Monday, November 4, 2013

That Zwingli thing...

A friend who lives in Zurich was telling us about the play that her amateur theatre group is planning for their next project. She said it was a new play written by a local Swiss playwright, "about that Zwingli thing..." It occurred to me that the excessive interest in Roman Catholic history displayed by this blog ought to be balanced a bit by at least a brief look at the Protestant side of the coin, and a visit to Zurich is a good opportunity for that.

Zwingli outside the Wasserkirche.

Besides, I had noticed a statue of Zwingli outside the Wasserkirsche on the banks of the Limmat as I walked to The Terrasse for coffee...reason enough to look him up. Ulrich (or Huldrych) Zwingli (1484 –1531) was a leader of the Reformation in Switzerland - and nothing if not  'protestant': he protested at length and vigorously. He was born during a time of emerging Swiss patriotism and increasing criticism of the Swiss mercenary system, was an erudite student, became a pastor in the Church and was influenced by the writings of Erasmus. In 1518, Zwingli became the pastor of the Grossmünster in Zurich where he began to preach ideas on reforming the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, Martin Luther was doing his reformist thing at the same time (John Calvin in Geneva was at work a little later, from 1530 onwards). Zwingli and Luther eventually met, though apparently they didn't agree on everything, particularly the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Zwingli seems to have been rather a militant character. According to Wiki:
In his first public controversy in 1522, he attacked the custom of fasting during Lent. In his publications, he noted corruption in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, promoted clerical marriage, and attacked the use of images in places of worship. In 1525, Zwingli introduced a new communion liturgy to replace the Mass. Zwingli also clashed with the Anabaptists, which resulted in their persecution.
He set about a program of reforming the Church in the various cantons of Switzerland, but some of them resisted, preferring to remain Roman Catholic. In 1529 they very nearly came to war, and in 1531 Zwingli and his alliance tried to impose a food blockade on the Catholic cantons. Bizarrely for a Christian pastor, Zwingli came to a sticky end - he was killed in battle at the age of 47, when the Catholic cantons attacked Zurich in retaliation for the food blockade attempt.

Huldrych Zwingli as depicted by
Hans Asper in an oil portrait from 1531
(Kunstmuseum Winterthur)

Zwingli's legacy lives on in the confessions, liturgy, and church orders of the Reformed churches of today. So what did he preach? Here's Wiki on the subject:
He attacked moral corruption and in the process he named individuals who were the targets of his denunciations. Monks were accused of indolence and high living. In 1519, Zwingli specifically rejected the veneration of saints and called for the need to distinguish between their true and fictional accounts. He cast doubts on hellfire, asserted that unbaptised children were not damned, and questioned the power of excommunication. His attack on the claim that tithing was a divine institution, however, had the greatest theological and social impact. This contradicted the immediate economic interests of the foundation. 
The emphasis is mine -- given that this blog has devoted so much space to both the true and fictional accounts of the Roman Catholic saints, and indeed the difficulty of distinguishing between the two. Although Zwingli developed his own brand of theology, he was clearly in the Humanist tradition of Erasmus -- none of the healing power of myth for him. But of course there was always a lot of politics - and economics - mixed up in the religious stances of the day; Zwingli fiercely asserted Scriptural theology.

Switzerland in Zwingli's time was not a federated state, but a collection of independent cantons. But there's something endearingly Swiss about Zwingli's first major attack on the old rituals -- it's known as "The Affair of the Sausages". During Lent in 1522, Zwingli and about a dozen other participants consciously broke the fasting rule by cutting and distributing two smoked sausages. Zwingli defended this act in a sermon, under the title Von Erkiesen und Freiheit der Speisen (Regarding the Choice and Freedom of Foods). He claimed that no general valid rule on food can be derived from the Bible and that to transgress such a rule is not a sin. The event - "The Affair of the Sausages" - is considered to be the start of the Reformation in Switzerland.

