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Huldrych Zwingli was born on January 1, 1484 at Wildhaus, Switzerland. His father was a free peasant who raised sheep and became a village magistrate, and his mother’s brother was the abbot of Fischingen in Thurgau. At the age of ten Huldrych was sent to Basel, and at Bern he studied Latin and music with the humanist Heinrich Wolflin. In 1498 he went to the University of Vienna and was quickly expelled. He enrolled again in 1500 until 1502 when he transferred to the University of Basel and studied Aristotle, earning his master’s degree in 1506. He was ordained a priest at Constance and was influenced by the lectures of the reformer Thomas Wyttenbach who opposed indulgences, clerical celibacy, and the mass as early as 1508.
For the next ten years Zwingli was a parish priest in the town of Glarus. In 1510 he wrote The Fable of the Ox and the Beasts, a poem that satirized the Swiss as a fat ox taking bribes from the leopard (France) and the lion (Empire). In 1513 he began studying Greek. He also served in the Swiss Army as a chaplain, and after seeing the battles of Navarro in June 1513 and Marignano in September 1515 he opposed the mercenary system. He corresponded with several humanist scholars including Pico della Mirandola, Vadian, Conrad Grebel, and the great Erasmus. In 1516 Zwingli was the one of the first to get a copy of the New Testament translated from the Greek by Erasmus. He may have picked up his disgust for relics from Pico and Erasmus. Zwingli in his poem The Labyrinth represented the Swiss mercenary system as the Minotaur that devoured their sons, contrasting foreign military service and tribute with the freedom of the Swiss republic.
Zwingli was transferred in April 1516 to Einsiedeln as a stipendiary priest. Rome made him a papal chaplain in 1518 even though in August he criticized Bernardino Samson for selling indulgences. Hugo the Bishop of Constance agreed with Zwingli and banned Samson from churches, and Pope Leo X after his lesson from Luther withdrew his salesman. Zwingli persuaded Benedictine monks to remove a lucrative shrine to the Virgin Mary which promised full remission of all sins. He studied the Greek fathers such as Origen, Cyril of Alexander, and Chrysostom, and he read Latin literature for entertainment. He continued to study Hebrew. He was charged with corrupting a young girl and admitted he had yielded to a prostitute. In 1517 he told Cardinal Matthaus Schinner of Sion that scripture did not warrant the papacy. Schinner led the Swiss army into battle. In contrast Bishop Christophe von Utenheim of Basel (1502-27) introduced annual synods in the diocese and worked for reforms.
On December 11, 1518 the Great Minster at Zurich appointed Zwingli a foundation preacher, and he moved there. Cardinal Antonio Pucei informed Zwingli he was named an acolyte chaplain to the Pope. The next year Zurich became the leading city in the Swiss Confederation. Zwingli began a series of discourses on the Gospel of Matthew on his 35th birthday, January 1, 1519, and he denounced opponents of the Gospels. He read the writings of Luther. Zurich suffered a plague in August, and Zwingli stayed to minister to the sick, became ill, and nearly died. This experience made him more religious. In 1520 he argued that tithes should be voluntary as in the early church. Before the end of 1520 he declined to receive any more installments on his papal pension of fifty florins a year, and by 1521 he was considered a Lutheran. Rome depended on military support from Zurich. On April 29 Zwingli was elected to a canonry in the Great Minster, making him a full citizen of Zurich.
On May 5 Zurich was the only one of the thirteen cantons in the Swiss Confederation that did not provide mercenaries and military aid to King François of France which paid for thousands of mercenaries every year. On May 8 Emperor Charles V and Pope Leo X agreed to hire Swiss mercenaries to force the French out of Italy. Boys in Switzerland began voting and carrying weapons at age 14. Army leaders made money recruiting mercenaries, and in some wars Swiss mercenaries were fighting on both sides. A force of 6,000 men was sent to Milan on September 16; but Zwingli persuaded the Council of Zurich to recall them, and they forbade foreign service on January 11, 1522. Zwingli described the problems with mercenaries in his Divine Warning to the Confederates.
During Lent in March 1522 Zwingli was at a banquet where the printer Christopher Froschauer and friends ate sausage which violated the Church law against meat then. He condoned this action during a sermon on March 23 and published a pamphlet on April 16 on the right to choose freely what to eat. He insisted on charity in not judging others. The question of clerical celibacy had already become a serious issue because in northern Switzerland many priests had a concubine who was like a wife even though they were not married. Zwingli believed there was no biblical basis for clerical celibacy, and in early 1522 he secretly married the widow Anna Reinhart who was of a higher social rank. This became known, and on July 5 he sent a petition to permit clerical marriage signed by himself and ten other priests to Hugo of Hohenlandenberg, the Bishop of Constance. Even Erasmus gave it qualified support, but it was rejected. A German form of the petition was distributed throughout the Confederation. After the defeat of Swiss mercenaries in French service on April 27, Zwingli published an exhortation to the Swiss Confederation that they should not serve foreign masters. He persuaded the Council of Zurich to renounce mercenary wars, but other Swiss cantons opposed him.
On August 23 Zwingli published Apologeticus Archeteles in Latin as his major statement of faith to the Swiss. He continued to preach calling people to repentance and urging generosity toward the poor. He rejected man-made doctrines and denounced false prophets who were not in harmony with the scriptures. He believed he was an instrument to deliver God’s word. He objected to calling the Pope the chief priest, and he criticized bishops for waging war and for collecting money on any pretext. Like Luther, Zwingli urged eliminating most of the sacraments and rituals that had accumulated over the centuries. His teaching was being accepted with enthusiasm in Zurich which had become the most orderly Swiss city. In September he wrote The Clarity and Certainty of God’s Words as an introduction to Bible study. He believed that praying to saints was useless and noted that this was not practiced by the early Church.
A Federal Diet met at Baden in late November. They accused Hans Urban Wyss, the minister of Fislisbach, of heterodoxy. He was imprisoned by the Bishop of Constance for more than seven months until he recanted. In December the Swiss Diet again demanded that cantons suppress the new teaching of Zwingli, and they warned Zurich and Basel not to tolerate his pamphlets.
Zwingli persuaded the Zurich Council to organize a debate in German in the Town Hall on January 29, 1523, inviting all the responsible clergy. For this Zwingli published 67 Articles on his main objections to the Roman Church that included papal authority, transubstantiation, worship of saints, purgatory, fasting, pilgrimages, and relics. He led a group which had the Greek New Testament, the Hebrew Old Testament, and the Latin Vulgate open before them. They were opposed by four representatives of the bishop who claimed they were there only as observers and reporters. The humanist Johannes Faber was vicar-general for the Bishop of Constance, and he challenged Zwingli by asking if Zurich was to oppose the rest of the world. He insisted there had been no married priests for 1,200 years, but a councilor replied that they had been free to keep mistresses. Zwingli established the principles that the government has a duty to control public worship and religious observances and that the only preaching that should be allowed in their territory must be compatible with the Bible. He argued that the people should run the Church as they do the republican Swiss Confederation. The Council concluded that no one had refuted Zwingli’s articles, and they recommended that sermons should continue with all priests in their jurisdiction following his evangelical way.
