Saturday, 27 May 2006

For the love of God (5): Why I love Zwingli

A guest-post by Jim West

My initial introduction to Huldrych (sometimes Ulrich, though he preferred the former) Zwingli was many years ago now in an “Introduction to the Reformation” class I took as an undergrad. The Professor liked Luther and Calvin and gave only short shrift to Zwingli—a man whom he described as a maniac. The Prof opined that Zwingli “hated church music and took the key to the church organ of the Grossmünster and threw it into the lake.”

I wondered where he got these facts, so I started looking. Lo and behold, his story about the key and the organ turned out to be wholly apocryphal. And so, I reasoned, his opinion about Zwingli concerning music must be wrong as well—as it was. Zwingli didn’t hate church music—he was himself an accomplished musician, playing more than a dozen instruments! It was the abuse of music in the church that Zwingli despised.

So, if the Prof were wrong about these things, it seemed to me, he must also be wrong about Zwingli altogether. Zwingli was no maniac; he was the most pastoral and most conciliatory of all the great reformers, and he deserved better than he was getting at the hands of scholars who blindly loved Luther.

Thus began my life-long interest in discovering the real Zwingli. To summarize what this great man means to me in a short space is utterly impossible. I must be content with simply suggesting that, of all the magisterial reformers, he alone and singularly demonstrated that “faith without works is dead.” Luther was possessed by his own notion of “faith,” and Calvin was possessed by a desire for “works”; only Zwingli held the two together in proper tension.

Only Zwingli was a pastor. Only Zwingli was the absolute combination of scholar, theologian, and preacher. That’s why I love Zwingli. He is what I have always wished—and have failed so miserably—to be.

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