Debunking Zwinglian Myths

The Grossmunster and the Limmat

Every now and again I’ll be debunking myths and legends related to the life of Huldrych Zwingli.  That because 1) too few people actually read Zwingli.  And 2) too many people read about Zwingli in sources that aren’t always reliable.

It was related by a Professor of Church History to our undergrad class (back in the early 80’s) that when Zwingli rejected the playing of organs at Zurich’s churches that he took the key to the organ at the Grossmunster and tossed it in the Limmat, the river that bisects Zurich and empties into the Lake Zurich.

That Professor was wrong.  He was merely repeating a legend he had either heard or he made it up himself (the same way Scott Bailey does when he writes about Zwingli, by the way- evidently forgetting that Rev 21:8 proclaims that all liars have their place in the lake of fire).

I have combed all the primary sources, the major biographies by Potter, Morikofer, Locher, and Farner, consulted with every Historian familiar with Zwingli’s life including my colleagues in the Zwingliverein as well as WP Stephens and Diarmaid MacCulloch and none have ever heard of such a deed.

That myth is simply busted.  So if anyone ever tells you that Zwingli threw the key of the organ into the river you can confidently assert- no he didn’t!

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13 thoughts on “Debunking Zwinglian Myths

  1. andrew bourne 11 Sep 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Why Jim? I am sorry but there are far more interesting theologians than Zwingli. By the way you aren`t going to dispel the myths that he agreed with people being burnt for disagreeing with him are you. Are you as well going to attempt to show he was a Christian that might be your best try to dispel the truth that his Christianity is not part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church


    • Jim 11 Sep 2010 at 4:28 pm

      1- well if my discussing zwingli will drive you ridiculous zwingli haters from my blog forever, it’s win win for me.
      2- you clearly know absolutely NOTHING about church history if you think zwingli or calvin or luther killed anyone. the persons executed were ALWAYS executed by the governing authorities because they were viewed as a threat to society- disturbers of the peace and causers of unrest. if you had lived in geneva you would have been killed. but it wouldnt have been by calvin. it would have been by the police at the order of the magistrates.
      3- he was far more christian than most who imagine themselves to be so these days. but of course youll never believe that because a) youll never actually read anything he wrote and b) your own prejudices are so transparent that one and all know your bias and your made-up-mindedness.


  2. Doug 11 Sep 2010 at 4:35 pm

    I was just going to say that I was taught that Zwingli did not like to have fun and that a statute of Zwingli overlooks a small amusement park.


    • Jim 11 Sep 2010 at 4:51 pm

      i would take that teacher by the hand and walk them to the limmat and toss them in with a chain around their neck myself.


  3. Martin 11 Sep 2010 at 6:10 pm

    Is it true that he was quite fond of cats, even describing them as artful?


  4. agathos 11 Sep 2010 at 7:16 pm

    “or he made it up himself (the same way Scott Bailey does when he writes about Zwingli, by the way).”

    WHAT? What kind of personal attack is that? It’s libel, plain and simple. Everything I write about Zwingli has some truthiness about it.


  5. Christian Brady 12 Sep 2010 at 12:03 pm

    A small note. Saying that no one else can confirm the tale about Zman tossing the key into the river is not the same thing as proving that it did not happen. You simply cannot confirm the story.


    • Jim 12 Sep 2010 at 1:08 pm

      no one can prove something didnt happen. but one can say- since there is absolutely NO evidence aside from a single anecdote, such and such an event can confidently be declared a non event.

      so, for instance, if someone says ‘christian brady sings nude on his roof’ all the rest of us can say, since there is not a single shred of evidence that chris sings naked on his roof, we can confidently assert that he does not!


  6. Did I Hear That Right? 12 Sep 2010 at 3:09 pm

    Or we could confidently assert that he does, because we read it on Jim West’s blog.


    • Jim 12 Sep 2010 at 3:12 pm

      you crazy man. that’s how rumors get started!


  7. Dan 12 Sep 2010 at 6:24 pm

    This myth is busted simply by the fact that the Limmat at Zürich flows OUT of the lake and not into it. Clearly those the so called sources in their text-critical fury did not check simple Geography.


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