Thought for the Month

ZwingliOn 1 January 1519, 500 years ago, Zwingli gave the first in a series of sermons in Zurich, Switzerland. He was one of the most prominent reformers of his day. He was driven by his study of the Bible having by that stage, a knowledge of the Greek. His sermons were not in the language of the established church but in the local language of German so that the Swiss populace could understand.

Huldrych Zwingli was born on 1 January 1484 the third child of probably ten born of a farming family in a Swiss village. It was soon clear he was by far more clever than his siblings, so he was sent to his uncle, a local priest, to learn to read and write. At the age of 10 he was sent to Basle, a university city, to learn Latin grammar and then at the age of 13 to become a novice in a monastery. However his father removed him in order to prepare for a secular career so he was taken back to Basle for further study.

Erasmus (1466‑1536) who had published the New Testament in Greek and Latin was a great influence on Zwingli. It was not surprising that Zwingli who knew no Greek decided to teach himself that language in 1510. He could then use the original text that Jerome had translated for the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible. He later decided to learn Hebrew.

Starting from the premise that the Bible is the divinely‑inspired Word of God he believed that salvation was through Christ, in the importance of faith; the bread and the wine were symbols; the clergy could marry; that people should be free to eat whatever they chose; prayers were to God alone and not to Mary; or the saints of the established church and certain ceremonies were merely traditions and not requirements of the Bible.

The consequences were felt in Zurich and surrounding areas of the Swiss confederation. The monasteries and nunneries were closed. One abbess even returning her nunnery to the local council. The mass was no longer said from 1525. A simple Easter communion service was instituted to include a reading of the Last Supper. Having opened the floodgates and encouraging the people to read the Bible in their native tongue this led to questioning about whether other things, like infant baptism, were consistent with the Bible, or just adult baptism. Therefore a group labelled Anabaptists arose and one in Zurich was killed for his belief. There was great antagonism with the southern states which were Catholic.

On 11 October 1531 Zwingli, who had taken up arms to fight the Catholic forces which were approaching, was wounded and died of his injuries. His body was burnt as a heretic and his ashes scattered without respect. Luther was said to remark "They that take the sword shall perish with the sword".

After his death he was succeeded by Heinrich Bullinger in Zurich. He is not to be confused with the much later British theologian known for the Companion Bible.

What impact did this have in England? In the early days of the English Reformation few cases of heresy appear to be from a Zwinglian belief. Mainly they were cases of Lollard or Lutheran belief. Once the reformation had advanced, according to Bindoff, Zwingli much influenced Cranmer who was a great reader and so the second Prayer Book during the reign of Edward VI appears very close to Zwingli’s thoughts. For example "Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving". From 1548 over 400 Protestant clergy were to come here from that part of central Europe. John Hooper an English Bishop in 1550 had lived with Bullinger and was much influenced by Zwingli. Zwingli was one of a group of Protestant reformers of that era who had varied influence over the religious viewpoints in England and also in Scotland.

Gaspard de ColignyGaspard de Coligny (1519‑1572)

Protestantism had its own story in France. One remarkable man was born on 16 February 1519 into a noble family and became a leader of the Huguenots. He called for religious compromise and tried to promote Huguenot colonies in the Americas.

He was shot in the street in 1572 following the wedding of protestant Henry of Navarre, later Henry IV and Margaret of Valois, the daughter of a king of France and the sister of the then king whose brothers all died without a male heir. He survived but this sparked the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre two days later in which he was killed. About 8,000 Huguenots were killed in eight weeks in France.

In his day Coligny endeavoured to encourage religious toleration for French protestants. At that time he was not successful but history has left the record that his religious beliefs ended his life prematurely.

"I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, …that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God ". (1 Tim.2:1‑3 ESV)