Ulrich Zwingli

Zwingli, Huldreich

Huldreich Zwingli (hŏŏld´rīkh tsvĬng´lē, ŏŏl´rĬkh), 1484–1531, Swiss Protestant reformer.

Education of a Reformer

Zwingli received a thorough classical education in Basel, Bern, and Vienna, and was considerably influenced by the humanist precepts of Erasmus. His devotion to learning and his passion for individual freedom, developed through contact with the self-governing Swiss cantons, were important influences in his life. In 1506 he was ordained and appointed pastor of Glarus; he also served (1513, 1515) as chaplain to Swiss mercenaries in Italy. In 1516 he became people's vicar at Einsiedeln. While there Zwingli began to formulate the ideas that were to lead him to renounce the church of Rome.

Unlike Martin Luther, Zwingli experienced no acute religious crisis—he became a reformer through his studies. Later he was to adopt Luther's doctrine of justification by faith alone, but Zwingli's independent study of Scriptures had already led him to question the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. When he became vicar at the Grossmünster of Zürich in 1518 he found the democratic institutions of the community amenable to his beliefs. In 1519 he successfully opposed the dispensing of indulgences in the city and soon was preaching against clerical celibacy, monasticism, and many other church practices.

Zwingli and the Swiss Reformation

The real beginning of the Reformation in Switzerland was Zwingli's lectures on the New Testament in 1519. Armed with Erasmus' 1516 edition of the Greek text he discarded scholastic commentaries and proclaimed the sole authority of the word of God as revealed in Scriptures. With his expression of opposition to Lenten observances in 1522 the Reformation in Zürich was well under way. In the same year, with the publication of Architeles, he made clear his belief in freedom from the control of the Roman hierarchy. A public disputation with a papal representative was held before the general council at Zürich in 1523; Zwingli presented his doctrines in 67 theses. The council approved the Zwinglian position and instructed all priests in the canton to comply.

The new practices were rapidly put into effect—organs were destroyed, images were removed from churches, priests were allowed to marry, monasticism was abolished, the liturgy was simplified, and the sacrament of communion reduced to a commemorative feast. In 1524, Zwingli publicly celebrated his marriage, which he had illegally contracted two years previously. In 1525 the Catholic Mass was replaced by a reformed service at Zwingli's church in Zürich.

Zwingli became embroiled with the Lutherans in a doctrinal dispute concerning the nature of the Eucharist (see Lord's Supper). Philip of Hesse endeavored to reconcile these differences within the Protestant ranks by calling the disputants together at the Marburg Colloquy (1529). Zwingli and Johannes Oecolampadius and Luther and Philip Melanchthon were present, but no agreement was reached.

Although Bern adopted Zwingli's reforms in 1528, and Basel and St. Gall soon after, he faced agitation by the Anabaptists, who wanted even more radical reform, and the armed resistance of the Forest Cantons that had remained loyal to Rome. When Zürich imposed a trade embargo on these cantons they retaliated with war (1531), and at the battle of Kappel, Zwingli was killed. Zwingli's work in Zürich was carried on by his colleague and son-in-law, Heinrich Bullinger, but the Reformation in Switzerland passed into the hands of John Calvin. Calvin built his comprehensive theological system partly on the groundwork laid by Zwingli, but he resisted Zwingli's more radical teaching on baptism and the Lord's Supper. The Consensus Tigurinus (1549) marks the departure of the Swiss Reformation from Zwinglian to Calvinist doctrine.


See his selected writings, ed. by H. W. Pipkin (2 vol., 1984); biographies by J. H. Rilliet (tr. 1964) and G. R. Potter (1984); bibliography by H. W. Pipkin (1972).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Ulrich Zwingli: Selected full-text books and articles

Zwingli: An Introduction to His Thought By W. P. Stephens Oxford University, 1992
Zwingli: A Reformed Theologian By Jaques Courvoisier John Knox Press, 1963
The Reformation World By Andrew Pettegree Routledge, 2000
Librarian's tip: "Zwingli and Zurich" begins on p. 173
Renaissance and Reformation By William R. Estep W.B. Eerdmans, 1986
Librarian's tip: Chap. X "Zwingli: Humanist Turned Reformer"
Zwingli and the Urban Reformation By Mullett, Michael History Review, No. 28, September 1997
John Calvin's Ideas By Paul Helm Oxford University Press, 2004
Librarian's tip: "Calvin and Zwingli" begins on p. 120
FREE! A History of the Reformation By Thomas M. Lindsay T. & T. Clark, vol.1, 1907 (2nd edition)
Librarian's tip: "Luther and Zwingli" begins on p. 347
Protestant Thought before Kant By Arthur Cushman McGiffert C. Scribner's Sons, 1931
Librarian's tip: Chap. III "Huldreich Zwingli"
Toleration and the Reformation By Joseph Lecler; T. L. Westow Association Press, vol.1, 1960
Librarian's tip: "Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531) and the Reformation in German Switzerland" begins on p. 309
The Protestant Reformation By H. Daniel-Rops; Audrey Butler J. M. Dent & Sons, 1961
Librarian's tip: "Some Reformers Outside Luther's Influence: Zwingli, Bucer, Oeclampadius" begins on p. 332
The History and Character of Calvinism By John T. McNeill Oxford University Press, 1967
Librarian's tip: Chap. III "Zwingli and the Reformation in Zurich"
Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation, 1521-1532 By Martin Brecht; James L. Schaaf Fortress Press, 1994
Librarian's tip: Zwingli is discussed extensively in Chap. VIII "The Conflict over the Lord's Supper and Baptism (1525–29)"
Europe and England in the Sixteenth Century By T. A. Morris Routledge, 1998
Librarian's tip: Discussion of Zwingli begins on p. 69
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