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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 31. The Reformation in Berne.


I. The acts of the disputation of Berne were published in 1528 at Zurich and Strassburg, afterwards repeatedly at Berne, and are contained, together with two sermons of Zwingli, in Zwingli’s Werke, II. A. 63–229. Valerius Anshelm: Berner Chronik, new ed. by Stierlin and Wyss, Bern, 1884, ’86, 2 vols. Stürler: Urkunden der Bernischen Kirchenreform. Bern, 1862. Strickler: Aktensammlung, etc. Zurich, 1878 (I. 1).

II. Kuhn: Die Reformatoren Berns. Bern, 1828. Sam. Fischer: Geschichte der Disputation zu Bern. Zürich, 1828. Melch. Kirchhofer: Berthold Haller oder die Reformation zu Bern. Zürich, 1828. C. Pestalozzi: B. Haller, nach handschriftl. und gleichzeitigen Quellen. Elberfeld, 1861. The monographs on Niclaus Manuel by Grüneisen, Stuttgart, 1837, and by Bächthold, Frauenfeld, 1878. Hundeshagen: Die Conflicte des Zwinglianismus, Lutherthums und Calvinismus in der Bernischen Landeskirche von 1532–’58. Bern, 1842. F. Trechsel: articles Berner Disputation and Berner Synodus, and Haller, in Herzog2, II. 313–324, and V 556–561. Berner Beiträge, etc., 1884, quoted on p. 15. See also the Lit. by Nippold in his Append. to Hagenbach’s Reform. Gesch., p. 695 sq.

III. Karl Ludwig von Haller (a distinguished Bernese and convert to Romanism, expelled from the Protestant Council of Berne, 1820; d. 1854): Geschichte der kirchlichen Revolution oder protestantischen Reform des Kantons Bern und umliegender Gegenden. Luzern, 1836 (346 pages). French translation, Histoire de la revolution religieuse dans la Swiss occidentale. Paris, 1839. This is a reactionary account professedly drawn from Protestant sources and represents the Swiss Reformation as the mother of the Revolution of 1789. To the French version of this book Archbishop Spalding of Baltimore (he does not mention the original) confesses to be "indebted for most of the facts" in his chapter on the Swiss Reformation which he calls a work established "by intrigue, chicanery, persecution, and open violence!" Hist. of the Prot. Ref. in Germany and Switzerland, I. 181, 186 (8th ed., Baltimore, 1875).


Berne, the largest, most conservative and aristocratic of the Swiss cantons, which contains the political capital of the Confederacy, was the first to follow Zurich, after considerable hesitation. This was an event of decisive importance.

The Reformation was prepared in the city and throughout the canton by three ministers, Sebastian Meyer, Berthold Haller, and Francis Kolb, and by a gifted layman, Niclaus Manuel,—all friends of Zwingli. Meyer, a Franciscan monk, explained in the convent the Epistles of Paul, and in the pulpit, the Apostles’ Creed. Haller, a native of Würtemberg, a friend and fellow-student of Melanchthon, an instructive preacher and cautious reformer, of a mild and modest disposition, settled in Berne as teacher in 1518, was elected chief pastor at the cathedral 1521, and labored there faithfully till his death (1536). He was often in danger, and wished to retire; but Zwingli encouraged him to remain at the post of duty. Without brilliant talents or great learning, he proved eminently useful by his gentle piety and faithful devotion to duty. Manuel, a poet, painter, warrior and statesman, helped the cause of reform by his satirical dramas, which were played in the streets, his exposure of Eck and Faber after the Baden disputation, and his influence in the council of the city (d. 1530). His services to Zwingli resemble the services of Hutten to Luther. The Great Council of the Two Hundred protected the ministers in preaching the pure gospel.

The Peasants’ War in Germany and the excesses of the Radicals in Switzerland produced a temporary reaction in favor of Romanism. The government prohibited religious controversy, banished Meyer, and ordered Haller, on his return from the Baden disputation, to read Romish mass again; but he declined, and declared that he would rather give up his position, as he preferred the Word of God to his daily bread. The elections in 1527 turned out in favor of the party of progress. The Romish measures were revoked, and a disputation ordered to take place Jan. 6, 1528, in Berne.

The disputation at Berne lasted nineteen days (from Jan. 6 to 26). It was the Protestant counterpart of the disputation at Baden in composition, arrangements and result. It had the same effect for Berne as the disputations of 1523 had for Zurich. The invitations were general; but the Roman Catholic cantons and the four bishops who were invited refused, with the exception of the bishop of Lausanne, to send delegates, deeming the disputation of Baden final. Dr. Eck, afraid to lose his fresh laurels, was unwilling, as he said, "to follow the heretics into their nooks and corners"; but he severely attacked the proceedings. The Reformed party was strongly represented by delegates from Zurich, Basel, and St. Gall, and several cities of South Germany. Zurich sent about one hundred ministers and laymen, with a strong protection. The chief speakers on the Reformed side were Zwingli, Haller, Kolb, Oecolampadius, Capito, and Bucer from Strassburg; on the Roman side, Grab, Huter, Treger, Christen, and Burgauer. Joachim von Watt of St. Gall presided. Popular sermons were preached during the disputation by Blaurer of Constance, Zwingli, Bucer, Oecolampadius, Megander, and others.

