Huldrych (Ulrich) Zwingli: Founding Father of the Reformed

Huldrych Zwingli - Hans Asper - 1549

Huldrych Zwingli – Hans Asper – 1549

Huldrych Zwingli, born January 1st, 1484 and slain on October 11th 1531 sparked the Reformation in the Canton of Zürich in the Old Swiss Confederacy. (Bromiley) He was born seven weeks apart from Martin Luther, and was greatly influenced by him. (Calhoun) Today, he is revered as a founder of the Reformed faith alongside Calvin and John Knox and his theological beliefs helped to pave the way for later reformers. He served as a military chaplain for the Swiss mercenaries where he witnessed firsthand the brutality and bloodshed of endless battles including the Battles of Novara and Marignano in the early 1500s. This caused a certain amount of disillusionment with the church’s use of mercenaries to fight its battles. He chose a more ordinary calling and decided to continue his studies. By 1518, he started serving and preaching at the Grossmünster in the center of Zürich.

Zwingli devoted himself to expository preaching of the bible or preaching through the entire text of scripture. For one of the first times, congregants were being fed the word of God in its entirety at a time when many people did not have direct access to it because they either could not read, or it was not given to them in their native language. Reflecting on his motivation to preach, Zwingli wrote “Luther propelled me to eagerness.” (Calhoun)

Zwingli’s Contribution

Zwingli’s contributions to the Reformed faith are mainly found in his Sixty-Seven Articles. The articles which serve as a summation of Zwingli’s theology, present his distinctive views that he defended against the Roman Catholic scholastic theologian Johann Eck. Among these doctrines was the Lord’s Supper where he focused on a remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ with no actual presence of Christ in the supper itself. This put him at odds with both Luther and Calvin who spurned Zwingli’s view of mere symbolism. Also, as stated earlier, Zwingli’s views challenged the priesthood and the very legitimacy of the papacy itself.

XVII. That Christ is the only eternal high priest, from which it follows that those who have called themselves high priests have opposed the honor and power of Christ, yes, cast it out.

XVIII. That Christ, having sacrificed himself once, is to eternity a certain and valid sacrifice for the sins of all faithful, from which it follows that the mass is not a sacrifice, but is a remembrance of the sacrifice and assurance of the salvation which Christ has given us.

XIX. That Christ is the only mediator between God and us.

These doctrines effectively nullified the sacrament of the mass as well as the authority of the pope. As a result, the Roman Catholic Church condemned his teaching as heresy. Despite the efforts of the Roman Church however, Zwingli’s teaching would not remain in the field of public debate, but would expand into the day-to-day lives of his congregants.

German language Map of the 13 Cantons of the Old Swiss Confederacy

German language Map of the 13 Cantons of the Old Swiss Confederacy

The Affair of the Sausages

Zürich, Switzerland was rapidly becoming a modern city. It boasted a wealthy printing industry, which due to the rigors of the industry demanded continual labor during the work week throughout all seasons in a way that the agricultural work of the past did not. Zwingli, influenced by Luther and preaching through the bible, felt that the Lenten fast need not be honored as he could not find biblical justification for it. William Estep puts it best:

“It was during Lent that some members of Zwingli’s congregation decided to take matters into their own hands. Christopher Froschauer, a Zürich printer, was in the process of running off a new edition of Paul’s Epistles for the Frankfurt Fair to be held immediately after Easter. His presses had been running overtime, and his workers were exhausted. He wished to express his appreciation for their efforts by treating them to a substantial dinner, so he instructed his wife to serve them Wurst (sausage) instead of fish. After all, he reasoned, it was unthinkable to offer these tired and hungry people, a few morsels of fish—and besides, if abstaining from eating meat during Lent had no biblical support, as Zwingli had been preaching, why bother? The sausage was served, and with the exception of Zwingli, everyone-including two other priests who were present-partook….the sausage eaters were jailed.” (Estep 170)

Zwingli defended Froshauer and the men who ate the sausage in a sermon called “Of Choice and Freedom Regarding Foods” however, it was not enough. The Reformation had begun and the Roman Church had begun the process of sorting out what to do with Zwingli. They started on their campaign to reign him in.

