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§ 7. Zwingli in Glarus.

G. Heer: Ulrich Zwingli als Pfarrer in Glarus. Zürich, 1884.

Zwingli was ordained to the priesthood by the bishop of Constance, and appointed pastor of Glarus, the capital of the canton of the same name.2121    The church in which he preached is jointly occupied by the Roman Catholics and the Protestants, the community being divided. The old church burnt down in 1861, but a new and better one was built on the same spot. He had to pay over one hundred guilders to buy off a rival candidate (Göldli of Zurich) who was favored by the Pope, and compensated by a papal pension. He preached his first sermon in Rapperschwyl, and read his first mass at Wildhaus. He labored at Glarus ten years, from 1506 to 1516. His time was occupied by preaching, teaching, pastoral duties, and systematic study. He began to learn the Greek language "without a teacher,"2222    "Absque duce," says Myconius, in a letter to Zwingli, Oct. 28, 1518. Opera, VII. 51, 52. that he might study the New Testament in the original.2323    Zwingli wrote to Joachim Watt from Glarus, Feb. 23, 1513 (Opera, VII. 9): "Ita enim Graecis studere destinavi ut qui me praeter Deum amoveat, nesciam, on gloriae (quam nullis in rebus quaerere honeste possem), sed sacratissimarum terarum ergo." He acquired considerable facility in Greek. The Hebrew language he studied at a later period in Zurich, but with less zeal and success. He read with great enthusiasm the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, poets, orators, and historians. He speaks in terms of admiration of Homer, Pindar, Demosthenes, Cicero, Livy, Caesar, Seneca, Pliny, Tacitus, Plutarch. He committed Valerius Maximus to memory for the historical examples. He wrote comments on Lucian. He perceived, like Justin Martyr, the Alexandrian Fathers, and Erasmus, in the lofty ideas of the heathen philosophers and poets, the working of the Holy Spirit, which he thought extended beyond Palestine throughout the world. He also studied the writings of Picus della Mirandola (d. 1494), which influenced his views on providence and predestination.

During his residence in Glarus he was brought into correspondence with Erasmus through his friend Loreti of Glarus, called Glareanus, a learned humanist and poet-laureate, who at that time resided in Basle, and belonged to the court of admirers of the famous scholar. He paid him also a visit in the spring of 1515, and found him a man in the prime of life, small and delicate, but amiable and very polite. He addressed him as "the greatest philosopher and theologian;" he praises his "boundless learning," and says that he read his books every night before going to sleep. Erasmus returned the compliments with more moderation, and speaks of Zwingli’s previous letter as being "full of wit and learned acumen." In 1522 Zwingli invited him to settle in Zurich; but Erasmus declined it, preferring to be a cosmopolite. We have only one letter of Zwingli to Erasmus, but six of Erasmus to Zwingli.2424    Opera, vol. VII., pp. 10, 12, 221, 222, 251, 307, 310. The influence of the great scholar on Zwingli was emancipating and illuminating. Zwingli, although not exactly his pupil, was no doubt confirmed by him in his high estimate of the heathen classics, his opposition to ecclesiastical abuses, his devotion to the study of the Scriptures, and may have derived from him his moderate view of hereditary sin and guilt, and the first suggestion of the figurative interpretation of the words of institution of the Lord’s Supper.2525    Melanchthon wrote, Oct. 12, 1529: "Cinglius mihi confessus est, se ex Erasmi scriptis primum hausisse opinionem suam de coena Domini." Corp. Reform. IV. 970. But he dissented from the semi-Pelagianism of Erasmus, and was a firm believer in predestination. During the progress of the Reformation they were gradually alienated, although they did not get into a personal controversy. In a letter of Sept. 3, 1522, Erasmus gently warns Zwingli to fight not only bravely, but also prudently, and Christ would give him the victory.2626    "Tu pugna, mi Zwingli, non modo fortiter, verum etiam prudenter. Dabit Christus, ut pugnes feliciter." Opera, VII. 221. He did not regret his early death. Glareanus also turned from him, and remained in the old Church. But Zwingli never lost respect for Erasmus, and treated even Hutten with generous kindness after Erasmus had cast him off.2727    See vol. VI. 202, 427. On Zwingli’s relation to Erasmus, see Mörikofer, I. 23 sqq., 176 sqq., and the monograph of Usteri quoted above, p. 19.

On his visit to Basle he became acquainted with his biographer, Oswald Myconius, the successor of Oecolampadius (not to be confounded with Frederick Myconius, Luther’s friend).

