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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 18. The Public Disputations. 1523.


The first disputation was held in the city hall on Thursday, Jan. 29, 1523, in the German language, before about six hundred persons, including all the clergy and members of the small and large Councils of Zurich. St. Gall was represented by Vadian; Berne, by Sebastian Meyer; Schaffhausen, by Sebastian Hofmeister. Oecolampadius from Basle expected no good from disputations, and declined to come. He agreed with Melanchthon’s opinion about the Leipzig disputation of Eck with Carlstadt and Luther. Nevertheless, he attended, three years afterwards, the Disputation at Baden. The bishop of Constance sent his general vicar, Dr. Faber, hitherto a friend of Zwingli, and a man of respect, able learning and an able debater, with three others as counsellors and judges. Faber declined to enter into a detailed discussion of theological questions which, he thought, belong to the tribunal of Councils or of renowned universities, as Paris, Cologne and Louvain. Zwingli answered his objections, and convinced the audience.9595    An unofficial report of the disputation was published by Hegenwald, March 3, 1523 (Werke, I. A. 106-168). Faber issued, March 10, a counter-report. Seven Zurichers replied to him in, "Das Gyrenrupfen" (Geyerrupfen), 1523, and charged him with lying and claiming the speeches of others. Salat’s Historische Nachricht of the deputation is a "parteiische Verstümmelung und Entstellung" of Hegenwald’s report, and hence of no historical value (Schuler and Schulthess, in their ed. of Zw. I. 109). Comp. Aug. Baur, Die erste Zürcher Disputation, Halle, 1883.

On the same day the magistracy passed judgment in favor of Zwingli, and directed him "to continue to preach the holy gospel as heretofore, and to proclaim the true, divine Scriptures until he was better informed." All other preachers and pastors in the city and country were warned "not to preach anything which they could not establish by the holy Gospel and other divine Scriptures," and to avoid personal controversy and bitter names.9696    Egli, 114 sq.; Bullinger, I. 103.

Zwingli prepared a lengthy and able defence of his Articles against the charges of Faber, July, 1523.9797    Werke, I. A. 169-425.

The disputation soon produced its natural effects. Ministers took regular wives; the nunnery of Oetenbach was emptied; baptism was administered in the vernacular, and without exorcism; the mass and worship of images were neglected and despised. A band of citizens, under the lead of a shoemaker, Klaus Hottinger, overthrew the great wooden crucifix in Stadelhofen, near the city, and committed other lawless acts.9898    Füssli, II. 33-39; Egli, 176, 178.

Zwingli was radical in his opposition to idolatrous and superstitious ceremonies, but disapproved disorderly methods, and wished the magistracy to authorize the necessary changes.

Consequently, a second disputation was arranged for October 26, 1523, to settle the question of images and of the mass. All the ministers of the city and canton were ordered to attend; the twelve other cantons, the bishops of Constance, Coire and Basle, and the University of Basle were urgently requested to send learned delegates. The bishop of Constance replied (Oct. 16) that he must obey the Pope and the Emperor, and advised the magistracy to wait for a general council. The bishop of Basle excused himself on account of age and sickness, but likewise referred to a council and warned against separation. The bishop of Coire made no answer. Most of the cantons declined to send delegates, except Schaffhausen and St. Gall. Unterwalden honestly replied that they had no learned men among them, but pious priests who faithfully adhered to the old faith of Christendom, which they preferred to, all innovations.

