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The witness of

THE SWISS CATASTROPHE

in Protestantism

 


SWITZERLAND - CATASTROPHE 1528-1531.

BOOK 16 CHAPTER 1

by

J. H. Merle D'Aubigne

(Many long paragraphs have been modified for easier reading. The compilers of this site have added all the emphasis, as well as the entries in square brackets.)


Contents

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Two great LessonsChristian WarfareZwingle, Pastor, Statesman, and GeneralHis noble CharacterPersecutionsSwiss Catholics seek an Alliance with AustriaGreat DissatisfactionDeputation to the Forest CantonsZwingle's ProposalModeration of BerneKeyser's MartyrdomZwingle and WarZwingle's Error.

 

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It was the will of God that at the very gates of his revived Church there should be two great examples to serve as lessons for future generations.

Luther and the German Reformation, declining the aid of the temporal power, rejecting the force of arms, and looking for victory only in the confession of truth, were destined to see their faith crowned with the most brilliant success;

while Zwingle and the Swiss Reformation, stretching out their hands to the mighty ones of the earth, and grasping the sword, were fated to witness a horrible, cruel, and bloody catastrophe fall upon the Word of God - a catastrophe which threatened to engulf the evangelical cause in the most furious whirlpool.

God is a jealous God, and gives not his glory to another; he claims to perform his own work himself, and to attain his ends sets other springs in motion than those of a skilful diplomacy.

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We are far from forgetting that we are called upon to relate facts and not to discuss theories; but there is a principle which the history we are narrating sets forth in capital letters: it is that professed in the Gospel, where it says: THE WEAPONS OF OUR WARFARE ARE NOT CARNAL, BUT MIGHTY THROUGH GOD!

In maintaining this truth we do not place ourselves on the ground of any particular school, but on that of universal conscience and of the Word of God.

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Of all carnal support that religion can invoke, there is none more injurious to it than arms and diplomacy. The latter throws it into tortuous ways; the former hurries it into paths of bloodshed; and religion, from whose brow has been torn the double wreath of truth and meekness, presents but a degraded and humiliated countenance that no person can, that no person desires to recognise.

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It was the very extension of the Reform in Switzerland that exposed it to the dangers under which it sunk. So long as it was concentrated at Zurich, it continued a religious matter; but when it had gained Berne, Basle, Schaffhausen, St. Gall, Glaris, Appenzell, and numerous bailiwicks [country areas], it formed inter-cantonal relations; and - here was the error and misfortune — while the connection should have taken place between church and church, it was formed between state and state.

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As soon as spiritual and political matters became mingled together, the latter took the upperhand. Zwingle erelong thought it his duty to examine not only doctrinal, but also federal questions; and the illustrious reformer might be seen, unconscious of the snares beneath his feet, precipitating himself into a course strewn with rocks, at the end of which a cruel death awaited him.

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The primitive [early] Swiss cantons had resigned the right of forming new alliances without the consent of all; but Zurich and Berne had reserved the power. Zwingle thought himself therefore quite at liberty to promote an alliance with the evangelical states. Constance was the first city that gave her adhesion. But this Christian co-burghery [union], which might become the germ of a new confederation, immediately raised up numerous adversaries against Zwingle, even among the partisans of the Reformation.

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There was yet time: Zwingle might withdraw from public affairs, and occupy himself entirely with those of the Gospel. But no one in Zurich had, like him, that application to labour, that correct, keen, and sure eye, so necessary for politicians. If he retired, the vessel of the state would be left without a pilot. Besides, he was convinced that political acts alone could save the Reform. He resolved, therefore, to be at one and the same time the man of the State and of the Church.

The registers prove that in his later years he took part in the most important deliberations; and he was commissioned by the councils of his canton to write letters, compose proclamations, and draw up opinions. Already, before the dispute with Berne, looking upon war as possible, he had traced out a very detailed plan of defence, the manuscript of which is still in existence. In 1528 he did still more; he showed in a remarkable paper, how the republic should act with regard to the [Holy Roman] empire, France, and other European states, and with respect to the several cantons and bailiwicks.

