A careful and dispassionate study of the Sacramental Controversy cannot fail to impress one with the utter needlessness of its disastrous termination, permanently dividing as it did the entire evangelical body into two factions, Lutheran and Reformed, thus crippling through a division of forces and a perversion of religious energy the progress of the reform work, which, up to this time, had been prosecuted with such vigor and success. In the early stages of the contest the specific differences of belief between the Germans and the Swiss were not of sufficient importance to preclude essential harmony.
The fact is, these excellent men were at the start ignorant and suspicious of each other’s views. The true state of the question was lost in the heat of passion, constantly augmented by some new violence of language or mutual recrimination. Luther, who in his heart of hearts hated the mystical and verbose quibbles of the scholastic philosophers, when pressed to the wall by the clearer reasoning of his opponents, became a veritable Zeno in his use of subtle and sophistical distinctions. In violence he was not a whit behind Paul the persecutor. He permitted himself to become “exceeding mad” against his opponents, and condescended to employ epithets so gross as to put even that rude age to blush.
The candor and moderation which Zwingli displayed in the Supper contest has added not a little to his fame. It must not be supposed, however, that Zwingli was entirely free from those excesses of language for which Luther has been so justly blamed. More than once in his letters he refers to his opponents in terms of doubtful courtesy. The difference in education between these men may account in some measure for the marked contrast between their methods of disputation.
Zwingli was a scholar, and had a mind saturated with the learning and culture derived from a lifelong study of the ancient classics. All this had a mellowing effect upon his heart, and gave grace to his manner. He was such a master of language that under shelter of polite phrases he could inflict wounds much deeper than by resorting to the coarse invective of Luther. Zwingli’s methods were quite like those of the modern pamphleteer. He was an adept in detecting fallacy, in pulling arguments to pieces, and understood well the art and advantage of concession where it was impossible to withhold assent.*
*Samuel Simpson, Life of Ulrich Zwingli: The Swiss Patriot and Reformer (New York: Baker & Taylor Co., 1902), 181–183.