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The witness of


in Protestantism







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.)


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Free Preaching of the Gospel in SwitzerlandZwingle supports the common BailiwicksWarZwingle joins the ArmyThe Zurich Army threatens ZugThe Landamman AebliBernese InterpositionZwingle's OppositionSwiss CordialityOrder in the Zurich CampA ConferencePeace restoredAustrian Treaty tornZwingle's HymnNuns of Saint Catherine.


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On Saturday the 15th June 1529, seven days after Keyser's martyrdom, all Zurich was in commotion. The moment was come when Unterwalden should send a governor to the common bailiwicks; and the images, having been burnt in those districts, Unterwalden had sworn to take a signal revenge. Thus the consternation had become general. "Keyser's pile," thought they, "will be rekindled in all our villages." Many of the inhabitants flocked to Zurich, and on their alarmed and agitated features, one might, in imagination, have seen reflected the flames that had just consumed the martyr.

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These unhappy people found a powerful advocate in Zwingle. The reformer imagined that he had at last attained the object he never ceased to pursue - the free preaching of the Gospel in Switzerland. To inflict a final blow would, in his opinion, suffice to bring this enterprise to a favourable issue.

"Greedy pensioners," said Zwingle to the Zurichers, "profit by the ignorance of the mountaineers to stir up these simple souls against the friends of the Gospel. Let us therefore be severe upon these haughty chiefs. The mildness of the lamb would only serve to render the wolf more ferocious. Let us propose to the Five Cantons to allow the free preaching of the Word of the Lord, to renounce their wicked alliances, and to punish the abettors of foreign service. As for the mass, idols, rites, and superstitions, let no one be forced to abandon them. It is for the Word of God alone to scatter with its powerful breath all this idle dust.

"Be firm, noble lords, and in despite of certain black horses, as black at Zurich as they are at Lucerne, but whose malice will never succeed in overturning the chariot of Reform, we shall clear this difficult pass, and arrive at the unity of Switzerland and at unity of faith."

Thus Zwingle, while calling for force against political abuses, asked only liberty for the Gospel; but he desired a prompt intervention, in order that this liberty might be secured to it.

Oecolampadius thought the same: "It is not a time for delay," said he; "it is not a time for parsimony [stinginess] and pusillanimity [cowardice]! So long as the venom shall not be utterly removed from this adder in our bosoms we shall be exposed to the greatest dangers."

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The council of Zurich, led away by the reformer, promised the bailiwicks [regions] to support religious liberty among them; and no sooner had they learnt that Anthony ab Acker of Unterwalden was proceeding to Baden with an army, than they ordered five hundred men to set out for Bremgarten with four pieces of artillery. This was the 5th June, and on the same evening the standard of Zurich waved over the convent of Mouri.

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The war of religion had begun. The horn of the Waldstettes [Roman Catholics] re-echoed afar in the mountains: men were arming in every direction, and messengers were sent off in haste to invoke the assistance of the Valais and of Austria.

Three days later (Tuesday the 8th June), six hundred Zurichers, under the command of Jacques Werdmuller, set out for Rapperschwyl and the district of Gaster; and, on the morrow, four thousand men repaired to Cappel, under the command of the valiant Captain George Berguer, to whom Conrad Schmidt, pastor of Kussnacht, had been appointed chaplain.

"We do not wish you to go to the war," said Burgomaster Roust to Zwingle; "for the pope, the Archduke Ferdinand, the Romish cantons, the bishops, the abbots, and the prelates, hate you mortally. Stay with the council: we have need of you." - "No!" replied Zwingle, who was unwilling to confide so important an enterprise to any one; "when my brethren expose their lives I will not remain quietly at home by my fireside. Besides, the army also requires a watchful eye, that looks continually around it."

Then, taking down his glittering halberd [spear], which he had carried (it is said) at Marignan, and placing it on his shoulder, the reformer mounted his horse, and set out with the army. The walls, towers, and battlements were covered with a crowd of old men, children, and women, among whom was Anna, Zwingle's wife.

