That Papal Pension of Zwingli’s

Ok, here are the facts- which cannot be seriously disputed:

Zwingli’s Papal Pension

zwingli_writing_bullinger_RGBullinger says (i., 8) that the Pope (Julius II.) gave Zwingli a pension, “for the purchase of books.” But this was a sort of euphemism, and was understood on both sides as binding him to some extent to the papal chair, for the Pope was not in the habit of giving pensions to men like Zwingli out of charity or admiration. Yet since Zwingli was then a loyal papalist he could with perfect propriety and in all good conscience accept it. The year of its first bestowal was probably 1512–13.

But when he came out as a severe critic of the papacy, as he did in 1517, then his acceptance was not proper, as he himself allows in the passages to be quoted. But he continued to take the papal pension till 1520, when it had become a public scandal and source of trouble, as his enemies were constantly throwing it in his teeth.

zwingli_lookoutLike mean spirited people do today, I’ll interject… But back to our story-

Why he took it was his poverty, which has been often pleaded in excuse for similar action. Chronologically, the first bit of writing which can be quoted in which he alludes to his fault in continuing to receive the pension is the dedication to the sermon on the Virgin Mary, which he published in 1522.

He says: “My connection with the Pope of Rome is now a thing of several years back. At the time it began it seemed to me a proper thing to take his money and to defend his opinions, but when I realised my sin I parted company with him entirely” (i., 86).

Zwingli124Next and more explicit was his confession in the “Exposition of the Articles” of the Zurich Disputation of January, 1523:

“I had for three years previous [to 1520] been preaching the Gospel with earnestness; on which account I received from the papal cardinals, bishops, and legates, with whom the city has abounded, many friendly and earnest counsels, with threats, or with promises of greater gifts and of benefices. These, however, have had no effect upon me. On the other hand, in 1517 I declined to receive the pension of fifty gulden, which they gave me yearly (yes, they wanted to make it one hundred gulden, but I would not hear to it), but they would not stop it until in 1520 I renounced it in writing. (I confess here my sin before God and all the world, that before 1516 I hung mightily upon the Pope and considered it becoming in me to receive money from the papal treasury. But when the Roman representatives warned me not to preach anything against the Pope, I told them in express and clear words that they had better not believe that I would on account of their money suppress a syllable of the truth.) After I had renounced the pension they saw that I would have nothing more to do with them, so they procured and betrayed (to the Senate), through a spiritual father, a Dominican monk, the manuscript containing in one letter my renunciation and receipt of payment, with a view of driving me out of Zurich. But the scheme failed, because the Honourable Senate knew well that I had not exalted the Pope in my discourses; so that the money had not affected anything in that direction; also that I in no way advanced their plans and had twice declined their pension; also that no one could from the past teaching accuse me of breaking my oath or impairing my honour. On these grounds the Senate declared me innocent” (i., 354).

zwingli109Confirmation of these statements of Zwingli is given in this letter of Francis Zink, the papal chaplain at Einsiedeln: “A little time ago when I heard that you [the Senate of Zurich, to which body he is writing] were about to take up the matter of the people’s priest, Huldreich Zwingli, I met him twice in order to give my testimony. But now that I am sick and cannot come in person before your honourable body, I write to tell exactly all about it.… Huldreich Zwingli received for some years, while at Glarus, at Einsiedeln, and finally at Zurich, a yearly allowance from the Pope; but the sole reason why he has done so is his poverty and need, especially while with you at Zurich. And assuredly he would have lacked provision for his family if this support had been taken from him.… Nevertheless, this was so great a cross to him that he desired to resign his position with you, having it in mind to come back to Einsiedeln.… Moreover, it is perfectly evident that he has never been moved a finger’s breadth from the Gospel by the favour of the Pope, emperor, or noble, but always proclaims the truth and preaches it faithfully among the people. For if he had permitted himself to be turned aside to serve the interests of the papacy in greater measure he might have received one hundred florins a year, not to speak of benefices at Basel or Chur, but none of these enticed him. I was present when the Legate Pucci was frankly told by him that he would not for money advance the papal interests, but would preach and teach the truth to the people in the way which seemed best to him. Under the circumstances he left it entirely to the Legate whether he should grant the pension or not. Hearing this the Legate smoothed him down, saying that even if he [Zwingli] was not inclined to befriend the Pope, still he [the Legate] would befriend him: for he had not made the offer to turn him aside from his purpose [to preach the truth], but had had in view his need and how he might live in greater comfort and purchase books, etc.… I wished, therefore, to make this clear to you, not that I might absolve Master Huldreich Zwingli as if he had not received subsidies, but that you might know how he received them, and at what instance it was brought about, that you might see it from the right standpoint.” (This letter of Zink’s is quoted in the note to vii., 179.)

zwingli092Zwingli was brought before the Senate to explain his inconsistency in taking the Pope’s money while attacking him, but this letter of Zink’s cleared him and he was not forced to resign. As Zwingli had no adequate support from his people’s priest’s office he felt the loss of the pension, but in the next year, 1521, he was made a canon in the cathedral and that made up for the lack of it and more (See vii., 182 sq., and p. 151).*

That, dear reader, is the truth and truly related. Zwingli, whether rightly or wrongly, accepted money from Rome in order simply to survive. When he was properly supported by Zurich, that became unnecessary. The gist of which is, if you don’t support your clergy, they may have to rely on pagans for survival.
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*S. Jackson, Huldreich Zwingli: The Reformer of German Switzerland (1484–1531) (pp. 114–116).

About Jim

I am a Pastor, and Lecturer in Church History and Biblical Studies at Ming Hua Theological College.
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