When Democracy Degenerates (Zwingli)

In 1531 Ulrich Zwingli wrote what is now called “An Exposition of the Faith.” He wrote it to the French court to explain the doctrines he believed – doctrines which the other early Reformers also taught and which were ultimately based on Scripture. One point in this document Zwingli is where basically noted that he and his fellow Reformers were in favor of submitting to government; they weren’t anti-government like the Anabaptists.

One part of this “government” section that I found fascinating was where Zwingli gave a brief explanation of human governments as the Greeks taught: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. He doesn’t really weigh in his opinion on these as much as explain them. What he says about democracy is very fascinating and totally relevant today. (Note: I very much appreciate democracy. I don’t have an underlying motive in sharing this quote except to say it is relevant for thought in our American context today. It’s food for thought!)

Finally they [the Greeks] recognize a democracy, which the Latins render by “res publica, republic,” a word of broader meaning than democracy, where affairs, that is, the supreme power, are in the hands of the people in general, the entire people; and all the civil offices, honors, and public functions are in the hands of the whole people. When this form degenerates, the Greeks call it σύστρεμμα ἢ σύστασις, that is, a state of sedition, conspiracy, and disturbance, where no man suffers himself to be held in check, and instead each one, asserting that he is a part and a member of the people, claims the power of the state as his own, and each one follows his own reckless desires. Hence there arise unrestrained conspiracies and factions, followed by bloodshed, plundering, injustice and all the other evils of treason and sedition.

 Huldreich Zwingli, The Latin Works of Huldreich Zwingli, ed. William John Hinke, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: Heidelberg Press, 1922), 262.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Reformation and Its Letters (Benedict)

Christ's Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism

Those who are familiar with the history and literature of the Reformation know that it was a time of much writing. The printing presses of the day – a relatively new technology in the early 16th century – seemed to be working around the clock to get Reformation literature into the hands of the people. And letters! The Reformers wrote so many letters to so man people and groups. Thankfully many of these letters have survived and we can still read them today.

Speaking of letters, I was amazed when I learned that the Heinrich Bullinger (b. 1504) was an even more prolific letter writer than Calvin or Luther, for example. No doubt many letters of the Reformers have been lost so we will never know exactly how many letters they wrote. But on this topic, read this fascinating paragraph by Philip Benedict in Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed:

The wide dissemination achieved by the writings of Bullinger, Vermigli, and Musculus spread their ideas far beyond the original heartland of the Reformation. So too did a final aspect of their work, their letter writing. Letters were one of the major means churchmen used in this period to keep abreast of events unfolding throughout Europe, to advise and console kindred spirits in distant lands, and to win converts to their views. Their reach extended beyond the original recipients, for edifying letters were often copied and passed along to other potentially interested parties without the express consent of their authors, who wrote in full awareness of this possibility. No Protestant reformer appears to have kept more couriers busy carrying letters to distant lands than Bullinger. Some fifteen thousand letters to and from him survive, more than ten times as many as survive for Zwingli and more than three times as many as for either Luther or Calvin, although it is impossible to know the fraction of each one’s correspondence lost or destroyed. Like Zwingli, Bullinger conducted his most intense epistolary relations with correspondents in and around Switzerland, most notably with the cities of Bern, Basel, Chur, Geneva, Schaffhausen, Saint-Gall, Constance, Augsburg, Strasbourg, and Heidelberg. Unlike his predecessor (Zwingli), he also corresponded frequently with people in England, Poland, Hungary, France, and Italy.

Benedict goes on to note that a team of scholars started publishing Bullinger’s letters in 1973. However, since there are so many of these letters it will take well over 100 years to translate them all at the current pace. As a side, I’m very thankful for men and women who painstakingly translate Reformation literature!

Here’s the citation for the above quote: Philip Benedict, Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed, p. 63.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

He Calls You So Graciously (Zwingli)

Huldreich (Ulrich) Zwingli, the Swiss Reformer, was born in 1484, the same year as the German Reformer, Martin Luther. Zwingli is often known today for his memorialist view of the Lord’s Supper. However, there’s a lot more to Zwingli’s labors and teaching than a certain view of the Supper. He did clearly preach the truths of Scripture and criticized the doctrinal and moral abuses of the church in his day. Below is one excellent example found in his published sermon called “The Clarity and Certainty of the Word.”

Illustration: A man is longing for his soul’s salvation, and he asks a Carthusian: Dear brother, what must I do to be saved? And the answer will undoubtedly be this: Enter our order, and you will assuredly be saved, for it is the most rigorous. But ask a Benedictine and he replies: It is worth noting that salvation is easiest in our order, for it is the most ancient. But if you ask a Dominican he will answer: In our order salvation is certain, for it was given from heaven by our Lady. And if you ask a Franciscan, he will say: Our order is the greatest and most famous of all; consider then whether you will find salvation more easily in any other. And if you ask the Pope he will say: It is easiest with an indulgence. And if you ask those of Compostella they will say: If you come here to St. James you will never be lost and you will never be poor.

