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The witness of

THE SWISS CATASTROPHE

in Protestantism

 


 

SWITZERLAND - CATASTROPHE 1528-1531.

BOOK 16 CHAPTER 10

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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Restoration of Popery at Bremgarten and Rapperschwyl Priests and Monks every where Sorrow of Oecolampadius A tranquil Scene Peaceful Death of Oecolampadius Henry Bullinger at Zurich Contrition and Exultation The great Lesson Conclusion.

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The restoration of Popery immediately commenced in Switzerland, and Rome showed herself every where proud, exacting, and ambitious.

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After the battle of Cappel, the Romish minority at Glaris had resumed the upperhand. It marched with Schwytz against Wesen and the district of the Gaster. On the eve of the invasion, at midnight, twelve deputies came and threw themselves at the feet of the Schwytzer chiefs, who were satisfied with confiscating the national banners of these two districts, with suppressing their tribunals, annulling their ancient/ liberties, and condemning some to banishment, and others to pay a heavy fine. Next the mass, the altars, and images were every where re-established, and they are maintained until the present day. Such was the pardon of Schwytz!

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It was especially on Bremgarten, Mellingen, and the free bailiwicks that the cantons proposed inflicting a terrible vengeance. Berne having recalled its army, Mutschli, the avoyer of Bremgarten, followed Diesbach as far as Arau. In vain did the former remind the Bernese that it was only according to the orders of Berne and Zurich that Bremgarten had blockaded the Five Cantons. "Bend to circumstances," replied the general. On this the wretched Mutschli, turning away from the pitiless Bernese, exclaimed, "The prophet Jeremiah has well said, Cursed be he that trusteth in man!"

The Swiss and Italian bands entered furiously into these flourishing districts brandishing their weapons, inflicting heavy fines on all the inhabitants, compelling the Gospel ministers to flee, and restoring every where at the point of the sword, mass, idols, and altars.

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On the other side of the lake the misfortune was still greater. On the 18th November, while the Reformed of Rapperschwyl were sleeping peacefully in reliance on the treaties, an army from Schwytz silently passed the wooden bridge nearly 2000 feet long which crosses the lake, and was admitted into the city by the Romish party. On a sudden the Reformed awoke at the loud pealing of the bells, and the tumultuous voices of the Catholics: the greater part quitted the city.

One of them, however, by name Michael Wohlgemuth, barricaded his house, placed arquebuses at every window, and repelled the attack. The exasperated enemy brought up some heavy pieces of artillery, besieged this extemporaneous [spur of the moment] citadel in regular form [in the regular way], and Wohlgemuth was soon taken and put to death in the midst of horrible tortures.

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Nowhere had the struggle been more violent than at Soleure; the two parties were drawn up in battle-array on each side of the Aar, and the Romanists had already discharged one ball against the opposite bank, another was about to follow, when the avoyer Wenge, throwing himself on the mouth of the cannon, cried out earnestly: "Fellow-citizens, let there be no bloodshed, or else let me be your first victim!" The astonished multitude dropped their arms; but seventy evangelical families were obliged to emigrate, and Soleure returned under the papal yoke.

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The deserted cells of St. Gall, Muri, Einsidlen, Wettingen, Rheinau, St. Catherine, Hermetschwyll and Guadenthall witnessed the triumphant return of Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans, and all the Romish militia; priests and monks, intoxicated with their victory, overran country and town, and prepared for new conquests.

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The wind of adversity was furiously raging; the evangelical churches fell one after another, like the pines in the forest whose fall before the battle of the Goubel had raised such gloomy presentiments. The Five Cantons, full of gratitude to the Virgin, made a solemn pilgrimage to her temple at Einsidlen. In this desolated sanctuary the chaplains celebrated their mysteries anew; the abbot, who had no monks, sent a number of youths into Swabia to be trained up in the rules of the order, and this famous chapel, which Zwingle's voice had converted into a sanctuary for the Word, became for Switzerland, what it has remained until this day, the centre of the power and of the intrigues of the Papacy.

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But this was not enough. At the very time that these flourishing churches were falling to the ground, the Reform witnessed the extinction of its brightest lights. A blow from a stone had slain the energetic Zwingle on the field of battle, and the rebound reached the pacific Oecolampadius at Basle, in the midst of a life that was wholly evangelical.

