Volume. XXVII, No. 18
Sunday, 28 October 2012

Ulrich Zwingli and the Swiss Reformation

Ulrich Zwingli was born on 1st January, 1484 in Wildhaus, Switzerland. His father was a free peasant and magistrate; his mother, Margaret Meili, was the sister of the abbot of Fischingen in Thurgau. Zwingli was the third of eight boys and two girls born to the successful district official, Ulrich Zwingli, of the town of Wildhaus. His uncle, Bartholomew Zwingli, afterwards dekan or superintendent of Wesen, had been elected parish priest of Wildhaus. Early scholarly gifts caused him to be sent to school, especially at Basel, and he learned to love the classics. So, he attached himself to the Humanist learning that was sweeping Europe. Zwingli’s uncle, Bartholomew, was pastor of Wildhaus until 1487 and subsequently became pastor and dean of Wesen on the Walensee. It was there that the younger Ulrich received his early education under his uncle’s guidance. Zwingli was sent, at the age of ten, to Gregory Bunzli of Wesen who was studying at Basel and teaching in the school of St. Theodore.

Zwingli’s Higher Education

Zwingli was educated at the University of Vienna, Berne and the University of Basel. He studied under some of the greatest classical Humanists of Switzerland. He was highly educated in the classical studies of poetry, philosophy, music, astronomy, physics and the ancient classics, acquiring his B.A. degree in 1504 and Master of Arts in 1506 at the University of Basel. By God’s providence, it was amongst his total emersion in humanism at university that Zwingli met men who would plant seeds of reformation in his mind.

Zwingli’s Early Ministry

Like all other Humanists, he read Erasmus, and from him learned that the source of doctrine was the Bible and not the Church. By 1516 he had learned, thanks to Erasmus, to read the New Testament in the original language. He began to drink truth from the fountain rather than through the more or less troubled stream of tradition. In this sense, Erasmus’ writings were part of what is to be credited with Zwingli’s attention beginning to turn toward the reformation. In 1515, he moved to Einsiedeln, where he saw, up close, the evil inherent in certain practices from the Roman Church such as the buying of Indulgences. Zwingli began preaching against and condemning them, actually, several years before Luther. Since he exalted the Bible above the Church as the guide into truth, he acted independently of Luther, in fact,
Zwingli did not read any Lutheran literature until he moved to Zurich in 1518. He also strongly opposed the mercenary service, a practice that seemed especially to make the Roman Church rich while killing young Swiss and leading others to a life of moral decay in the face of constant battle. Zwingli’s reform teachings became quite popular and on January 1, 1519, he was appointed priest at Grossmünster in Zürich.

Zwingli’s Transformation

Although the seeds of reformation had already been planted and Zwingli was already preaching the beginnings of a reform platform, he had not yet given himself fully and completely to Christ. For up to this time, he had some indiscretions in his behaviour that he had not fully turned away from. But when the 1520 plague struck Zurich and destroyed nearly a third of its inhabitants, including Zwingli himself who had been faithfully ministering to the needs of his people, it appears as though he emerged from his near death experience a changed man.

Zwingli’s Stand

After he fully recovered from the plague, Zwingli began earnestly fighting for strict obedience to the literal teachings of Scripture. He believed that many of the medieval doctrines of the Catholic Church had no basis in Scripture. He also saw that in practice there was much abuse and corruption. Switzerland in Zwingli\'s day was receptive to reform, and he felt theology and the church should conform to the Bible as closely as possible. His changes were well-received in a climate where several countries were trying to get out from under the still-powerful political control of the Catholic church.

In Switzerland, reform was brought about by appeal to the magistrate of the city who called for a debate between Roman Catholic theologians and protestant reformers. In January 1523, Zwingli was ordered by the council to attend a public disputation between himself and the Bishop of Constance. Each was given the time to explain what he stood for. Those who defended their position most effectively were almost always the reformers who based their arguments solely on Scripture, not the Roman Catholic theologians who often appealed to church traditions. Zwingli won his first of many successful debates in 1523. At the end of the debate, Zwingli was considered to be the victor. This support allowed Zwingli to introduce into Zurich the reforms that he felt the city required. Some of the changes brought about by his debates were: Lent was abandoned, clerical celibacy was declared unscriptural, churches were severed from the papacy, the mass was replaced and etc. These are just a few among many changes that Zwingli and others in Switzerland brought about.

