Bruce Gordon: “Remembering Zwingli in 2019: Current Debates about the Reformer and His Legacy”

It is something of a truism in Reformation scholarship to refer to Huldrych Zwingli as the "forgotten" reformer or as the "third man" after Martin Luther and John Calvin. There are many reasons why Zwingli's reputation has suffered, beginning in the sixteenth century when his successor Heinrich Bullinger struggled to defend the reputation of a prophet who died in battle. John Calvin believed that Zwingli was so controversial that he almost never mentioned his name, claiming, against the truth, never to have read the Swiss churchman. The 2019 anniversary of Zwingli's arrival in Zürich has led to significant and heated discussion of his thought and deeds, as well as of his legacy for the Reformed tradition in general and for his native Switzerland in particular. The most expensive movie ever produced in Switzerland is the recent biopic of Zwingli, and it has been a commercial success in a very secular country. Why?  This talk will examine recent debates surrounding the contested role of this brilliant yet flawed reformer that have appeared in scholarship, newspapers and visual media, and public exhibitions.  

Amy Nelson Burnett: “Clash of the Titans: Luther, Erasmus, and the Sacraments in the Swiss Reformation”

The Eucharistic controversy is often presented as a conflict between two theological giants, Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli, concerning Christ’s “real presence” in the sacrament. The early debate over the Lord’s Supper was more complicated than this, however. It went beyond the issue of Christ’s presence to include the nature of the sacraments more generally, questions concerning biblical interpretation, and the relationship between spiritual and material reality. Luther’s real opponent concerning the sacraments was Erasmus of Rotterdam, and Zwingli was only one of several thinkers who contributed to what would become the Reformed understanding of the sacraments. A description of the debate between Luther and his Swiss opponents over the Lord’s Supper helps us better understand the development of the Reformed tradition in conflict with both Lutheran and “baptistic” understandings.

John Roth: “’The axe has been laid to the root . . .’: Zwingli, the Anabaptists, and the Limits of Reform in the Swiss Reformation”

In 1523 Zwingli proclaimed, “Where there is faith, there is freedom.”   Within only a few years, however, the freedom that he claimed from the Catholic Church was one that he was no longer willing to extend to alternative perspectives.  The division within the early Swiss Reformation that led to the emergence Anabaptist movement started out as a “family quarrel.” But by 1525, the Zürich City Council declared adult baptism to be a capital offense, and executions of Anabaptists continued in Zürich and the surrounding countryside until 1614. This presentation will explore the beginnings of the Anabaptist movement in Zürich and the challenge that movement poised to Swiss Reformation as it took shape under Zwingli and Bullinger.

Jordan Ballor: “Church, State and the Swiss Reformation”

This presentation takes its point of departure in the contrast often drawn between the models of church and state represented by Zürich and Geneva, the ‘Erastian’ and the ‘Calvinist’ perspectives, respectively. While this contrast provides some helpful insights, the relationship between church and state in Reformation-era Switzerland is more complex and nuanced. When elements including excommunication, conscience, and toleration are added to our understanding, a more diverse and variegated landscape comes to the fore, with important implications for the development of liberalism and religious freedom down to the present day.

Esther Chung-Kim: “Poor Relief and the Politics of Preaching in Sixteenth-Century Zürich”

This presentation reveals that while early Swiss reformers accepted the demarcations of political and religious spheres, the one arena in which second-generation reformers challenged the model of separate spheres of political and religious jurisdictions was poor relief.  This contention arose because of two reasons. First, Swiss reformers considered poor relief a religious issue and embodied their role as prophet in their advocacy for the needy.  Second, reformers such as Heinrich Bullinger who served as chief minister of Zürich after Zwingli’s death expected the communal wealth of church property that had been confiscated by the city magistrates to be used for poor relief.  Swiss reformers, such as Heinrich Bullinger believed that the magistrates needed the ministers to guide them in the right use of communal wealth. In his interpretation of Scripture, Bullinger expressed his religious ideals for the sharing and distribution of wealth, since gifts and donations “given to God” were meant for godly purposes. In his speeches before the city council, he criticized the civil magistrates for misuse and misappropriation of church funds that were reserved for the poor.  Since poor relief was an expression of religious ideals manifested in a community, Bullinger engaged in the politics of preaching to encourage, even demand the proper use of communal wealth.