The death of his friend, the severe judgments with which his memory was persecuted, the terror that had suddenly taken the place of the hopes he had entertained of the future - all these sorrows rent the heart of Oecolampadius, and his head and his life soon inclined sadly to the tomb. "Alas!" cried he, "that Zwingle, whom I have so long regarded as my right arm, has fallen under the blows of cruel enemies!" He recovered, however, sufficient energy to defend the memory of his brother.

"It was not," said he, "on the heads of the most guilty that the wrath of Pilate and the tower of Siloam fell. The judgment began in the house of God; our presumption has been punished; let our trust now be placed on the Lord alone, and this will be an inestimable gain." Oecolampadius declined the call of Zurich to take Zwingle's place. "My post is here," said he, as he looked upon Basle.

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He was not destined to hold it long. Illness fell upon him in addition to so many afflictions; the plague was in the city; a violent inflammation attacked him, and erelong a tranquil scene succeeded the tumult of Cappel. A peaceful death calmed the agitated hearts of the faithful, and replaced by sweet and heavenly emotions the terror and distress with which a horrible disaster had filled them.

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On hearing of the danger of Oecolampadius, all the city was plunged into mourning; a crowd of men of every age and of every rank rushed to his house. "Rejoice," said the reformer with a meek look, "I am going to a place of everlasting joy." He then commemorated the death of our Lord with his wife, his relations, and domestics, who shed floods of tears. "This supper," said the dying man, "is a sign of my real faith in Jesus Christ my Redeemer."

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On the morrow he sent for his colleagues: "My brethren," said he, "the Lord is there; he calls me away. Oh! my brethren, what a black cloud is appearing on the horizon - what a tempest is approaching! Be steadfast: the Lord will preserve his own." He then held out his hand, which all these faithful ministers clasped with veneration.

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On the 23rd November he called his children around him, the eldest of whom was barely three years old. "Eusebius, Irene, Alethea," said he to them, as he took their little hands, "love God who is your Father." Their mother having promised for them, the children retired with the blessing of the dying servant of the Lord. The night that followed this scene was his last. All the pastors were around his bed: "What is the news?" asked Oecolampadius of a friend who came in. "Nothing," was the reply. "Well," said the faithful disciple of Jesus, "I will tell you something new." His friends awaited in astonishment. "In a short time I shall be with the Lord Jesus."

One of his friends now asking him if he was incommoded by the light, he replied, putting his hand on his heart: "There is light enough here." As the day began to break, he repeated in a feeble voice the 51st Psalm: "Have mercy upon me, O Lord, according to thy loving kindness."

Then remaining silent, as if he wished to recover strength, he said, "Lord Jesus, help me!" The ten pastors with uplifetd hands fell on their knees around his bed; at this moment the sun rose, and darted his earliest rays on a scene of sorrow so great and so afflicting with which the Church of God was again stricken.

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The death of this servant of the Lord was like his life, full of light and peace. Oecolampadius was in an especial degree the Christian spiritualist and biblical divine. The importance he attached to the study of the books of the Old Testament imprinted one of its most essential characters on the reformed theology. Considered as a man of action, his moderation and meekness placed him in the second rank. Had he been able to exert more of this peaceful spirit over Zwingle, great misfortunes might perhaps have been avoided. But like all men of meek disposition, his peaceful character yielded too much to the energetic will of the minister of Zurich; and he thus renounced, in part at least, the legitimate influence that he might have exercised over the Reformer of Switzerland and of the Church.

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Zwingle and Oecolampadius had fallen. There was a great void and a great sorrow in the Church of Christ. Dissensions vanished before these two graves, and nothing could be seen but tears. Luther himself was moved. On receiving the news of these two deaths, he called to mind the days he had passed with Zwingle and Oecolampadius at Marburg; and the blow inflicted on him by their sudden decease was such, that many years after he said to Bullinger: "Their death filled me with such intense sorrow, that I was near dying myself."

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The youthful Henry Bullinger, threatened with the scaffold, had been compelled to flee from Bremgarten, his native town, with his aged father, his colleagues, and sixty of the principal inhabitants, who abandoned their houses to be pillaged by the Waldstettes. Three days after this, he was preaching in the cathedral of Zurich: "No! Zwingle is not dead!" exclaimed Myconius; "or, like the phoenix, he has risen again from his ashes."