Then, as if he had grown gray at the head of the Helvetic [Swiss] troops (and it is but just [correct] to remark that he had long lived among soldiers), he explained the advantages there would be in surprising the enemy; and described even the nature of the arms, and the manner of employing them.

In truth, an important revolution was then taking place in the art of war. The pastor of Zurich is at once the head of the state and general of the army: this double - this triple part of the reformer was the ruin of the Reformation and of himself.

Undoubtedly we must make allowances for the men of this age, who, being accustomed to see Rome wield two swords for so many centuries, did not understand that they must take up one and leave the other.

We must admire the strength of that superior genius, which, while pursuing a political course, in which the greatest minds would have been absorbed, ceased not however to display an indefatigable [untiring] activity as pastor, preacher, divine, and author.

We must acknowledge that the republican education of Zwingle had taught him to confound his country with his religion, and that there was in this great man enough to fill up many lives. We must appreciate that indomitable courage which, relying upon justice, feared not, at a time when Zurich had but one or two weak cities for allies, to confront the redoubtable forces of the empire and of the confederation;

but we should also see in the great and terrible lesson that God gave him, a precept for all times and for every nation; and finally, understand what is so often forgotten,

"that the kingdom of Christ is not of this world."

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The Roman-catholic cantons, on hearing of the new alliances of the reformed, felt a violent indignation. William of Diesbach, deputy from Berne at the diet, was forced to submit to the keenest reproaches. The sitting, for a while interrupted, was resumed immediately after his departure. "They may try to patch up the old faith," said the Bernese, as he withdrew, "it cannot, however, last any longer." In truth, they patched away with all their might, but with a sharp and envenomed needle that drew blood.

Joseph Am Berg of Schwytz and Jacques Stocker of Zug, bailiffs of Thurgovia, behaved with cruelty towards all who were attached to the Gospel. They enforced against them fines, imprisonment, torture, the scourge, confiscation, and banishment: they cut out the ministers' tongues, beheaded them, or condemned them to be burnt. At the same time they took away the Bibles and all the evangelical books; and if any poor Lutherans, fleeing from Austria, crossed the Rhine and that low valley where its calm waters flow between the Alps of the Tyrol and of Appenzell, - if these poor creatures, tracked by the lansquenets [soldiers] , came to seek a refuge in Switzerland, they were cruelly given up to their persecutors.

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The heavier lay the hands of the bailiffs on Thurgovia and the Rheinthal, the greater conquests did the Gospel make.

The Bishop of Constance wrote to the Five Cantons [the Roman Catholic faction], that if they did not act with firmness, all the country would embrace the Reform.

In consequence of this, the cantons convoked at Frauenfeld all the prelates, nobles, judges, and persons of note in the district; and a second meeting taking place six days after (6th December 1528) at Weinfeld, deputies from Berne and Zurich [the Protestants] entreated the assembly to consider the honour of God above all things, and in no respect to care for the threats of the world. A great agitation followed upon this discourse. At last a majority called for the preaching of the Word of God; the people came to the same decision; and the Rheinthal, as well as Bremgarten, followed this example.

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What was to be done? The flood had become hourly more encroaching. Must then the Forest [Five] Cantons open their valleys to it at last? Religious antipathies put an end to national antipathies; and these proud mountaineers, directing their looks beyond the Rhine, thought of invoking the succor [help] of Austria, which they had vanquished at Morgarten and at Sempach.

The fanatical German party that had crushed the revolted Swabian peasants was all-powerful on the frontiers. Letters were exchanged; messengers passed to and fro across the river; at last they took advantage of a wedding in high rank that was to take place at Feldkirch in Swabia, six leagues [28.8 km] from Appenzell. On the 16th February 1529, the marriage-party, forming a brilliant cavalcade, in the midst of which the deputies of the Five Cantons were concealed, made their entry into Feldkirch, and Am Berg had an immediate interview with the Austrian governor. "The power of the enemies of our ancient/ faith had so increased," said the Swiss, "that the friends of the Church can resist them no longer. We therefore turn our eyes to that illustrious prince who has saved in Germany the faith of our fathers."

