Ulrich (or Huldrych) Zwingli is a lesser known figure of the Reformation, who is often overshadowed by Martin Luther and John Calvin, but his theological influence on both modern Evangelicalism and America outweighs the other reformers.
Zwingli was ordained to the priesthood in 1506, he served in his hometown. At this time in his life he was aligning himself with the papal-leaning Swiss, in 1516 Zwingli left for Einsiedeln where for the next few years he would study Greek extensively as well as the church fathers. But his conclusions would far differ from that of the early church.
In 1520, Zwingli would begin embracing the Protestant Reformation, some believing this was under Martin Luther’s influence but considering Martin Luther was none too happy with Zwingli’s positions (such as the Eucharist) and Zwingli thought Luther was too conservative in his reformation, this isn’t likely. In 1522, after a few years in Zurich, Ulrich Zwingli would find himself with his own theocracy that would almost parallel John Calvin’s in error & vileness.
Teachings & Theocracy
Zwingli replaced Holy Tradition with the concept of Sola Scriptura, something which every Protestant currently holds to. He began publicly condemning Zurich citizens by name, he denied any idea of church authority, apostolic succession, veneration of the saints, tithing, traditional fasting disciplines such as Lent, etc.
He began interrupting priests that didn’t support the Reformation, denouncing the Holy Theotokos Mary as a mediator and rejecting that anyone pay any religious adoration to her. In 1524, circumstances would escalate as Zwingli called for all pictures and statues to be removed from churches as Zwingli called it “idol worship.” Veneration of the saints was to be taught as “deification of creatures.” These are two immensely popular beliefs still held by Protestant sects throughout the west to this day. (Source: Ulrich Gabler; “Zwingli in the Year of Decision” in Furcha and Pipkin 1984).
The following is quoted from Josiah Trenham, Rock & Sand, “The baptism service was ‘purified,’ confession was eradicated and the priest’s power of absolution denied. The monasteries, 350 of them, were dissolved, and their lands appropriated by the civil authority. Initially these lands were dedicated to charitable causes, but eventually they were seized for secular purposes.
In 1525, the mass was abolished, and Zwingli’s new style of worship was enshrined, wherein one can see the radical nature of Zwinglianism. The traditional teaching on the Eucharist, the sacrament of sacraments, was refuted, the real presence denied, and Zwingli taught that holy communion should only be administered four times a year, at Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and in ‘the autumn.’ No reformer so radically altered the Eucharistic practice of Christianity as did Zwingli. He nearly completed rejected the traditional theology of baptism and of the traditional rite itself, which Zwingli dubbed “magic.” Reformation scholar Timothy George writes, “Zwingli concluded that all the teachers of the church since the days of the apostles had been in error on baptism.”
Zwingli started facing opposition in 1523 onward, the Council of Zurich held two disputations against him in which both would end in favor of Zwingli. The 2nd disputation focused on icons and images which Zwingli had declared as ‘idols.’ Konrad Schmid, a follower of Zwingli, suggested that pastors preach on this subject (either for or against) under threat of punishment. He believed the opinions of the people would gradually change and the voluntary removal of images would follow with the ordinances. Schmid rejected the radicals, but ultimately supported Zwingli’s position.
As opposition grew against him, Zwingli drew up his 67 Theses in an attempt to defend his teachings, the following Theses are almost identical to the modern practice of evangelicals/baptists in America today.
Article 1: “Those who say the gospel is invalid without the confirmation of the church err and slander God.” Here we see irony in that Zwingli rejects church authority, except when it’s his own church.
Article 5: “Therefore all who consider other teachings equal to or higher than the Gospel err, and do not know what the Gospel is.” He is referencing scripture alone as the only authority, by this article Zwingli would consider the apostle John a heretic and not knowing of the gospel. In Eusebius, ‘History of the Church,’ Eusebius cites that John relies primarily on spoken word until Trajan’s time, and after reading the gospels of Mark and Luke, John sets out to start writing himself.
Article 15: “All truth is clear in Him.” See my refutation of sola scriptura.
Article 18: “Christ sacrificed Himself once for all, and so it follows that the mass is not a sacrifice but a commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice.” A common view in Protestant circles.
Article 24: “Christians only have to obey God, fasting rules are a “Roman imposture.” See The Didache, for what the early church practiced including fasting every Wednesday & Friday in remembrance of Christ’s betrayal and crucifixion.
Article 27: “The title “Father” should not be given to anyone on earth.” See my Instagram, click on Orthodox Debate Volume 3. The apostle Paul calls himself a spiritual father of both Timothy and Titus. The 5th commandment itself is referencing someone on earth as “Father.”
Article 50 & 51: “God alone remits sins. To give this authority to men takes away God’s honor and this is real idolatry.” Of course God remits sins, but Jesus gave His priesthood to the apostles in John 20:19-23, which specifically says the apostles can forgive sins. Zwingli is condemning the very teaching of Christ, who gave authority to His men (apostles).
Article 52: “Confession to a priest should only be viewed as seeking for advice.”
Zwingli’s 67 Theses were intended to clear his own name of any charge of heresy, and of course in his own statist-theocracy he was cleared of such charges. He became the head of a Latin school in Zurich and in 1529 he would attend the Marburg Colloquy (a gathering of all the reformers with intention of uniting). Here Zwingli and Luther would have a confrontation on the subject of the Eucharist. Ironically, the greatest protestant minds who all advocated sola scriptura, that the truth is always evident and clear in scripture, could not agree on what the clear and evident scripture said about the Eucharist. If sola scriptura were true, they all would have come to the same conclusion.
War would break out in 1531, where Zwingli and 500 Zurichers would be killed. Zwingli was one of the leading proponents of war with the Catholics, and even threatened the city council with resignation if they did not declare war. Zwingli would stir the Anabaptist Movement, although he rejected some of their teachings, he is the theological basis for their existence. “Ana-baptists are without doubt indebted to Zwingli as far as theology is concerned; to that extent they can be considered his disciples.” (Gabler, 1983; p. 127).
The Ana-baptists would eventually become The Mennonites and The Baptists of today in America, with all of these sects centered around the teachings of Ulrich Zwingli.