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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 34. The Reformation in St. Gall, Toggenburg, and Appenzell. Watt and Kessler.


The sources and literature in the City Library of St. Gall which bears the name of Vadian (Watt) and contains his MSS. and printed works.

I. The historical works of Vadianus, especially his Chronicle of the Abbots of St. Gall from 1200–1540, and his Diary from 1629–’33, edited by Dr. E. Goetzinger, St. Gallen, 1875–’79, 3 vols.—Joachimi Vadiani Vita per Joannem Kesslerum conscripta. Edited from the MS. by Dr. Goetzinger for the Historical Society of St. Gall, 1865.—Johannes Kessler’s Sabbata. Chronik der Jahre 1523–1539. Herausgegeben von Dr. Ernst Goetzinger. St. Gallen, 1866. In "Mittheilungen zur vaterländischen Geschichte" of the Historical Society of St. Gall, vols. V. and VI. The MS. of 532 pages, written in the Swiss dialect by Kessler’s own hand, is preserved in the Vadian library.

II. J. V. Arx (Rom. Cath., d. 1833): Geschichte des Kant. St. Gallen. St. Gallen, 1810–’13, 3 vols.—J. M. Fels: Denkmal Schweizerischer Reformatoren. St. Gallen, 1819.—Joh. Fr. Franz: Die schwarmerischen Gräülscenen der St. Galler Wiedertäutfer zu Anfang der Reformation. Ebnat in Toggenberg, 1824.—Joh. Jakob Bernet: Johann Kessler, genannt Ahenarius, Bürger und Reformator zu Sankt Gallen. St. Gallen, 1826.—K. Wegelin: Geschichte der Grafschaft Toggenburg. St. Gallen, 1830–’33, 2 Parts.—Fr. Weidmann: Geschichte der Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallens. 1841.—A. Näf: Chronik oder Denkwürdigkeiten der Stadt und Landschaft St. Gallen. Zürich, 1851.—J. K. Büchler: Die Reformation im Lande Appenzell. Trogen, 1860. In the "Appenzellische Jahrbücher."—G. Jak. Baumgartner: Geschichte des Schweizerischen Freistaates und Kantons St. Gallen. Zürich, 1868, 2 vols.—H. G. Sulzberger: Geschichte der Reformation in Toggenburg; in St. Gallen; im Rheinthal; in den eidgenössischen Herrschaften Sargans und Gaster, sowie in Rapperschwil; in Hohensax-Forsteck; in Appenzell. Several pamphlets reprinted from the "Appenzeller Sonntagablatt," 1872 sqq.

III. Theod. Pressel: Joachim Vadian. In the ninth volume of the "Leben und ausgewählte Schriften der Väter und Begründer der reformirten Kirche." Elberfeld, 1861 (pp. 103).—Rud. Stähelin: Die reformatorische Wirksamkeit des St. Galler Humanisten Vadian, in "Beiträge zur vaterländischen Geschichte," Basel, 1882, pp. 193–262; and his art. "Watt" in Herzog2, XVI. (1885), pp. 663–668. Comp. also Meyer von Knonau, "St. Gallen," In Herzog2, IV. 725–735.


The Reformation in the northeastern parts of Switzerland—St. Gall, Toggenburg, Schaffhausen, Appenzell, Thurgau, Aargau—followed the course of Zürich, Berne, and Basel. It is a variation of the same theme, on the one hand, in its negative aspects: the destruction of the papal and episcopal authority, the abolition of the mass and superstitious rites and ceremonies, the breaking of images and relics as symbols of idolatry, the dissolution of convents and confiscation of Church property, the marriage of priests, monks, and nuns; on the other hand, in its positive aspects: the introduction of a simpler and more spiritual worship with abundant preaching and instruction from the open Bible in the vernacular, the restoration of the holy communion under both kinds, as celebrated by the congregation, the direct approach to Christ without priestly mediation, the raising of the laity to the privileges of the general priesthood of believers, care for lower and higher education. These changes were made by the civil magistracy, which assumed the episcopal authority and function, but acted on the initiative of the clergy and with the consent of the majority of the people, which in democratic Switzerland was after all the sovereign power. An Antistes was placed at the head of the ministers as a sort of bishop or general superintendent. Synods attended to legislation and administration. The congregations called and supported their own pastors.

