I’ve already written about Martin Luther, and I’m sure I’ll get to John Calvin in due course (quite possibly next week), but today I’m focusing on the Protestant reformer who doesn’t get as much attention, perhaps because his name is so much harder to pronounce. I’m speaking of Huldrych Zwingli, sometimes known as Ulrich, although he apparently preferred the weirder spelling. He was born in Wildhaus, Switzerland to a farmer who also served as chief magistrate for the village. At this point, Switzerland was starting to come into its own as a nation, and this had some significant impact on Zwingli’s views. So did his humanist education at several universities, and his fondness for the work of Erasmus. He was ordained as a priest for the town of Glarus in 1506, and took a position at the Grossmünster in Zürich in 1520.
While Zwingli’s views were similar to Luther’s in some ways, such as the emphasis of the Bible over church tradition and the hatred of the sale of indulgences, Zwingli often took things a few steps further. When the two reformers met in 1529 in an attempt to unite all Protestants into a force to stand against the Catholic Church, they passionately disagreed on communion. Neither held with the Catholic teaching of transubstantiation, but Luther held that the blood and flesh of Jesus were still present during communion, while Zwingli believed it was all symbolic.
Other Catholic traditions considered spurious by the Swiss reformer included the worship of saints, the abstention from meat during Lent, and clerical celibacy. In fact, Zwingli himself married and had four children. Basically, his belief was that the Bible was the only real authority in Christianity, and it should be taken literally. To those who said the Bible contained contradictions, his eloquent response was, “Your MOM contains contradictions!” No, seriously, according to this page, he insisted that any perceived problems with the Bible were the fault of the reader, not the text itself. Convenient, huh? Another pet cause of Zwingli’s with a more secular bent was his opposition to other nations employing the Swiss as mercenaries.
Zwingli died in 1531 at the Battle of Kappel, part of a campaign by the Catholic Church to stamp out the Swiss Protestants reforms.
Unlike some of the other Protestant leaders, Zwingli’s beliefs never led to a specific denomination of Christianity. Some churches in Switzerland regard Zwingli as their founder, but his influence in the rest of the world was largely overshadowed by Calvinism. I have to say that Zwingli comes across as perhaps the most likable of the main reformers, however. He doesn’t seem to have been quite as keen on employing violent rhetoric toward his opponents, and he had the guts to call for a total overhaul of the Christian religion instead of Luther’s more compromising positions. I’m not saying I support the guy’s theological positions, but I do think he struck a major blow in favor of religious freedom, even if such was not his actual intent.