Ulrich (or Huldrich) Zwingli was born January 1, 1484, about 50 days after the birth of Martin Luther. Zwingli is sometimes called the “third man of the Reformation” after Luther and Calvin (Jean Rilliet, Zwingli: Third Man of the Reformation).
Zwingli Statue in Zurich. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
Zwingli was born in a small town in eastern Switzerland. His family was able to provide a good education for him. He first attended the University of Vienna and then the University of Basel. Dr. Dan Petty describes one of the influences that led him away from Catholicism.
“His education brought him into contact with humanistic studies and he became an ardent admirer of Erasmus of Rotterdam. This emphasis tended to lead Zwingli away from the Scholastic theology of medieval Catholicism, and toward the study of the Bible.”
Church historians have described the difference between Zwingli and Luther in their respective attitude about the silence of the Scriptures.
“While Luther was disposed to leave untouched what the Bible did not prohibit, Zwingli was more inclined to reject what the Bible did not enjoin” (George P. Fisher, The Reformation, 145).
“Luther said we may do what the Bible does not forbid. Zwingli said what the Bible does not command we may not do, and on that account he gave up all images and crosses in the churches. In this respect he was like the Iconoclasts. Organs in church also were given up. The Lutherans loved to sing around the organ. The Zwinglians, if they sang at all, did so without any instrument” (Roland H. Bainton, The Church of Our Fathers, 143-144).
The Zurich city council called Zwingli to serve at the cathedral there. Darrell Turner, in a Religious News Service article commemorating Zwingli’s 500th birthday in 1984, said:
“His first Sunday in the pulpit of Zurich’s Grossmuenster Cathedral was also Zwingli’s 35th brithday. He shocked his listeners by announcing that instead of following the prescribed liturgy, he would preach through the Gospel of Matthew on a weekly basis.”
That was a simple. unique, and powerful things for Zwingli to do. Folks don’t like you messing with the order of service, as many a young minister has learned. But there was much more involved here. Zwingli was making a break from what Rome prescribed to be done. Going back to the Bible is always a noble thing.
Perhaps we can post more later about Heinrich Bullinger, the successor to Zwingli, in Zurich.