Zwingli began to challenge the canon law of the Church which was mostly from papal pronouncements. He argued that canon law was only valid if it agreed with God’s word. He urged relying on Christ and his teaching through the Spirit. The Zurich Council had broken with the papacy, though few realized it then. Zwingli believed that government was to maintain law and order and the public peace, and they were to be paid out of taxes. The exception to obedience to the state’s laws was only if the government gave an order contrary to God. He noted that their forefathers had not killed Christians for money but had fought for liberty, and he proposed ending the mercenary service and pensions. The aristocratic reformer Hutten came to Zurich in June, and Zwingli took care of his sick comrade. Erasmus wrote a reply to Hutten and also criticized Zwingli in an ironic dedication.
Erasmus had moved to Basel in November 1521, and in 1522 he declined to see Hutten. The offended poet wrote Expostulation criticizing the famous humanist as a coward. Erasmus wrote a reply and sent it to the town council of Zurich, complaining of Hutten’s lies and urging them to banish him. On December 1 Pope Adrian VI sent a letter to Erasmus, inviting him to come to Rome. Erasmus wrote back urging the Pope to grant a general amnesty.
Wolfgang Capito was a doctor of law, medicine, and theology, and he came to Strasbourg in May 1523. He also knew Hebrew well and was a friend of Erasmus. He learned about church government as chancellor and chaplain to Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz, but a conversation with the priest Matthew Zell convinced Capito he should dedicate his life to reform. That same month the theologian Martin Bucer arrived at Strasbourg, and he had been working for Luther’s reforms since 1518. In 1521 he had become chaplain to the knight von Sicken. Capito began lecturing on the Old Testament as Bucer gave sermons on the New Testament. Bucer wrote “That nobody should live for himself alone, but for his neighbor,” and in 1524 he gave reasons for liturgical reform. On February 16 Theobald Schwarz began giving mass in the cathedral in German.
In July 1523 Zwingli wrote to the Diet of the Confederation meeting at Bern defending his orthodoxy, noting his public defense of the Virgin Mary. Another disputation was held in Zurich October 26-28 and was attended by 900 men, 350 in holy orders, though the bishops and Catholic representatives did not come, giving Zwingli little opposition. He attacked the mass, and Leo Juda opposed the use of images. Zwingli convinced them that the mass is not a sacrifice but a commemoration of a sacrifice. He only objected to images that were venerated, and many stained-glass windows were retained. The statement he made at the second debate was published as The Shepherd. He emphasized teaching and preaching which he considered the sign of a good pastor if it was based on understanding of the scriptures. He contrasted this to the pride, pomp, and extravagant dress of others, and he was glad the monasteries were being deserted by monks and nuns. He defined the church as those who believe in Christ and secondly as the local community of worshippers. He believed a minister should marry but avoid the temptation of enriching oneself or his family. One should be ready to suffer and never cause trouble or warfare. He hoped the other states in the Confederation would follow the example of Zurich in forbidding mercenaries.
Zwingli published his treatise on education in August 1523 for his 14-year-old stepson. He warned against excessive eating and drinking, expensive clothes, and gambling. He advised him to help his neighbors, choose a good wife and be faithful to her, and always be honest. The purpose of religious education was to prepare one for the hereafter, and it depended on a pure heart and knowledge of the Bible. On September 29 a civic mandate ordered reform of the abuses of the Great Minster, reducing its staff, and revising the system of instruction. Fees for baptisms and burials were abolished. After a chapter provided for education, money left went to help the poor and elderly. Monasteries were turned into hospitals. Zwingli was able to implement his ideas in the schools of the Great Minster and in the seminaries for preachers.
On September 30 the Federal Diet at Baden threatened to punish innovators, and they no longer met at Zurich. To help preachers Zwingli wrote his Short Christian Introduction which was printed in November. He also worked on the Zurich Bible that relied on the Septuagint because his knowledge of Greek was better than his Hebrew. The painter and poet Nicolas Manuel wrote two plays comparing the Christ to the Pope which were performed at a carnival.
Zwingli publicly married Anna Reinhard on April 2, 1524. Representatives of the inner states of Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Lucerne, and Zug met at Beckenried on April 8, and they formed a Catholic League within the Confederation in order to eradicate the “Lutheran, Zwinglian, and Hussite doctrine.” Basel and Bern supported the reforms of Zurich. In May the Zurich Council forbade dancing (except at public weddings), noise at night, singing in the street, shooting by youths, excessive drinking, fancy clothes, and to do nothing about images until the Council made a decision to remove them.
Direct action had begun on Whitsuntide (May 15) at Zollikon when a gang tore down the high altar and broke the images in the church. The next day the Council took Zwingli’s advice, and on June 15 the Council ordered every commune which voted by a majority to remove the images except for the crucifix. Wooden objects were burned, and stone ones were broken up. On June 17 the Stammheim community decided to remove images from their church. Basel, Bern, and Solothurn maintained Catholic orthodoxy but allowed evangelical preaching. On July 16 only Schaffhausen and Appenzell refused to exclude Zurich from federal diets. Zwingli and Zurich responded by sending missionaries to Thorgau. One was arrested, was rescued, and led a mob to burn a monastery and destroy images in churches. Three leaders were executed.
In October 1524 the Council of Zurich banned the sale of indulgences and then abolished pilgrimages, the confessional, and religious anointing. They formed a Privy Council with six members in November, and they closed convents. Zwingli was the acknowledged leader. On December 3 the remaining monks and friars of Zurich were put in the Franciscan friary, and the Dominican and Augustinian houses came under state administration. Their properties were confiscated and converted into a city hospital and schools. The younger ones were told to find a trade or pursue Bible study. When a few preachers were arrested, people gathered to insist they be freed; but a force of 4,000 from Zurich prevented violence, and the rioters went home. Processions were banned, and the bones of saints were decently buried. In The Troublemakers Zwingli warned against anti-clericals, selfish opportunists, misguided sectaries, and exhibitionist prelates. In 1524 Zurich asked for the opinions of the guilds and rural communes three times.
A strike on the property of Count Sigismund of Lupfen spread, and by the end of 1524 a peasant revolt was under way in Switzerland as well as in Germany. They demanded the freedom to fish, gather wood, and hunt bears, wolves, foxes, and wild pigs, and they wanted their servile status changed. In the Italian War 5,000 Swiss soldiers were killed in the battle of Pavia on February 24, 1525, and many turned against their French allies. In the spring peasants in the Grüningen district and the former county of Kiburg demanded the abolition of serfdom, poll taxes, death duties (heriots), and lesser tithes. About 4,000 peasants at Toss were mollified by promises from the bürgermeister and local governor. Peasants fleeing from southern Germany were given refuge by the Swiss, though Aargau refused to accept them because of trouble with their own peasants.
Zwingli suggested that some of the revenue from Church property should benefit the poor, and on January 15, 1525 an ordinance forbade begging. The Anabaptists rejected infant baptism and opposed all violence, but Zwingli debated them on January 17. The Council banned their meetings and foreign preachers and decided that parents must baptize their children by the eighth day after birth. Grebel baptized Blaurock who baptized others, and the leaders were imprisoned. On March 7 drowning was made the penalty for “rebaptizing.” Blaurock was not from Zurich and was expelled, but Mantz was drowned on January 5, 1527. Zwingli objected to the radical Anabaptists and criticized them in his Tricks of the Catabaptists in 1527.
