U. Zwingli’s Defense of His Protestant Preaching, 1523

Zwingli-CT-1

Earlier this month – Protestant Reformation month – we called attention to a special anniversary being commemorated this year: the 500th anniversary of the Swiss Reformation (1519-2019), begun through God’s servant Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) especially in the city of Zurich.

We pointed out in that post that the Reformation in Switzerland truly began when Zwingli began preaching through the Bible in January of 1519. It revolutionized the church – and the city! – so much so that Zurich’s city council called for public debates on whether or not Zwingli was truly preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Of course, the Roman Catholic Church had her representatives there too (from Constance), who accused Zwingli – as they did all the Reformers – of false teaching and misleading the people.

The most significant of these debates was held on January 29, 1523, at which Zwingli first produced his “Sixty-Seven Articles” defending his biblical preaching and teaching.  Those articles represent an early Swiss Reformation confession, similar to Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses.

For our purposes in this post, we quote the opening remarks of Zwingli at this debate, as found in Selected Works of Huldreich Zwingli (1484-1531), edited by Samuel M. Jackson (Philadelphia; University of Pennsylvania, 1901). His appeal is standard for the Protestant Reformers: Scripture alone. Pay special attention to that as you read through his opening statement.

What follows is the heading to the disputation and then Zwingli’s words.

ACTS OF THE CONVENTION HELD IN THE PRAISEWORTHY CITY OF ZURICH ON THE 29TH DAY OF JANUARY, ON ACCOUNT OF THE HOLY GOSPEL—BEING A DISPUTATION BETWEEN THE DIGNIFIED AND HONORABLE REPRESENTATIVE FROM CONSTANCE AND HULDRYCH ZWINGLI, PREACHER OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST, TOGETHER WITH THE COMMON CLERGY OF THE WHOLE TERRITORY OF THE AFORESAID CITY OF ZURICH, HELD BEFORE THE ASSEMBLED COUNCIL IN THE YEAR 1523.

Then Master Ulrich Zwingli spoke in answer, and his remarks in the beginning were as follows:

Pious brothers in Christ, Almighty God has always shown His divine grace, will and favor to man from the beginning of the world, has been as kind as a true and almighty father, as we read and know from all the Scriptures, so that everlasting, merciful God has communicated His divine word and His will to man as a consolation. And although at some times He has kept away this same word, the light of truth, from the sinful and godless struggling against the truth, and although He has allowed to fall into error those men who followed their own will and the leadings of their wicked nature, as we are truly informed in all Bible histories, still He has always in turn consoled His own people with the light of His everlasting word, so that, whereas they had fallen into sin and error, they may again be lifted by His divine mercy, and He has never entirely forsaken them or let them depart from His divine recognition.

This I say to you, dear brethren, for this purpose. You know that now in our time, as also many years heretofore, the pure, clear and bright light, the word of God, has been so dimmed and confused and paled with human ambitions and teachings that the majority who by word of mouth call themselves Christians know nothing less than the divine will. But by their own invented service of God, holiness, external spiritual exhibition, founded upon human customs and laws, they have gone astray, and have thus been persuaded by those whom people consider learned and leaders of others to the extent that the simple think that such invented external worship is spiritual, and that the worship of God, which they have put upon themselves, necessarily conduces to happiness, although all our true happiness, consolation and good consists, not in our merits, nor in such external works, rather alone in Jesus Christ our Saviour, to whom the heavenly Father Himself gave witness that we should hear Him as His beloved Son. His will and true service we can learn and discover only from His true word in the Holy Scriptures and in the trustworthy writings of His twelve apostles, otherwise from no human laws and statutes.

Since now certain pious hearts have ventured to preach this by the grace and inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, and to bring it before the people, they call these preachers not Christians, but persecutors of the Christian Church, and even heretics. I am considered one of these by many of the clergy and the laity everywhere in the Confederation. And although I know that for the past five years I have preached in this city of Zurich nothing but the true, pure and clear word of God, the holy Gospel, the joyous message of Christ, the Holy Scripture, not by the aid of man, but by the aid of the Holy Ghost, still all this did not help me. But I am maligned by many as a heretic, a liar, a deceiver, and one disobedient to the Christian Church, which facts are well known to my Lords of Zurich. I made complaint of these things before them as my Lords; I have often entreated and begged of them in the public pulpit to grant me permission to give an account of my sermons and preachings (delivered in their city) before all men, learned or not, spiritual or secular, also before our gracious Lord, the Bishop of Constance, or his representative. This I also offered to do in the city of Constance, providing a safe permit was assured me, as has ever been done in the case of those from Constance.

At such request of mine, my Lords, perhaps by divine will, you have granted me permission to hold a discussion in German before the assembled Council, for which privilege I thank you especially as my Lords. I have also brought together in outline the contents and import of all my speeches and sermons delivered at Zurich, have issued the same in German through the press, so that every one might see and know what my doctrine and sermons at Zurich have been, and shall be in the future, unless I am convinced of something else.

I hope and am confident, indeed I know, that my sermons and doctrine are nothing else than the holy, true, pure Gospel, which God desired me to speak by the intuition and inspiration of His Spirit. But from what intent or desire God has wished such things to take place through me, His unworthy servant, I cannot know, for He alone knows and understands the secret of His counsels. Wherefore I offer here to any one who thinks that my sermons or teachings are unchristian or heretical to give the reasons and to answer kindly and without anger. Now let them speak in the name of God. Here I am.