Zwingli took a lively interest in public affairs. Three times he accompanied, according to Swiss custom, the recruits of his congregation as chaplain to Italy, in the service of Popes Julius II. and Leo X., against France. He witnessed the storming of Pavia (1512),2828    He gave a lively Latin narrative of the battle of the Swiss against the French in Pavia to his friend Vadiantus. probably also the victory at Novara (1513), and the defeat at Marignano (1515). He was filled with admiration for the bravery of his countrymen, but with indignation and grief at the demoralizing effect of the foreign military service. He openly attacked this custom, and made himself many enemies among the French party.

His first book, "The Labyrinth," is a German poem against the corruptions of the times, written about 1510.2929    Opera (Deutsche Schriften), Tom. II. B. pp. 243-247. It represents the fight of Theseus with the Minotaur and the wild beasts in the labyrinth of the world,—the one-eyed lion (Spain), the crowned eagle (the emperor), the winged lion (Venice), the cock (France), the ox (Switzerland), the bear (Savoy). The Minotaur, half man, half bull, represents, he says, "the sins, the vices, the irreligion, the foreign service of the Swiss, which devour the sons of the nation." His Second poetic work of that time, "The Fable of the Ox,"3030    Fabelgedicht vom Ochsen und etlichen Thieren, Op., II. B. 257-269. The ox is again the symbol of Switzerland. See the comments of the editors, pp. 262 sqq. is likewise a figurative attack upon the military service by which Switzerland became a slave of foreign powers, especially of France.

He superintended the education of two of his brothers and several of the noblest young men of Glarus, as Aegidius Tschudi (the famous historian), Valentine Tschudi, Heer, Nesen, Elmer, Brunner, who were devotedly, and gratefully attached to him, and sought his advice and comfort, as their letters show.

Zwingli became one of the most prominent and influential public men in Switzerland before he left Glarus; but he was then a humanist and a patriot rather than a theologian and a religious teacher. He was zealous for intellectual culture and political reform, but shows no special interest in the spiritual welfare of the Church. He did not pass through a severe struggle and violent crisis, like Luther, but by diligent seeking and searching he attained to the knowledge of the truth. His conversion was a gradual intellectual process, rather than a sudden breach with the world; but, after he once had chosen the Scriptures for his guide, he easily shook off the traditions of Rome, which never had a very strong hold upon him. That process began at Glarus, and was completed at Zurich.

His moral character at Glarus and at Einsiedeln was, unfortunately, not free from blemish. He lacked the grace of continence and fell with apparent ease into a sin which was so common among priests, and so easily overlooked if only proper caution was observed, according to the wretched maxim, "Si non caste, saltem caute." The fact rests on his own honest confession, and was known to his friends, but did not injure his standing and influence; for he was in high repute as a priest, and even enjoyed a papal pension. He resolved to reform in Glarus, but relapsed in Einsiedeln under the influence of bad examples, to his deep humiliation. After his marriage in Zurich, his life was pure and honorable and above the reproach of his enemies.


Recent discussions have given undue prominence to the blot which rests on Zwingli’s earlier life, while yet a priest in the Roman Church. Janssen, the ultramontane historian, has not one word of praise for Zwingli, and violates truth and charity by charging him with habitual, promiscuous, and continuous licentiousness, not reflecting that he thereby casts upon the Roman Church the reproach of inexcusable laxity in discipline. Zwingli was no doubt guilty of occasional transgressions, but probably less guilty than the majority of Swiss priests who lived in open or secret concubinage at that time (see § 2, p. 6); yea, he stood so high in public estimation at Einsiedeln and Zurich, that Pope Hadrian VI., through his Swiss agent, offered him every honor except the papal chair. But we will not excuse him, nor compare his case (as some have done) with that of St. Augustin; for Augustin, when he lived in concubinage, was not a priest and not even baptized, and he confessed his sin before the whole world with deeper repentance than Zwingli, who rather made light of it. The facts are these: —

1) Bullinger remarks (Reformationsgesch. I. 8) that Zwingli was suspected in Glarus of improper connection with several women ("weil er wegen einiger Weiber verargwohnt war"). Bullinger was his friend and successor, and would not slander him; but he judged mildly of a vice which was so general among priests on account of celibacy. He himself was the son of a priest, as was also Leo Judae.