Bullinger was unanimously chosen to succeed the great Reformer. He adopted Zwingle's orphan children, Wilhelm, Regula, and Ulrich, and endeavoured to supply the place of their father. This young man, scarcely twenty-eight years of age, and who presided forty years with wisdom and blessing over this church, was every where greeted as the apostle of Switzerland.

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Yet as the sea roars long after the violent tempest has subsided, so the people of Zurich were still in commotion. Many were agitated from on high. They came to themselves; they acknowledged their error; the weapons of their warfare had been carnal; they were now of a contrite and humble spirit; they arose and went to their Father and confessed their sin.

In those days there was great mourning in Zurich. Some, however, stood up with pride, protested by the mouth of their ministers against the work of the diplomatists, and boldly stigmatised the shameful compact. "If the shepherds sleep, the dogs must bark," exclaimed Leo Juda in the cathedral of Zurich. "My duty is to give warning of the evil they are about to do to my Master's house."

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Nothing could equal the sorrow of this city, except the exultation of the Waldstettes. The noise of drums and fifes, the firing of guns, the ringing of bells, had long resounded on the banks of their lakes, and even to their highest valleys. Now the noise was less, but the effect greater. The Five Cantons, in close alliance with Friburg and Soleure, formed a perpetual league for the defence of the ancient/ Christian faith with the Bishop of Sion and the tithings of the Valais; and henceforward carried their measures in the federal affairs with boldness.

But a deep conviction was formed at that period in the hearts of the Swiss Reformed. "Faith comes from God," said they; "its success does not depend on the life or death of one man. Let our adversaries boast of our ruin, we will boast only in the Cross."

"God reigns," wrote Berne to Zurich, "and he will not permit the bark to founder." This conviction was of more avail than the victory of Cappel.

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Thus the Reformation that had deviated from the right path, was driven back by the very violence of the assault into its primitive course, having no other power than the Word of God.

An inconceivable infatuation had taken possession of the friends of the Bible. They had forgotten that our warfare is not carnal; and had appealed to arms and to battle. But God reigns; he punishes the churches and the people who turn aside from his ways.

We have taken a few stones, and piled them as a monument on the battle-field of Cappel, in order to remind the Church of the great lesson which this terrible catastrophe teaches. As we bid farewell to this sad scene, we inscribe on these monumental stones, on the one side, these words from God's Book: "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God. They are brought down and fallen: but we are risen and stand upright."

And on the other, this declaration of the Head of the Church: "My kingdom is not of this world."

Footnote: [Zwingle’s Pear Tree having perished, a rock has been placed over the spot where this illustrious reformer died; and on it are engraved suitable inscriptions, different however, from those in the text.]

If, from the ashes of the martyrs at Cappel, a voice could be heard, it would be in these very words of the Bible that these noble confessors would, after three centuries, address the Christians of our days. That the Church has no other king than Jesus Christ; that she ought not to meddle with the policy of the world, derive from it her inspiration, and call for its swords, its prisons, or its treasures; that she will conquer by the spiritual powers which God has deposited in her bosom, and, above all, by the reign of her adorable Head; that she must not expect upon earth thrones and mortal triumphs; but that her march resembles that of her King, from the manger to the cross, and from the cross to the crown: - such is the lesson to be read on the blood-stained page that has crept into our simple and evangelical narrative.

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But if God teaches his people great lessons, he also gives them great deliverances.

The bolt had fallen from heaven. The Reformation seemed to be little better than a lifeless body cumbering the ground, and whose dissevered limbs were about to be reduced to ashes. But God raises up the dead. New and more glorious destinies were awaiting the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the foot of the Alps.

At the south-western extremity of Switzerland, in a great valley which the white giant of the mountains points out from afar; on the banks of the Leman lake, at the spot where the Rhone, clear and blue as the sky above it, rolls its majestic waters; on a small hill that the foot of Caesar had once trod, and on which the steps of another conqueror, of a Gaul, of a Picardine [John Calvin], were destined erelong to leave their ineffaceable and glorious traces, stood an ancient/ city [Noyon], as yet covered with the dense shadows of Popery; but which God was about to raise to be a beacon to the Church, and a bulwark to Christendom.

 

The End.


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