A marriage law was passed in May 1525 creating a marriage court. Adultery was to be punished, concubinage suppressed, brothels closed, and prostitutes expelled. Violating the prohibition against foreign military service was made a capital crime. By August it was clear that no general uprising would occur, and Zwingli reviewed the question of tithes for the Council. He had completed his treatise On the True and the False Religion in March. False religion was superstition and the corruption in Rome while the true followed the scriptures. The only sacraments he recognized were baptism and the eucharist. He considered the mass as a sacrifice unacceptable, and he suggested that those priests be given more useful work. On April 13 Zurich replaced the Catholic mass with the first simple communion celebrating the Last Supper in the Grossmünster. The Great Council of Zurich ended its relationship with the Church of Rome and the Bishop of Constance. Also in 1525 Zwingli completed his series of sermons on the New Testament and started one on the Old Testament.
During the Peasant War in Germany peasants plundered the convent of Rüti in Grüningen and made demands, causing tithes, serfdom, and ground rents to be abolished. In March peasants in Zurich began fishing and hunting. Zwingli urged the government to ban serfdom. He also advised that the best Christians make the best officials and that true religion reigns in the most successful states. He justified tithes as a lawful burden. Eleven states agreed with Lucerne not to associate with heretics, and on June 28 the representatives of Zurich, Schaffhausen, and Appenzell were excluded from a meeting of the Swiss Diet despite protests from Bern, Glarus, Basel, and Solothurn. The Diet usually met in Baden, and Bern, Lucerne, and Zurich took turns exercising executive authority. Gradually governmental authority was increasingly in the hands of influential families in the cantons. Basel and envoys helped bring about peace between Austria and the peasants revolting in Alsace and the Breisgau.
Zwingli devised a Plan for Zurich in the face of the Catholics using the military support of the Hapsburgs. Bern and Basel supported the reforms though they still tolerated the mass and were officially Catholic. He urged Toggenburg to make an alliance with Schwyz and become co-citizens with Zurich. He hoped that Zurich would lead the Swiss Confederation, but he believed that high public morale would have to be supported by military preparation. Prayers were to be said in church for the success of those who follow the word of God. The Council took its marriage laws from Leviticus, setting the minimum age of 14 for a girl and 16 for a boy. If either party was under 19, the consent of the parents was necessary. A bachelor was obliged to marry a girl he made pregnant unless her parents objected.
On December 5, 1525 the princess-abbess of Fraumünster turned over her foundation to Zurich, and Zwingli persuaded the Council to transform it into a high school with a humanistic curriculum. That month the inquisitor Johann Eck charged Zwingli and Johannes Oecolampadius of Basel with heresy. Zwingli was already prepared to answer his opponents and produced a reply to Eck in writing. The Council of Zurich would not allow him to dispute outside their territories, but they would guarantee a free safe-conduct to anyone who came to Zurich. This city and Basel were rejected as meeting places, and Baden was chosen on March 20. All the Swiss states were invited to send delegates in addition to the universities of Tübingen and Freiburg and the bishops of Constance, Basel, Lausanne, Sion, and Chur. The safe-conduct offered for Zwingli and his friends was rejected as inadequate. The debate began on May 19 and lasted three weeks and went beyond the scriptures to political issues. Eck and Fabri were the prosecutors, and of the 118 priest attending at least 87 would support Eck. Without Zwingli there Oecolampadius led the defense, and Zwingli sent him letters with advice.
In taking the common oath of allegiance to the Confederation nine states refused to join Zurich. Zwingli took the position that he was neither a Lutheran, a heretic, nor a sectary because his teaching derived from the word of God interpreted by reason. In 1526 the Council claimed the power of excommunication. Zwingli believed in fusing civil and religious authority in order to elevate the government to a godly state and a protector of the Reformed Church.
On February 3, 1527 representatives from Zurich, Bern, Glarus, Basel, Schaffhausen, and St. Gall met to discuss their relations with the Diet of the Confederation, and at Easter the Bern Council had chosen enough evangelical members to give the Great Council and the Small Council a reforming position. Reformers won the Great and Small Council elections and put convents under civil administration. After the setback in Baden, Zwingli advocated an alliance in August, and on December 25 Zurich allied with Constance which was being oppressed by Austria.
On December 2 the Bürgermeister of Zurich had given Zwingli permission to attend the Bern disputation. He arrived on January 4, 1528 with ten theses, and during three weeks of debate he persuaded Bern to join Zurich’s reforms. He was ably assisted by his son-in-law Heinrich Bullinger. They emphasized the word of God with Christ as the head of the church, and he argued that the kingdom of God had to do with external reforms too. They replaced the mass with sermons and found no biblical basis for intercession of the dead, purgatory, or images. The clergy were allowed and even encouraged to marry. Officials were released from their oaths to the bishop. Church dues and taxes decreased and were diverted. Rural deans were assigned to instruct and report on the clergy. The state took over monastic property, and pensions and mercenary services were prohibited. Immodest dress, blasphemy, swearing, gambling, excessive drinking, and carrying weapons were forbidden. In 1528 all of Bern’s subjects agreed to the changes except Frutigen, Obersimmental, and Lenzburg.
Also in January 1528 the Christian Civic Union was formed by Zurich, Bern, and Constance, and Basel joined in March. That month the Benedictine monastery at Interlaken, which had at one time 300 nuns, let local communities take over the monasteries. Reformers in St. Gall seized the abbey on January 28. In Bern a majority of communes passed reforms on February 7, abolishing the mass and images and confiscating the property of monasteries. By the end of 1528 Bern had renewed its alliance for mutual protection with Constance, Geneva, and Zurich. On November 3 St. Gall was welcomed into the Union as an equal with Zurich and Bern.
On February 8 about 800 men in a Franciscan church asked the Council of Basel to demand that masses be forbidden. The next day a crowd destroyed religious images. The Council abolished the mass, and images were removed in Basel. New ordinances went into effect on April 1, and Erasmus and most of the professors left the University of Basel and moved to Freiburg in Breisgau for six years. An example of the satire of Erasmus was his colloquy “Charon,” which was printed in 1529. In this dialog Charon, whose job is to ferry souls of the dead over the river Styx, talks with the avenging spirit Alastor. Charon notes that three rulers (Emperor Charles V, François I, and Henry VIII) are currently clashing in mutual destruction, drawing in others by their alliances; not even the Danes, Poles, Scots, nor Turks are at peace. Alastor explains they are warmongers because they profit more from the dying than from the living. He claims that those who die in a just war do not come to Charon, who says that all seem to come to him. He informs Alastor that 200,000 are still waiting for him to cross.