The Reformers carried an easy and complete victory, and reversed the decision of Baden. The ten Theses or Conclusions, drawn up by Haller and revised by Zwingli, were fully discussed, and adopted as a sort of confession of faith for the Reformed Church of Berne. They are as follows: —


1. The holy Christian Church, whose only Head is Christ, is born of the Word of God, and abides in the same, and listens not to the voice of a stranger.

2. The Church of Christ makes no laws and commandments without the Word of God. Hence human traditions are no more binding on us than as far as they are founded in the Word of God.

3. Christ is the only wisdom, righteousness, redemption, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. Hence it is a denial of Christ when we confess another ground of salvation and satisfaction.

4. The essential and corporal presence of the body and blood of Christ cannot be demonstrated from the Holy Scripture.

5. The mass as now in use, in which Christ is offered to God the Father for the sins of the living and the dead, is contrary to the Scripture, a blasphemy against the most holy sacrifice, passion, and death of Christ, and on account of its abuses an abomination before God.

6. As Christ alone died for us, so he is also to be adored as the only Mediator and Advocate between God the Father and the believers. Therefore it is contrary to the Word of God to propose and invoke other mediators.

7. Scripture knows nothing of a purgatory after this life. Hence all masses and other offices for the dead166166    "All todtendienst, als vigil, seelmess, seelgrät, sibend, dryssgest, jarzyt, kerzen, und derglychen." are useless.

8. The worship of images is contrary to Scripture. Therefore images should be abolished when they are set up as objects of adoration.

9. Matrimony is not forbidden in the Scripture to any class of men; but fornication and unchastity are forbidden to all.

10. Since, according to the Scripture, an open fornicator must be excommunicated, it follows that unchastity and impure celibacy are more pernicious to the clergy than to any other class.

All to the glory of God and his holy Word.


Zwingli preached twice during the disputation.167167    The sermons are printed in Werke, II. B. 203-229. He was in excellent spirits, and at the height of his fame and public usefulness. In the first sermon he explained the Apostles’ Creed, mixing in some Greek and Hebrew words for his theological hearers. In the second, he exhorted the Bernese to persevere after the example of Moses and the heroes of faith. Perseverance alone can complete the triumph. (Ferendo vincitur fortuna.) Behold these idols conquered, mute, and scattered before you. The gold you spent upon them must henceforth be devoted to the good of the living images of God in their poverty. "Hold fast," he said in conclusion, "to the liberty wherewith Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1). You know how much we have suffered in our conscience, how we were directed from one false comfort to another, from one commandment to another which only burdened our conscience and gave us no rest. But now ye have found freedom and peace in the knowledge and faith of Jesus Christ. From this freedom let nothing separate you. To hold it fast requires great fortitude. You know how our ancestors, thanks to God, have fought for our bodily liberty; let us still more zealously guard our spiritual liberty; not doubting that God, who has enlightened and drawn you, will in due time also draw our dear neighbors and fellow-confederates to him, so that we may live together in true friendship. May God, who created and redeemed us all, grant this to us and to them. Amen."

By a reformation edict of the Council, dated Feb. 7, 1528, the ten Theses were legalized, the jurisdiction of the bishops abolished, and the necessary changes in worship and discipline provisionally ordered, subject to fuller light from the Word of God. The parishes of the city and canton were separately consulted by delegates sent to them Feb. 13 and afterwards, and the great majority adopted the reformation by popular vote, except in the highlands where the movement was delayed.

After the catastrophe of Cappel the reformation was consolidated by the so-called "Berner Synodus," which met Jan. 9–14, 1532. All the ministers of the canton, two hundred and twenty in all, were invited to attend. Capito, the reformer of Strassburg, exerted a strong influence by his addresses. The Synod adopted a book of church polity and discipline; the Great Council confirmed it, and ordered annual synods. Hundeshagen pronounces this constitution a "true masterpiece even for our times," and Trechsel characterizes it as excelling in apostolic unction, warmth, simplicity and practical wisdom.168168    The constitution was printed at Basle in the same year, and repeatedly since. Trechsel gives an epitome of it in Herzog2, II. 320 sqq.

Since that time Berne has remained faithful to the Reformed Church. In 1828 the Canton by order of the government celebrated the third centenary of the Reformation.



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