Vol. 8, Chapter V. The Civil War Between the Roman Catholic and Reformed Cantons

See the works of Escher, Oechsli, and Fenner, quoted in § 5; Moerikofer, Zwingli, II. 346-452; and Bluntschli, Geschichte des schweizerischen Bundesrechtes von den ewigen Buenden bis auf die Gegenwart. Stuttgart. 2d ed. 1875, 2 vols.


42. The First War of Cappel. 1529

The year 1530 marks the height of the Zwinglian Reformation. It was firmly established in the leading cities and cantons of Zürich, Bern, and Basel. It had gained a strong majority of the people in Northern and Eastern Switzerland, and in the Grisons. It had fair prospects of ultimate success in the whole confederacy, when its further progress was suddenly arrested by the catastrophe of Cappel and the death of Zwingli.

The two parties had no conception of toleration (except in Glarus and the Grisons), but aimed at supremacy and excluded each other wherever they had the power. They came into open conflict in the common territories or free bailiwicks, by the forcible attempts made there to introduce the new religion, or to prevent its introduction. The Protestants, under the lead of Zwingli, were the aggressors, especially in the confiscation of the rich abbey of St. Gall. They had in their favor the right of progress and the majority of the population. But the Roman Catholics had on their side the tradition of the past, the letter of the law, and a majority of Cantons and of votes in the Diet, in which the people were not directly represented. They strictly prohibited Protestant preaching within their own jurisdiction, and even began bloody persecution. Jacob Kaiser (or Schlosser), a Zürich minister, was seized on a preaching expedition, and publicly burnt at the stake in the town of Schwyz (May, 1529). His martyrdom was the signal of war. The Protestants feared, not without good reason, that this case was the beginning of a general persecution.

With the religious question was closely connected the political and social question of the foreign military service, which Zwingli consistently opposed in the interest of patriotism, and which the Roman Catholics defended in the interest of wealth and fame. This was a very serious matter, as may be estimated from the fact that, according to a statement of the French ambassador, his king had sent, from 1512 to 1531, no less than 1,133,547 gold crowns to Switzerland, a sum equal to four times the amount at present valuation. The pensions were the Judas price paid by foreign sovereigns to influential Swiss for treason to their country. In his opposition to this abuse, Zwingli was undoubtedly right, and his view ultimately succeeded, though long after his death.

Both parties organized for war, which broke out in 1529, and ended in a disastrous defeat of the Protestants in 1531. Sixteen years later, the Lutheran princes suffered a similar defeat in the Smalcaldian War against the Emperor (1547). The five Forest Cantons — Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Luzern, and Zug — formed a defensive and offensive league (November, 1528; the preparations began in 1527), and even entered, first secretly, then openly, into an alliance with Ferdinand Duke of Austria and King of Bohemia and Hungary (April, 1529). This alliance with the old hereditary enemy of Switzerland, whom their ancestors had defeated in glorious battles, was treasonable and a step towards the split of the confederacy in two hostile camps (which was repeated in 1846). King Ferdinand had a political and religious interest in the division of Switzerland and fostered it. Freiburg, Wallis, and Solothurn sided with the Catholic Cantons, and promised aid in case of war. The Protestant Cantons, led by Zürich (which made the first step in this direction) formed a Protestant league under the name of the Christian co-burghery (Burgrecht) with the cities of Constance (Dec. 25, 1527), Biel and Muehlhausen (1529), and Strassburg (Jan. 9, 1530).

Zwingli, provoked by the burning of Kaiser, and seeing the war clouds gathering all around, favored prompt action, which usually secures a great advantage in critical moments. He believed in the necessity of war; while Luther put his sole trust in the Word of God, although he stirred up the passions of war by his writings, and had himself the martyr’s courage to go to the stake. Zwingli was a free republican; while Luther was a loyal monarchist. He belonged to the Cromwellian type of men who “trust in God and keep their powder dry.” In him the reformer, the statesman, and the patriot were one. He appealed to the examples of Joshua and Gideon, forgetting the difference between the Old and the New dispensation. “Let us be firm,” he wrote to his peace-loving friends in Bern (May 30, 1529), “and fear not to take up arms. 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 cut the nerves of the oligarchy. If we shun it, the truth of the gospel and the ministers’ lives will never be secure among us.”

Zürich was first ready for the conflict and sent four thousand well-equipped soldiers to Cappel, a village with a Cistercian convent, in the territory of Zürich on the frontier of the Canton Zug. Smaller detachments were located at Bremgarten, and on the frontier of Schwyz, Basel, St. Gall. Muehlhausen furnished auxiliary troops. Bern sent five thousand men, but with orders to act only in self-defence.