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Zurich had called for the aid of Berne; but that city, whose inhabitants showed little disposition for a religious war, and which besides was not pleased at seeing the increasing influence of Zurich, replied, "Since Zurich has begun the war without us, let her finish it in like manner."

The evangelical states were disunited at the very moment of struggle.

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The Romish cantons did not act thus. It was Zug that issued the first summons; and the men of Uri, of Schwytz, and of Unterwalden had immediately begun to march. On the 8th June, the great banner floated before the townhouse of Lucerne, and on the next day the army set out to the sound of the antique horns that Lucerne pretended to have received from the Emperor Charlemagne.

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On the 10th June, the Zurichers, who were posted at Cappel, sent a herald at daybreak to Zug, who was commissioned, according to custom, to denounce to the Five Cantons the rupture of the alliance. Immediately Zug was filled with cries and alarm. This canton, the smallest in Switzerland, not having yet received all the confederate contingents, was not in a condition to defend itself. The people ran to and fro, sent off messengers, and hastily prepared for battle; the warriors fitted on their armour, the women shed tears, and the children shrieked.

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Already the first division of the Zurich army, amounting to two thousand men, under the command of William Thoming, and stationed near the frontier below Cappel, was preparing to march, when they observed, in the direction of Baar, a horseman pressing the flanks of his steed, and galloping up as fast as the mountain which he had to ascend would permit. It was Aebli, landamman of Glaris.

"The Five Cantons are prepared," said he, as he arrived, "but I have prevailed upon them to halt, if you will do the same. For this reason I entreat my lords and the people of Zurich, for the love of God and the safety of the confederation, to suspend their march at the present moment." As he uttered these words, the brave Helvetian shed tears. "In a few hours," continued he, "I shall be back again. I hope, with God's grace, to obtain an honourable peace, and to prevent our cottages from being filled with widows and orphans."

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Aebli was known to be an honourable man, friendly to the Gospel, and opposed to foreign service: his words, therefore, moved the Zurich captains, who resolved to halt. Zwingle alone, motionless and uneasy, beheld in his friend's intervention the machinations [tricks] of the adversary. Austria, occupied in repelling the Turks, and unable to succour the Five Cantons, had exhorted them to peace. This, in Zwingle's opinion, was the cause of the propositions brought to them by the Landamman of Glaris.

So at the moment Aebli turned round to return to Zug, Zwingle, approaching him, said with earnestness, "Gossip landamman, you will render to God an account of all this. Our adversaries are caught in a sack [problem]: and hence they give you sweet words. By and by they will fall upon us unawares, and there will be none to deliver us." Prophetic words, whose fulfilment went beyond all foresight!

"Dear gossip!" replied the landamman, "I have confidence in God that all will go well. Let each one do his best." And he departed.

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The [Protestant] army, instead of advancing upon Zug, now began to erect tents along the edge of the forest and the brink of the torrent, a few paces from the sentinels of the Five Cantons; while Zwingle, seated in his tent, silent, sad, and in deep thought, anticipated some distressing news from hour to hour.

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He had not long to wait. The deputies of the Zurich council came to give reality to his fears. Berne, maintaining the character that it had so often filled as representative of the federal policy, declared that if Zurich or the cantons would not make peace, they would find means to compel them: this state at the same time convoked a diet at Arau, and sent five thousand men into the field, under the command of Sebastian Diesbach. Zwingle was struck with consternation.

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Aebli's message, supported by that of Berne, was sent back by the council to the army; for, according to the principles of the time, "wherever the banner waves, there is Zurich." —

"Let us not be staggered," cried the reformer, ever decided and firm; "our destiny depends upon our courage; to-day they beg and entreat, and in a month, when we have laid down our arms, they will crush us. Let us stand firm in God. Before all things, let us be just: peace will come after that."