You see, they all show you some different way, and they all contend fiercely that their way is the right one. But the seeking soul cries out: Alas! whom shall I follow? They all argue so persuasively that I am at a loss what to do. And finally it can only run to God and earnestly pray to him, saying: Oh God, show me which order or which way is the most certain. You fool, you go to God simply that he may distinguish between men, and you do not ask him to show you that way of salvation which is pleasing to him and which he himself regards as sure and certain. Note that you are merely asking God to confirm something which men have told you.

But why do you not say: Oh God, they all disagree amongst themselves; but you are the only, unconcealed good; show me the way of salvation? And the Gospel gives us a sure message, or answer, or assurance. Christ stands before you with open arms, inviting you and saying (Matt. 11): “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” O glad news, which brings with it its own light, so that we know and believe that it is true, as we have fully shown above. For the one who says it is a light of the world. He is the way, the truth and the light. In his Word we can never go astray. We can never be deluded or confounded or destroyed in his Word. If you think there can be no assurance or certainty for the soul, listen to the certainty of the Word of God. The soul can be instructed and enlightened – note the clarity – so that it perceives that its whole salvation and righteousness, or justification, is enclosed in Jesus Christ, and it has therefore the sure comfort that when he himself invites and calls you so graciously he will never cast you out. 

Ulrich Zwingli, “The Clarity and Certainty of the Word”, in Zwingli and Bullinger, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953) p.83-83.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

Holding the Word in the ​Highest Esteem (Zwingli)

 Many of us may know about Ulrich Zwingli’s memorial view of the Lord’s Supper.  And some of us, such as myself, might disagree with it.  But Zwingli had some good teaching from which we can learn.  For one example, in 1522 Zwingli preached a sermon on the clarity and certainty of God’s word.  The published version is short and to the point.  Here are a few good paragraphs from it:

Now if you ask yourself when you are called by God: how am I to prepare myself, so that I may be certain to attain grace? I reply: put all your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, rest assured that he suffered for us and is the atoning sacrifice that has freed us for all eternity (1 John 2:2). The moment you believe, know that you are drawn by the Father and that which you regard as your own work is the Spirit of God secretly at work within you. For Christ says: “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me” (John 6:44). Listen: when you seek him and find him and hold fast to him, you are being drawn by the Father; otherwise you could never have come to him.…

Now, at last, to make an end of answering objections, our view of the matter is this: We should hold the word of God in the highest possible esteem and acknowledge only that which comes from the Spirit of God. We should trust it in a way that we cannot trust any other word. For the word of God is certain and can never deceive. It is clear and never leaves us groping in the dark. The word of God interprets itself and offers the correct understanding. It illumines the soul with full salvation and grace, fills the soul with sure trust in God, and it humbles the soul, so that the soul loses and even condemns itself while taking God into itself. The soul lives in God, yearning diligently for him and rejecting all creaturely consolation. God alone is the soul’s salvation and assurance. Without him it has no rest; it rests in him alone….

Ulrich Zwingli, “The Clarity and Certainty of the Word of God, 1522,” in Early Protestant Spirituality, ed. Scott H. Hendrix and Bernard McGinn, trans. Scott H. Hendrix, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2009), 47–48.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Zwingli on Infant Baptism in the OT

The early Reformer Huldreich Zwingli wrote a helpful treatise against early baptists.  The title of this treatise (which made me chuckle at first) is Refutation of the Tricks of the Catabaptists.  Though Zwingli isn’t always the best to read, in my opinion, this tract is more than worthwhile.

For example, he uses Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor 10.1-2 (our fathers were under the cloud, passed through the sea, and baptized into Moses) to refute the anabaptists.  The anabaptists had rejected Zwingli’s assertion that at least some “family baptisms” in the NT included infants, so Zwingli went with Paul to the OT to prove his point.

“…There were infants also under the cloud, yet no individual mention is made of them.  All crossed the sea.  Yet the infants could not have crossed.  Therefore they crossed who did not, but were borne (carried) by those who did. …All were baptized unto Moses…therefore, not only adults, but infants also, were baptized unto Moses.  For if they who were infants at the crossing of the Red Sea were not baptized, the apostle did not speak correctly in saying: All were baptized unto Moses, for they were, as I have just said, the fathers of their posterity.”

“The Hebrew children were all baptized in the cloud and in the sea, just as are ours.  Paul, in the passage cited, tends in no other direction than to prove that they are as much initiated by our sacraments as we ourselves.  It follows therefore, first, that in Paul’s time it was the custom of the apostles to baptize infants; second, if anyone contradicts it he vitiates the opinion of Paul.”

This is great!  Paul clearly says that in the OT, infants were “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”  To say that “our fathers” were only those of age who could make a decision is to wrest the meaning of Paul from his own pen.  Every Israelite who crossed the Red Sea under the Cloud was baptized – even the little baby who was crying to be nursed, even the little toddler who was frightened as he felt the spray of the parted sea on his skin.  

The above quote and context can be found on books.google.com; Zwingli’s Works (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1901), 159-161.

shane lems
sunnyside wa