St. Gall—so-called from St. Gallus (Gilian), an Irish missionary and pupil of Columban, who with several hermits settled in the wild forest on the Steinach about 613—was a centre of Christianization and civilization in Alemannia and Eastern Switzerland. A monastery was founded about 720 by St. Othmar and became a royal abbey exempt from episcopal jurisdiction, and very rich in revenues from landed possessions in Switzerland, Swabia, and Lombardy, as well as in manuscripts of classical and ecclesiastical learning. Church poetry, music, architecture, sculpture, and painting flourished there in the ninth and tenth centuries. Notker Balbulus, a monk of St. Gall (d. c. 912), is the author of the sequences or hymns in rhythmical prose (prosae), and credited with the mournful meditation on death ("Media vita in morte sumus"), which is still in use, but of later and uncertain origin. With the increasing wealth of the abbey the discipline declined and worldliness set in. The missionary and literary zeal died out. The bishop of Constance was jealous of the independence and powers of the abbot. The city of St. Gall grew in prosperity and longed for emancipation from monastic control. The clergy needed as much reformation as the monks. Many of them lived in open concubinage, and few were able to make a sermon. The high festivals were profaned by scurrilous popular amusements. The sale of indulgences was carried on with impunity.

The Reformation was introduced in the city and district of St. Gall by Joachim von Watt, a layman (1484–1551), and John Kessler, a minister (1502–1574). The co-operation of the laity and clergy is congenial to the spirit of Protestantism which emancipated the Church from hierarchical control.

Joachim von Watt, better known by his Latin name Vadianus, excelled in his day as a humanist, poet, historian, physician, statesman, and reformer. He was descended from an old noble family, the son of a wealthy merchant, and studied the humanities in the University of Vienna (1502),201201    He arrived at Vienna in the autumn of 1502, shortly after Zwingli had left the University. See Stähelin, l.c., who refers for confirmation to Egli, Aschbach, and Horawitz. The usual opinion is that Vadian and Zwingli (and Glareanus) studied together and formed their friendship at Vienna. So also Pressel, l.c., p. 11. which was then at the height of its prosperity under the teaching of Celtes and Cuspinian, two famous humanists and Latin poets. He acquired also a good knowledge of philosophy, theology, law, and medicine. After travelling through Poland, Hungary, and Italy, he returned to Vienna and taught classical literature and rhetoric. He was crowned poet and orator by Maximilian (March 12, 1514), and elected rector of the University in 1516. He published several classical authors and Latin poems, orations, and essays. He stood in friendly correspondence with Reuchlin, Hutten, Hesse, Erasmus, and other leaders of the new learning, and especially also with Zwingli.202202    His published correspondence with Zwingli begins with a letter from Vienna, April 9, 1511, and embraces four letters of Vadian, and thirty-eight letters of Zwingli, in Zwingli’s Opera, vols. VII. and VIII.

In 1518 Watt returned to St. Gall and practised as physician till his death, but took at the same time an active part in all public affairs of Church and State. He was repeatedly elected burgomaster. He was a faithful co-worker of Zwingli in the cause of reform. Zwingli called him "a physician of body and soul of the city of St. Gall and the whole confederacy," and said, "I know no Swiss that equals him." Calvin and Beza recognized in him "a man of rare piety and equally rare learning." He called evangelical ministers and teachers to St. Gall. He took a leading part in the religious disputations at Zürich (1523–1525), and presided over the disputation at Berne (1528).

St. Gall was the first city to follow the example of Zürich under his lead. The images were removed from the churches and publicly burnt in 1526 and 1528; only the organ and the bones of St. Othmar (the first abbot) and Notker were saved. An evangelical church order was introduced in 1527. At the same time the Anabaptists endangered the Reformation by strange excesses of fanaticism. Watt had no serious objection to their doctrines, and was a friend and brother-in-law of Grebel, their leader, but he opposed them in the interest of peace and order.

