Who was Zwingli, and what was his impact on the Reformation?

I love when someone brings up Zwingli. He is sometimes a forgotten Reformer. He’s at Zürich, and if you’ve seen any spy movies, Zürich is always in the storyline.

Zwingli’s career as a Reformer spans about ten years, and he’s being worked on throughout that period. He’s a student at Basel when Erasmus is putting together the Greek text, and he’s likely helping in the production of the Greek New Testament in 1516.

He takes a copy of the Greek text with him to his first parish priest job, which was a shrine. It was full of people coming to see the shrine and a Mary apparition or something along those lines. Zwingli would go do mass at ten o’clock, then have the rest of the day free because that’s all he had to do. So in 1517-1519, he spends much of his time in his study, hand-copying a printed Greek text to make his own copy. Talk about being immersed in the Word.

After this, he gets the post at Zürich. On New Year’s Day in 1520, he decides he’s going to do something novel. He’s going to start at Matthew 1:1 and preach through the New Testament.

Within two years, there is a sausage supper at Zürich, which involves a bunch of middle-aged men sitting around eating sausage. Zwingli and other priests are there, such as Conrad Grebel, who goes on to be one of the Anabaptists. Christoph Froschauer, the printer, is there. The printer is one of the most well-respected guys in the town. Zwingli does not partake. He cuts up the sausage and serves it, but he doesn’t eat it. What’s the significance of this? It’s Friday and it’s Lent.

The next Sunday, Zwingli gets up in the pulpit, and he preaches a sermon titled “On the Choice and Freedom of Foods.” First of all, it's a great sermon title. Zwingli says: “Look, Lent’s not in the text. The Roman Catholic Church has built all of these structures around us, which is just obscuring the gospel.”

It’s like when you go see some great site in Europe and they’re cleaning it, so they have scaffolding. You didn’t go to see the scaffolding. You went to see St. Peter’s Dome in London. This is what Zwingli does: he rips down the scaffolding, shows people the gospel, and the Reformation comes to Zürich. The whole city votes on it and becomes Reformed.

Ten years later, in 1530, Zwingli dies on the battlefield. There is a great statue of him at Zürich next to his church where he has a Bible in one hand and a big sword in the other. Zwingli is a colorful, fascinating figure. If anybody looks into him, they’d be glad they did.

 

This transcript is from a live Ask Ligonier event with Stephen Nichols and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.