Ulrich Zwingli of Zurich: From Humanist to Reformer 1484-1531

Posted on September 27, 2008. Filed under: Church History |

Ulrich Zwingli of Zurich: From Humanist to Reformer 1484-1531


Overview: Though Zwingli was educated in the Erasmian humanist manner, he was led to the doctrine of the sole authority of the Scriptures and justification by God’s grace through faith alone. Zwingli and Luther arrived at the same conclusions independently and virtually simultaneously. Serving as pastor in Zurich from 1519-31 Zwingli’s preaching was exegetical and some of his followers went on to start the Anabaptists. He and Luther disagreed on the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, Zwingli taking a memorial view. Deeply involved in the politics and military of Zurich, Zwingli died at the battle of Kappel in 1531.


  • Attends the University of Vienna 1498; goes to Basel in 1502 & receives MA; 1506 begins pastoring in Glaris and starts studying Greek. Meets Erasmus in 1514.
  • Moves to Einsidlen as priest and begins to preach the Gospel in 1516.
  • 1517 Zwingli memorizes the Epistles of Paul.
  • 1518 becomes the people’s priest at the Cathedral of Zurich. In 1520 the city council declares that only the Word of God should be preached.
  • 1523 he convinces the city council that salvation is by faith in Christ alone and argues for the removal of images from the churches.
  • 1524 Zwingli married Anna Reinhardt; they have 4 children.
  • 1525 a student of Zwingli’s, Conrad Grebel-son of a Zurich city councilman-led a group of students into the belief and practice of Believer’s Baptism. The city council sided with Zwingli and denounced the radicals led by Grebel and Felix Manz. The Radical Reformation was born. This is part of the beginning of the Baptist story.
  • 1526 he meets Luther at the Colloquy of Marburg; they have a terrible disagreement over the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, Zwingli taking a memorial view, Luther holding to consubstantiation and the spiritual presence of Christ.
  • 1529-31 two wars between Catholics and Protestants in Switzerland. Zwingli dies in battle October 11, 1531.


  • While studying in Basel 1502-06 he is influenced by Thomas Wyttenbach as well as Erasmian thought towards the doctrines of sola scriptura, sola gratia & sola fide.
  • By 1518, like Luther, he was preaching against penance, relics and indulgences.
  • His dispute with Luther over the Lord’s Supper led to diverging paths amongst the Protestants. His radical Biblicism led his followers to believer’s baptism.
  • He did away with the mass, rewrote the service to focus on the sermon, and did away with much of the music. Though an accomplished musician, he sold the church organ, not finding any New Testament warrant for musical instruments.
  • His reliance on the Zurich city council, his participation in politics and willingness to take up the sword point to a mixing of church and state.


Questions for Further Study & Application on Ulrich Zwingli and the Swiss Reformation

What is the significance of the Greek New Testament produced by Erasmus for the Swiss and German reform movements?


How did a backyard Bar-B-Q of some sausages help further the reformation in Zurich in 1522?


Why did Zwingli not follow the New Testament teaching about Baptism like his students Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz did?


Zwingli was not afraid to use the city council of Zurich to advance the reformation cause. What are the blessings and dangers of a minister being involved in local politics?


Zwingli memorized the Pauline Epistles. How much scripture do you have memorized?


Recommended Reading: For God and His People: Ulrich Zwingli and the Swiss Reformation, Jean Henri Merle D’Aubigne’. BJU Press: Greenville, SC. 2000 (286pp.) originally published as part of a 5 volume History of the Reformation 1835-53.


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