THE REFORMATION IN SWITZERLAND
AND SOUTHERN GERMANY
SWITZERLANDAt the beginning of the sixteenth century, Switzerland [See Map] was still nominally a part of the Holy Roman Empire. In fact, it was for all practical purposes wholly independent. Its constitutional structure was that of a loose confederation of thirteen cantons, which had evolved from an original nucleus of three. There was a diet, which represented all the cantons, but its decisions, to be binding, had to be unanimous; and it was left to each canton to enforce them. Thus each canton enjoyed a great deal of autonomy. Some cantons were rural; others were dominated by the flourishing cities whose names they bore, such as Basel, Bern, and Zurich.
The natural resources of the small, mountainous country were limited. To provide needed income, the Swiss had turned to the practice of training mercenary troops and hiring them out to foreign powers. There were patriots in Switzerland who strongly opposed this practice, seeing that it had a demoralizing effect both on the young men who became soldiers and on Swiss public life. The most conspicuous evil was the "pensions" or bribes paid to influential Swiss politicians to secure their continued acquiescence in the mercenary system. The condition of the pre-Reformation church and clergy in Switzerland was not unlike that which prevailed elsewhere. On the one hand, there was doctrinal orthodoxy and great devotion; on the other, anticlericalism, nurtured by the consciousness of abuses, including a clergy that was often ignorant and worldly, and sometimes immoral. Conflicts between secular and religious authority were not uncommon, because the laity resented and resisted the encroachment of the church in civil matters. The powers of the priesthood were more limited in Switzerland than in some other places, and the clergy was in general subject to the jurisdiction of the lay courts.
Zurich, where the Swiss Reformation began, was in touch with currents from the outside world. Besides being a center of trade and manufacture, it was much frequented by travelers and was the home of many foreign ambassadors. Its government was controlled by the guilds, of which all male citizens were members. The chief political authorities were the two councils, one of 50 and the other of 212; the larger was the highest authority in the city. It had long exercised jurisdiction over the church and the clergy, and church property was taxable.
It was in a spot not far from Zurich that Ulrich Zwingli was born on January 1, 1484, only a few months after the birth of Luther. He was destined early for the priesthood, and was exposed to the influence of humanism, becoming a follower of Erasmus's ideas. At the University of Basel, where he received his degrees (bachelor's in 1504, master's two years later), he heard the theological teachings of Thomas Wyttenbach, whose ideas in some ways anticipated Luther's: He taught that the Bible was the supreme authority and that faith was the key to the remission of sins. Zwingli was ordained in 1506, and served from that year until 1516 as parish priest at Glarus. As an Erasmian, he devoted himself to Bible study and even learned Greek in order to be able to read the New Testament in the original. He also became an outspoken critic of the mercenary system and of the pensions that helped to perpetuate it. On this subject he acquired firsthand experience by serving as a chaplain with the troops of Glarus, which served in Italy on three different occasions. His views on the mercenary system aroused so much opposition that he moved to Einsiedeln, where, as he always claimed, he found the truth. He began preaching in a more evangelical manner and denouncing the failings of the church.
At the beginning of the year 1519, he began to preach in the cathedral of Zurich, to which he had been called. He immediately created a sensation by announcing a departure from the usual method. Instead of following the prescribed scriptural readings, he would preach straight through the Gospel of Matthew, and he would base his exposition exclusively on the Scriptures. He became famous and popular, but at the same time aroused strong conservative opposition. During his first years in Zurich, his own commitment to the teachings of the reformers deepened, partly through his avid readings of Luther's writings. Though he was impressed by Luther's works, he had been reaching his basic conclusions before this time, and he never acknowledged his reading of Luther as marking a turning point in his own spiritual evolution. From 1520 on he preached pure Reformation doctrine and was conscious of his mission as a reformer. Meanwhile, through his influence, Zurich withdrew from the traffic in mercenaries.
The Reformation in Zurich actually began in 1522. During Lent some members of Zwingli's congregation publicly ate meat and defended their behavior by appealing to his assertion that only the commands of the Bible were binding on the conscience. Zwingli had not personally taken part in the meat-eating, but he took the responsibility for it and defended it in writing. The bishop of Constance, whose diocese included Zurich, objected; but the city council supported Zwingli. In August the clergy of the city decided unanimously to preach nothing not found in the Bible.
