Huldrych Zwingli

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Huldrych Zwingli as depicted by Hans Asper in an oil portrait from 1531

Huldrych Zwingli or Ulrich Zwingli (1 January 1484 – 11 October 1531) was a leader of the Reformation in Switzerland. Born during a time of emerging Swiss patriotism and increasing criticism of the Swiss mercenary system, he attended the University of Vienna and the University of Basel, a scholarly center of Renaissance humanism. He continued his studies while he served as a pastor in Glarus and later in Einsiedeln, where he was influenced by the writings of Erasmus.


  • Within a few days I will go to the papal Legate [Pucci], and if he shall open a conversation on the subject as he did before, I will urge him to warn the Pope not to issue an excommunication [against Luther], for which I think would be greatly against him [the Pope]. For if it be issued I believe the Germans will equally despise the Pope and the excommunication. But do you be of good cheer, for our day will not lack those who will teach Christ faithfully, and who will give up their lives for Him willingly, even though among men their names shall not be in good repute after this life...So far as I am concerned I look for all evil from all of them: I mean both ecclesiastics and laymen. I beseech Christ for this one thing only, that He will enable me to endure all things courageously, and that He break me as a potter's vessel or make me strong, as it pleased Him. If I be excommunicated I shall think of the learned and holy Hilary, who was exiled from France to Africa, and of Lucius, who though driven from his seat at Rome returned again with great honour. Not that I compare myself with them: for as they were better than i so they suffered what was a greater ignominy. And yet if it were good to flory I would rejoice to suffer insult for the name of Christ. But let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. Lately I have read scarcely any thing of Luther's; but what I have seen of his hitherto does not seem to me to stray from gospel teaching. You know - if you remember - that what I have always spoken of in terms of the highest commendation in him is that he supports his position with authoritative witness."
    • As cited in Huldreich Zwingli, the Reformer of German Switzerland, 1484-1531 by Samuel Macauley Jackson, John Martin Vincent, Frank Hugh Foster, p.148-149
  • Our provost has poured forth some venomous stuff which he has committed to permanent form so that it might be retained. He wrote a letter to me in which he said that tithes were of divine right. I had controverted this publicly, in Latin, however, not in German. Likewise he informs me that the truth is not to be spoken at all times, doubtless thinking that nothing evil ought to be said against the priests. He pleads from the market-place that I should not furnish arms to laymen to use against the clergy.
    • Letter to Myconius February 16, 1520 ibid, p.156
  • You should knot that a certain Franciscan from France, whose name indeed was Franz, was here not many days since and had such conversation with me concerning the Scriptural basis for the doctrine of the adoration of the saints and their intercession for us. He was not able to convince me with the assistance of a single passage of Scripture that the saints do pray for us, as he had with a great deal of assurance boasted he should do. At last he went to Basel, where he recounted the affair in an entirely different way from the reality - in fact he lied about it. So it seemed good to me to let you know about these things that you might not be ignorant of that Cumaean lion, if perchance he should ever turn your way.
    There followed within six days another strife with our brethren preachers of the [different orders in Zurich, especially with the Augustinians]. Finally the burgonmaster and the Council appointed for them three commissioners on whom this was enjoined - that Aquinas and the rest of the doctors of that class being put aside they should base their arguments alone upon those sacred writings which are contained in the Bible. This troubled those beasts so much that one brother, the father reader of the order of Preachers [i.e., the Dominicans] cut loose from us, and we wept - as one weeps when a cross-grained and rich stepmother has departed this life. Meanwhile there are those who threaten, but God will turn the evil upon His enemies.
    • Letter July 30th to Rhenanus ibid, p.170-171
  • It is clear that the images and other representations which we have in the houses of worship have caused the risk of idolatry. Therefore they should not be allowed to remain there, nor in your chambers, nor in the market-place, nor anywhere else where one does them honor. Chiefly they are not to be tolerated in the churches, for all that is in them should be worthy o our respect. If anyone desires t put historical representations on the outside of the churches that may be allowed, so long as they do not incite to their worship. But when one begins to bow before these images and to worship them, then they are not to be tolerated anywhere in the wide world; for that is the beginning of idolatry, nay, is idolatry itself.
    • Letter, Nov 17 1523, ibid, p.208
