Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

While Germany struggled under the political and religious consequences of Luther's reform  movement, the movement itself quickly spilled out of the German borders into neighboring Switzerland.

At the time, Switzerland was not so much a single country as a confederacy of thirteen city-states called cantons, which were all nominally still part of the Holy Roman Empire.  The eastern cantons tended to be surprisingly democratic, functioning through popularly chosen assemblies.  The urban cantons, including those of Zurich, tended to have a narrower base of political power; after 1498, Zurich was dominated by a Great Council of some 200 city fathers, chosen for life by the merchant guilds, and by a Small Council of Fifty, selected by the Great Council and the guilds.  The jurisdiction of the government extended into religious as well as political matters, and the Bishop of the area (the Bishop of Constance) often found his administration effectively challenged by the Great and Small Council.

Taken from De Lamar Jensen's Reformation Europe (New York: D.C. Heath and Company, 1992)
The cantons were very independent and only loosely allied with each other, bound only by a common tradition of military enterprise and success.  Because Switzerland had few natural resources, it maintained itself economically by producing mercenary soldiers to be sold to the highest bidder.  Even today, one can see the the Swiss Guards of the Vatican, a remnant of the Swiss military tradition.  Below a new regiment is being sworn in.
Therefore, when Luther's ideas began to pour over the border, several  of the cantons broke from the Catholic church and became Protestant while other cantons remained firmly Catholic. Of the cantons that adopted Luther's new movement, the most important and powerful was the city-state of Zurich under the leadership of Ulrich Zwingli.

Zurich's Old Quarter, giving us a flavor of what it may have looked like in Zwingli's day.
This view is looking out from the Lindenhof over the snow-covered Old Town.

Zwingli brought to Luther's revolution an education steeped in northern Humanism, particularly that of Erasmus. He was monumentally popular in Zurich for his opposition to Swiss mercenary service in foreign wars and his attacks on indulgences; he was, in fact, as significant a player in the critique of indulgences as Luther himself.

Zwingli rose through the ranks of the Catholic church until he was appointed "People's Priest"  in 1519, the most powerful ecclesiastical position in the city of Zurich. On January 1, 1519, his 35th birthday, he became pastor at the central church in Zurich. Here he was able to work toward the prohibition of mercenary service. As soon as he arrived, he announced that, rather than preach from the prescribed texts of the lectionary, he was going to preach through the Gospel of Matthew. This was a bold step in that day.

The dreaded plague arrived in Zurich the same year as Zwingli. He did his best to minister to his people. More than one-fourth of the 9,000 people of the city fell victim. Zwingli caught the plague, too. In his three-month recovery, he learned life-changing lessons of dependence on God that made his trust in God's Word rock-solid. In 1523, the city officially adopted Zwingli's central ecclesiastical reforms  and became the first Protestant state outside of Germany. From there the Protestant revolution would flame across the map of Switzerland.

 Zwingli's Theology
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