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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 19. The Abolition of the Roman Worship. 1524.


Bullinger, I. 173 sqq. Füssli, I. 142 sqq. Egli, 234 sqq.


By these preparatory measures, public opinion was prepared for the practical application of the new ideas. The old order of worship had to be abolished before the new order could be introduced. The destruction was radical, but orderly. It was effected by the co-operation of the preachers and the civil magistracy, with the consent of the people. It began at Pentecost, and was completed June 20, 1524.

In the presence of a deputation from the authorities of Church and State, accompanied by architects, masons and carpenters, the churches of the city were purged of pictures, relics, crucifixes, altars, candles, and all ornaments, the frescoes effaced, and the walls whitewashed, so that nothing remained but the bare building to be filled by a worshiping congregation. The pictures were broken and burnt, some given to those who had a claim, a few preserved as antiquities. The bones of the saints were buried. Even the organs were removed, and the Latin singing of the choir abolished, but fortunately afterwards replaced by congregational singing of psalms and hymns in the vernacular (in Basle as early as 1526, in St. Gall 1527, in Zurich in 1598). "Within thirteen days," says Bullinger, "all the churches of the city were cleared; costly works of painting and sculpture, especially a beautiful table in the Waterchurch, were destroyed. The superstitious lamented; but the true believers rejoiced in it as a great and joyous worship of God."103103    I. 175. Bullinger justifies the abolition of church music (which took place in the Grossmünster, Dec. 9, 1527) with St. Paul’s objection to the unintelligible glossolalia without interpretation (1 Cor. 14:6-9). He must, of course, mean the chanting of a choir in Latin. The Swiss Reformed churches excel in congregational singing.

In the following year the magistracy melted, sold, or gave away the rich treasures of the Great Minster and the Frauenminster,—chalices, crucifixes, and crosses of gold and silver, precious relics, clerical robes, tapestry, and other ornaments.104104    Egli, p. 269 (No. 614, Jan. 9, 1525); Mörikofer, I. 315 sq. Janssen (III. 84 sq.) dwells with circumstantial minuteness on the confiscation and robbery of these church treasures, some of which dated from the time of Charlemagne. In 1533 not a copper’s worth was left in the sacristy of the Great Minster.105105    Egli, p. 893 (No. 2004, c. 1533). Uetinger declared that between 1524 and 1532 all the treasury of the sacristy was squandered, and nobody knew what had become of it. "Prorsus nihil supererat." Zwingli justified this vandalism by the practice of a conquering army to spike the guns and to destroy the forts and provisions of the enemy, lest he might be tempted to return.

The same work of destruction took place in the village churches in a less orderly way. Nothing was left but the bare buildings, empty, cold and forbidding.

The Swiss Reformers proceeded on a strict construction of the second commandment as understood by Jews and Moslems. They regarded all kinds of worship paid to images and relics as a species of idolatry. They opposed chiefly the paganism of popery; while Luther attacked its legalistic Judaism, and allowed the pictures to remain as works of art and helps to devotion. For the classical literature of Greece and Rome, however, Zwingli had more respect than Luther. It should be remarked also that he was not opposed to images as such any more than to poetry and music, but only to their idolatrous use in churches. In his reply to Valentin Compar of Uri (1525), he says, "The controversy is not about images which do not offend the faith and the honor of God, but about idols to which divine honors are paid. Where there is no danger of idolatry, the images may remain; but idols should not be tolerated. All the papists tell us that images are the books for the unlearned. But where has God commanded us to learn from such books? "He thought that the absence of images in churches would tend to increase the hunger for the Word of God.106106    Werke, II. A. 17-59. Comp. Mörikofer, I. 269-274.

The Swiss iconoclasm passed into the Reformed Churches of France, Holland, Scotland, and North America. In recent times a reaction has taken place, not in favor of image worship, which is dead and gone, but in favor of Christian art; and more respect is paid to the decency and beauty of the house of God and the comfort of worshipers.



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