  • Balthasar of Waldshit has fallen into prison here - a man not merely irreverent and unlearned, but even empty. Learn the sum of the matter. When he came to Zurich our Council fearing lest he should cause a commotion ordered him to be taken into custody. Since, however, he had once in freakishness of disposition and fatuity, lurked out in Waldshut against our Council, of which place he, by the gods, was a guardian [i.e., he has pastor there], until the stupid fellow disunited and destroyed everything, it was determined that I should discuss with him in a friendly manner the baptising of infants and Catabaptists, as he earnestly begged first from prison and afterwards from custody. I met the fellow and rendered him mute as a fish. The next day he recited a recantation in the presence of certain Councillors appointed for the purpose [which recantation when repeated to the Two Hundred it was ordered should be publicly made Therefore having started to write it in the city, he gave it to the Council with his own hand, with all its silliness, as he promised. At length he denied that he had changed his opinion, although he had done so before a Swiss tribunal, which with us is a capital offence, affirming that his signature had been extorted from him by terror, which was most untrue].
    The council was so unwilling that force should be used on him that when the Emperor or Ferdinand twice asked that the fellow be given to him it refused the request. Indeed he was not taken prisoner that he might suffer the penalty of his boldness in the baptismal matter, but to prevent his causing in secret some confusion, a thing he delighted to do. Then he angered the Council; for there were present most upright Councillors who had witnessed his most explicit and unconstrained withdrawal, and had refused to hand to him over to the cruelty of the Emperor, helping themselves with my aid. The next day he was thrust back into prison and tortured. It is clear that the man had become a sport for demons, so he recanted not frankly as he had promised, nay he said that he entertained no other opinions than those taught by me, execrated the error and obstinacy of the Catabaptists, repeated this three times when stretched on the racks, and bewailed his misery and the wrath of God which in this affair was so unkind. Behold what wantonness! Than these men there is nothing more foolhardy, deceptive infamous - for I cannot tell you what they devise in Abtzell - and shameless. Tomorrow or next day the case will come up.
    • Letter to Capito, January 1, 1526 (Staehelin, Briefe ausder Reformationseit, p. 20), ibid, p. 249-250
  • Grace and peace from God to you, respected, honoured, wise clement, gracious and beloved Masters: An exceedingly unfortunate affair has happened to me, in that I have been publicly accused before your worships of having reviled you in unseemly words and, be it said with all respect, of having called you heretics, my gracious rulers of the State. I am so far from applying this name to you, that I should as soon think of calling heaven hell. For all my life I have thought and spoken of you in terms of praise and honour, gentlemen of Abtzell, as I do to-day, and, as God favours me, shall do to the end of my days. But it happened not long ago when I was preaching against the Catabaptists that I used these words: 'The Catabaptists are now doing so much mischief to the upright citizens of Abtzell and are showing so great insolence, that nothing could be more infamous. You see, gentle sirs, with what modesty I grieved on your account, because the turbulent Catabaptists caused you so much trouble. Indeed I suspect that the Catabaptists are the very people who have set this sermon against me in circulation among you, for they do many of those things which do not become true Christians. Therefore, gentle and wise sirs, I beg most earnestly that you will have me exculpated before the whole community, and, if occasion arise, that you will have this letter read in public assembly. Sirs, I assure you in the name of God our Saviour, in these perilous times you have never been our of my thoughts and my solicitious anxiety; and if in any way I shall be able to serve you I will spare no pains to do so. In addition to the fact that I never use such terms even against my enemies, let me say that it never entered my mind to apply such insulting epithets to you, pious and wise sirs. Sufficient of this. May God preserve you in safety, and may He put a curb on these unbridled falsehoods which are being scattered everywhere, which is an evidence of some great peril - and may He hold your worships and the whole state in the true faith of Christ@ Take this letter of mine in good part, for I could not suffer that so base a falsehood against me should lie uncontradicted.
    • Letter to Abtzell February 12, 1526 (vi., 473), ibid, p.250-251
  • It has been decreed this day by the Council of Two Hundred that the leaders of the Catabaptists shall be cast into the Tower, in which they formerly lay, and be allured by a bread and water diet until they either give up the ghost or surrender. It is also added that they who after this are immersed shall be submerged permanently: this decision is now published. Your father-in-law [Jacon Grebel, father of Conrad], the Senator, in vain implored mercy [for Conrad, who was one of the prisoners]. The incorrigible audacity of these men at first greatly grieved me, now it as greatly displeases me. I would rather that the newly rising Christianity should not be ushered in with a racket of this sort, but i am not God whom it thus pleases to make provision against evils that are to come, as He did when in olden time He slew with a sudden and fearful death Ananias who lied to Peter, so that He might cast out from us all daring to deceive, though there is nothing of which we are naturally such masters.
    • Letter to Vadian, ibid, March 7, 1526, p.252