In 1523 the city government arranged for two public disputations on controversial points of religion. The civil authorities were to hold the disputations, make the rules, and decide which side had won. It was thus the state that took the lead in the introduction of the Reformation in Zurich. In decreeing that all points must be proved from the Bible, the council already revealed a certain bias in favor of Zwingli and his party. The same bias was apparent in the decisions of the council, which declared that Zwingli, the chief debater on the Reformed side, had not been refuted from the Bible, and that he and the other preachers should continue to teach only what was in the Scriptures. In essence this meant that Zurich had adopted the Reformation.
Zwingli's views, as we have seen in the preceding chapter, were to prove too radical for Luther. On the other hand, for some who had been his followers, they were to seem too conservative. These were the first so-called Anabaptists, who will be treated in Chapter 15. Zwingli, who believed in both infant baptism and a state church, became hopelessly alienated from this group. He was perhaps the most politically minded of the great reformers, and worked closely with the civic authorities in carrying out his program. During the next few years, the remaining Catholic elements in the religious life of Zurich were gradually removed, until, with the abolition of the Mass in 1525, the revolution was complete. The church service was drastically simplified, and even music was done away with completely, though Zwingli loved music and was himself an accomplished musician. All gold and silver ornamentation was removed from the churches. Public worship came to consist of prayers, public confession of sins, the recitation of the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed, and preaching. Services were held every day. From 1523, priests and nuns had been marrying; Zwingli himself married in 1524.
One of the casualties of the Reformation in Zurich was the friendship of Zwingli with his old idol Erasmus, who found the movement too radical for his taste. An additional source of ill-feeling was the help that Zwingli gave to Ulrich von Hutten in 1523. Hutten, a broken and dying man after his flight from Germany, had been turned away by Erasmus, then living in Basel, while Zwingli received him and gave him what help he could.
Zwingli was conscious of social problems, and devoted attention to efforts to deal with them. Through his work, serfdom was abolished, and poor relief was put under the supervision of the civil power. By laws of 1525, matrimonial cases came under the jurisdiction of the council, with divorce permitted in some instances. Zwingli was not satisfied to see the Gospel triumph in Zurich alone, but worked actively to promote its spread throughout the Confederation. His policy in this respect may fairly be called a kind of religious imperialism, because he favored the use of force to impose his religious ideas and came more and more to embrace the rightness of conquest for the sake of the faith. Both Basel and Bern came to embrace the reform in the 1520s. In Basel the leader of the movement was Johannes Oecolampadius, who became preacher in one of the churches in 1525. The city of Basel went over completely to the Protestant side in 1529; the change was accelerated by popular tumult that drove the city's most distinguished resident, Erasmus, to leave. Oecolampadius was a friend and fellow worker of Zwingli, whose theology he adopted, especially on the crucial issue of the Lord's Supper.
In Bern also the Reformed group steadily gained strength until by 1527 it had a majority in the two governing councils of the city. A public disputation was held in 1528 between Catholics and Reformers, in which one of the participants was Martin Bucer, leader of the Reformed preachers at Strasbourg. The outcome of the Bern Disputation was the adoption by the city of the Reformed religion. It also had effects in Strasbourg, where it helped to bring the final abolition of the Mass.
The work of Zwingli and his colleagues split the Confederation, because the rural or forest cantons Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Zug, and Lucerne remained Catholic. These Catholic cantons formed a league, which in 1529 made an alliance with Austria. Zurich, Bern, and some of the other Reformed cantons formed a league of their own; but, as a result of the Marburg Colloquy, they were less successful in obtaining help. They were joined, however, by Constance and Strasbourg, Reformed imperial free cities, which were not members of the Swiss Confederation. By this time, Zwingli, as the religious leader of much of Switzerland and southern Germany, was at the height of his influence. In 1529, Zurich, at the head of the Reformed league, declared war on the Catholic cantons. The Protestant forces far outnumbered their opponents, who failed to secure help from their Austrian allies. Actually this "war" hardly deserves the name, because it was over virtually before it started; the Catholics were in no position to put up a fight, and not a shot was fired. The terms of the treaty, The First Peace of Kappel of 1529, were very favorable to Protestants.
The Catholics gave up the Austrian alliance, the majority in each canton would decide its religion, and there was to be no persecution. Zwingli was not pleased at the outcome, because he recognized that the treaty was only a truce and that a resumption of fighting was inevitable.
