Tuesday 5 May 2015

Bitesize Biography: Ulrich Zwingli

My children are about to start learning about the Middle Ages and the Reformation so I was delighted to have the chance to do some background reading about Ulrich Zwingli. 

Ulrich Zwingli by William Boekestein

Evangelical Press has produced a series of short biographies and this is a new addition to the series, written by William Boekestein.

First, a disclaimer: I am neither a theologian nor a historian.

This book introduces us to Ulrich Zwingli, man of the late Middle Ages and to some of the history of Switzerland. 

Zwingli was born in Switzerland, spent most of his life there and died in a Swiss civil war. It became obvious, early in Zwingli's life that he was academically gifted and he was given a Renaissance education so that he was well versed in Classical writers and later in the Church Fathers. 

At the age of twenty two, Zwingli was ordained as a priest, apparently without theological training. Through his early charge, Zwingli moved away from Roman Catholic belief to a more Bible centred faith. A trip to Milan seems to have sparked interest in whether the Roman Catholic church could sustain latitude in theological matters as well as a desire to learn New Testament Greek. 

I am still rather vague about Zwingli's personal faith. The book states

In Zwingli's embrace of the Greek New Testament we see evidence of his continuing conversion. His was not abrupt like that of Luther. Rather, God brought him gradually into a deeper and more sanctified relationship with himself.

Zwingli was a powerful man and from his first charge seems to have been consulted about national affairs. In time, he became minister in Zurich. Whilst in Zurich, he lead the reformation there and was an advocate for restraint in the way images were removed. Like most reformers, he had enemies and those who disagreed with him. Luther and Zwingli were in many ways not so far apart theologically but disagreed on the physical presence of the Lord's body and blood in the Lord's Supper. Sadly, this lead to a rift between them, probably more of Luther's making.

 The Anabaptists were persecuted in Zurich, as elsewhere, and the most important issue appears to have been the separation of church and state with the Anabaptists believing in a church with a regenerate membership. 

It is thought that Calvin used some of Zwingli's work when writing his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Sadly, towards the end of his life Zwingli became very involved in politics and making war with the Roman Catholic Forest Cantons. He died fighting for Zurich. Ultimately, this lead to Zurich ministers not being involved in battles

My thoughts about this book:
  • It was helpful to learn about the Swiss Reformation.
  • Obviously, this is a secondary source but it would have been helpful to have more primary source material quoted. This is particularly important in the following areas:
  • Zwingli's conversion. I was quite unsure about what Zwingli's faith meant to him personally. There is a quote at the end of the book, in Zwingli's legacy which partly remedies this but more quotes would have been helpful. The inference from the last chapter about Zwingli's Legacy suggests that there is far more evidence about a personal faith.
  • Zwingli and morality. Zwingli did fall into immorality, on more than one occasion, and there is a quote which suggests that he was deeply repentant about this. Yet, one of the hall marks of his reformation preaching was about immorality in the clergy. Was he a hypocrite or was he preaching about an intolerable situation where he was trapped in a vow of celibacy that he couldn't keep? Supporting the latter, he certainly campaigned for priests to be allowed to marry.
  • At the end of the book, I wanted to know more about this large and complex character which may have achieved the aim of a bite sized biography!
The Bitesize biography of Zwingli is available from Evangelical Press and is 164 pages in length.

I was provided with The Bible is God's Word for the purpose of this review. The opinions are my own. I was not required to provide a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.

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  1. This is really interesting for us, as we are currently making lapbooks about Martin Luther, and we have just read about Zwingli in Mystery of History. Thank you for letting us know about this series :-)

    1. Thank you, Gwen. I'm looking forward to learning about the Reformation with the children.

  2. I have read a couple of books in the Bitesize Biographies series as well (Francis Schaeffer and William Farel) and found them to be good introductions to the lives and thoughts of their subjects. Thanks for the review of this one!

    1. The Schaeffer Bitesize Biography is on my "to read" list. I like the length of these biographies-they aren't impossible around family life.