Continuing Reformation

The Word of God on the Rampage

I started this series with a quote from Martin Luther about the Reformation being completed while he was in the pub drinking beer with the Word of God doing it all. To reiterate, Luther when asked about the Reformation in Wittenberg stated:

“I will preach it, teach it, write it, but I will constrain no man by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing: the Word everything. Had I wanted to start trouble…. I could have started such a little game at Worms that even the emperor wouldn’t have been safe. But what would it have been? A mug’s game. I did nothing: I left it to the Word.”

Adapted from quotations in Timothy George’s Reading Scripture With the Reformers. InterVarsity, 2011. p.20, and Carl Trueman’s Luther on the Christian Life. Crossway, 2015, p. 94-95.)

The Affair of the Sausages is just one instance of this. Froschauer and his workers sitting down to a meal of exquisitely prepared sausage and good beer while the Word of God shook the foundations of the world. Commenting on Luther, Carl Trueman says it well, “There is the Lutheran (and indeed Reformed) pastor’s dream scenario: sitting in a pub, drinking beer, while the Word is outside on the rampage, putting devils to flight, bringing down to the dust the strongholds of evil, and ushering Christians into the kingdom of God.” (94) So it is with Zwingli.

“Die Ermordung von Ulrich Zwingli, 11 Oktober 1531.” – Karl Jauslin – Late 19th Century Swiss painting

Eventually the Catholic authorities had had enough and sent an army of Swiss mercenaries to defeat Zwingli. Zwingli died at the blade of Captain Fuckinger von Unterwalden on October 11th, 1531 at the Battle of Kappel.  He was succeeded in his post in Zürich by Heinrich Bullinger who would go on to write the 2nd Helvetic Confession and served in a number of posts which will be covered in a later post.

History’s Mysteries

Portrait of a Clergyman (Johann Dorsch?), Albrecht Dürer 1516 – Samuel H. Kress Collection

Zwingli’s portrait is often confused with “A Portrait of a Clergyman” by Albrecht Dürer. As I did my research on this portrait, I found more than one page doing historical profiles that used this painting as a portrait of Zwingli, – One even naming the art gallery where it was found and the year it was painted. I went to the website of the Washington National Art Gallery and found its true identity which turns out not to be Zwingli at all. It is hoped that more amateur historians (myself included) will pay a little closer attention to detail as they do their research.

National Gallery of Art. “Portrait of a Clergyman (Johann Dorsch?).” Albrect, Durer, 1516.


Bromiley, Geoffrey W. “Huldrych Zwingli | Swiss Religious Leader.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Web. 5 Oct. 2015..

Calhoun, David. Transcript. “The Clarity and Certainty of the Word of God: The Life and Theology of Ulrich Zwingli.” Lesson 6, Reformation and Modern Church History. Covenant Theological Seminary. Web. 5 Oct. 2015.

Estep, William Roscoe. Renaissance and Reformation, Grand Rapids: W.m. Eerdmans, 1986. Google Books. Web. 5 Oct. 2015.

Trueman, Carl. Luther on the Christian Life. Wheaton: Crossway, 2015

Zwingli, Huldrych. “The Sixty-Seven Articles.” Quoted from CHI. “The Sixty—Seven Articles of Ulrich Zwingli;” from the Selected Works of Huldrich Zwingli (1484—1531), the Reformer of German Switzerland; translated for the First Time from the Originals, ed. Samuel Macauley Jackson (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1901). Introduced and Edited by Dan Graves.”


3 thoughts on “Huldrych (Ulrich) Zwingli: Founding Father of the Reformed

  1. Hi there! This blog post couldn’t be written much better! Reading through this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept talking about this. I most certainly will send this information to him. Fairly certain he’ll have a good read. Thanks for sharing!|

  2. Pingback: Johannes Oecolampadius: Lighthouse of Basel | Continuing Reformation

  3. Pingback: Peter Martyr Vermigli: Reformer of Europe | Continuing Reformation

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