. In 1520 he came to Bern, and was made Canon and Preacher in the cathedral. He possessed in ample measure all the requisites for influencing public assemblies. He had a noble figure, a graceful manner, a mind richly endowed with the gifts of nature, and yet more richly furnished with the acquisitions of learning. After the example of Zwingli, he expounded from the pulpit the Gospel as contained in the evangelists. But the Bernese partook not a little of the rough and stubborn nature of the animal that figures in their cantonal shield. The clash of halberds and swords had more attraction for their ears than the sound of the Gospel. Haller's heart at times grew faint. He would pour into the bosom of Zwingli all his fears and griefs. He should perish one day by the teeth of these bears: so he wrote. "No," would Zwingli reply, in ringing words that made him ashamed of his timidity, "you must tame these bear-cubs by the Gospel. You must neither be ashamed nor afraid of them. For whosoever is ashamed of Christ before men, of him will Christ be ashamed before His Father." Thus would Zwingli lift up the hands that hung down, and set them working with fresh rigor. The sweetness of the Gospel doctrine was stronger than the sternness of Bernese nature. The bear-cubs were tamed. Reanimated by the letters of Zwingli, and the arrival from Nuremberg of a Carthusian monk named Kolb, [14] with hoary head but a youthful heart, fired with the love of the Gospel, and demanding, as his only stipend, the liberty of preaching it, Hailer had his zeal and perseverance rewarded by seeing in 1528 the city and powerful canton of Bern, the first after Zurich of all the cantons of Helvetia, pass over to the side of Protestantism. [15]

The establishment of the Protestant worship at Bern formed an epoch in the Swiss Reformation. That event had been preceded by a conference which was numerously attended, and at which the distinctive doctrines of the two faiths were publicly discussed by the leading men of both sides. [16] The deputies had their views cleared and their zeal stimulated by these discussions, and on their return to their several cantons, they set themselves with fresh vigor to complete, after the example of Bern, the work of reformation. For ten years previously it had been in progress in most of them.


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Wednesday, December 12th, 2018
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