But Zwingle, transformed to a statesman, began to lose the influence which he had gained as a servant of God. Many could not understand him, and asked if what they had heard was really the language of a minister of the Lord. "Ah!" said Oswald Myconius, one of his friends, who perhaps knew him best, "Zwingle certainly was an intrepid man in the midst of danger; but he always had a horror of blood, even of that of his most deadly enemies. The freedom of his country, the virtues of our forefathers, and, above all, the glory of Christ, were the sole end of all his designs. - I speak the truth, as if in the presence of God," adds he.

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While Zurich was sending deputies to Arau, the two armies received reinforcements. The men of Thurgovia and St. Gall joined their banners to that of Zurich: the Valaisans and the men of St. Gothard united with the Romanist cantons. The advanced posts were in sight of each other at Thun, Leematt, and Goldesbrunnen, on the delightful slopes of the Albis.

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Never, perhaps, did Swiss cordiality shine forth brighter with its ancient/ lustre. The soldiers called to one another in a friendly manner, and shook hands, styling themselves confederates and brothers. "We shall not fight," said they. "A storm is passing over our heads, but we will pray to God, and he will preserve us from every harm."

Scarcity afflicted the army of the Five Cantons, while abundance reigned in the camp of Zurich. Some young famishing Waldstettes one day passed the outposts: the Zurichers made them prisoners, conducted them to the camp, and then sent them back laden with provisions, with still greater good-nature than was shown by Henry IV at the siege of Paris.

At another time, some warriors of the Five Cantons, having placed a bucket filled with milk on the frontier-line, cried out to the Zurichers that they had no bread. The latter came down immediately, and cut their bread into the enemies' milk, upon which the soldiers of the two parties began with jokes to eat out of the same dish - some on this side, some on that. The Zurichers were delighted that, notwithstanding the prohibition of their priests, the Waldstettes ate with heretics. When one of the troop took a morsel that was on the side of his adversaries, the latter sportively struck him with their spoons, and said: "Do not cross the frontier!"

Thus did these good Helvetians make war upon one another; and hence it was that the Burgomaster Sturm of Strasburg, one of the mediators, exclaimed: "You confederates are a singular people! When you are disunited, you still live in harmony with one another, and your ancient/ friendship never slumbers."

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The most perfect order reigned in the camp of Zurich. Every day Zwingle, the commander Schmidt, Zink abbot of Cappel, or some other minister, preached among the soldiers. No oath or dispute was heard; all disorderly women were turned out of the camp; prayers were offered up before and after every meal; and each man obeyed his chiefs. There were no dice, no cards, no games calculated to excite quarrels; but psalms, hymns, national songs, bodily exercise, wrestling, or pitching the stone, were the military recreations of the Zurichers.

The spirit that animated the reformer had passed into the army.

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The assembly at Arau, transported to Steinhausen in the neighbourhood of the two camps, decreed that each army should hear the complaints of the opposite party. The reception of the deputies of the Five Cantons by the Zurichers [Protestants] was tolerably calm; it was not so in the other camp.

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On the 15th June, fifty Zurichers, surrounded by a crowd of peasants, proceeded on horseback to the Waldstettes. The sound of the trumpet, the roll of the drum, and repeated salvos of artillery announced their arrival. Nearly twelve thousand men of the smaller cantons, in good order, with uplifted heads and arrogant looks, were under arms.

Escher of Zurich spoke first, and many persons from the rural districts enumerated their grievances after him, which the Waldstettes thought exaggerated. "When have we ever refused you the federal right?" asked they. "Yes, yes!" replied Funk, Zwingle's friend; "we know how you exercise it. That pastor (Keyser) appealed to it, and you referred him - to the executioner!"

"Funk, you would have done better to have held your tongue," said one of his friends. But the words had slipped out: a dreadful tumult suddenly arose; all the army of the Waldstettes was in agitation; the most prudent begged the Zurichers to retire promptly, and protected their departure.

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At length the treaty was concluded on the 26th June 1529. Zwingle did not obtain all he desired. Instead of the free preaching of the Word of God, the treaty stipulated only liberty of conscience; it declared that the common bailiwicks [regions] should pronounce for or against the Reform by a majority of votes. Without decreeing the abolition of foreign pensions, it was recommended to the Romish cantons. The alliance with Austria was broken; the Five Cantons were to pay the expenses of the war, Murner to retract his insulting words, and an indemnity was secured to Keyser's family.