His foresight was not shared by the Zurich authorities, who neglected to prepare for war. They were, therefore, taken by surprise when the forest cantons attacked in 1531. Zurich hastily assembled its troops, but its preparations were inadequate. Zwingli, who had accompanied the Protestant army in the earlier war, was present this time also as chief pastor or chaplain. The battle of Kappel was fought on October 11, 1531. The forces of Zurich were badly defeated; but, even more disastrous for their cause, Zwingli was killed. The Second Peace of Kappel (November 24, 1531) provided that each canton would manage its own religious affairs. The Protestant dream of conquering all of Switzerland was shattered. Although Zwingli's place in Zurich was taken by the able Heinrich Bullinger, who became a leading figure in the international Protestant movement, Zurich lost something of its previous position. Soon its influence in Switzerland would yield to that of the Frenchman John Calvin.
STRASBOURG AND WESTERN AND SOUTHERN GERMANY
The imperial free city of Strasbourg enjoyed a position of considerable importance by the start of the sixteenth century. Located on the upper Rhine and surrounded by fertile land, the city was a prosperous commercial center. In the Middle Ages, the citizens had carried on a successful campaign to free themselves from the government of their bishop. Tension between nobles and burghers had remained, until the latter became dominant partly by the use of force. Eventually a new nobility was formed, consisting of merchants and professional men whose standing was based on property rather than birth. This was the group who ruled the city before the Reformation, though some members of the old nobility continued active in civic affairs.
The constitutional development of the city had resulted in government by a complicated and confusing system of councils, which was not made more intelligible by the fact that the Council of Twenty-One actually had thirty-two members. For our purposes there are two salient facts to remember: The system was dominated by members of the guilds, and it somehow worked, giving Strasbourg a remarkably stable government.
The church was wealthy, holding much land and, therefore, having a large number of tenants. Many members of the clergy and many of the nuns were from rich or noble families and did not pay much attention to the religious needs of the citizens or indeed to their own. The clergy occupied a privileged status, which they did not appear to earn by any corresponding contribution to the life of the city, religious or financial. Thus conflicts between the clergy and the government were frequent. The outcome, over the centuries, had been the growth of the power of the city over the church.
The need for reform of the church was recognized by the humanists who made Strasbourg an important intellectual center. Such men as Sebastian Brant and Jacob Wimpheling combined scholarly interests with a keen desire for religious and educational renewal. In religion their aim was a restoration of traditional Christianity purged of abuses; they had no desire to explore new paths. In the field of education they wanted to combine humanistic training, which they valued highly, with moral and religious instruction.
A clear call for reform was issued by the renowned preacher Johann Geiler von Kaysersberg, for whom the position of preacher in the cathedral was created in 1478. Preaching to great crowds, he called on the people to amend their lives, on the rulers to provide a more Christian government for the city, and on the clergy to abandon worldliness. In spite of his efforts, nothing important was accomplished, and the clergy his special target continued in their unreformed habits.
Geiler, however, was just as conservative in his religious views as his friends Brant and Wimpheling. The Reformation came to Strasbourg from other directions. The religious leaders of the movement were parish priests: Capito, Hedio, Zell, and above all Martin Bucer. Wolfgang Capito, a well-known Hebrew scholar, came to Strasbourg in 1523 when he was already about forty- five years old. Matthew Zell, who preached in a chapel of Strasbourg cathedral, was the first to preach the Reformed doctrines in the city; by 1521 he had gone over to the side of the Reformation. In spite of intense opposition an attempt was even made to assassinate him he received support from the city government and continued to preach. Caspar Hedio, who preached in the cathedral, was a friend and follower of Capito. He was also a humanistic scholar, translating Latin classics into German for the use of students. The greatest of the Strasbourg Reformers was Martin Bucer (1491 1551). He was an Alsatian by birth, who had reluctantly become a Dominican in order to receive an education that his family could not afford. In 1518 at Heidelberg, he heard Luther and as a result adopted his views. Consequently, he was later forced to flee the monastery and was able to get official permission to be a secular priest. Having married a nun, openly embraced the Reformation, and become excommunicated, he took refuge in 1523 in Strasbourg where, as the son of a citizen, he was entitled to the city's protection. Though the bishop of Strasbourg tried to have him expelled, Bucer was called by one of the churches to be its priest.
