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Greatest Preachers

Ulrich Zwingli

Ulrich Zwingli

ULRICH ZWINGLI
1484 - 1531

In Zurich, Switzerland, meanwhile, a young priest was being drawn toward Luther's reform movement. In 1522 Ulrich Zwingli began to make his moves to establish Scripture as the sole religious authority for the Christian. He opposed the Lenten Fast, citing the lack of Scriptural warrant for the practice--a position which was supported by the Zurich civil government. The bishop of Constance tried to suppress this innovation--but lost out to the Zurich government, which moved to take control of ecclesiastical matters within its jurisdiction. Zwingli supported this shift in authority--claiming that the civil government, under the Lordship of Christ and guided in its work by the dictates of Scripture, was the legitimate voice or conscience of the believing community.
Meanwhile the Reformation began to spread to other parts of Switzerland: most notably to the cities of Basel (where Oecolampadius had been leading the reform movement), Constance and Bern. It also made its way down the Rhine River to Strasburg--where under the leadership of Zell, Capito and Bucer the reform movement there took on the more thoroughgoing Swiss character (as distinct from the more conservative Lutheran variety).

But the conservative rural cantons of Switzerland remained firmly opposed to the Zwinglian reforms. Relations grew bitter and hostilities resulted--with Zwingli himself being wounded and then put to death in a losing battle against the rural cantons in 1531.

The more gentle-natured Heinrich Bullinger took over the Zurich reform movement.

The Split within the Protestant Ranks
Meanwhile, the reform movement was beginning to move in different and opposing theological directions. For Luther the reform movement was more narrowly related to the matter of a sinner's personal justification before God. Luther showed little interest in making broader changes within Christianity beyond the throwing off of Roman spiritual authority--with its traditions of works-righteousness. Substantial changes in worship, for instance, were of lesser interest to Luther. Also the episcopal form of church government (rule by bishops) was kept by Luther--though with the understanding that the bishops were answerable to the local princes--not to Rome.
But to Zwingli and the Swiss reformers (identified as the Reformed party) there were strong interests in restructuring the organization and practices of the church around its original constitutional base: Scripture. There was a stripping away of every feature of Christianity that could not be supported by Scriptural warrant. This was in keeping with Zwingli's humanist background--and its focus on the Greek and Hebrew origins of the church, and the sense that everything that was a departure from this classical age was a perversion of an original purity undergirding the church.

This would not probably have kept Luther and Zwingli from working closely together--except that one portion of Zwingli's reforms were violently opposed by Luther: Zwingli's treatment of the celebration of the Lord's supper. Zwingli (for whom the sermon, not the celebration of the eucharist, was the central point of Christian worship) interpreted Christ's words concerning his presence in the wine and bread as purely symbolic. To Luther, this was a shocking diminution of the power of the real presence of Christ in the elements of the eucharist. The gap was, in both their minds, unbridgeable by the mid 1520s. Others of both parties tried to effect a compromise. But Luther, even after Zwingli's death, would not hear of compromise. Lutheranism and the Reformed faith split permanently.

 
 

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