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§ 2. The Swiss Reformation.


The Church in Switzerland was corrupt and as much in need of reform as in Germany. The inhabitants of the old cantons around the Lake of Lucerne were, and are to this day, among the most honest and pious Catholics; but the clergy were ignorant, superstitious, and immoral, and set a bad example to the laity. The convents were in a state of decay, and could not furnish a single champion able to cope with the Reformers in learning and moral influence. Celibacy made concubinage a common and pardonable offence. The bishop of Constance (Hugo von Hohenlandenberg) absolved guilty priests on the payment of a fine of four guilders for every child born to them, and is said to have derived from this source seventy-five hundred guilders in a single year (1522). In a pastoral letter, shortly before the Reformation, he complained of the immorality of many priests who openly kept concubines or bad women in their houses, who refuse to dismiss them, or bring them back secretly, who gamble, sit with laymen in taverns, drink to excess, and utter blasphemies.1313    Schuler, Huldreich Zwingli, p. 196; Mörikofer, Ulrich Zwingli, vol. I. 67. Zwingli was reported to have said, that of a thousand priests and monks, scarcely one was chaste. Egli, Actensammlung, p. 62.

The people were corrupted by the foreign military service (called Reislaufen), which perpetuated the fame of the Swiss for bravery and faithfulness, but at the expense of independence and good morals.1414    Reislaufen means running to war (from Reis = Kriegszug, war). The heroic devotion of Swiss soldiers in defence of foreign masters is immortalized by the Thorwaldsen statue of the wounded lion in Luzern. Kings and popes vied with each other in tempting offers to secure Swiss soldiers, who often fought against each other on foreign battle-fields, and returned with rich pensions and dissolute habits. Zwingli knew this evil from personal experience as chaplain in the Italian campaigns, attacked it before he thought of reforming the Church, continued to oppose it when called to Zurich, and found his death at the hands of a foreign mercenary.

On the other hand, there were some hopeful signs of progress. The reformatory Councils of Constance and Basle were not yet entirely forgotten among the educated classes. The revival of letters stimulated freedom of thought, and opened the eyes to abuses. The University of Basle became a centre of literary activity and illuminating influences. There Thomas Wyttenbach of Biel taught theology between 1505 and 1508, and attacked indulgences, the mass, and the celibacy of the priesthood. He, with seven other priests, married in 1524, and was deposed as preacher, but not excommunicated. He combined several high offices, but died in great poverty, 1526. Zwingli attended his lectures in 1505, and learned much from him. In Basle, Erasmus, the great luminary of liberal learning, spent several of the most active years of his life (1514–1516 and 1521–1529), and published, through the press of his friend Frobenius, most of his books, including his editions of the Greek Testament. In Basle several works of Luther were reprinted, to be scattered through Switzerland. Capito, Hedio, Pellican, and Oecolampadius likewise studied, taught, and preached in that city.

But the Reformation proceeded from Zurich, not from Basle, and was guided by Zwingli, who combined the humanistic culture of Erasmus with the ability of a popular preacher and the practical energy of an ecclesiastical reformer.

The Swiss Reformation may be divided into three acts and periods, —

I. The Zwinglian Reformation in the German cantons from 1516 to Zwingli’s death and the peace of Cappel, 1531.

II. The Calvinistic Reformation in French Switzerland from 1531 to the death of Calvin, 1564.

III. The labors of Bullinger in Zurich (d. 1575), and Beza in Geneva (d. 1605) for the consolidation of the work of their older friends and predecessors.

The Zwinglian movement was nearly simultaneous with the German Reformation, and came to an agreement with it at Marburg in fourteen out of fifteen articles of faith, the only serious difference being the mode of Christ’s presence in the eucharist. Although Zwingli died in the Prime of life, he already set forth most of the characteristic features of the Reformed Churches, at least in rough outline.

But Calvin is the great theologian, organizer, and discip-linarian of the Reformed Church. He brought it nearer the Lutheran Church in the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, but he widened the breach in the doctrine of predestination.

Zwingli and Bullinger connect the Swiss Reformation with that of Germany, Hungary, and Bohemia; Calvin and Beza, with that of France, Holland, England, and Scotland.



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