On April 22, 1529 in the treaty at Waldshut the five inner cantons (Innerschweiz) formed the defensive Christian Alliance with Austria and Ferdinand who promised to send 10,000 troops to aid the Catholics. Schwyz arrested the pastor Jacob Kaiser of Zurich and burned him. A Swiss civil war began on June 8 after Zurich declared war against the inner states, occupying the Thurgau and gathering their 4,000 troops at Kappel on Zug’s border. Mediation averted the war, and the Land Peace of Kappel was signed on June 24. Each side maintained freedom of religion, and both sides dissolved their alliances. War reparations were to be paid for damages determined by arbitrators. The Catholic cantons agreed to pay indemnity to Zurich and to end their alliance with Austria. Thomas Murner was turned over to be tried for inciting a revolt, but no others were to be victimized. However, the Five Cantons continued to persecute the Zwinglians.
The Zurich Bible supervised by Leo Juda was first published in 1529 based on Luther’s German. Zwingli disagreed with Luther in that he believed the elements of the blood and body are symbolic of the spiritual presence of Christ. Luther took the words of Jesus literally but rejected “transubstantiation” for “consubstantiation.” They wrote pamphlets on the issue, and in October 1529 this became a point of contention in the colloquy at Marburg arranged by Philip of Hesse to reconcile them. He introduced Luther to Oecolampadius and Zwingli to Melanchthon. Zwingli first preached there on September 29, but Luther refused to be reconciled and demonized Zwingli and Oecolampadius. Zwingli kept the Eucharist with bread and wine but only celebrated it four times a year. He believed original sin was being unsocial, and he held that only God can forgive sins. In 1529 all the northern Swiss cities rejected the Roman Church, and Biel, Mühlhausen, Schaffhausen, and St. Gall had joined the Christian Civic Union.
These cities and Strasbourg also joined the reformers’ alliance by January 1530, and Zurich adopted a code of public morality in March. Zwingli’s Fideo Ratio was sent to Charles V and was presented at the Diet of Augsburg on July 3. On November 18 Zurich, Basel, Strasbourg, and Hesse came to a Hessian and Christian understanding and formed a defensive pact. Zwingli and others preached to large synods with up to 500 ministers. Zurich agreed in August that St. Gall could purchase a monastery for 14,000 gulden. On December 31 a force of 600 men from St. Gall occupied Oberriet and made the inhabitants accept orders from Zurich. Froschauer printed many works by Zwingli and other reformers, and he published the Zurich Bible with illustrations.
On January 1, 1531 the comedy Plutus by Aristophanes was performed in Zurich with music composed by Zwingli. Toggenburg, the serfs of St. Gall, Thurgau, and the Rheinthalers joined Zurich in April. That month representatives of the reformed cities met to discuss issues, and on May 15 they voted to force Catholic cantons to allow freedom of religion. They refused, and Zwingli advised war; but the allies imposed an economic embargo. Zwingli argued that the embargo would cause more bitterness and give them time to prepare for war, which is what happened. The Catholics were denied ports. Zurich and Bern tried to take control of the Confederation, and Zwingli supported this in August. He sent his Brief and Clear Exposition of the Christian Faith to François of France.
Economic sanctions that blockaded grain, wine, iron, and salt from reaching Lucerne and its associates provoked another war. Northern states fought to maintain their reforms against the southern states that wanted to be independent or aligned with Rome and the Pope. On August 10 Zwingli, Rudolf Collin, and Werner Steiner went to Bremgarten to try to persuade councilors from Bern to act. On September 26 representatives of the Five States decided to attack Zurich, or they would starve. Zwingli took refuge in a reformed house of the Teutonic Order at Bremgarten in October. The attackers believed they would be supported by Austria, and the Zurich Great Council summoned military advisors. They were ready to fight, but people in Bern opposed Zwingli’s “parson’s war” and allowed food to pass across their frontiers.
Zurich sent 600 men to Bremgarten. Danger was realized on October 10, and the Great Council sent less than a thousand men. The Catholics had 7,000 men to 2,000 from Zurich. Zwingli was chaplain with a group, and on October 11 he was badly wounded and then killed. In this battle about 500 on Zwingli’s side were killed including 26 members of the Great and Small Councils and 25 pastors; about 100 of the Catholics died. Reformed cantons went to reinforce Zurich and sent 5,000 undisciplined men who looted. On October 24 near Zug nearly 600 Protestants were killed, and the others fled. On November 16 the Council of Zurich accepted a settlement that guaranteed their political and religious independence while granting their rural districts the right to be consulted on important issues. Five days later Bern capitulated on the same terms. The reformers had to pay for the costs of the war, and the Catholic minorities had right to conduct their services. Philip of Hesse offered to send 4,000 soldiers, but Zurich and Bern declined to accept foreign forces. Towns in southern Germany abandoned the Zwinglians and joined the Schmalkaldic League of the Lutherans. In the “Kappel Letters” Zurich and Bern pledged they would not go to war in the future without consulting the rural people.
Conrad Grebel was born about 1498 in Zurich. His father Jacob Grebel was a leader on the Council of 200 and was later on the inner Council. In 1499 he was appointed chief magistrate of the Grüningen district southeast of Zurich. Conrad attended a Latin school and in October 1514 went to the University of Basel where he studied with the humanist Glarean. In May 1515 he left there to study with Joachim Vadian at the University of Vienna. In June 1518 Vadian and young Grebel left Vienna to avoid a plague and traveled in Switzerland. Jacob Grebel got his son and himself a scholarship from the University of Paris even though this violated the laws of Zurich. After four semesters Conrad gave up his scholarship, but Jacob kept his stipend. He opposed the reformer Zwingli, and on October 30, 1526 Jacob was beheaded for receiving an illegal stipend from France. On May 1, 1519 some French brigands attacked some students, and two of the bandits were killed. Conrad and the students left Paris where a plague that summer killed more than 30,000 people.
Conrad Grebel returned to Zurich and began studying with Zwingli. Grebel fell in love and married on February 6, 1522. His parents were upset but let them live in their house for two years. Conrad was poor but studied the Bible, and in 1523 he believed he was born again spiritually. After the disputation in October, Zwingli shocked the radicals like Grebel by accepting state authority over the church. The dissidents Simon Stumpf and Andreas Castelburger, who gave testimony against war, were expelled from Zurich in December. In early 1524 William Reublin became the first priest in Zurich to preach against infant baptism when he said he wanted his children to understand baptism and choose their own godparents. The Council arrested Reublin for a while. The priest Johannes Brotli and others in Zollikon also withheld their children from baptism.
During the Peasants’ War on September 5, 1524 Conrad Grebel and others wrote a letter to Thomas Müntzer urging him to give up the violent methods that he had adopted after his followers burned a chapel at Mallerbach; but he was traveling and never received it. They wrote,
Also one should not protect the gospel
and those who accept it with the sword,
nor should they protect themselves,
as we have learned from our brother
that you believe and that you subscribe to.
Truly believing Christians are sheep in the midst of wolves,
sheep for slaughtering.
They must be baptized in fear, need,
grief, persecution, suffering, and dying.
They must be tested in the fire,
and they must not find the haven of eternal rest
by killing their bodily enemies;
rather they must attain it by killing their spiritual enemies.
Also, true Christians use neither the worldly sword nor war,
for among them killing has been totally abolished.
Indeed, believers practiced these things
at the time of the old law, during which time
after they had conquered the promised land,
war became a plague.1
In a second letter Grebel wrote that he had learned that Müntzer preached against the princes, that they must be combated with the fist. Grebel advised him not to defend war but desist from that belief to become a hero and soldier of God by using the Bible as his defense. He criticized those who lived on tithed taxes, and he argued that they should not use the sword nor war. He believed that infant baptism was contrary to scripture which only described adults being baptized.