Zwingli accompanied the main force to Cappel. “When my brethren expose their lives,” he said to the burgomaster, who wished to keep him back, “I will not remain quiet at home. The army requires a watchful eye.” He put the halberd which he had worn as chaplain at Marignano, over his shoulder, and mounted his horse, ready to conquer or to die for God and the fatherland.

He prepared excellent instructions for the soldiers, and a plan of a campaign that should be short, sharp, decisive, and, if possible, unbloody.

Zürich declared war June 9, 1529. But before the forces crossed the frontier of the Forest Cantons, Landammann Aebli of Glarus, where the Catholics and Protestants worship in one church, appeared from a visit to the hostile army as peacemaker, and prevented a bloody collision. He was a friend of Zwingli, an enemy of the mercenary service, and generally esteemed as a true patriot. With tears in his eyes, says Bullinger, he entreated the Zürichers to put off the attack even for a few hours, in the hope of bringing about an honorable peace. “Dear lords of Zürich, for God’s sake, prevent the division and destruction of the confederacy.” Zwingli opposed him, and said: “My dear friend, you will answer to God for this counsel. As long as the enemies are in our power, they use good words; but as soon as they are well prepared, they will not spare us.” He foresaw what actually happened after his death. Aebli replied: “I trust in God that all will go well. Let each of us do his best.” And he departed.

Zwingli himself was not unwilling to make peace, but only on four conditions which he sent a day after Aebli’s appeal, in a memorandum to the Council of Zürich (June 11): 1) That the Word of God be preached freely in the entire confederacy, but that no one be forced to abolish the mass, the images, and other ceremonies which will fall of themselves under the influence of scriptural preaching; 2) that all foreign military pensions be abolished; 3) that the originators and the dispensers of foreign pensions be punished while the armies are still in the field; 4) that the Forest Cantons pay the cost of war preparations, and that Schwyz pay one thousand guilders for the support of the orphans of Kaiser (Schlosser) who had recently been burnt there as a heretic.

An admirable discipline prevailed in the camp of Zürich, that reminds one of the Puritan army of Cromwell. Zwingli or one of his colleagues preached daily; prayers were offered before each meal; psalms, hymns, and national songs resounded in the tents; no oath was heard; gambling and swearing were prohibited, and disreputable women excluded; the only exercises were wrestling, casting stones, and military drill. There can be little doubt that if the Zürichers had made a timely attack upon the Catholics and carried out the plan of Zwingli, they would have gained a complete victory and dictated the terms of peace. How long the peace would have lasted is a different question; for behind the Forest Cantons stood Austria, which might at any time have changed the situation.

But counsels of peace prevailed. Bern was opposed to the offensive, and declared that if the Zürichers began the attack, they should be left to finish it alone. The Zürichers themselves were divided, and their military leaders (Berger and Escher) inclined to peace.

The Catholics, being assured that they need not fear an attack from Bern, mustered courage and were enforced by troops from Wallis and the Italian bailiwicks. They now numbered nearly twelve thousand armed men.

The hostile armies faced each other from Cappel and Baar, but hesitated to advance. Catholic guards would cross over the border to be taken prisoners by the Zürichers, who had an abundance of provision, and sent them back well fed and clothed. Or they would place a large bucket of milk on the border line and asked the Zürichers for bread, who supplied them richly; whereupon both parties peacefully enjoyed a common meal, and when one took a morsel on the enemy’s side, he was reminded not to cross the frontier. The soldiers remembered that they were Swiss confederates, and that many of them had fought side by side on foreign battlefields. “We shall not fight,” they said; “and pray God that the storm may pass away without doing us any harm.” Jacob Sturm, the burgomaster of Strassburg, who was present as a mediator, was struck with the manifestation of personal harmony and friendship in the midst of organized hostility. “You are a singular people,” he said; “though disunited, you are united.”


43. The First Peace of Cappel. June, 1529

After several negotiations, a treaty of Peace was concluded June 25, 1529, between Zürich, Bern, Basel, St. Gall, and the cities of Muehlhausen and Biel on the one hand, and the five Catholic Cantons on the other. The deputies of Glarus, Solothurn, Schaffhausen, Appenzell, Graubünden, Sargans, Strassburg, and Constanz acted as mediators.

The treaty was not all that Zwingli desired, especially as regards the abolition of the pensions and the punishment of the dispensers of pensions (wherein he was not supported by Bern), but upon the whole it was favorable to the cause of the Reformation.