Zwingli's next project was to have the celibacy of the clergy abolished. We should note, I think, that he was not wholly disinterested in this topic, since he'd secretly (though everybody knew) married a widow, with whom he had four children.

Bare. Predigerkirche, Zurich.

Zwingli also advocated, and achieved in some cantons, the removal of icons and images from the churches. In his time there began an orderly removal of images from the Zurich churches. In view of the sensory overload of Baroque church interiors in Italy in which this blog has been revelling, I took a look inside some of Zurich's contemporary Protestant churches. The bareness was almost a shock after the architectural excesses of Rome. Instead of an altar, there was just a bare stone wall. And a prominent font, common in many Protestant churches as a symbolic welcome to the church community.

There was a great deal of argument and unrest during Zwingli's time in the Grossmünster, the main cathedral of Zurich, and he clashed with the equally radical Anabaptists. Here's Wiki on one clash in 1525:
The council repeated the requirement on the baptism of all babies and some who failed to comply were arrested and fined, Manz and Blaurock among them...On 6–8 November, the last debate on the subject of baptism took place in the Grossmünster. Grebel, Manz, and Blaurock defended their cause before Zwingli, Jud, and other reformers. There was no serious exchange of views as each side would not move from their positions and the debates degenerated into an uproar, each side shouting abuse at the other.
Zurich's Grossmünster.
The various cantons, or states, of Switzerland formed up into those with Zwingli and the reformers, and those against. They began to raise armies and war threatened, was averted, then threatened again:
On 9 October 1531, in a surprise move, the Five States declared war on Zurich. Zurich's mobilisation was slow due to internal squabbling and on 11 October, 3500 poorly deployed men encountered a Five States force nearly double their size near Kappel on 11 October. Many pastors, including Zwingli, were among the soldiers. The battle lasted less than one hour and Zwingli was among the 500 casualties in the Zurich army.
Echoing other conspiracy theories and embellished legends that arise around the deaths of famous figures throughout history, Zwingli's death has it's own stories:
Zwingli's helmet (source)
According to Heinrich Bullinger [Zwingli's successor], Zwingli was found by his enemies wounded, but still alive, lying face downward under a pear-tree. "They turned him round, and asked him to confess. he repeatedly shook his head, by way of denial. 'Die, then, stiff-necked heretic!" cried Captain Vokinger of Unterwalden, giving him his death-blow." His body was quartered and burned, and his ashes thrown to the wind. His helmet was taken to Lucerne as a trophy (now kept in the Swiss National Museum together with his sword and his battle-axe).On the Catholic side, there were various rivalling claims as to who had killed Zwingli in the battle. On the Zurich side, reports according to which Zwingli had been captured due to an act of treason circulated soon after the battle, but these cannot be substantiated as historical.

Zwingli's successor, Heinrich Bullinger, on the wall of the Grossmünster.
I could say more - with the help of Wiki and other sources - on Zwingli's theology and his agreements and disputes with Luther, but instead I'll leave you with just this tidbit: although he was a musician himself - apparently he played the violin, harp, flute, dulcimer and hunting horn, and composed a little - he was very much against the practice of priestly chanting and monastic choirs. He associated music with images and vestments, all of which he felt diverted people's attention from true spiritual worship. Zwingli eliminated instrumental music from worship in the church, saying that God had not commanded it in worship. The organist of the People's Church in Zurich is recorded as weeping upon seeing the great organ broken up.

I don't like the vision of the poor organist (which might be apocryphal), but in his defence it seems that Zwingli's objections were limited to the medieval Latin choral and priestly chanting, and he didn't object to the hymns of evangelical congregations or choirs. Certainly today - to speak in a broad generality - Protestant church congregations are enthusiastic singers.

And so let's leave the severe interiors of Protestant Zurich, and the war-like Zwingli, and return to the fresh air of November all looks so calm these days.

Zurich. It looks so calm.

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