Ulrich Zwingli

1484-1531. Swiss Reformer. Son of a village magistrate in the Upper Toggenburg, he came from a family typical of that class of prosperous farmers who controlled the local government of the German Swiss cantons and looked to the church as the best means of improving their children's status. After attending the Latin school of Heinrich Wölflin (Lupulus) at Bern, Zwingli entered the University of Vienna where he made friends with Joachim von Watt (Vadianus), became aware of humanism, and was introduced to the via antiqua by Vellini (Camerinus). He completed his studies at Basle, where he absorbed the biblical interests of his teachers Thomas Wyttenbach* and Johann Ulrich Surgant, and formed a circle of friends, including Leo Jüd* and Glarean, which later brought him into direct contact with Erasmus.*

Erasmian humanism and his own experience as a chaplain with Swiss mercenaries in Italy led him to oppose the system of mercenary service. These views, which were expressed in terms of opposition to French influence in the Confederacy, and the fact that he was a papal pensioner led to his transfer from Glarus to the chaplaincy at Cloister Einsiedeln in 1516. At the end of 1518 he was called to be people's priest at the Zurich Great Church, largely because his views on the mercenary system were shared by an influential segment of the Zurich establishment. Despite opposition from some of the canons who feared him as a reform- minded Erasmian and accused him of immorality, his appointment was confirmed after he explained that his “immorality” was confined to contact with a known prostitute.

Between 1519 and 1525, when the Mass was abolished in the city, Zwingli advocated a practical program of reform in cooperation with the magistracy. His approach to the question of public worship and his view of the sacraments represented a far more radical break with past traditions than did the Lutheran reform movement. Indeed Luther had no profound influence upon Zwingli as he moved beyond Erasmus to form his own Augustinian- biblical theology within the environment of a Swiss city-state. Zwingli can be rightfully remembered as the first of the “Reformed” theologians. His own radical followers, led by Conrad Grebel* and Felix Manz,* endangered his alliance with the magistracy, whose support he believed was essential. After the Second Disputation in October 1523 they broke with him and in January 1525 formed a separate church, a conventicle, at Zollikon in which membership was symbolized by rebaptism. The rebaptizers (now called Täufer, then called Anabaptists*) were viewed as a threat to public order; the first of them were drowned in Lake Zurich with Zwingli's approval in 1527.

Zwingli's last years were marked by increasing political activity. He hoped both to open the entire Confederacy to the preaching of the Gospel and to create a European-wide anti- Hapsburg alliance. By 1528 the urban cantons Basle, Schaffhausen, and Bern, the most powerful of the Confederates, as well as Constance, had accepted Zwingli's reform program and had allied themselves with Zurich, but his hopes to extend the alliance to include the German Protestants led by Philip, landgrave of Hesse, were disappointed when he and Luther failed to reach agreement on the question of Christ's presence in the Eucharist (Marburg Colloquy,* 1529). This failure, with Bern's preoccupation with westward expansion, left the Swiss Protestants divided and exposed to a counteroffensive by the Forest Cantons which ended with Zwingli's death in the battle of Kappel and halted the expansion of the Reformation in German Switzerland.

Though frequently a member of one or another of the commissions set up by the Zurich government to find solutions for various domestic and diplomatic problems, Zwingli never held political office. His influence was the result of his ability and personal connections. He was able to exercise this influence in part because his own view of the church and his doctrine of election allowed the visible church in the world to be identified with civil society, a corpus permixtum, and left him free to grant the Christian magistrate the right to determine the external forms of the church's worship and life, and to govern the Christian Commonwealth in cooperation with the prophet who expounded the Scriptures for the spiritual well-being of the entire community. Zwingli's interpretation of the Eucharist* has been widely misunderstood, for during his last years he moved away from his earlier view which appears close to mere memorialism toward a doctrine of spiritual presence (spiritualis manducatio).

H. Zwingli, Sämtliche Werke (14 vols., ed. E. Egli and G. Finsler, 1905-69); S.M. Jackson (ed.), The Latin Works of Huldreich Zwingli (3 vols., 1912-29); O. Farner, Huldrych Zwingli (4 vols., 1943-60); G.W. Bromiley (ed.), Zwingli und Bullinger (1953); J. Courvoisier, Zwingli: A Reformed Theologian (1963); J.V. Pollet, Huldrych Zwingli et la Réforme en Suisse (1963); J. Rilliet, Zwingli: Third Man of the Reformation (1964); R.C. Walton, Zwingli's Theocracy (1967); M. Haas, Huldrych Zwingli (1969).