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An incontrovertible success had just crowned the warlike demonstration of Zurich. The Five Cantons felt it. Gloomy, irritated, silently champing the bit that had been placed in their mouths, their chiefs could not decide upon giving up the deed of their alliance with Austria. Zurich immediately recalled her troops, the mediators redoubled their solicitations, and the Bernese exclaimed: "If you do not deliver up this document, we will ourselves go in procession and tear it from your archives."

At last it was brought to Cappel on the 26th June, two hours after midnight. All the army was drawn out at eleven in the forenoon, and they began to read the treaty. The Zurichers looked with astonishment at its breadth and excessive length, and the nine seals which had been affixed, one of which was in gold. But scarcely had a few words been read, when Aebli, snatching the parchment, cried out: "Enough, enough!" —

"Read it, read it!" said the Zurichers; "we desire to learn their treason!" But the Landamman of Glaris replied boldly: "I would rather be cut in a thousand pieces than permit it." Then dashing his dagger into the parchment, he cut it in pieces in the presence of Zwingle and the soldiers, and threw the fragments to the secretary, who committed them to the flames. "The paper was not Swiss," says Bullinger with sublime simplicity.

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The banners were immediately struck. The men of Unterwalden retired in anger; those of Schwytz swore they would for ever preserve their ancient/ faith; while the troops of Zurich returned in triumph to their homes.

But the most opposite thoughts agitated Zwingle's mind. "I hope," said he, doing violence to his feelings, "that we bring back an honourable peace to our dwellings. It was not to shed blood that we set out. God has once again shown the great ones of the earth that they can do nothing against us."

Whenever he gave way to his natural disposition, a very different order of thoughts took possession of his mind. He was seen walking apart in deep dejection, and anticipating the most gloomy future. In vain did the people surround him with joyful shouts. "This peace," said he, "which you consider a triumph, you will soon repent of, striking your breasts."

[Consider the peace accord signed by Neville Chamberlain before WW2]

It was at this time that, venting his sorrow, he composed, as he was descending the Albis, a celebrated hymn often repeated to the sound of music in the fields of Switzerland, among the burghers of the confederate cities, and even in the palaces of kings. The hymns of Luther and of Zwingle play the same part in the German and Swiss Reformation as the Psalms in that of France.

Do thou direct thy chariot, Lord,

And guide it at thy will;

Without thy aid our strength is vain,

And useless all our skill.

Look down upon thy saints brought low,

And prostrate laid beneath the foe.


Beloved Pastor, who hast saved

Our souls from death and sin,

Uplift thy voice, awake thy sheep

That slumbering lie within

Thy fold, and curb with thy right hand,

The rage of Satan's furious band.


Send down thy peace, and banish strife,

Let bitterness depart;

Revive the spirit of the past

In every Switzer's heart:

Then shall thy Church for ever sing

The praises of her heavenly King.


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An edict, published in the name of the confederates, ordered the revival every where of the old friendship and brotherly concord; but decrees are powerless to work such miracles.

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This treaty of peace was nevertheless favourable to the Reform. Undoubtedly it met with a violent opposition in some places. The nuns of the vale of St Catherine in Thurgovia, deserted by their priests and excited by some noblemen beyond the Rhine, who styled them in their letters, "Chivalrous women of the house of God," sang mass themselves, and appointed one of their number preacher to the convent. Certain deputies from the Protestant cantons having had an interview with them, the abbess and three of the nuns secretly crossed the river by night, carrying with them the papers of the monastery and the ornaments of the church.

But such isolated resistance as this was unavailing. Already in 1529 Zwingle was able to hold a synod in Thurgovia, which organized the church there, and decreed that the property of the convents should be consecrated to the instruction of pious young men in sacred learning.

Thus concord and peace seemed at last to be re-established in the confederation.

On to Chapter Three.

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