Thursday, July 5, 2012

Some Call Him Ulrich

Indeed, we have come to rehearse the stories of bold men of faith. Most people in the West have at least heard the term "the Protestant Reformation." Many people will recognize the names of Martin Luther of Germany and the Frenchman John Calvin, who set up shop in Geneva, Switzerland. These guys opposed the dominant Catholic Church in Europe in the mid-16th century and helped change the world in the process.

A few people will also be familiar with the name of Ulrich Zwingli. Zwingli and Martin Luther were contemporaries. Zwingli, it is said, was the "father of the Swiss Reformation." (Yep, Calvin came along a little later.) An ordained Catholic priest, Zwingli served two parishes in Switzerland before being sent to Zurich as head of the prominent "people's church" (the Grossmunster).

Interestingly enough, something had happened to Zwingli along the way. First, he became increasingly concerned about the practices of the Church (selling of indulgences, the debauchery of priests, the use of young Swiss men to fight the pope's battles, to name a few.) 

Second, he discovered the Bible. He had met the famous Greek scholar, Erasmus, along the way and was deeply influenced by him. As a result of this encounter, Zwingli threw himself into study of Erasmus' Greek New Testament and became convinced that only the Bible should be preached in church. Imagine that . . . . . .

To keep the story short, by 1526 Zwingli had firmly established the Reformation in Zurich. He removed all vestiges of Catholicism from the churches, replaced the mass with a simple service, declared communion was spiritual presence, not "real presence" (he differed even from Luther at this point), abolished pilgrimages, advocated the marriage of priests, and closed all the neighboring monasteries. 

He was a tough guy. He did not brook dissent. He was known for his "fire and brimstone" sermons. (If I had a pulpit like his, I might be inclined to same.) He also was willing to fight for his cause. In fact, he died at age 47 fighting Catholic forces. It is significant that various paintings as well as the main statue of Zwingli (in front of the Wasserkirche, the "Water Church") portray him with both Bible and sword in hand.

Statue of Zwingli in front of the Wasserkirche, the place where he landed when he first came to Zurich. It is called the "Water Church" because it originally stood on a small island in the Limmat River.

The organ inside the Wasserkirche.

Note that the Reformer is described in this recent plaque as a "Humanist, Bible translator, Head of the Zurich Church." He was born on New Year's Day, 1484, in Wildhaus, Switzerland. He was the "friar" (minister) in two other towns. Then in 1519, he became the "people's priest" at the Grossmunster. In 1524, was the wedding with Anna. He fell on Oct. 11, 1531 in the second battle (or war) of Chapelle.

This is older plaque on the wall outside Zwingli's main house.

This is his house--today it is apartments, like every other building in Zurich.

The newer plaque on the wall indicating this as the primary residence where the teacher and the choirmaster lived earlier and then Zwingli in 1522.

"Zwingli's primary residence. From this house on Oct. 11, 1531, he went with the armies of the Zurichers to Chappelle where he died for his faith."

The first part of this plaque says this is where the widow and children of Zwingli lived after he died fighting the Catholics.

This is Mrs. Zwingli's neighborhood, looking down the alley from her front door.

The Grossmunster, a grand example of early Romanesque architecture with a touch of Gothic in its towers and contemporary in its 20th-century stained glass, is Zurich's most famous landmark. It's twin towers and the Fraumunster's ("Church of Our Lady") single spire just across the river create a striking skyline.The sign indicates that the Grossmunster is built on the site where Zurich's patron saints Felix and Regula were martyred in 300 AD and is the "mother church" of Zwingli's Reformation. Construction of the crypt began around 1100. The new construction of the main cathedral followed around 1230. The tower you see today was finished 1781-1786.

The Grossmunster ("Large Church") from across the bridge.

The cloister and garden inside the Grossmunster grounds.

The big bronze door commemorating the life of Zwingli at the entrance to the Grossmunster. We could not take pictures inside this church.

Heinrich Bullinger was the capable successor of Zwingli. His statue is on the wall just beside the bronze door.

Course I'd like to take at the University of Zurich.


  1. As a good Anabaptist, my first question is this: did Zwingli require that his own congregants fight as well or did he decide that this was for him to do? How much did he interpret the Scriptures for his congregants and how much did he allow them to discover what it said for themselves?

    Secondly, after Zwingli was killed, is anything known of what happened to his wife and children? They remained in Zurich, but were they persecuted for their relationship to Zwingli? Were they taken care of?

    And finally, did the church change significantly after Zwingli's death? Who took over?

  2. Zwingli was taken with the idea that men should read and interpret the Bible for themselves. He promoted this idea and preached it. He taught his proteges this ideas. But as it goes with all men who gain power, he was increasingly certain that his interpretation was the right interpretation--this is why after the "disputations" or debates with the Anabaptists, he was unwilling to hear their biblical interpretation.

    Did his army volunteer? I think most likely for several reasons: Zwingli strongly resisted the idea of mercenaries. This was one of the strongest criticisms he made of the Catholic church. Also, he was very persuasive--he was vigorous enough in his call to arms that men would have been glad to follow. Besides, the Protestant (anti-Catholic) fervor was strong, almost fanatic in some places.

    Little if anything is known of his wife. More than likely she was protected from any persecution--Zwingli was highly respected, perhaps even revered. They had children--there would have been come concern for their welfare. Furthermore, the apartment in which they lived after his death was a nice one, in a nice part of town--I think they were OK.

    Who took over? HeinrichBullinger (1504-1575) filled Zwingli's pulpit and place for 40 years after Zwingli's death. His residence is right around the corner from Zwingli's home (and still is the parsonage for the Grossmunster.)

    Bullinger was strong and competent. He compiled the First Helvitic Confession (1536, the year after Zwingli's death). He moved the Swiss Protestants closer to Calvinism and contributed to the Second Helvitic Confession.
    He continued to debate (and persecute) Anabaptists.