Zwingli and Luther

As Luther was leading reform in Germany in the 1500s, Zwingli was at the front in Switzerland, which was made up of small city-states called cantons. To try to unify Switzerland and Germany under one religious system, Philip of Hesse convinced Zwingli and Luther to meet in Marburg in 1529, in what came to be called the Marburg Colloquy. The parties managed to agree on 15 points of essential Reformed doctrine. Unfortunately, the two reformers were at direct odds over what happened during the Lord\'s Supper. Luther believed Christ\'s words, "This is my body" meant Jesus was actually present (beneath or under) during the sacrament of communion (ie. Consubstantiation).  Zwingli said the phrase meant "This signifies my body", so that the bread and wine were only symbolic. Zwingli argues that the Lord\'s Supper was not the repetition of the sacrifice of Christ, but the faithful remembrance that that sacrifice had been made once for all; and his deeper idea of faith, which included in the act of faith a real union and communion of the faithful soul with Christ, really preserved what was also most valuable in the distinctively Lutheran doctrine. Some sources say that Luther harshly disagreed with the Swiss and called a halt to further fellowship, amid Zwingli’s great disappointment and attempt to unify the two camps in spite of this one doctrinal difference. Because Zwingli would not accept Luther\'s doctrine of the Lord\'s Supper, Luther declared him to be of “a different spirit” or “un-likeminded”. Luther reportedly refused to shake Zwingli\'s hand at the end of the meetings. Unfortunately, similar types of “personality conflict” have happened repeatedly within mainline denominations like the Reformed Churches, Presbyterian Churches and Bible believing Churches since the dawn of  the Protestant Reformation. 

Zwingli’s Marriage and Children

Another controversy surrounding Zwingli’s life is his marriage to Anna Reinhard. According to church historians, Zwingli married Reinhard, a rich widow in the community in a secret marriage in 1522. Zwingli kept his marriage a secret from all but his closest friends until he married her publicly on April 2, 1524. Some have surmised that this was because priests were forbidden from marrying in his day and he was afraid of backlash from doing so. Others have not been quite so kind and even accuse him of living with her in an unmarried state from 1522-1524 in what was called a “clerical marriage.” Regardless of the particulars, theirs was seen as a good marriage which resulted in the birth of four children, adding to the three she brought into the marriage. Their names were Regula Zwingli, born July 13,1524; Wilhelm Zwingli, born January 29, 1526; Huldreich Zwingli, born Jan. 6, 1528 and Anna Zwingli, born May 4, 1530.

Zwingli’s Opposition & Death

Although enormously popular with the Swiss, the functionaries in Rome had great animosity toward Zwingli and the Protestant movement in Switzerland. In 1529, they began a crusade to end Protestantism in Switzerland. Rome’s efforts began with an attempt to instil a false sense of security by litigating the Swiss for “peace.” What in fact the Roman Catholic Church did was to buy themselves time to consolidate their troops for battle against the Swiss, as Zwingli suspected and warned against all along. In 1531, the Roman Catholic Church declared war against the Protestant Swiss in a fulminant surprise attack at the battle of Kappel. Zwingli joined the Swiss troops as chaplain carrying the banner and was struck to the ground later despatched in cold blood. He died at age 47 on October 11 1531. His corpse, after suffering every indignity was quartered by the public hangman, and burnt with dung by the Romanist soldiers. A great boulder, roughly squared, standing a little way off the road, marks the place where Zwingli fell. It is inscribed, "\'They may kill the body but not the soul\': so spoke on this spot Ulrich Zwingli, who for truth and the freedom of the Christian Church died a hero\'s death, Oct. 11, 1531."


Although the Swiss lost decisively and Zwingli was killed at the battle, Zwingli\'s reforms did not die with him. His work was carried on and expanded by his protege Heinrich Bullinger and the great reformer Jean (John) Calvin, a young French preacher working in Geneva. Calvin initially followed Zwingli’s doctrine, but soon departed from most of Zwingli’s more radical teachings to develop his own balanced approach to the Scripture.

