Written on January 09th, 2007 by Shawn Anthony
The conflict created by Zwingli’s dedication to radical reformation was a direct result of his strong belief in a practical Christianity. Zwingli would do his part in the reformation effort, or die trying. He did both.
The many conflicts Zwingli faced were “practice” oriented. In other words, everyday Christianity - or practical expression - became the most pressing issue for the reformer. Zwingli’s expression is defined over and/or against the norm - a norm in dire need of proper reform.
One example of this conflict orientation can be seen in a sermon titled “Of freedom of Choice in the Selection of Food.” Zwingli summarizes his thoughts regarding Lent succinctly: “… if you want to fast, do so; if you do not want to eat meat, don’t eat it; but allow Christians a free choice” (Zwingli, Of Freedom of Choice in the Selection of Food 153). His sermon proved persuasive as many of his followers took to eating meat during Lent. These particular Christians may have seemed anything but faithful to the Catholic Orthodox, but individually each proved him or herself to be “a Christian at heart,” according to the Zwingli reformative design (Zwingli, Of Freedom of Choice in the Selection of Food 153).
A second example of the importance placed upon proper Christian practice or expression by Zwingli can be read in his “Of the Clarity and Certainty of the Word of God.” Zwingli’s dedication to his era’s brand of humanism shaped the hermeneutic with which he made his approach to the Scripture. This approach to the Scripture would prove important to his reformation efforts; it equipped him with a formidable apologetic with which he challenged the established hierarchy’s stranglehold on ecclesiastic power and control. How did Zwingli challenge this established power and control? He prioritized the “Word of God” over tradition and human interpretation. Christians must be “theodidacti,” that is, “taught of God, not of men,” according to Zwingli (Zwingli, Of the Clarity and Certainty of the Word of God 155). God’s teaching, therefore, is the only teaching for which individuals should strive. The obvious question then becomes one of clarification: “Where or from who does on go or receive the teaching of God? Is such teaching limited to one side or the other? Is it entirely Protestant; is it wholly Catholic. Zwingli seems sure as he positions himself on the side of God: “I know for certain that God teaches me, for I know this by experience” (Zwingli, Of the Clarity and Certainty of the Word of God 155). Experience informed by the “Word of God” trumps ecclesiastical tradition and human interpretation in Zwingli’s reformation.
A third orientation example can be found in Zwingli’s “Sixty-Seven Theses.” The sixty-seven articles are theologically laden, at least initially. The first ten deal directly with the issue of Christology and the potential application of the truths therein. Practice then becomes the issue for the remaining fifty-seven. Zwingli makes his focus upon practice and correct expression extremely clear at the end of the document. He writes in theses number sixty-seven, seemingly as a reminder for those readers who may have missed his point concerning proper practice, “If anyone wishes to discuss with me concerning interest, tithes, unbaptized children, or confirmation, I am ready to answer” (Zwingli, Sixty-Seven Theses 158).
Zwingli’s seemingly singular focus upon proper Christian practice may lead one to believe his was a Christianity focused upon practical living at the expense of theology. This is not the case. Zwingli’s focus upon practice is grounded within a larger theological expression of which practice is but a branch, albeit a major one. Zwingli’s “On True and False Religion” is the clearest example of a balanced practicality and theology, something the Catholic Church lacked, at least in Zwingli’s reformer’s mind. It becomes clear that proper practice is a result of solid theology; a house in which one lives his or her everyday life can not be built upon a poor foundation. Zwingli writes, for example, concerning the Eucharist and the theology of transubstantiation in “On True and False Religion.” He clearly has the actual practice of the sacrament in mind as he theologically expounds on the subject: “But if others have told you that this is my view, I say to them that in this matter I hold as the church of Christ holds. She will not even brook the question whether the body of Christ is in the Sacrament of the Eucharist in actual, physical, or essential form. For when you bring up these elements of the world, she will thrust this buckler in your face: ‘”The flesh profiteth nothing”‘ [John 6.63]; why then, do you dispute about the flesh?” (Zwingli, On True and False Religion 159). Zwingli is not without a theological foundation upon which he can build his Christian practice.
In conclusion, it is remarkably clear that the conflict created by Zwingli’s radical reformation was rooted in practice. Practice is, after all, the tangible expression of theological beliefs. Zwingli’s approach to the Scripture resulted in a very conservative theology which sought out a Church characterized by historical Christianity with which it could live and thrive. This was not the Church of his day, so reformation consequently followed. Zwingli would create the Church in which proper practice existed, if the present Church would not alter its misguided ways.