Other congregations asserted themselves similarly, appointing priests who preached the "Gospel," that is, the Reformed doctrines. This led to conflict with the ecclesiastical chapters in the city, which had, heretofore, made such appointments, so that the city government decided to take over the naming of the clergy. Since the governing authorities were at first split on the religious issue, the original initiative in the reform movement came from the evangelical preachers and the body of citizens. After a few years, the government did support the reformers, though sometimes hesitantly.
Not only the old ecclesiastical structure, but also much of society was altered in the following years. In 1523, begging was forbidden and the care of the poor was taken over by the city; in 1525 a poorhouse was established. The monasteries were also taken over by the city government, and most were closed by 1526. The magistrates assumed the duty of paying clerical salaries. Marriage of priests, though without official sanction, became accepted practice. In 1524, a Mass was celebrated in the cathedral with a revised liturgy; it was in German rather than Latin, and wine was given to the laity. In the same year congregational singing and sermons were introduced. In 1528, Bucer and Capito represented Strasbourg at the Bern Disputation, as a result of which Bern abolished the Mass. In the following year Strasbourg followed suit. The bishop protested strongly, and it was known that the emperor was opposed to the changes.
A serious problem in Strasbourg was that of the radicals, who are discussed in Chapter 15. More of their leaders visited Strasbourg than any other city. Both the leading Reformers and the civic authorities were more moderate and humane than their counterparts elsewhere. Bucer always opposed the death penalty for the radicals, and he and his colleagues originally welcomed them to the city. Their hospitality was not met by equal courtesy from the newcomers, who believed themselves in full possession of the truth, rejected the teachings of the reformers, and openly criticized them. Attempts by the government to expel them proved futile.
Thus, threatened from without by imperial and Catholic hostility and from within by the presence of the radicals, Strasbourg felt compelled to organize its church and define its religious doctrines, and in 1533 a synod was held for this purpose. This body, whose membership was determined by the city council, had a majority of laymen, although the clergy were also present. Bucer prepared a set of articles, which the synod adopted. After some hesitation, the magistrates adopted an official doctrine for the city based on the articles and on the Confessio Tetrapolitana, a confession of faith presented to the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 in a futile attempt to satisfy both Lutherans and Zwinglians. The name, based on the Greek word for four, derives from the fact that Strasbourg and three other cities had drawn it up.
It was decreed that anyone who failed to accept the official statement of faith had to leave the city. As a result, the radicals finally departed. The enforcement of the doctrinal standard was confided not to the ministers, but to a lay committee. In this way, and in others, civic authorities established their own rule in the church, leaving little power to the clergy.
Bucer had an ideal of a godly Christian society jointly supervised by ministers and magistrates. Within the church he envisaged four kinds of officers: preachers, teachers, elders, and deacons. These officers would govern and discipline the lives of the people, with power to excommunicate in extreme cases. He was frustrated at home, because the government would not permit the establishment of his plan, but his ideas bore fruit in Geneva. From 1538 to 1541, the young John Calvin lived and worked in Strasbourg in close association with Bucer. He not only retained a lifelong gratitude and appreciation for the older man, but also learned much from him; and the establishment and spread of Calvin's church carried far and wide the ideas originally put forth by Bucer. One field in which the Strasbourg clergy did have some influence was that of education, in which they were vitally interested. They made many proposals for a new school system; and in 1526, as a result, a permanent school committee was set up, including members of the clergy together with men from the highest levels of the city government. By 1531 a complete school system was established, with instructions offered from the elementary to the university level.
In 1538 a new Gymnasium, or secondary school, was set up; and as its head a brilliant humanist, Johann Sturm, was hired. A friend of Erasmus and Melanchthon, he made Strasbourg an important center of learning, and the school over which he presided was to become in 1621 the University of Strasbourg. Sturm's school provided the best example of a humanist school in Protestant territory.
Martin Bucer's work and importance extended far beyond the boundaries of Strasbourg. His advice and help were sought in many parts of Germany in assisting with the establishment of Reformed churches, in settling disputes, and in recommending preachers. He was the most irenic and ecumenically minded of the great Reformers, and was active in seeking to promote unity among the Protestants and to reconcile Protestants and Catholics. He devoted himself with great energy and patience to the task of bringing together the Lutherans and Zwinglians in their controversy over the Last Supper, having come to the conclusion that the views of the two parties did not really conflict with each other. He was one of the moving spirits in bringing about the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, and was present at the meetings. In spite of the failure of the conference and a rebuff by Luther himself, Bucer refused to be discouraged. In the interests of concord he traveled widely, visiting cities and states; attending conferences, colloquies and diets; and talking to leaders on both sides.
