Ulrich Zwinglis Ethik

This new volume has just appeared from TVZ-

In Ulrich Zwinglis Ethik spiegeln sich entscheidende Stationen seiner Biographie wider: seine Kritik am Solddienstwesen, seine Begegnung mit dem Humanismus und seine Pesterkrankung. Anhand dieser Stationen ethischer Sensibilisierung kristallisiert der Ethiker Matthias Neugebauer die zentralen Fragen des Zürcher Reformators heraus: Was ist Gott? Was ist das Gute? Was ist Gerechtigkeit? Gibt es eine Freiheit des Willens? Zwingli durchdachte die praktischen Konsequenzen des Christseins mit Leidenschaft und nahm Stellung zu den gesellschaftlichen Auswirkungen auf Ehe und Familie, Arbeit und Müssiggang, Staat und Obrigkeit sowie Krieg und Frieden.

Matthias Neugebauer bringt Zwinglis ethische Grundgedanken in einen überschaubaren Zusammenhang. Dabei wird deutlich, wie aktuell diese Fragestellungen und wie konsequent die Antworten sind: nahe am Leben und gewonnen aus einem intensiven Bibelstudium.

Neugebaur sets about the task of explicating Zwingli’s ethics by first outlining the chief contributing events in the life of Zwingli which seem to have been most formative of his ethical viewpoints.  These are the problem of mercenary service, the critical issues raised by humanism, and Zwingli’s near death encounter with the plague.  In the opinion of the present reviewer these three aspects are the very bedrock upon which Zwingli’s ethics AND theology were founded and N. is completely correct in asserting their importance.

The author then moves the argument forward by discussing the theological and philosophical principles which come to contribute to Zwingli’s ethical system (though of course our author makes it clear that Zwingli wrote neither an ‘Ethics’ nor a ‘Dogmatics’).  These are God and the Good, General Ethics and Christian Ethics, and ‘Unfree’ Will and Christian freedom.

Part three is devoted to the living out of this ethic concretely in the world.  That is, here N. leads us on a tour of Zwingli’s ethic of marriage and the family, work and labor, State and Society, and War and Peace.  All brilliantly described and all grippingly investigated.

The work concludes with a conclusion (as such things normally do) and summary of literature and a list of the many illustrations which add value to the book.

The last time an ‘Ethic’ of Zwingli was published was 1902.  It was, for its time, a somewhat useful work by Paul von Kügelgen, Die Ethik Huldreich Zwinglis. It’s weaknesses, though, outweigh its strengths because it is concerned chiefly with the ‘individualism’ its author saw at work in Zwingli’s thought.  The book by Neugebauer is light years ahead of von K.’s both in terms of thoroughness and helpfulness.

The great benefit of the work is the absolutely comprehensive and copious citations from Zwingli’s own writings.  This isn’t simply a summary of Zwingli’s thought, it is a demonstration of that thought from Zwingli’s ‘own mouth’ (as it were).

I learned a great deal from it (and I’m not being boastful when I say that I know a bit more than the average person about Zwingli).  Readers will, I think, like me, benefit immensely by reading it.  Which I hope very many do so that they too can come to understand the greatest of the Reformers more thoroughly.