The first and most important of the Eighteen Articles of the treaty recognizes, for the first time in Europe, the principle of parity or legal equality of the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches, — a principle which twenty-six years afterwards was recognized also in Germany (by the Augsburger Religionsfriede of 1555), but which was not finally settled there till after the bloody baptism of the Thirty Years’ War, in the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), against which the Pope of Rome still protests in vain. That article guarantees to the Reformed and Roman Catholic Cantons religious freedom in the form of mutual toleration, and to the common bailiwicks the right to decide by majority the question whether they would remain Catholics or become Protestants. The treaty also provided for the payment of the expenses of the war by the five cantons, and for an indemnity to the family of the martyred Kaiser. The abolition of the foreign pensions was not demanded, but recommended to the Roman Catholic Cantons. The alliance with Austria was broken. The document which contained the treasonable treaty was cut to pieces by Aebli in the presence of Zwingli and the army of Zürich.

The Catholics returned to their homes discontented. The Zürichers had reason to be thankful; still more the Berners, who had triumphed with their policy of moderation.

Zwingli wavered between hopes and fears for the future, but his trust was in God. He wrote (June 30) to Conrad Som, minister at Ulm: “We have brought peace with us, which for us, I hope, is quite honorable; for we did not go forth to shed blood. We have sent back our foes with a wet blanket. Their compact with Austria was cut to pieces before mine eyes in the camp by the Landammann of Glarus, June 26, at 11 A. M…. God has shown again to the mighty ones that they cannot prevail against him, and that we may gain victory without a stroke if we hold to him.”

He gave vent to his conflicting feelings in a poem which he composed in the camp (during the peace negotiations), together with the music, and which became almost as popular in Switzerland as Luther’s contemporaneous, but more powerful and more famous “Ein feste Burg,” is to this day in Germany. It breathes the same spirit of trust in God.

“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 grant them victory o’er 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 shalt thy church forever sing

The praises of her heavenly King.”


44. Between the Wars. Political Plains of Zwingli

The effect of the first Peace of Cappel was favorable to the cause of the Reformation. It had now full legal recognition, and made progress in the Cantons and in the common territories. But the peace did not last long. The progress emboldened the Protestants, and embittered the Catholics.

The last two years of Zwingli were full of anxiety, but also full of important labors. He contemplated a political reconstruction of Switzerland, and a vast European league for the protection and promotion of Protestant interests.

He attended the theological Colloquy at Marburg (Sept. 29 to Oct. 3, 1529) in the hope of bringing about a union with the German Lutherans against the common foe at Rome. But Luther refused his hand of fellowship, and would not tolerate a theory of the Lord’s Supper which he regarded as a dangerous heresy.

While at Marburg, Zwingli made the personal acquaintance of the Landgraf, Philip of Hesse, and the fugitive Duke Ulrich of Würtemberg, who admired him, and sympathized with his theology as far as they understood it, but cared still more for their personal and political interests. He conceived with them the bold idea of a politico-ecclesiastical alliance of Protestant states and cities for the protection of religious liberty against the combined forces of the papacy and the empire which threatened that liberty. Charles V. had made peace with Clement VII., June 29, 1529, and crossed the Alps in May, 1530, on his way to the Diet of Augsburg, offering to the Protestants bread with one hand, but concealing a stone in the other. Zwingli carried on a secret correspondence with Philip of Hesse from April 22, 1529, till Sept. 10, 1531. He saw in the Roman empire the natural ally of the Roman papacy, and would not have lamented its overthrow. Being a republican Swiss, he did not share in the loyal reverence of the monarchical Germans for their emperor. But all he could reasonably aim at was to curb the dangerous power of the emperor by strengthening the Protestant alliance. Further he did not go.

He tried to draw into this alliance the republic of Venice and the kingdom of France, but failed. These powers were jealous of the grasping ambition of the house of Habsburg, but had no sympathy with evangelical reform. Francis I. was persecuting the Protestants at that very time in his own country.

It is dangerous to involve religion in entangling political alliances. Christ and the Apostles kept aloof from secular complications, and confined themselves to preaching the ethics of politics. Zwingli, with the best intentions, overstepped the line of his proper calling, and was doomed to bitter disappointment. Even Philip of Hesse, who pushed him into this net, grew cool, and joined the Lutheran League of Smalcald (1530), which would have nothing to do with the Protestants of Switzerland.