2) Zwingli, in a confidential letter to Canon Utinger at Zurich, dated Einsiedeln, Dec. 3, 1518 (Opera, VII. 54–57), contradicts the rumor that he had seduced the daughter of an influential citizen in Einsiedeln, but admits his unchastity. This letter is a very strange apology, and, as he says himself, a blateratio rather than a satisfactio. He protests, on the one hand (what Janssen omits to state), that he never dishonored a married woman or a virgin or a nun ("ea ratio nobis perpetuo fuit, nec alienum thorum conscendere, nec virginem vitiare, nec Deo dicatam profanare"); but, on the other hand, he speaks lightly, we may say frivolously, of his intercourse with the impure daughter of a barber who was already, dishonored, and apologizes for similar offences committed in Glarus. This is the worst feature in the letter, and casts a dark shade on his character at that time. He also refers (p. 57) to the saying of Aeneas Sylvius (Pope Pius II.): "Non est qui vigesimum annum excessit, nec virginem tetigerit." His own superiors set him a bad example. Nevertheless he expresses regret, and applies to himself the word, 2 Pet. 2:22, and says, "Christus per nos blasphematur."

3) Zwingli, with ten other priests, petitioned the bishop of Constance in Latin (Einsiedeln, July 2, 1522), and the Swiss Diet in German (Zurich, July 13, 1522), to permit the free preaching of the gospel and the marriage of the clergy. He enforces the petition by an incidental confession of the scandalous life of the clergy, including himself (Werke, I. 39): "Euer ehrsam Wysheit hat bisher gesehen das unehrbar schandlich Leben, welches wir leider bisher geführt haben (wir wollen allein von uns selbst geredet haben) mit Frauen, damit wir männiglich übel verärgert und verbösert haben." But this document with eleven signatures (Zwingli’s is the last) is a general confession of clerical immorality in the past, and does not justify Janssen’s inference that Zwingli continued such life at that time. Janssen (Ein zweites Wort an meine Kritiker, p. 47), moreover, mistakes in this petition the Swiss word rüw (Ruhe, rest) for rüwen (Reue, repentance), and makes the petitioners say that they felt "no repentance," instead of "no rest." The document, on the contrary, shows a decided advance of moral sentiment as compared with the lame apology in the letter to Utinger, and deeply deplores the state of clerical immorality. It is rather creditable to the petitioners than otherwise; certainly very honest.

4) In a letter to his five brothers, Sept. 17, 1522, to whom he dedicated a sermon on "the ever pure Virgin Mary, mother of God," Zwingli confesses that he was subject to Hoffahrt, Fressen, Unlauterkeit, and other sins of the flesh (Werke, I. 86). This is his latest confession; but if we read it in connection with the whole letter, it makes the impression that he must have undergone a favorable change about that time, and concluded a regular, though secret, connection with his wife. As to temperance, Bullinger (I. 305) gives him the testimony that he was "very temperate in eating and drinking."

5) Zwingli was openly married in April, 1524, to Anna Reinhart, a respectable widow, and mother of several children, after having lived with her about two years before in secret marriage. But this fact, which Janssen construes into a charge of "unchaste intercourse," was known to his intimate friends; for Myconius, in a letter of July 22, 1522, sends greetings to Zwingli and his wife ("Vale cum uxore quam felicissime et tuis omnibus," Opera, VII. 210; and again: "Vale cum uxore in Christo," p. 253). The same is implied in a letter of Bucer, April 14, 1524 (p. 335; comp. the note of the editors). "The cases," says Mörikofer (I. 211), "were very frequent at that time, even with persons of high position, that secret marriages were not ratified by a religious ceremony till weeks and months afterwards." Before the Council of Trent secret marriages were legitimate and valid. (Can. et Decr. Conc. Trid., Sess. XXIV., Decr. de reform. matrimonii.)

Zwingli’s character was unmercifully attacked by Janssen in his Geschichte des deutschen Volkes, III. 83 sq.; An meine Kritiker (1883), 127–140; Ein zweites Wort an meine Kritiker (1888), 45–48; defended as far as truth permits by Ebrard, Janssen und die Reformation (1882); Usteri, Ulrich Zwingli (1883), 34–47; Alex. Schweizer, articles in the "Protest. Kirchenzeitung," Berlin, 1883, Nos. 23–27. Janssen answered Ebrard, but not Usteri and Schweizer. The main facts were correctly stated before this controversy by Mörikofer, I. 49–53 and 128), and briefly also by Hagenbach, and Merle (bk. VIII. ch. 6).

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