Cradle of the Reformed Churches
Switzerland’s current largest city was the first to embrace the Reformation at the behest of its authorities and became the cradle of the Reformed Church wing of the Reformation.
Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531) started preaching at Zurich’s Grossmünster (Great Cathedral) in 1519. A humanist scholar, Zwingli criticised the custom of many young Swiss men fighting wars as mercenaries for foreign rulers, thus depleting the population of their home country. He did not base his sermons on the early church’s conventional Bible passages (pericopes), but instead started relating the Bible from start to finish (lectio continua) in order to do justice to the entire message of the Holy Scripture.
Zwingli defended a demonstrative meal of sausage at the home of Zurich book printer Christoph Froschauer during Lent 1522 by declaring that the customary fast lacked Biblical foundation. The City Council supported his stance and convened two disputations on the Biblical foundations of church teachings and practices. It subsequently abolished Saints’ Days, processions, religious icons and fasting regimes on the basis of their apparent lack of Biblical foundation. The Bishop’s authority was no longer recognised and the Reformation was implemented in the city. In 1525, scholars started to meet every day in Zurich’s Great Cathedral to interpret the Bible’s original Hebrew and Greek texts. This process of exegesis, known as the “Prophesy”, formed the basis of the Zurich Bible, which was first printed in its entirety in 1530. The more radical reformist groups, who disputed the City Council’s authority and formed Baptist congregations, were condemned, executed or expelled. The differences between the Zurich Reformation and the Wittenberg Reformation also became increasingly apparent. At the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, Zwingli and Luther remained at loggerheads over the issue of Holy Communion. A chasm was also opening up between the Confederation’s Catholic and Reformed cities that would eventually erupt in war. It was in the battle near Kappel, which Zurich conceded in 1531, that Zwingli lost his life. Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575), who succeeded Zwingli as leader of the Zurich Reformation, clearly delineated the new faith from the Baptists’ and Catholics’. However, the key impetus of the Reformed wing of the Reformation shifted towards Geneva and John Calvin (1509-1564). Nonetheless, Bullinger was able to reach an agreement with Calvin in the Consensus Tigurinus in 1549 and use the two Helvetic Confessions of 1536 and 1566 to help establish a common doctrinal basis for the Reformed Churches.
The concentration of these various events in and around Zurich led the city’s designation as cradle of the Reformed Churches.