The second disputation was held in the city hall, and lasted three days. There were present about nine hundred persons, including three hundred and fifty clergymen and ten doctors. Dr. Vadian of St. Gall, Dr. Hofmeister of Schaffhausen, and Dr. Schappeler of St. Gall presided. Zwingli and Leo Judae defended the Protestant cause, and had the advantage of superior Scripture learning and argument. The Roman party betrayed much ignorance; but Martin Steinli of Schaffhausen ably advocated the mass. Konrad Schmid of Küssnacht took a moderate position, and produced great effect upon the audience by his eloquence. His judgment was, first to take the idolatry out of the heart before abolishing the outward images, and to leave the staff to the weak until they are able to walk without it and to rely solely on Christ.9999    The only German report of the second disputation, in Werke, I. A. 459-540 (Comp. Bullinger, I. 131 sqq.), is from the pen of Ludwig Hetzer, chaplain at Wädenschweil, then priest at Zurich, an ardent friend of the Reformation, who afterwards joined the Anabaptists, and was beheaded at Constance. Gwalter made an abridged Latin translation in Zw. Opera, II. 623-646. Zwingli took the ground that a truly Christian congregation was a better church than all the bishops and popes, and had as good a right to settle religious controversies as a council, where the Word of God was not allowed to decide."Ja, Höngg und Küssnacht ist ein gewüssere Kilch denn all züsammen gerottet bishof und päpst." Werke, I. 472.

The Council was not prepared to order the immediate abolition of the mass and the images. It punished Hottinger and other "idol-stormers" by banishment, and appointed a commission of ministers and laymen, including Zwingli, Schmidt and Judae, who should enlighten the people on the subject by preaching and writing. . Zwingli prepared his "Short and Christian Introduction," which was sent by the Council of Two Hundred to all the ministers of the canton, the bishops of Constance, Basle, and Coire, the University of Basle, and to the twelve other cantons (Nov. 17, 1523).100100    Ein kurz christenliche ynleitung, die ein eersamer rat der statt Zürich den soelsorgern und prädicanten ... zugesandt habend, etc. Werke, I. A. 541-565. Gwalter gives a Latin version, Op. I. 264-268. It may be compared to the instruction of Melanchthon for the visitation of the churches of Saxony (1528).

A third disputation, of a more private character, was held Jan. 20, 1524. The advocates of the mass were refuted and ordered not to resist any longer the decisions of the magistracy, though they might adhere to their faith.

During the last disputation, Zwingli preached a sermon on the corrupt state of the clergy, which he published by request in March, 1524, under the title "The Shepherd."101101    Der Hirt, wie man die waren christenlichen hirten und widerum die falschen erkennen ... sölle. Werke, I. A. 631-668. He represents Christ as the good Shepherd in contrast with the selfish hirelings, according to the parable in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John. Among the false shepherds he counts the bishops who do not preach at all; those priests who teach their own dreams instead of the Word of God; those who preach the Word but for the glorification of popery; those who deny their preaching by their conduct; those who preach for filthy lucre; and, finally, all who mislead men away from the Creator to the creature. Zwingli treats the papists as refined idolaters, and repeatedly denounces idolatry as the root of the errors and abuses of the Church.

During the summer of 1524 the answers of the bishops and the Diet appeared, both in opposition to any innovations. The bishop of Constance, in a letter to Zurich, said that he had consulted several universities; that the mass and the images were sufficiently warranted by the Scriptures, and had always been in use. The canton appointed a commission of clergymen and laymen to answer the episcopal document.102102    The answer was written by Zwingli, and printed Aug. 18, 1524. Werke, I. A. 584-630. The Swiss Diet, by a deputation, March 21, 1524, expressed regret that Zurich sympathized with the new, unchristian Lutheran religion, and prayed the canton to remain faithful to old treaties and customs, in which case the confederates would cheerfully aid in rooting out real abuses, such as the shameful trade in benefices, the selling of indulgences, and the scandalous lives of the clergy.

Thus forsaken by the highest ecclesiastical and civil authorities, the canton of Zurich acted on its own responsibility, and carried out the contemplated reforms.

The three disputations mark an advance beyond the usual academic disputations in the Latin language. They were held before laymen as well as clergymen, and in the vernacular. They brought religious questions before the tribunal of the people according to the genius of republican institutions. They had, therefore, more practical effect than the disputation at Leipzig. The German Reformation was decided by the will of the princes; the Swiss Reformation, by the will of the people: but in both cases there was a sympathy between the rulers and the majority of the population.



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