In the latter part of 1527 Zwingli’s thoughts took a new turn. The Reformation had made great headway in Bern, and the Bernese City Council, in imitation of that of Zurich, resolved on Sunday, November 17th, to hold a disputation in which the Word of God alone could be appealed to as sole authority for teachings respecting religion. The bishops of Constance, Basel, Lausanne, and Wallis and delegates from all the cantons were invited.
The Zurich Council agreed to accept the invitation, December 7th. Zwingli asked formal permission for himself and other scholars to go, and the Council’s formal affirmative answer was passed December 11th. On December 15th, Zwingli was able to announce to Œcolampadius that all the preliminaries were then arranged.
On December 27, 1527, he sent a dignified letter to the Ulm City Council proposing to meet John Eck, who had slandered his dear friend, their pastor, Conrad Som, also Œcolampadius, and himself, in Ulm, Memmingen, Constance, or Lindau.
By invitation of the Zurich Council delegates from Schaffhausen, St. Gall, and Constance to the Bern disputation assembled in Zurich on January 1st, and so when the start was made the next day, which was Tuesday, there was quite an imposing array of ecclesiastics and other citizens, nearly one hundred in all; yet lest evil befall them it was accompanied by three hundred armed men to the borders of Bern. After that there was no danger. They entered Bern on January 4th. Zwingli and the burgomaster of Zurich, Diethelm Roeust, put up at the hospice, which was directly opposite to the gate of the city. Zwingli’s brother-in-law, Leonhard Tremp, was master of the hospice and a City Councillor.
Zwingli was easily the most distinguished man in the disputation, but the Roman Catholic theologians were conspicuous by their absence. They had of course no more desire than Zwingli had to talk to deaf ears or to expose themselves to insult and possible physical violence. It was the fashion of the day to ridicule intellectual opponents and attribute everything bad to them, nor has the fashion passed away.*
*Samuel Macauley Jackson, Huldreich Zwingli: The Reformer of German Switzerland (1484–1531) (Heroes of the Reformation; New York; London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons; Knickerbocker Press, 1901), 280–281.