In December 1524 Felix Mantz and others met with Zwingli for discussions; but after two meetings they found they could not agree. Zwingli was writing Those Who Incite to Rebellion, and Mantz responded with his “Protest and Defense.” He was the illegitimate son of a clergyman and argued that baptism should take place when one is converted through the Word of God, changing the heart for a new life.
The Zurich Council held a disputation on infant baptism on January 17, 1525, and Zwingli argued that baptism had several meanings and could be a valid symbol of joining the child to the people of God. Grebel, Reublin, Brotli, Castelburger, and George Blaurock represented the radicals. The next day the Council ordered parents to bring their children for baptism by priests within a week or be banished. Three days later the Council prohibited meetings of the radicals and ordered four foreigners to leave Zurich. On January 21 Conrad Grebel baptized the priest Blaurock at the home of Felix Mantz, beginning the movement that was called “Anabaptist” by its opponents. The radicals called themselves “brothers” because they did not believe infant baptism meant anything; thus they were not being baptized “again.” Most of those arrested were released on February 8 after promising they would not talk about baptism, but Mantz and Blaurock remained in prison.
Grebel went to Schaffhausen to spread their teachings and then to St. Gall where he baptized hundreds of people in the Sitter River. At a village church in Zollikon the layman Jorg Schad baptized forty people in one day. They also held disputations. Eberli Bolt was the first Anabaptist martyr who was burned at the stake in Lachen. Wolfgang Uliman was banished and led refugees to Moravia. In 1528 they were arrested in Swabia, and he and ten men were beheaded; women were drowned. In Grüningen the citizens were influenced by Zwingli and demanded to choose their own pastors, and the Anabaptists preached spiritual freedom. Grebel and Marx Bosshart of Zollikon were summoned to Zurich in early July. The brothers requested a safe conduct which was denied. Bosshart and two others went and were put in prison, but Grebel refused to go. Bosshart was released after four weeks when he promised not to preach and baptize. Grebel and George Blaurock were arrested on October 8, 1525 and put in Grüningen castle before being sent to Zurich.
The Council held a debate on November 6, 1525 with Zwingli, Leo Juda, and Kaspar Grossman against Grebel, Mantz, and Blaurock. The German Michael Sattler also was there, and about 900 people gathered. Zwingli argued that baptism had replaced circumcision and that rebaptizing crucified Jesus again. After three days of discussion the Council gave the victory to Zwingli. On November 18 they sentenced the three to prison for as long as the lords said. Sattler and other foreigners were expelled. The Council gave them a trial on March 5 and 6, 1526, and the three leaders and fifteen others including six women were sentenced to imprisonment for life. However, someone left a prison window open, and on March 21 they all escaped. Most scattered, but two stayed in Zurich and were arrested. Grebel wrote a pamphlet against infant baptism. Anabaptists were harassed, and Grebel traveled. He went to Maienfeld to stay with his sister, and he died of a plague there during the summer of 1526.
On November 19 the Council authorized the death penalty for those “rebaptized.” A group including Mantz and Blaurock were arrested on December 3, 1526. After a trial on January 5, 1527 Blaurock, who was not a citizen, was whipped and expelled. Mantz was executed by drowning.
Müntzer led a military contingent to join the peasants at Frankenhausen in May 1525; but after the peasant army was defeated, Müntzer was arrested, tortured under interrogation, and beheaded. Another Anabaptist leader, Balthasar Hubmaier, opposed the Jews and their usury, supported the peasants in their war, but later repudiated the war and recanted on baptism. In his short book On the Sword in 1527 Hubmaier wrote in favor of government having the authority to use force, criticizing the nonresistance of the Stablers (people of the staff). Hubmaier was arrested and convicted of heresy and insurrection, and on March 10, 1528 he was burned at the stake in Vienna; his wife was executed by drowning.
Andreas Castelberger of Zurich helped organize the first congregation of Swiss Brethren in 1525. Michael Sattler was a Benedictine monk from southern Germany, but he left the monastery to the rebelling peasants, married, and joined the Swiss Brethren in Zurich. In February 1527 at a gathering in the canton of Schaffhausen he was the main author of “The Brotherly Agreement of Some Children of God concerning Seven Articles” known as the Schleitheim Confession. In May 1527 Sattler was tortured and burned, two days before his wife was drowned. Between 1527 and 1532 in Zurich six people were executed. Foreigners were banished, and many were killed in Roman Catholic countries. In April 1529 Blaurock was arrested again in Apenzell, and then he went to Catholic Austria. That month the Diet of Speyer decreed that every Anabaptist of either sex was to be put to death. Lorenz Fürst was drowned in Zug on August 17, and Uliman and others were executed in Apenzell.
The Schleitheim Confession acknowledges that the sword is ordained by God to punish and kill evil people while protecting and defending the good; but the authors believed it was outside of the perfection of the Christ, which recommended only the ban be used to admonish and expel sinners. Article VI asserts that love and the way of the cross should be the Christian’s response to violence and evil. Christ teaches being humble. Jesus chose not to punish the adulterer nor to judge between brothers, and he refused to act as a king. Worldly princes may rule but not those who follow the Christ; Christians should not be magistrates. The carnal weapons of conflict and war are directed against the flesh by worldly people, but the spiritual weapons of God are truth, justice, peace, faith, and salvation. Christ is the head, and the members of that body should not triumph over each other so as not to destroy that body.
Peaceful nonresistance became the practice of the Swiss Brethren, and in the civil wars of 1529 and 1531 between the Protestant and Catholic cantons many Anabaptists refused to fight. Because they refused to bear arms, hold office, or take oaths, the Swiss Brethren often had restricted rights and occasionally suffered persecution. In Germany most of the Anabaptists gave in to violence and followed the leadership of Hubmaier, Hans Hut, and Melchior Hoffman, though the Hutterites often refused to serve in the military. The Anabaptist groups that resorted to violence were quickly destroyed in warfare; only the peaceful Swiss Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites survived the persecutions. The Swiss Pilgram Marpeck took the moderate position that one could serve in the government as long as one did not compromise the belief in nonviolence by letting others carry out those functions.
The Stabler carried a staff instead of a sword as a symbol of nonviolence. After Hubmaier was burned at the stake on March 10, 1528, his Anabaptist followers divided between the Schwertler, who followed his teaching on the sword, and the Stabler, who renounced it and were led by the Swabian refugee Jacob Widemann. On June 2, 1529 Blaurock was burned at the stake in Innsbruck. That year Clemens Adler wrote that the coming of Christ brought the new ethic of nonresistance to transcend the holy wars of the Mosaic law. He believed that true Christians should not use the sword at all and warned them:
Beware, you hanging judges, kings, princes, and lords,…
you who sit in judgment over life and death
and yet want to be considered Christians.
Such a thing is unknown in the Kingdom of Christ.