The death of the abbot, March 21, 1529, furnished the desired opportunity, at the advice of Zürich and Zwingli, to abolish the abbey and to confiscate its rich domain, with the consent of the majority of the citizens, but in utter disregard of legal rights. This was a great mistake, and an act of injustice.

The disaster of Cappel produced a reaction, and a portion of the canton returned to the old church. A new abbot was elected, Diethelm Blaurer; he demanded the property of the convent and sixty thousand guilders damages for what had been destroyed and sold. The city had to yield. He held a solemn entry. He attended the last session of the Council of Trent and took a leading part in the counter-Reformation.

Watt showed, during this critical period, courage and moderation. He retained the confidence of his fellow-citizens, who elected him nine times to the highest civil office. He did what he could, in co-operation with Kessler and Bullinger, to save and consolidate the Reformed Church during the remaining years of his life. He was a portly, handsome, and dignified man, and wrote a number of geographical, historical, and theological works.203203    Pressel, pp. 100-103, gives the titles of twenty-seven of his writings, mostly Latin, published between 1510 and 1548.

John Kessler (Chessellius or Ahenarius), the son of a day-laborer of St. Gall, studied theology at Basel, and Wittenberg. He was one of the two students who had an interesting interview with Dr. Luther in the hotel of the Black Bear at Jena in March, 1522, on his return as Knight George from the Wartburg.204204    Reported by him in the Swiss dialect with charming naiveté in Sabbata, pp. 145-151: "Wie mir M. Luther uff der strass [Reise] gen Wittenberg begegnet ist." Kessler’s companion was John Spengler. See an account of the interview, in vol. VI. p. 385. It was the only friendly meeting of Luther with the Swiss. Had he shown the same kindly feeling to Zwingli at Marburg, the cause of the Reformation would have been the gainer.

Kessler supported himself by the trade of a saddler, and preached in the city and surrounding villages. He was also chief teacher of the Latin school. In 1571, a year before his death, he was elected Antistes or head of the clergy of St. Gall. He had a wife and eleven children, nine of whom survived him. He was a pure, amiable, unselfish, and useful man and promoter of evangelical religion. His portrait in oil adorns the City Library of St. Gall.

The county of Toggenburg, the home of Zwingli, was subject to the abbot of St. Gall since 1468, but gladly received the Reformed preachers under the influence of Zwingli, his relatives and friends. In 1524 the council of the community enjoined upon the ministers to teach nothing but what they could prove from the sacred Scriptures. The people resisted the interference of the abbot, the bishop of Constance, and the canton Schwyz. In 1528 the Reformation was generally introduced in the towns of the district. With the help of Zürich and Glarus, the Toggenburgers bought their freedom from the abbot of St. Gall for fifteen hundred guilders, in 1530; but were again subjected to his authority in 1536. The county was incorporated in the canton St. Gall in 1803. The majority of the people are Protestants.

The canton Appenzell received its first Protestant preachers—John Schurtanner of Teufen, John Dorig of Herisau, and Walter Klarer of Hundwil—from the neighboring St. Gall, through the influence of Watt. The Reformation was legally ratified by a majority vote of the people, Aug. 26, 1523. The congregations emancipated themselves from the jurisdiction of the abbot of St. Gall, and elected their own pastors. The Anabaptist disturbances promoted the Roman-Catholic reaction. The population is nearly equally divided,—Innerrhoden, with the town of Appenzell, remained Catholic; Ausserrhoden, with Herisau, Trogen, and Gais, is Reformed, and more industrious and prosperous.

The Reformation in Thurgau and Aargau presents no features of special interest.205205    Comp. Oelhafen, Chronik der Stadt Aarau, 1840; Sulzberger, Reformation im Kanton Aargau, 1881; Pupikofer, Geschichte des Thurgau’s, 1828-’30, 2 vols.; second ed. 1889-’90; Sulzberger, Die Reformation im Kanton Thurgau, 1872.



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