  • They rightly admonish us that Christ taught that our speech should be Yea, Yea, and Nay, Nayl yet they do not seem to me to understand it clearly, or if they do understand it to obey it. For though in many places they should often have said Yea, it has never been Yea. When those leaders were banished, against whom we wrote as best we could, and asked for an oath they would not reply except to the effect that through the faith which they had in God they knew they would never return, and yet they soon returned. 'The Father,' each said, 'led me back through His will.' I know very well that it was the father - of lies who led them back; but they pretend to know it was the Heavenly Father. Here is something worth telling: when that George (whom they call a second Paul) of the House of Jacob [Blaurock], was cudgelled with rods among us even to the infernal gate and was asked by an officer of the Council to take oath and lift up his hands [in affirmation], he at first refused, as he had often done before and had persisted in doing. Indeed he had always said that he would rather die than take an oath. The officer of the Council then ordered him forthwith to lift his hands and make oath at once, 'or do you, policemen,' he said, 'lead him to prison.' But now persuaded by rods this George of the House of Jacob raised his hand to heaven and followed the magistrate in the recitation of the oath. So here you have the question confronting you, Catabaptists, whether that Pail of yours did or did not transgress the law. The law forbids to sweat about the least thing: he swore, so he transgressed the law. Hence this knot is knit: You would be separated from the world, from lies, from those who walk not according to the resurrection of Christ but in dead works? How then is it that you have not excommunicated that Apostate? Your Yea is not Yea with you nor your Nay, Nay, but the contrary; your Yea is Nay and your Nay, Yea. You follow neither Christ nor your own constitution.
    • As quoted in ibid, p. 263-264
  • For even though there be things diabolic in papal baptism yet they cannot nullify the Lord's words, 'I baptise thee in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Ghost'; so that it should not be true baptism; unless we are prepared to say, that the devil or the Roman Pontiff is stronger than the Lord.
    • Letter, May 22nd, ibid, p.279
  • I am now engaged on the refutation of Luther's book, which refutation you will see about September 1st. I am indeed wholly averse to this kind of fighting; but what do they think is to be done by him who is attacked with edge and point? Do not all believe that in repelling an enemy he is to be kept away, and if this is to be accomplished in no other way, he is to be cut down? And must we not oppose engines to those battering-rams which cause not theology but faith and truth to be overthrown, friendship to perish, and whatever is sacred and in moderation to be held in contempt among mortals? That book of Luther's, what else is it than an example of denying what you a little while ago? or a fog through which you cannot see rightly the mystery of Christ? I shall put forth nothing wild against Luther - a thing he himself ought not to have done. Since he has done it I shall remember piety and Christian decorum.
    • Letter, July 21, ibid, p.288
  • Be firm and do not fear war. For that peace which some are so urgently pressing upon us is not peace but war. And the war for which I am so insistent is peace, not war for I do not thirst for the blood of anyone, nor will I drink it even in case of tumult. This is the end I have in view - the enervation of the oligarchy. Unless this takes place neither the truth of the Gospel nor its ministers will be safe among us. I have in mind nothing cruel, but what I do is friendly and paternal. I desire to save some who are perishing through ignorance. I am laboring to preserve liberty. Fear nothing; for we shall so manage all things with the goodness and the alliance of God that you shall not be ashamed nor displeased because of us.
    • Letter, 1529, ibid, p.301
  • It was given to her what belongs to no creature, that in the flesh she should bring forth the Son of God
    • In Evang. Luc., Opera Completa [Zurich, 1828-42], Volume 6, I, p. 639
  • I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.
    • Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Volume 1, p. 424.
  • The more the honor and love of Christ increases among men, so much the esteem and honor given to [[Mary should grow
    • Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Volume 1, p. 427-428.
  • I esteem immensely the Mother of God, the ever chaste, immaculate Virgin Mary.
  • Christ ... was born of a most undefiled Virgin.
  • It was fitting that such a holy Son should have a holy Mother.
    • Ulrich Zwingli E. Stakemeier, De Mariologia et Oecumenismo, K. Balic, ed., (Rome, 1962), p. 456.

About Huldrych Zwingli

  • I have read some pages of your apology [Archeteles]. I beseech you for the sake of the glory of the Gospel, which I know you would favour and which we all who bear the name of Christ ought to favour, if you should issue anything hereafter, treat so serious a matter seriously, and bear in mind evangelical modesty and patience. Consult your learned friends before you issue anything. I fear that that apology will cause you great peril and will injure the Gospel. Even in the few pages that I have read there are many things I wanted to warn you about. I do not doubt that your prudence will take this in good part, for I have written late at night with a mind that is most solicitous for you. Farewell.
    • Erasmus, Letter to Huldreich Zwingli September 1522, ibid, p.172
  • Whatever your religious belief was, I know that you have been a good Confederate. May God forgive your sins!
    • Hans Schonbrunner, upon seeing his corpse October 12th, ibid, p.357-358
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