In fact, you often condemn the innocent as well as the guilty
and you are still chasing many people from this life!15
Philibert Berthelier was on the Council in Geneva and in 1517 fled from religious persecution to Fribourg which complained. Geneva allowed Berthelier to return. Two men were tortured to incriminate Berthelier and then were executed. Bezanson Hugues was a diplomat and negotiated an alliance with Fribourg in 1518. Geneva split into two parties that supported Savoy and the Confederation. The latter in French became known as Eyguenots which became Huguenots. On March 17, 1519 the Confederation demanded that Fribourg dissolve its alliance, and the duke was not to use force against Geneva. However, Duke Charles III of Savoy led 8,000 men against Geneva. Envoys from Zurich, Bern, Zug, and Solothurn negotiated an agreement that preserved Geneva’s liberties. Duke Charles withdrew his troops. Berthelier was arrested on August 25 and was tried in Savoy for treason, but he considered the trial illegal and refused to plead. He was condemned and executed the same day. Hugues and others fled to Fribourg which could bind Geneva to the Confederation because Bern was opposed.
On December 7, 1525 Bern and Fribourg formed an alliance with Lausanne, and Geneva joined them on March 12, 1526. Geneva prepared for war against Savoy while Bern and Fribourg with their army of 10,000 frightened away the nobles attacking Geneva. Envoys from nine cantons mediated a peace on October 29, 1530 at St. Julien near Geneva. Bern and Fribourg were allowed to seize Vaud. Co-citizenship between Geneva, Bern, and Fribourg was confirmed, and Duke Charles was required to pay an indemnity of 21,000 crowns.
Guillaume Farel was from the French Dauphiné, and in 1524 he stayed with Oecolampadius in Basel where he met Zwingli and Berthold Haller. In 1527 he participated in a French-speaking disputation at Bern. On February 7, 1528 the formal mass was abolished as Bern adopted the Reformation. On March 8 the Synod in Bern commissioned Farel to preach in all districts under its control. In December 1529 Farel went to Neuchatel to preach, and in the fall of 1530 a crowd carried him into the cathedral where he denounced the images. They became a mob as they destroyed altars, vestments, and images of saints. Kaspar Megander defended Zwingli’s theology and led the Bern church, but he was opposed by Bucer. The Bern military protected Farel, and his verbal attacks on priests were printed. He visited Geneva in June 1532. The sale of indulgences was authorized in Zurich, and on June 2 signs against Pope Clement VII were widespread. Farel led the protest and was expelled.
Antoine Fromment began preaching in Geneva on January 1, 1533 and was forced to leave. Pierre Viret was Swiss and came in March. Farel was allowed to return to Geneva on December 20. In January 1534 embassies from Bern and Fribourg complained. Fribourgers insisted that Geneva stay Catholic, but the Bernese brought Farel, Froment, and Viret as reforming preachers. Theodore Beza considered Calvin the most learned preacher, Farel most forcible, and Viret most gentle. During the heated debate from January 27 to February 3 in the Council a Catholic killed a Protestant and was executed as a murderer. On March 1 Farel and his followers occupied the chapel of the Franciscan monastery and held the first Protestant service in Geneva. The bishop had fled in 1527. The episcopal office was declared vacant in October 1534 while the exiled bishop in Gex excommunicated the reformers. On May 30, 1535 Farel won an unopposed disputation that lasted four weeks, but the Council hesitated. On August 8 Farel initiated the destruction of images in the cathedral of St. Pierre and gave the first Protestant sermon there, and followers did this in other churches. Two days later the councils in Bern ordered the mass suspended.
Geneva became a Protestant republic and banned other religious services. In October 1535 allies helped the Protestants defeat a larger force of Savoyards, and on the 19th the first Reformation edict ordered altars, images, and liturgical instruments removed. Geneva’s Great Council declared war on Savoy on December 27, and the communes agreed by January 13, 1536. Bern moved 6,000 troops into Vaud, occupied Geneva, and took over the cathedral city of Lausanne from the Duke of Savoy. Giangiacomo Medici arrived with 3,000 Italian mercenaries, but they soon fled. The Protestants liberated Bonivard who had been imprisoned in the Chillon castle for six years.
On February 28 Geneva adopted severe ordinances concerning dress, alcohol, games, and church attendance. On May 21 the people of Geneva took an oath in the cathedral to live according to the Word of God. They started a free public school with mandatory attendance for the first time. Farel was allowed to return during the war and debated before about 200 priests and monks in the Lausanne cathedral on October 1. Calvin, Viret, and Farel circulated five theses in advance. The Council appointed Pierre Viret as preacher, and on the 19th the first reform edict removed altars, images, and liturgical instruments. On January 16, 1537 the Little Council had twenty members with an executive of four civil magistrates. They adopted “Articles” for a church constitution, and Calvin published his concise Instruction in Faith. That year Bern founded an academy in Lausanne that later became a university, and they promoted Reformation teachings in their French-speaking territories.
Philip von Hohenheim was born in November or December 1493 near Einsiedeln in Switzerland. His father was a Swabian physician and chemist. Philip started studying medicine at the University of Basel in 1510 before moving to the University of Vienna. He took the name Theophrastus Paracelsus and earned his doctorate at the University of Ferrara in 1515. He worked as an army surgeon during the wars in the Netherlands and Denmark. He was always learning and traveled to universities in Paris, Oxford, Cologne, Vienna, Padua, and Bologna. His skill with medicine was so great and revolutionary that he was called the “Luther of physicians.” During the Peasant War he was suspected of helping their leaders and had to flee. He visited Ingolstadt, Munich, Neuberg, Tübingen, Rottweil, Freiburg, and Baden-Baden before settling in Strasbourg in 1526. The next year Paracelsus went to Basel where the council appointed him city physician on March 16, 1527. He lectured on diseases, pharmaceuticals, treating wounds, and purgation. He wrote an interpretation of Hippocrates, a commentary on Macer’s Herbal, his Nine Books of Archidoxus on secret remedies, and other books on hermetic alchemy in which he combined his spiritual knowledge and astrology with chemistry. His innovative ideas created enemies, and after being threatened with arrest he left on February 15, 1528.
Paracelsus wrote an explanation of the origin of the “French disease” which became known as syphilis and used mercury as a treatment, but the book was banned. He explained how dust caused miners’ diseases, and he discovered that goiter was caused by minerals in drinking water. He founded the study of toxicology. He used experience to judge and based theory on practice. Paracelsus was the first to create tincture of opium to stop pain and named it “laudanum.” He wrote that wisdom comes from knowing, not imagination. In Nuremberg traditional physicians denounced him as a charlatan in 1530. He moved on to Regensburg and to St. Gallen in 1531. His philosophical ideas were expressed in his Paragranum and Paramirum. His medical theory was based on philosophy, astrology, alchemy (chemistry), and virtue (ethics). He believed that the physical body could not sin because the soul is responsible. He wrote 123 theological writings around 1533. Truth comes from the soul and God, and he said we must read the Bible more with our heart than with our brains. He criticized public prayer as causing idolatry. From Zurich he went to Austria and was in Bavaria in 1536 when his Books of the Greater Surgery were printed. He went east to Vienna and appealed to Emperor Ferdinand. After his father died, Paracelsus traveled in Carinthia and wrote his famous Defensiones. He related magic to will power and astrology to spiritual influences, studied signs, and used “second sight” or clairvoyance. In 1540 Paracelsus went back to Salzburg where he had a stroke and died on September 24, 1541.
