Born: January 1, 1484
Died: October 11, 1531
Appointed to the Cathedral of Zurich: 1518
Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) was a Swiss theologian who was an early leader in the Protestant Reformation and who helped created one of the main branches of Protestantism, known as the Reformed Tradition. Although he was the first major figure in the Swiss Protestant Reformation, he was the only major figure whose work did not directly lead to the creation of a church or movement in his name. Zwingli's ideas had an influence on all Protestant branches, however, from the more conservative Lutherans to the more radical Anabaptists.
Zwingli became a priest in 1506 and not long thereafter began to criticize certain Catholic traditions as not being in harmony with early Christian practices that could be found in the New Testament. He argued, for example, against the widespread practices of indulgences and even of traditional pilgrimages. Like Luther, Zwingli had been influenced by the church criticisms offered by humanists like Erasmus of Rotterdam (1483-1531). Unlike Luther, however, he felt less attraction to the past and thus worked for greater changes in liturgy and practice.
For example, whereas Luther retained most aspects of the medieval Catholic Mass, Zwingli reduced the service to a basic sermon accompanied by unleavened bread and wine. Zwingli further removed various icons and relics from churches in order to keep with a very simple style. Ministers under his direction were required to abandon their special clerical vestments and wear lay clothing.
Zwingli also made preparations for a Bible translated into the vernacular and, in 1529, the Züricher Bibel appeared. The traditionally elaborate altar was replaced with a simple table in the churches where his reforms took hold. However, not even he was radical enough for some of the young reformers he inspired. Two of them, Felix Manz and Conrad Grebel, began what became known as the Anabaptist movement in Zollikon, Switzerland in 1525.
By 1519, he treated the Bible as his sole source of religious authority, ignoring anything in Catholic tradition which could not be established as originating in scriptures. At this time he was in charge of the largest church in Zurich and thus wielded a great deal of power and influence. Zwingli used this to persuade the town council in 1522 to forbid any religious customs or festivals which could not be traced back to the Bible - thus enforcing his particular views upon the entire population.
These reforms also had the effect of diminishing the religious authority of the local bishop because it established the town council as having religious power - as a result, the construction of a civil government according to the Word of God began to be seen as a standard for reform in Zurich and, eventually, as a key characteristic of the Reformed Tradition.
Like Luther, Zwingli also set down his early ideas in a list - his Sixty-seven Articles. In these Zwingli argued for the authority of the Bible over the church, for salvation by faith alone, for the right of priests and nuns to marry, that the Mass is symbolic rather than literal, that saints should not be prayed to, against the existence of purgatory, and more. Catholic leaders tried to fight Zwingli's reforms, but political leaders were willing to implement them through law.
Zwingli's ideas and influence spread to a number of cities around Switzerland, but he encountered more opposition in poorer, rural areas. A primary reason for this was because of the tradition of Swiss men serving as mercenaries for foreign powers, something actively supported and encouraged by Rome. When an area broke from Catholicism, political leaders typically passed laws forbidding this practice and the loss of money hit the poorer areas the hardest, resulting in increased dissent from anti-Catholic movements.
Zwingli was killed in 1531 when five Catholic Swiss cantons united in a military assault on Zurich. The Protestant defenders were defeated, but later that year they all signed a peace agreement known as the Peace of Kappel. This allowed each canton to choose the religion it wanted to follow, thus dividing Switzerland along religious lines.
Also Known As: none
Alternate Spellings: Huldrych Zwingle
Common Misspellings: none
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