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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

And others were more Zwinglian than Lutheran


doubtless to this republican training, Zwingli had none of that aloofness from political affairs which was a marked characteristic of Luther. He believed that his mission had as much to do with politics as with religion, and that religious reformation was to be worked out by political forces, whether in the more limited sphere of Switzerland or in larger Germany. He had never taken a step forward until he had carried along with him the civic authorities of Zurich. His advance had always been calculated. Luther's _Theses_ (November 1517) had been the volcanic outburst of a conscience troubled by the sight of a great religious scandal, and their author had no intention of doing more than protesting against the one great evil; he had no idea at the time where his protest was leading him. Zwingli's _Theses_ (January 1523) were the carefully drafted programme of a Reformation which he meant to accomplish by degrees, and through the assistance of the Council of Zurich. His mind was full of political combinations for the purpose of carrying out his plans of reformation. As early as 1524 he was in correspondence with Pirkheimer about the possibility of a league between Nuernberg and Zurich--two powerful Protestant towns. This league did not take shape. But in 1527 a religious and political league (_das christliche Buergerrecht_) was concluded between Zurich and Constance, an imperial German town; St. Gallen joined in 1528; Biel, Muehlhausen, and Basel in 1529; even Strassburg, afraid
of the growing power of the House of Hapsburg, was included in 1530. The feverish political activity of Zwingli commended him to Philip of Hesse almost as strongly as it made him disliked, and even feared, by Ferdinand of Austria. The Elector of Saxony and Luther dreaded his influence over "the young man of Hesse."

Melanchthon was the first to insist on the evil influences of Zwingli's activity for the peace of the Empire. He persuaded himself that had the Lutherans stood alone at Speyer, the Romanists would have been prepared to make concessions which would have made the Protest needless. He returned to Wittenberg full of misgivings. The Protest might lead to a defiance of the Emperor, and to a subversion of the Empire. Was it right for subjects to defend themselves by war against the civil power which was ordained of God? "My conscience," he wrote, "is disquieted because of this thing; I am half dead with thinking about it."

He found Luther only too sympathetic; resolute to maintain that if the prince commanded anything which was contrary to the word of God, it was the duty of the subject to offer what passive resistance he was able, but that it was never right to oppose him actively by force of arms. Still less was it the duty of a Christian man to ally himself for such resistance with those who did not hold "the whole truth of God." Luther would therefore have nothing to do with an alliance offensive and defensive against the Emperor with cities who shared in what he believed to be the errors of Zwingli.

This meant a great deal more than a break with the Swiss. The south German towns of Strassburg, Memmingen, Constance, Lindau, and others were more Zwinglian than Lutheran. It was not only that they were inclined to the more radical theology of the Swiss Reformer; they found that his method of organising a reformed Church, drafted for the needs of Zurich, suited their municipal institutions better than the territorial organisations being adopted by the Lutheran Churches of North Germany. To Luther, whose views of the place of the "common man" in the Church had been changed by the Peasants' War, this was of itself a danger which threatened the welfare of the infant Churches. It made ecclesiastical government too democratic; and it did this in the very centres where the democracy was most dangerous. He could not forget that the mob of these German towns had taken part in the recently suppressed social revolution, that their working-class population was still the recruiting ground of the Anabaptist sectaries, and that at Memmingen itself Zwinglian partisans had helped to organise the revolution, and to link it on to the religious awakening. Besides, the attraction which drew these German cities to the Swiss might lead to larger political consequences which seemed to threaten what unity remained to the German Empire. It might result in the detachment of towns from the German Fatherland, and in the formation of new cantons cut adrift from Germany to increase the strength of the Swiss Confederation.

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