Jean Calvin was born on July 10, 1509 in Picardy. His father was an episcopal official and in 1521 secured for his son a cathedral benefice to pay for his education. In 1523 Jean went to the University of Paris and became interested in humanism. He earned his masters degree in 1528 and began studying law at Orleans, earning a doctorate. On April 4, 1532 Calvin published his Latin Commentary on Seneca’s Clemency which he described as a superior being lenient to an inferior in exacting penalties. He sent a copy to Erasmus who had published the works of Seneca in 1515 and 1529. Calvin knew Guillaume Budé who wrote his Education of the Prince in 1516. He was influenced by Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples who published his French translation of the New Testament in 1523 and the complete Bible in 1530. Calvin also studied with the humanist theologian Mathurin Cordier.
In October 1533 Calvin wrote a speech for Nicholas Cop, the rector of the University of Paris, that challenged many Catholic doctrines and suggested that the Church rely on the Word of God rather than the sword. He condemned Marguerite of Navarre’s “Mirror of a Sinful Mind.” The Parlement of Paris began an investigation, and Calvin was arrested on May 26, 1534. He wrote Psychopannychia (Sleep of the Soul) to refute the Anabaptists’ notion that the soul slept between death and the resurrection. He also wrote a preface to his cousin Olivetan’s French translation of the Bible which was published at Neuchatel. Calvin fled from France in October and in January 1535 came to Basel, where his Institutes of the Christian Religion was first published in Latin in March 1536. The introduction admonished King François. His main purposes were to protect those who were being persecuted for similar opinions and to educate those inquiring about religion. He expanded the book in several editions. The first edition had only six chapters, but the 1538 edition tripled the size of the book. This systematic work created a Protestant theology and was translated into most European languages. He used a pseudonym to avoid publicity.
On September 5, 1536 Calvin began a series of lectures on the Epistles of Paul, and he became the preacher at the cathedral of St. Pierre. On January 16, 1537 the Great Council of 200 issued orders for reforming moral habits and directed that remaining idolatrous images were to be burned. That month he published letters criticizing the Catholic Church, and he submitted articles for reorganizing the Church. In February the reformers led by Michel Sept won the Geneva election. In March Calvin debated two Dutch Anabaptists before the Council of 200, and then the Council expelled the visitors. Calvin began preaching in the spring, though he had not been ordained. He traveled to Italy and France before stopping in Geneva where Farel persuade him to reside. The two men put together a Confession in 21 articles for the Council. Also in 1537 he published his treatise On Shunning of the Unlawful Rites of the Ungodly and Preserving the Purity of the Christian Religion.
On January 4, 1538 the Council of 200 forbade ministers from excluding anyone from communion. In February 1538 elections favored those who opposed religious coercion. In March six supporters of Farel on the Council proposed that Geneva free itself from Bern and ally with France. The Council ordered the same services as in Bern and other Swiss churches, but Farel, Calvin, and Elie Corauld refused to comply. On April 23 without a trial the Council ordered them to leave town within three days. They went to Zurich and presented their case on April 28. Then Farel went to Neuchatel, and Calvin went to Basel.
Then Calvin went down the Rhine in September to Strasbourg where he learned from Bucer and preached for three years. Strasbourg had a board of lay workers to supervise church government, and the humanist Johan Sturm developed a good school where Bucer and Calvin taught. On September 8 Calvin preached his first sermon, and in January 1539 he began giving public lectures. He liked music and produced a Psalter. On July 29 he was made a citizen of Strasbourg, and the city council granted him a salary. Calvin answered the charges of heresy and schism in 1539 with his Reply to Cardinal Sadoleto, affirming his faith in scripture and questioning the human inventions the Church has used as sacrilegious, especially the papacy. In August 1540 Calvin married the widow Idelette de Bure. They raised two of her children, but their only son died in infancy. He published a book on prayer and ministering the sacraments. He wrote commentaries on all the books in the New Testament except Revelations and on Isaiah and ten other books from the Old Testament.
In the spring of 1540 the reformers won the elections in Geneva, and on September 21 the Little Council voted to recall Calvin. They adopted the motto post tenebras lux (after darkness light). Calvin tried to reconcile differences with Zwingli and Luther, and he approved Melanchthon’s Augsburg Confession. In 1541 Calvin translated his Institutes of the Christian Religion into French, and the councils and people welcomed him back to Geneva with rejoicing on September 13. Calvin promised Bucer he would be moderate and act with brotherly kindness. On October 4 the Council set up a commission of six and granted him an annual salary of 500 florins so he could entertain guests. On November 20 the General Council adopted Ecclesiastical Ordinances that became a model for many churches. Parishes were restored. Pastors preached, taught, and administered sacraments. Elders advised to help resolve conflicts. Ministers and elders made up the Consistory for church discipline. Doctors taught the preachers and guarded the doctrine. Girls were given separate schools. Like Luther and Zwingli, Calvin believed in free schools.
Moral supervision began on December 6. Calvin believed in strict morals. Adultery was made a capital crime though only a few incorrigible adulterers were executed. Usually adultery resulted in divorce. The Council also granted divorces for desertion. Prostitutes had previously been sanctioned by the state and were supervised by the Reine du bordel. Now they had to wear a cap of shame and were expelled. Those who kept coming back were drowned in the Rhone. Calvin opposed dancing because it aroused lust, and they prohibited prostitution. They tried to replace taverns with abbayes; but a boycott closed them after three months as taverns reopened. Calvin approved of religious plays only. A new code was adopted in January 1543. That year to unite the Protestants he wrote On the Necessity of Reforming the Church. In 1543 and 1544 he wrote treatises against those he called “Nicodemites” because they did not change their old superstitious beliefs out of fear or interest in spite of knowing the grade of God. Also in 1544 Calvin wrote on the “Relics of the Saints,” noting that their preservation had degenerated into abominable idolatry because of so many false claims.
Geneva suffered from a plague from 1543 to 1545, and about 2,000 people died. In one year they burned twenty people as witches, and several women were tortured and killed for allegedly having poisoned people with the plague to get their belongings. In September 1544 Calvin sent his disciple Pierre Brully to Tournai in Flanders where he was arrested for preaching in November and was burned at the stake on February 19, 1545. That year the Swiss Diet adopted a policy of neutrality and barred foreign troops from crossing their country or transporting weapons. Calvin opposed the use of mercenaries and that year defended Waldensians when they were persecuted.
Calvin criticized those he called “libertines.” On March 21, 1546 Ami Perrin and others danced at a wedding, and the Council had them arrested and reprimanded by the Consistory. He was accused of plotting with France to let King François govern Geneva, and he was expelled. Calvin’s Institutes had been burned at Notre Dame in 1544 and were later banned. He worked on reconciliation with Lutherans, and in 1546 he translated Melanchthon’s theological classic, Loci communes, into French.