The lot of the conciliator in an age of intolerance and ideological strife can be difficult, and Bucer found many times that his endeavors to bridge the gap between the factions earned him the suspicion and distrust of both. His ingenious efforts to find verbal formulas that would be mutually satisfactory were doomed to failure, because of the tenacity with which each side clung to its own interpretation of the Lord's Supper. The Zwinglians, especially after the death of their leader, proved even more intractable than Luther and his followers; indeed, Melanchthon became one of Bucer's allies.
One of Bucer's most important achievements as a mediator between the Protestant groups was the Wittenberg Concord of 1536, the result of a conference that took place in Luther's home. Bucer had invited representatives of the Reformed cities of southern Germany, which had adopted moderate Zwinglian views on the debated issues involving the Lord's Supper. The Swiss cities, identified with a more extreme Zwinglian position, were not represented. At the conference it proved possible for Melanchthon to draw up the so-called Concord, a theological summary including a statement on the Last Supper that both sides were able to accept. Complete unity was not established, but at least peace replaced strife. This state of affairs was attained at the price of some ambiguity.
The Concord brought about a split within the ranks of the Zwinglians. The moderate ones had now approached the Lutheran position, and in time went over entirely to Lutheranism. It was thus Bucer who more than anyone else brought almost all of Protestant southern Germany back to the Lutheran fold. He tried to bring the Swiss cities to accept the Concord, but failed. It was left to Calvin, in this as in other ways a follower of Bucer, to reach an accord with the Swiss.
Bucer also worked for a long time to reconcile Protestants with Catholics. In 1540 and 1541, a series of meetings took place in Germany in which the two sides attempted to reach a settlement. Bucer attended these meetings, and was in the forefront of those working for agreement. The first meeting took place at Haguenau in 1540. Later in the same year, a meeting was held at Worms, which ended early in 1541. In the spring of 1541, discussions were continued in connection with the Diet of Ratisbon (Regensburg). No settlement was accomplished at any of these conferences, but Bucer's attitude toward the Catholics was so conciliatory that it aroused objections among the Protestants. In 1546, another conference was held at Ratisbon, which Bucer attended, though this time without hope of any good result. The failure of this conference was followed in the same year by the outbreak of the Schmalkaldic War. The war, which Bucer had foreseen, affected him directly. The victory of Charles V at Mhlberg gave the emperor the upper hand in Germany. Within a short time, Strasbourg made a separate peace with Charles, withdrawing from the Schmalkaldic League, paying a large fine, and furnishing the emperor with weapons. Bucer was very unhappy with this settlement and with the actions of the Diet of Augsburg, which issued the Interim in 1548. Although Charles had tried to get Protestant help in arriving at a religious settlement including the help of Bucer, who attended the diet the Interim was so repugnant to Bucer that he resisted all attempts to get him to associate himself with it. In fact, he finally had to flee from Augsburg to escape arrest. Back in Strasbourg, he fought so hard to keep the Interim from being enforced in the city that the government was finally compelled, at the request of the emperor, to expel him. In April 1549, he went into exile.
His last years were spent in England, where he had been invited by Archbishop Cranmer, with whom he was on very friendly terms, and through whose help he was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University. He was treated with great consideration and honor; the young king, Edward VI, was friendly and helpful. Bucer was often consulted on the affairs of the English church, concerning which he became amazingly well-informed. He was even consulted on the revision of the Book of Common Prayer, and the 1552 version may reflect some of his suggestions.
On March 1, 1551, after less than two years in England, Bucer died. He was buried at Cambridge with great honor. In the reign of Mary, his remains were dug up and burned. In 1560, after Elizabeth had become queen, his memory was solemnly rehabilitated.
Bucer has been called one of the fathers of the Church of England, and his influence has been traced in the English Puritan tradition. He has also been referred to as the father of Calvinism. When one adds to this his other accomplishments, it is clear that Martin Bucer is one of the greatest figures in the Reformation. It is only in our own time that his reputation is catching up with his importance.