Zwingli: Did You Know?

TWO OF ZWINGLI'S BEST KNOWN STATEMENTS are “Truth wears a happy face” and “Not to fear is the armor ”

Zwingli was responsible for the Zurich Council’s eleemosynary ordinance of January 12, 1525, in which the assets of the monasteries, which were taken over in the Reformation, were used to create a special fund to help the poor. Schools also benefitted from the fund.


Zwingli worked hard to shift the Swiss economy from dependence on mercenary service to agriculture and trade. He urged the people to productive labor with these words: “You are a tool in the hands of God. He demands your service, not your rest. Yet, how fortunate you are that he lets you take part in his work.”

As a youth Zwingli displayed musical gifts and learned to play six instruments.

In 1519 while a pastor in Zurich, the plague decimated the city. Nearly 3 of every ten people in Zurich died. Zwingli ministered to the victims and was struck with disease himself, but recovered. He composed a hymn about this ordeal see “Black Death Inspires Zwingli’s Plague Hymn”).

During 1516–17 Zwingli was pastor in the town of Einsiedeln. Later he acknowledged having a sexual affair while he was there.

As the reform proceeded in Zurich, Zwingli was criticized by conservatives for moving too fast, by radicals for moving too slow. In addition to removing the statues and artifacts from the inside of his church, he also forbade the use of the organ. The people were to give ear to the word of God alone.

At the Marburg Colloquy in 1529 (so named for the castle in which it was held) Zwingli and Luther could agree on fourteen doctrinal points, but could not agree on the last: the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Zwingli urged toleration for differing views. Luther regarded Zwingli’s plea for toleration as indication that the Zurich pastor did not take his own view seriously, indeed that Zwingli was not a true Christian minister at all.

Zwingli taught himself Greek and Hebrew to better understand the Scriptures. He copied by hand the Pauline epistles from Erasmus’s Greek New Testament and then memorized them.

While a pastor in Glarus Zwingli went as a chaplain with mercenary troops into Italy. The Swiss regularly hired out to fight wars for foreign powers, believing that the stability of their national economy depended on this war industry. During the Italian campaign Zwingli saw 6000 Swiss youth die in the service of the Pope at Marignon. He returned home convinced that “selling blood for gold ” was corrupting his people. Because of his efforts to abolish the practice he was forced to leave Glarus.

Zwingli died in battle in 1531, a battle between Protestant and Catholic Cantons. Protestants were disorganized and outnumbered, yet Zwingli preferred outright war to the slow pressure-by-embargo that his allies preferred. He believed that he was fighting to preserve the freedom to preach the Gospel. He was found badly wounded by enemy troops and was dispatched by a sword’s blow from a mercenary captain. His last words were reportedly: “They can kill the body but not the soul.”


Zwingli married Anna Reinhart, a young widow who brought three children to the marriage and gave Zwingli another three. Zwingli had written a letter to the Bishop of Constance seeking permission for priests to marry, but the Bishop refused. So after two years of secret marriage Ulrich and Anna were married publicly.

By the Editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #4 in 1984]

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