In February 1547 the Geneva elections went against Calvin. Anyone insulting Calvin was considered a blasphemer, and the Secretary of State Jacques Gruet was executed as an atheist on July 26. On December 13 Calvin personally confronted a crowd of armed libertines and calmed them down. He criticized the Little Council in 1548, and Philibert Berthelier led the party that opposed Calvin. Perrin’s supporters gained power in February 1549. Bullinger believed that Calvin was continuing the work of Zwingli, and they agreed on the Consensus of Zurich in 1549 to unite the French and German churches in Switzerland. Calvin’s wife Idelette died in 1549, and he did not remarry. Froshauer printed an English Bible in 1550 in Zurich, and another English Bible published in Geneva had 70 editions in 70 years. In On Scandals Calvin denounced literary figures patronized by Marguerite of Navarre such as François Rabelais, Etienne Dolet, and Clément Marot. In October 1551 the French physician, Jerome Bolsec, argued that Calvin’s theory of predestination was false and absurd. Calvin charged him before the Council which banished him from Geneva.
The humanist Miguel Serveto (Michael Servetus) was a Spanish physician who wrote On the Errors of the Trinity in 1531. He criticized Calvin’s Institutes in his Chistianismi Restitutio and considered the devil and hell symbols. When he tried to persuade Calvin, he got in trouble and was tried and burned to death for heresy on October 27, 1553. The French humanist Sebastian Castellio became a Protestant and came to Geneva in 1542 as school rector. In 1546 he sent his On the Restoration of Christianity to Calvin, and he published it anonymously in 1553. He was a free thinker and went to teach at the University of Basel where he published Whether Heretics Ought to Be Persecuted in 1554. He wrote that burning a heretic does defend a doctrine but that it also kills a man. Calvin wrote Defense of the Orthodox Faith against the Errors of Michel Servetus. Castellio responded by writing Against the Book of Calvin. Calvin’s theory of predestination was also criticized by Celio Secundo Curione in his Concerning the Amplitude of the Blessed Kingdom of God.
On February 2, 1554 Geneva’s Council of 200 swore to live according to the Reformation. After the Calvinists defeated the Perrinists in the 1555 elections, a riot occurred on the night of May 16. The Consistory was given authority to call and question witnesses. Four Perrinists were tortured and executed as Ami Perrin and most of his followers fled. Calvin favored welcoming refugees, and Geneva adopted this policy in 1555. Geneva was a city of about 12,000 people and took in nearly 5,000 refugees. Calvin was frugal with money and avoided waste. He allowed interest on loans with strict limits to assure equity and charity.
The Council put the ministers’ plan into operation on December 10, 1557. The Institutes had stated that a state is better governed by a group than by a single individual. Calvin gave a sermon in February before each election of the syndics and other officials. In 1558 refugee citizens were admitted to the magistracy. John Knox found religious refuge in Geneva and was a friend of Calvin and pastor to the English for three years until he went home to Scotland in 1559. That year Calvin published his final edition of the Institutes, and on June 5 he founded an academy in Geneva that had 1,500 students by his death in 1564. Discipline was strict, but punishment was not to be cruel. In 1563 a teacher was dismissed for brutally striking two boys. Students learned French, Latin, and Greek. Though Calvin was influential, he held no powerful position. He did not become a citizen of Geneva until Christmas Day in 1559. By then he suffered from quartan fever, and his illnesses increased in his last years. In 1560 Calvin proposed a free and universal council to unite all Christians and even suggested that the Pope be allowed to preside if he agreed to accept the decisions of the council. In 1561 the Ecclesiastical Ordinances were published, and that year eleven people were executed. Theodore Beza did 54 of the translations for the Psalter that was published in 1562 with 125 songs. Calvin died on May 27, 1564.
Zwingli was succeeded on December 9, 1531 by Heinrich Bullinger who had opposed the war and preached in Zurich until his death in 1575. He and the ministers were to keep their sermons to the Gospel teachings and no longer be involved in politics. Oecolampadius translated the Greek Fathers starting with Chrysostom. He died on November 24, 1533 and was succeeded at Basel by Oswald Geisshaüsler who had been named Myconius by Erasmus. Myconius created the First Basel Confession in 1534, and in 1536 he, Bullinger, and Leo Juda formed the First Helvetic Confession of Zwingli’s doctrines. Bullinger published many works including his sermons as Decades in 1557, and they were translated into English, Dutch, and other languages. In 1560 he published The Anabaptists, Origin, Growth, and Sects in German and his Latin treatise On the Authority and Certitude of Holy Scripture and the Institution and Function of Bishops.
In 1555 the Catholic cantons forced the Protestants to leave Locarno, and about two hundred moved across the Alps to Zurich. Aegidius Tschudi led the Catholics during a struggle with the Reformers from 1559 to 1564. Calvinists became more numerous than Lutherans, and they were also called “Reformed,” “Huguenots,” and “Puritans.”
Duke Emanuel Philibert of Savoy demanded territory Bern had taken, and Pope Pius IV offered to help him. The Catholic cantons had allied with him in 1560, and on October 30, 1564 Bern returned conquered territory to Savoy in the Treaty of Lausanne. Giovanni Valenti Gentile had been condemned for heresy in Geneva in 1557, but he did penance and escaped. He was eventually beheaded in Bern in 1566. Geneva suffered serious plagues in 1545, 1567-68, and 1571, and they were usually blamed on witchcraft. Geneva held 319 trials and executed 68 as witches. Zurich and Lucerne also put many people to death.
In 1565 the Catholic cantons promised to supply Pope Pius with about 5,000 volunteers. In 1566 Bullinger collaborated with Peter Martyr Vermigli on the Second Helvetic Confession which was adopted in Switzerland, Hungary, and Bohemia. Calvin was succeeded by Theodore Beza who was a professor of Greek and the first rector of the academy in Geneva which got a new constitution in 1568.
In 1570 Carlo Borromeo brought the Jesuits to Switzerland. The five Innerschweiz cantons strengthened their alliance with Savoy. After the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre on August 23, 1572 in Paris many Huguenots (Protestants) were massacred by the Catholic authorities, and thousands of refugees fled to Bern, Zurich, and Geneva.
Ludwig Pfyffer led those in Lucerne following the Catholic religion, and in 1571 he was elected Schultheiss and stayed in office until his death in 1594. Melchior Lussy helped install a Jesuit center in Lucerne in 1574. Another Jesuit college was started at Fribourg in 1580. In 1579 Bern and France agreed to protect Geneva. In 1582 Bern sent 7,500 soldiers to help the Huguenots and King Henri III of France. In 1584 Bern, Zurich, and Geneva formed a perpetual alliance. In 1586 Pfyffer united the five inner states with Fribourg to form the Golden League with Spain.
In 1586 Duke Karl Emanuel of Savoy put an embargo on Geneva. On October 5 seven Catholic cantons formed the Golden Borromaic Federation, and the next year they joined with Fribourg in an alliance with Spain. On May 12, 1587 they allied with King Felipe II of Spain, and they offered to recruit up to 13,000 soldiers. Strasbourg asked to join the Swiss Confederation in 1588, but the Catholic cantons did not approve.
1. “Letter to Thomas Muntzer” by Conrad Grebel, tr. Michael G. Baylor in The Radical Reformation, p. 42-43.
2. Geiser ms. by Clemens Adler, p. 88 quoted in Anabaptists and the Sword by James M. Stayer, p. 170.