Luther Was Glad When He Heard of Zwingli’s Death- Because He Hated Him

In a most enlightening footnote, Schaff writes

The deepest ground of Luther’s aversion to Zwingli must be sought in his mysticism and veneration for what he conceived to be the unbroken faith of the Church. He strikingly expressed this in his letter to Duke Albrecht of Prussia (which might easily be turned into a powerful argument against the Reformation itself).

He went so far as to call Zwingli a non-Christian (Unchrist), and ten times worse than a papist (March, 1528, in his Great Confession on the Lord’s Supper). His personal interview with him at Marburg (October, 1529) produced no change, but rather intensified his dislike.

He saw in the heroic death of Zwingli and the defeat of the Zurichers at Cappel (1531) a righteous judgment of God, and found fault with the victorious Papists for not exterminating his heresy (Wider etliche Rottengeister, Letter to Albrecht of Prussia, April, 1532, in De Wette’s edition of L. Briefe, Vol. IV. pp. 352, 353).

And even shortly before his death, unnecessarily offended by a new publication of Zwingli’s works, he renewed the eucharistic controversy in his Short Confession on the Lord’s Supper (1544, in Welch’s edition, Vol. XX. p. 2195), in which he abused Zwingli and Oecolampadius as heretics, liars, and murderers of souls, and calls the Reformed generally ‘eingeteufelte [ἐνδιαβολισθέντες], durchteufelte, überteufelte lästerliche Herzen und Lügenmäuler.’ No wonder that even the gentle Melanchthon called this a ‘most atrocious book,’ and gave up all hope for union (letter to Bullinger, Aug. 30, 1544, in Corp. Reform. Vol. V. p. 475: ‘Atrocissimum Lutheri scriptum, in quo bellum περὶ δείπνου κυριακοῦ instaurat;’ comp. also his letter to Bucer, Aug. 28, 1544, in Corp. Reform. Vol. V. p. 474, both quoted also by Gieseler, Vol. IV. p. 412, note 38, and p. 434, note 37).*

You should always read the footnotes.  Luther could be the vilest of men, offensive even to his closest friends- and not just in his attitude towards the Jews.  Equally vile are all the modern haters of Zwingli, because they hate him without cause.  And nothing is more vile, more wicked, and more un-christian than hating someone with whom you aren’t even really familiar.

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*The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The History of Creeds (Vol. 1).

14 thoughts on “Luther Was Glad When He Heard of Zwingli’s Death- Because He Hated Him

  1. I don’t have too much of a problem with Zwingli’s theology (not that I agree with everything), but ever since I stood at the spot by the river in Zurich where he had the Anabaptists hanged (and I’m not an Anabaptist), I have struggled to value that type of character. However, to be fair, I am also guarded for the same reasons when it comes to Luther. I appreciate some of the things he had to say, and I am revolted by statements like you quote above.

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    • one correction- Zwingli didn’t have anyone drowned- just as Calvin didn’t have anyone burned. such acts were the doings of the civic authorities. they saw the anabaptists (and servetus) as threats to the society and removed them either through imprisonment, exile, or as a last resort, execution.

      the common belief that the reformers were somehow responsible for the deaths of folk is simply wrong- and bad history.

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      • Yes, but that misses the point that both Zwingli and Calvin approved of the executions (although in Calvin’s case at least he asked for a different style of execution for Servetus). That’s what I am getting at. Fellow Christians being drowned by the church Zurich is totally at odds with NT ethics, and yes, the NT writers also lived in a violent religious world, but they bucked the trend as the Reformers should have.

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  2. Okay, well I will have to concede that I do not have a primary source. Fair question. I was told by a church history professor, Bryan Litfin, on a Reformation/Church History Tour of Europe as we were standing by the riverside. So I guess I cannot prove that Zwingli approved of the drownings. However, due to the fact that like in Geneva there was no separation of church and state and due to the fact that Zwingli was a man of the sword and not just a preacher, it would seem consistent with the general portrait of the Reformed leaders and how he is portrayed by Reformation historians. However, I grant that this ultimately proves nothing, though I don’t know why Litfin would have been wrong either.

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    • he wasn’t a ‘man of the sword’ and he didn’t die as a combatant. he was serving as a chaplain to the troops and like every other citizen of zurich was required by law to have a sword. he never unsheathed it. the ‘facts’ you were told are old saw lutheran mythology regarding zwingli- polemical invention pure and simple.

      this illustrates why primary sources are so very important. the zurichers kept excellent records. and a visit to the central library and the state archives allows access to them all. though most are also online or in print.

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    • as an aside- the importance of primary sources was driven home to me many years ago when a college prof teaching the reformation claimed that zwingli took the church organ key and threw it in the river. that simply never happened. but like so many things taught in colleges, it was repeated so often that it became ‘truth’. it’s what i call ‘history by wikipedia’.

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