Zwingli’s Rejection of the Mass: Today with Zwingli

Huldrychi Zvinglii de canone missae libelli apologia ad Theobaldum Geroldseggium Eremi Suitensium administratorem.

Cogit me inconsulta indulgentia, ut quidam putant, quę tamen inconsulta non fuit, quemadmodum manifeste intelliges, vir celeberrime, tam mature ac fere in ipso nixu, hanc apologiam dati ad te canonis scribere. Sunt enim, qui vereantur, ne quidam, nomini nostro addictiores, eis quę nos infirmis pia quadam indulgentia donavimus pervicacius hęreant; quę tamen nisi prorsus aboleantur, priscam sint abominationem velut postliminio reductura.

So commences this October 9, 1523 Flugschrift on the Mass. Compared to other works of Zwingli on the topic this one is quite brief. Indeed, it is a mere 6 pages- but contains, in brief, everything that Zwingli would flesh out for the next 6 years climaxing in his works related to (before and after) the Marburg Colloquy.

Below is the first edition- courtesy the brilliant folk at the Zurich Central Library


Worth knowing are the circumstances which led Zwingli to produce this little ‘appendix’ (that’s what it is) just a few days after his larger treatment of the Mass. As Jackson notes

Caution was Zwingli’s characteristic. He would move no faster than public sentiment approved. Yet he did his best to form such sentiment. He prepared the way for the change and then quietly let things come to a crisis. So it was with the radical matter of using the vernacular for the Church services; Zwingli advocated it, but Leo Jud, in the baptism of a child in the Great Minster, August 10, 1523, first introduced it, and then when Zwingli found it was popular, he proceeded to reform the liturgy and unfold his novel teaching respecting it.

In his treatise on “The Canon of the Mass,” —dated IV. Cal. Septemb. (i. e., September 2) 1523—the canon is that part of the mass liturgy in which the words of the institution appear, and is therefore doctrinally the storm centre of discussion respecting it—he enunciates the doctrine now so commonly associated with his name that the Eucharist is not a mystery but a ministry, the atmosphere is not awe but love, the result is not infusion of grace but of enthusiasm; we remember Christ, and the thought of His presence stirs us to fresh exertion in His service.

He proposed a substitute for the Latin prayers which still more strikingly would set forth these teachings. Yet, characteristically he made no innovation himself at once. His books, however, laid down principles which logically followed out would oblige a complete break with the Old Church. Yet, so slow was he to make changes that on October 9, 1523, he actually defended himself against the charge that he retained the Old Church ceremonies—the use of the cross, vestments, choir-singing, etc.,—because he liked them!