Who died 24 November, 1531… just over a month after Zwingli was slaughtered by the Papist forces at Kappel-am-Albis.
At the very time that these flourishing churches were falling to the ground, the Reform witnessed the extinction of its brightest lights. A. blow from a stone had slain the energetic Zwingli on the field of battle, and the rebound reached the pacific Œcolampadius at Basle, in the midst of a life that was wholly evangelical.
The death of his friend, the severe judgments with which they pursued his memory, the terror that had suddenly taken the place of the hopes he had entertained of the future— all these sorrows rent the heart of Œcolampadius, and soon his head and his life inclined sadly to the tomb. “Alas!” cried he, “that Zwingli, whom I have so long regarded as my right arm, has fallen under the blows of cruel enemies!”
He recovered, however, sufficient energy to defend the memory of his brother. “It was not,” said he, “on the heads of the most guilty that the wrath of Pilate and the tower of Siloam fell. The judgment began in the house of God; our presumption has been punished; let our trust be placed now on the Lord alone, and this will be an inestimable gain.” Œcolampadius declined the call of Zurich to take the place of Zwingli. “My post is here,” said he, as he looked upon Basle.
He was not destined to hold it long. Illness fell upon him in addition to so many afflictions; the plague was in the city, a violent inflammation attacked him, and erelong a tranquil scene succeeded the tumult of Cappel. A peaceful death calmed the agitated hearts of the faithful, and replaced by sweet and heavenly emotions the terror and distress with which a horrible disaster had filled them.
On hearing of the danger of Œcolampadius, all the city was plunged into mourning; a crowd of men of every age and of every rank rushed to his house. “Rejoice,” said the reformer with a meek look, “I am going to a place of everlasting joy.” He then commemorated the death of our Lord, with his wife, his relations, and domestics, who shed floods of tears. “This supper,” said the dying man, “is a sign of my real faith in Jesus Christ my Redeemer.”
On the morrow he sent for his colleagues: “My brethren,” said he, “the Lord is there; he calls me away. Oh! my brethren, what a black cloud is appearing on the horizon—what a tempest is approaching! Be steadfast: the Lord will preserve his own.” He then held out his hand, and all these faithful ministers clasped it with veneration.
On the 23d November, he called his children around him, the eldest of whom was barely three years old. “Eusebius, Irene, Alethea, said he to them, as he took their little hands, “love God who is your Father.” Their mother having promised for them, the children retired with the blessing of the dying servant of the Lord. The night that followed this scene was his last. All the pastors were around his bed: “What is the news?” asked Œcolampadius of a friend who came in. “Nothing” was the reply. “Well,” said the faithful disciple of Jesus, “I will tell you something new.” His friends awaited in astonishment. “In a short time I shall be with the Lord Jesus.” One of his friends now asking him if he was incommoded by the light, he replied, putting his hand on his heart: “There is light enough here.”
The day began to break; he repeated in a feeble voice the 51st Psalm: Have mercy upon me, O Lord, according to thy loving kindness. Then remaining silent, as if he wished to recover strength, he said, “Lord Jesus, help me!” The ten pastors fell on their knees around his bed with uplifted hands; at this moment the sun rose, and darted his earliest rays on a scene of sorrow so great and so afflicting with which the Church of God was again stricken.
The death of this servant of the Lord was like his life, full of light and peace. Œcolampadius was in an especial degree the Christian spiritualist and biblical divine. The importance he attached to the study of the books of the Old Testament imprinted one of its most essential characters on the reformed theology. Considered as a man of action, his moderation and meekness placed him in the second rank.
Had he been able to exert more of this peaceful spirit over Zwingli, great misfortunes might perhaps have been avoided. But like all men of meek disposition, his peaceful character yielded too much to the energetic will of the minister of Zurich; and he thus renounced, in part at least, the legitimate influence that he might have exercised over the Reformer of Switzerland and of the Church.1
1D’Aubigné, J. H. M. (1862). History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century, (Vol. 4, pp. 396–397).