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This alliance was so very unnatural, that the Austrians had some difficulty in believing it to be sincere. "Take hostages," said the Waldstettes [Swiss Roman Catholics], "write the articles of the treaty with your own hands; command and we will obey!" - "Very good!" replied the Austrians; "in two months you will find us again at Waldshut, and we will let you know our conditions."

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A rumour of these negotiations which spread abroad excited great dissatisfaction, even in the partisans of Rome. In no place did it burst out with greater force than in the council of Zug. The opposing parties were violently agitated; they stamped their feet, they started from their seats, and were nearly coming to blows; but hatred prevailed over patriotism. The deputies of the Forest [Five] Cantons appeared at Waldshut; they suspended [hung] the arms [weapons] of their cantons by the side of those of the oppressors of Switzerland; decorated their hats with peacocks' feathers (the badge of Austria), and laughed, drank, and chattered with the Imperialists.

This strange alliance was at last concluded. "Whoever shall form new sects among the people," it ran, "shall be punished with death; and, if need be, with the help of Austria. This power, in case of emergency, shall send into Switzerland six thousand foot soldiers, and four hundred horse, with all requisite artillery. If necessary, the reformed cantons shall be blockaded, and all provisions intercepted." To the Romish cantons, then, belongs the initiative of this measure so much decried. [They suggested it first]. Finally, Austria guaranteed to the Waldstettes the possession, not only of the common bailiwicks, but of all the conquests that might be made on the left bank of the Rhine. [Back]

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Dejection and consternation immediately pervaded all Switzerland. This national complaint, which Bullinger has preserved, was sung in every direction: —

Wail, Helvetians, wail,

For the peacock's plume of pride [the Austrians]

To the forest cantons' savage bull [the Swiss]

In friendship is allied.

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All the cantons not included in this alliance [the Protestants], with the exception of Friburg, assembled in diet at Zurich, and resolved to send a deputation to their mountain confederates [The Roman Catholics], with a view to reconciliation.

The deputation, admitted at Schwytz in the presence of the people, was [not?] able to execute its mission without tumult. At Zug there was a cry of "No sermon! no sermon!" At Altorf the answer was: "Would to God that your new faith was buried for ever!" At Lucerne they received this haughty reply: "We shall know how to defend ourselves, our children, and our children's children, from the poison of your rebellious priests."

It was at Unterwalden that the deputation met with the worst reception. "We declare our alliance at an end," said they. "It is we, - it is the other Waldstettes who are the real Swiss. We graciously admitted you into our confederation, and now you claim to become our masters! - The emperor, Austria, France, Savoy, and Valais will assist us!"

The deputies retired in astonishment, shuddering as they passed before the house of the secretary of state, where they saw the arms of Zurich, Berne, Basle, and Strasburg hanging from a lofty gibbet.

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The deputation had scarcely returned to Zurich and made their report, when men's minds were inflamed. Zwingle proposed to grant no peace to Unterwalden, if it would not renounce foreign service, the alliance with Austria, and the government of the common bailiwicks [shared country areas].

"No! no!" said Berne, that had just stifled a civil war in its own canton, "let us not be so hasty. When the rays of the sun shine forth, each one wishes to set out; but as soon as it begins to rain, every man loses heart! The Word of God enjoins peace. It is not with pikes and lances that faith is made to enter the heart. For this reason, in the name of our Lord's sufferings, we entreat you to moderate your anger."

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This Christian exhortation would have succeeded, if the fearful news that reached Zurich, on the very day when the Bernese delivered their moderate speech, had not rendered it unavailing.

