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The following is the second article in our series about the men who started the Protestant revolution. 

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

Militant Swiss Reformer

Zwingli was born to a successful farmer in the Toggaburg Valley of the eastern lower Alps, in what is modern-day east Switzerland. He graduated from the University of Basel in 1506, and became a priest in Glarus, Switzerland. Zwingli took his priestly duties seriously, later writing, “Though I was young, ecclesiastical duties inspired in me more fear than joy, because I knew, and remain convinced that I would give an account of the blood of the sheep which would perish as a consequence of my carelessness.”

The young priest fell in love with the Bible, teaching himself Greek and Hebrew so he didn’t need to rely on the Latin translation. In private, he struggled with many teachings of the Church that he could not confirm with the Bible. Lacking confidence in the Church theology of celibacy for priests, he secretly married in 1522. That same year, he broke Lent by eating smoked sausages in public. He asserted that unbaptized children were not lost, questioned the Church’s power of excommunication, and attacked transubstantiation (the bread being the literal body of Christ). In January of 1523, he brought his ideas to an audience outside his local congregation when he addressed the Zurich City Council. His discourse has since been named the First Disputation. The Second Disputation came the following October. Zwingli succeeded with some of his suggested reforms by removing images of Jesus, Mary, and the saints from churches, and stood firm that the Bible, and not the Church, had preeminence.

Six years after Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Germany, Zwingli followed with his own 67 Theses. The document began with "All who say that the gospel is invalid without the confirmation of the church err and slander God." This did not sit well with the Catholic belief that the Church has authority rather than the Bible. Zwingli’s arguments proved to be effective, and the Protestant Reformation continued to gather steam in east Switzerland.

Zwingli and Luther attempted to unite the Swiss and German reformations in a meeting at Marburg, Germany in 1529. They agreed on almost every doctrinal point, except the Lord’s Supper. Their meeting ended badly, with Luther calling Zwingli “of the devil and nothing but a wormy nut.”

…but Zwingli's party persecuted unto prison the godly Dr. Hubmeyer, and though it did not commit him to the stake, it was actually responsible in great measure for his eventual death by fire. And Calvin did no less, for he demanded the arrest of Servetus who had seen and taught the oneness of the Godhead. The State then tried this brother, and to Calvin's dismay he was burned at the stake.

Sardisean Church Age – Church Age Book

In his Church Age book, Brother Branham mentions that Zwingli’s party persecuted another reformer named Balthasar Hubmaier. In March of 1523, Zwingli met with Hubmaier in Zurich and participated in a public debate later that year (public debates to work out doctrinal issues were common in that time). At this debate, Hubmaier said that infant baptism could not be supported with Scripture, which is something Zwingli had also said. Later, in December 1525, Hubmaier was fleeing Catholic authorities (Austrian Army) and sought refuge in Zwingli’s Zurich. Instead of protecting him, Zwingli had him arrested.

Another debate followed, with emphasis on infant baptism. Hubmaier quoted Zwingli, where he said that children should not be baptized until they were able to be instructed on the matter. Zwingli switched positions, saying that he had been misunderstood. The presiding council took Zwingli’s side and demanded Hubmaier recant. He initially recanted, but the next morning, took back his submission to the council and said, “I can and I will not recant.” He was then imprisoned and tortured to force his confession.

While being tortured on the rack, he gave in and recanted again. With this, he was permitted to leave Switzerland. He traveled to Moravia, where he repented of his weakness to the torture and said, “I may err; I am a man; but a heretic I cannot be… O God, pardon me for my weakness.” Hubmaier continued to preach, and even converted many of Zwingli’s followers to his “anabaptist” (baptism after confession) faith. He was later imprisoned by Catholic authorities, brought to Vienne, tortured on the rack, convicted of heresy, and publicly burned at the stake in March of 1528. Three days later, a large stone was tied to his wife’s neck, and she was drown in the River Danube.

Zwingli died in battle in 1531, when Catholic forces attacked Zurich. The city remained Protestant, under the leadership of Zwingli’s successor, Heinrich Bullinger.

Here are a few more facts about Ulrich Zwingli:

  1. In 1519, Zurich was devastated with the plague. One in four people died. Many left the city, but Zwingli stayed to continue his pastoral duties. He contracted the disease and nearly died.
  2. Although he was a priest, he secretly married in 1522. He went public with his marriage in 1524. Like Luther’s decision to do the same, a priest marrying was seen as a direct defiance of Catholic law. It was also an opportunity for the Church to accuse the reformers of leaving the faith because of their inability to remain celibate.
  3. Zwingli was a gifted musician, playing the violin, harp, flute, dulcimer, and hunting horn.
  4. A gifted student, he easily learned Latin at a young age. He then purchased a copy of the Latin (non-Catholic) New Testament. He taught himself Greek, and then bought a copy of the original Greek New Testament. He even learned Hebrew to further understand the original Hebrew Old Testament.
  5. In 1523, he protested many Catholic teachings to the Zurich City Council, which resulted in the removal of images of Jesus, Mary, and the saints from churches.
  6. In 1524, he convinced the city to abolish Mass, with its emphasis on transubstantiation (the Communion bread is turned to the literal body of Jesus when it is consumed). He replaced it with a simple service that included the Lord’s Supper.
  7. Not only was Zwingli hated by the Catholic Church, but also many of his reformation counterparts because of his outspoken and militant nature.

The next article from the Reformation period will be about John Calvin, a French theologian and one of the most influential reformers in history, but a man who Brother Branham called a murderer.

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