This smallish format paperback, one in the series of ‘Bitesize Biographies’, in ~ 160 pages, 12 chapters, and one appendix presents a factually laden account of one of the early Swiss reformers, a Roman priest who became an influential, biblically reformed pastor, political leader, and military chaplain. The author is a pastor of a Pennsylvania URCNA church and has written several high quality children’s books about notable Reformed people and confessions, among others.
His aim is to provide a brief, factual, readable introduction to Zwingli and the significance of events surrounding his life, practices, theology, and influence, those things occurring during a tumultuous time of seemingly long overdue theological and ecclesiastical reform of the Christian faith in bringing it closer to its biblical, apostolic, gospel roots. This book is intended for those interested in the Reformation, its major players, and its historical, theological, political, cultural, and economic contexts, especially as those took place in Switzerland in the early 16th century.
INTERACTION & REFLECTION:
“Ulrich Zwingli” yielded helpful insight into a world very different in many ways from our own in 21st century America, being removed in both time, advances in knowledge, and distance. They perhaps: were more grounded in immediate natural reality vs. man-made / electronic, less scientifically advanced / physically comfortable, had less access to media, were feeling their way back to sound apostolic theology and practices, saw slow but decisive and profoundly revolutionary reformation of Rome’s practices and teachings, had deep entanglements of church and state, were hungry for spiritual truth, etc., while, like all people of all ages, being wholly populated initially from conception with those fundamentally in the same dead, unresponsive spiritual condition as we all were outside the grace / church of God.
The book tells of Zwingli’s relationships with such people as Erasmus, Bullinger, and Luther, his classic education and study of classics, and his eventual ministry in Zurich where he began to preach through Scripture, eventually coming into major, deadly conflict with Rome. Some of his followers became radical Anabaptist, iconoclastic opponents on the left. Other opponents were Rome on the right, and even sadly, strangely by a rather harsh, intransigent Luther.
Some useful things I learned were that Zwingli’s first real conflict came during the Lenten season in 1522 in which Zwingli resisted Rome’s imposition of dietary restrictions citing Christian freedom in those things not explicitly or implicitly proscribed in Scripture. This was essentially a matter of ultimate authority where he began to reject the unbiblical binding of the conscience with purely man-made rules that flowed from Rome’s deadening accretions to the faith added over the centuries. Things snowballed from there, including further divisions over required celibacy of church leaders and most fundamentally the authority, power, sufficiency, and clarity of Scripture. Zwingli may have gone too far at first in denying the need for reading Scripture within the context of the historic church, but he generally remained a moderating, mediating influence compared to many of his followers, perhaps somewhat like Luther in that respect.
In a first disputation (1523) the Zurich city council defended Zwingli against Rome and upped the educational requirements for clergy and lay, rejected the invocation of saints, images, the standard mass and took a more biblical approach on the Supper, baptism, papal authority, etc. A second disputation called by Zurich involved ~ 900 participants, a meeting theologically dominated by the Zwingli camp. 1524 saw increasing turmoil between Zurich and the rest of Switzerland including executions, etc. of those now deviating from Rome. Many other events, meeting, activities, etc. took place for the next seven years until his death. He died in a battle with Swiss Catholics, along with many relatives, but by then the power of the pure and simple gospel had taken hold in that country and in much of Western Europe.
The life of Zwingli depicts the power of the Spirit and Word which combined n gospel preaching and practices to overthrow the human power of an established church which, via man-made accretions and perversions of theology and practices, etc., had grown increasingly at odds with the gospel of Christ found in Scripture (the 66 books of the Protestant canon).
I found this book to be well written, factual, based on solid research, insightful in interpretation, and quite helpful in bringing to life the contextual situations, events, and facts of the life of this important Reformer. This book should be useful to those interested in this significant man, that historical period, the theology of the early Reformation, the history of Switzerland, etc. I recommend it for those readers (4.7 stars). It was provided gratis by EP Books via Cross-Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest, balanced review.