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On Saturday the 22nd May, Jacques Keyser, a pastor and father of a family in the neighbourhood of the Greiffensee, after coasting the fertile shores of this little lake, crossed the rich pastures of the bailiwick of Gruningen, passed near the Teutonic house of Bubikon and the convent of Ruti, and reached that simple and wild district bathed by the upper part of Lake Zurich.

Making his way to Oberkirk, a parish in the Gaster district, between the two lakes of Zurich and Wallenstadt, of which he had been nominated pastor, and where he was to preach on the morrow, he crossed on foot the lengthened and rounded flanks of the Buchberg, fronting the picturesque heights of the Ammon. He was confidently advancing into those woods which for many weeks he had often traversed without obstruction, when he was suddenly seized by six men, posted there to surprise him, and carried off to Schwytz.

"The bailiffs," said they to the magistrates, "have ordered all innovating ministers to be brought before the tribunals: here is one that we bring you." Although Zurich and Glaris interposed; although the government of Gaster, where Keyser had been taken, did not then belong to Schwytz; the landsgemeinde [the local council] desired a victim, and on the 29th May they condemned the minister to be burnt alive. On being informed of his sentence, Keyser burst into tears. But when the hour of execution arrived, he walked cheerfully to death, freely confessed his faith, and gave thanks to the Lord even with his latest breath. "Go and tell them at Zurich how he thanks us!" said one of the Schwytz magistrates, with a sarcastic smile, to the Zurich deputies. Thus had a fresh martyr fallen under the hands of that formidable power that is "drunk with the blood of the saints." [Revelation 17:6].

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The cup was full. The flames of Keyser's pile became the signal of war. Exasperated Zurich uttered a cry that resounded through all the confederation. Zwingle above all called for energetic measures. Everywhere, - in the streets, in the councils, and even in the pulpits, - he surpassed in daring even the most valiant captains.

He spoke at Zurich, - he wrote to Berne. "Let us be firm, and fear not to take up arms," said he. "This peace, which some desire so much, is not peace, but war: while the war that we call for is not war but peace. We thirst for no man's blood, but we will clip the wings of the oligarchy [the opposing governments]. If we shun it, the truth of the Gospel and the ministers' lives will never be secure among us."

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Thus spoke Zwingle. In every part of Europe he beheld the mighty ones of the earth aiding one another to stifle the reviving animation of the Church; and he thought that without some decisive and energetic movement, Christianity, overwhelmed by so many blows, would soon fall back into its ancient/ slavery.

Luther under similar circumstances arrested the swords ready to be crossed, and demanded that the Word of God alone should appear on the field of battle.

Zwingle thought not thus. In his opinion war was not revolt, for Switzerland had no master.

"Undoubtedly," said he, "we must trust in God alone: but when He gives us a just cause, we must also know how to defend it, and like Joshua and Gideon, shed blood in behalf of our country and our God."

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If we adopt the principles of justice which govern the rulers of nations, the advice of Zwingle was judicious and irreproachable. It was the duty of the Swiss magistrates to defend the oppressed against the oppressor.

But is not [such] language, which might have been suitable in the mouth of a magistrate, blameable in a minister of Christ?

Perhaps Zwingle forgot his quality of pastor, and considered himself only as a citizen, consulted by his fellow-citizens; perhaps he wished to defend Switzerland, and not the Church, by his counsels; but it is a question if he ought ever to have forgotten the Church and his ministry.

We think we may go even further; and while granting all that may be urged in favour of the contrary supposition, we may deny that the secular power ought ever to interfere with the sword to protect the faith.

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To accomplish his designs, the reformer needed even in Zurich the greatest unity. But there were many men in that city devoted to interests and superstitions which were opposed to him.

"How long," he had exclaimed in the pulpit on the 1st December 1528, "how long will you support in the council these unbelievers, these impious men, who oppose the Word of God?"

They had decided upon purging the council, as required by the reformer; they had examined the citizens individually; and then had excluded all the hostile members.

 

On to Chapter Two.


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