Huldrych Zwingli

1 January 1484 – 11 October 1531: Swiss Reformer and Soldier

Context: The Emerging Swiss Nation:    

Mercenary Trafficking. Swiss infantry the best in Europe & triumphant until Marignano in 1515. More defeats at Bicocca & Pavia in 1522 & 1525.

-       A valuable source of income for peasant citizens in rural areas

-       Brokers in each Canton grow rich from recruiting & hiring soldiers.

Zwingli and the Swiss Reformation

Birth  Wildhaus, 1484, in Toggenburg between Schwyz & Zurich. Swiss Cantons loosely governed by Diet but Toggenburg accountable to the Abbot of St. Gallen which was under Habsburg protection.

  • Religion was morally wicked and corrupt. Rodrigo Borgia, Pope 1492 – 1503
  • Z’y receives an education due to the wishes of his father.

Early Priesthood 1506 – 1518

  • Glarus 1506 – 16. Much involved in Swiss military exploits, takes part in Battles of Novora, 1513 and Marignano, 1515 & opposes Mercenary Trafficking.
  • Einsiedeln 1516 – 18. In the shadow of the Abbey of St. Gallen a destination for a pilgrimage. Pilgrims hear his preaching – reputation grows
  • But years of immorality, Z’y has relations with various women.

Ministry in Zurich 1519 – 1525

Zurich  500 year old city ruled by Craft Guilds – over 500 clergy with little education.

Early Preaching  Began expository preaching of the Scriptures; openly condemning Roman Catholic practices which were not in Scripture.

Plague in 1519 The year Charles V becomes Emperor, Z’y is reported to be dead.

Growing Tension

  • 1521/22 Battle of Bicocca, a turning point
  • 1522 The “Affair of the Sausages”
  • 1522 - 4  Request to marry is refused

The three Zurich Disputations, Jan 1523 to Jan 1524

  • The first two are requested by Z’y to settle matters of Catholic teaching against Scripture. Their recommendations are adopted by the Zurich Council.
  • The third, set up by Catholics, overturns the decisions of the first two and is followed by 5 Catholic Cantons persecuting the Reformation.


The Zurich Council Adopts Reform 1524/5

  • 1524 Catholic opposition in Schwyz; three Zurich citizens beheaded
  • 1525 Z’y is given authority to Reform Zurich’s religion; focusses on three areas: Education, Sacrements & Moral conduct of citizens.


Progress from 1525 to 1529 – Reformation Spreads

Anabaptists (Re-baptists)    A dark chapter, a blot on most characters

Baden 1525   Dr Johann Eck launches a Catholic “counter - attack” to Z’y. Nine of the thirteen Cantons excommunicate Z’y, but Berne, Schaffhausen and Basel support him.

Berne 1528  Sets up its own Disputation, then adopts the Reformation

Kappel 1529  Protestant & Catholic armies meet at Kappel, but negotiate a peace treaty which gives Protestants equality with Catholics.


Reformation Setbacks & Zwingli’s End 1529 – 31

Marburg & Luther Oct 1529  Philip of Hesse attempts to reconcile Luther with Z’y and unite their movements … ends in failure.

Diet of Ausberg 1530  To counter a threat by Ottoman Turks, Charles V tries to reorganise all Christian parties …Luther and Z’y grow further apart.

Kappel 1531  Protestant/ Catholic tensions intensify. The Protestant alliance blockade Catholic Cantons who respond by gathering an army. The alliance breaks down and Zurich, now alone, does not prepare for war and then sends an ill-equipped army to confront the much larger Catholic army and is defeated.

  • 25 Zurich pastors are put to death by Catholic soldiers.
  • Z’y, wounded on the battle field, is murdered by a Catholic captain.

The Aftermath of the Kappel Defeat 1531

In Zurich Reformation continues with Heinrich Bullinger who succeeds Z’y with a ministry of more than 40 years. Berne also becomes a centre of Reform.

Geneva Under the protection of Berne takes up the mantle of Reform with William Farel in 1533 and John Calvin in 1536. Calvin and Bullinger later unify their churches.

Lessons Learned  Swiss Reformers become more aware of the importance of Scriptures like Romans 12 v 18 – 21 & Zech 4 v 6 and the place of God’s providence in His work, c.f. John 4 v 4 ff

Future Conflict  Religious civil war would affect Switzerland again in 1656 and 1712. Not until 1848 was the modern, unified, Switzerland established and would become a champion of Religious Tolerance. The first Federal Constitution of 1848 was amended in 1874 creating the modern state of Switzerland.


Controversy for discussion:

Should we ever physically fight?


Our thanks to Richard Johnson.