Pastor Weng

(Acknowledgement: adapted and edited from various sources)


More Lively Hope



*Kitchen Roster: Today’s Team Leader: Dn Edwin D’Mello. Next Lord’s Day: Dn Colin Gan

*Hope Bookstore: Open today: 12:30 - 1:45 pm.

*Kitchen Supervisor/Manager - Sis Xiao Hui Chye has volunteered to fill this position. Volunteers needed for Kitchen Committee. If available please attend meeting at 1 pm (at Side Sanctuary).

*Today’s Fellowship Lunch is catered. $5 per person; Children under 5 years old - FREE.

*Holy Baptism & Transfer of Membership will be held on 25 Nov.


Praise & Thanksgiving

1. Journey mercies: Bro Raymond Chia (Adl); Sisters Lin Poh (Mal/Korea/Adl) & Peng Ha Yeo (S’pore); & others who have arrived safely.

2. Church Activities in past week.

3. God’s daily mercy, guidance & blessings.

4. Visitors & new worshippers.

5. 22nd Anniversary Thanksgiving - Maranatha B-P Church (S’pore) today.


Prayer Items

1. Health & God’s healing - Dr Gary Cohen (USA), Dr SH Tow (S’pore); Rev George van Buuren; Rev & Mrs James White; Bro Colin & Sis Kathleen Creaser; Bro Len & Sis Margaret Pearson (Nursing Home); Preacher Zhang (Sihanoukville); Grandpa Ki (S’pore); Bros Elton Law & Kang Fun Tan (S’pore); Sisters Lynette Booth, Mabella Booth (Nursing Home), Margaret Hooper, Lai Kheng Chiong, Myung Ki, Irena Kurek-Braden (NSW), Choon Fong Lee (KL), Lehia Paauwe (Per), Susan Varadi (Nursing Home); Mr Swee Liang Ng (Bro Raphael’s father); Mr Mang Soo Ong (Sis Gillian Ong’s father); Mr Wong (Dn Wai Kin Wong’s father); Mrs Maggie D’Mello (Dn Edwin’s mother in Mumbai) & Mrs Chuilin Yap (Malacca); Mr Tony Zhang; & others in affliction.

2. Cambodia Missions - Bro Sun Sokha & Ministry (Phnom Penh).

3. Laos Missions - Bro Surish Dharmalingam & family.

4. Ministry in New Life BPC (London): Ps & Sis Ki. Special Prayer: UK Visa application & return of passports on time for travel tomorrow.

5. Batam Missions - Sis Ang Liang Phoa & Ministry.

6. God’s Comfort - Those afflicted & grieving.

7. iSketch&Tell Studio, YouTube Ministry & Ordination - Pr HS Lim  (Melbourne, Vic).

8. IBPFM (USA) - Rev Keith Coleman & Board members; missionaries in India & South America.

9. Ps & Sis Weng - Ministry in Hope BPC.

10. Rev Dr Mark Lehman - Ministry in Taiwan.

11. House of Hope (Cebu) - healing & Salvation of drug addicts

12. Journey mercies: Ps Okman & Sis Myung Ki (Adl); Ps David & Sis Susan Weng & family (S’pore); Bros Raymond Ang (Adl) & Raphael Ng (Goolwa/Adl); Sisters Margaret Hooper (Cruise - SEA) & Peng Ha Yeo (Middle East); & those who are travelling. 

13. Interpreters of sermon into Mandarin.

14. Full-time Job - Sisters Michelle Lee (Melb) & Corinne Teng; & others looking for stable jobs.

15. Unity in doctrine & fellowship of all B-P Churches

16. Health in pregnancy - Sis Josephine Wong.

17. Year 12 students - Sisters Nicole Chia, Kimberley Gan & Rachel Ting.

18. University students - preparation of assignments & for end of the year exams.

19. Believers under persecution in Islamic nations.




© Hope Bible-Presbyterian Church
14 Bedford Square, Colonel Light Gardens, South Australia 5041