45. Zwingli’s Last Theological Labors. His Confessions of Faith

During these fruitless political negotiations Zwingli never lost sight of his spiritual vocation. He preached and wrote incessantly; he helped the reform movement in every direction; he attended synods at Frauenfeld (May, 1530), at St. Gall (December, 1530), and Toggenburg (April, 1531); he promoted the organization and discipline of the Reformed churches, and developed great activity as an author. Some of his most important theological works — a commentary on the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah, his treatise on Divine Providence, and two Confessions of Faith — belong to the last two years of his life.

He embraced the opportunity offered by the Diet of Augsburg to send a printed Confession of Faith to Charles V., July 8, 1530. But it was treated with contempt, and not even laid before the Diet. Dr. Eck wrote a hasty reply, and denounced Zwingli as a man who did his best to destroy religion in Switzerland, and to incite the people to rebellion. The Lutherans were anxious to conciliate the emperor, and repudiated all contact with Zwinglians and Anabaptists.

A few months before his death (July, 1531) he wrote, at the request of his friend Maigret, the French ambassador at Zürich, a similar Confession addressed to King Francis I., to whom he had previously dedicated his “Commentary on the True and False Religion” (1524). In this Confession he discusses some of the chief points of controversy, — God and his Worship, the Person of Christ, Purgatory, the Real Presence, the Virtue of the Sacraments, the Civil Power, Remission of Sin, Faith and Good Works, Eternal Life, — and added an Appendix on the Eucharist and the Mass. He explains apologetically and polemically his doctrinal position in distinction from the Romanists, Lutherans, and Anabaptists. He begins with God as the ultimate ground of faith and only object of worship, and closes with an exhortation to the king to give the gospel free course in his kingdom. In the section on Eternal Life he expresses more strongly than ever his confident hope of meeting in heaven not only the saints of the Old and the New Dispensation from Adam down to the Apostles, but also the good and true and noble men of all nations and generations.

This liberal extension of Christ’s kingdom and Christ’s salvation beyond the limits of the visible Church, although directly opposed to the traditional belief of the necessity of water baptism for salvation, was not altogether new. Justin Martyr, Origen, and other Greek fathers saw in the scattered truths of the heathen poets and philosophers the traces of the pre-Christian revelation of the Logos, and in the philosophy of the Greeks a schoolmaster to lead them to Christ. The humanists of the school of Erasmus recognized a secondary inspiration in the classical writings, and felt tempted to pray: “Sancte Socrates, ora pro nobis.” Zwingli was a humanist, but he had no sympathy with Pelagianism. On the contrary, as we have shown previously, he traced salvation to God’s sovereign grace, which is independent of ordinary means, and he first made a clear distinction between the visible and the invisible Church. He did not intend, as he has been often misunderstood, to assert the possibility of salvation without Christ. “Let no one think,” he wrote to Urbanus Rhegius (a preacher at Augsburg), “that I lower Christ; for whoever comes to God comes to him through Christ …. The word, ‘He who believeth not will be condemned,’ applies only to those who can hear the gospel, but not to children and heathen …. I openly confess that all infants are saved by Christ, since grace extends as far as sin. Whoever is born is saved by Christ from the curse of original sin. If he comes to the knowledge of the law and does the works of the law (Rom_2:14, Rom_2:26), he gives evidence of his election. As Christians we have great advantages by the knowledge of the gospel.” He refers to the case of Cornelius, who was pious before his baptism; and to the teaching of Paul, who made the circumcision of the heart, and not the circumcision of the flesh, the criterion of the true Israelite (Rom_2:28, Rom_2:29).

The Confession to Francis I. was the last work of Zwingli. It was written three months before his death, and published five years later (1536) by Bullinger, who calls it his “swan song.” The manuscript is preserved in the National Library of Paris, but it is doubtful whether the king of France ever saw it. Calvin dedicated to him his Institutes, with a most eloquent preface, but with no better success. Charles V. and Francis I. were as deaf to such appeals as the emperors of heathen Rome were to the Apologies of Justin Martyr and Tertullian. Had Francis listened to the Swiss Reformers, the history of France might have taken a different course.


46. The Second War of Cappel. 1531

Egli: Die Schlacht von Cappel, 1531. Zürich, 1873. Comp. the Lit. quoted § 42.

The political situation of Switzerland grew more and more critical. The treaty of peace was differently understood. The Forest Cantons did not mean to tolerate Protestantism in their own territory, and insulted the Reformed preachers; nor would they concede to the local communities in the bailiwicks (St. Gall, Toggenburg, Thurgau, the Rheinthal) the right to introduce the Reformation by a majority vote; while the Zürichers insisted upon both, and yet they probibited the celebration of the mass in their own city and district. The Roman Catholic Cantons made new disloyal approaches to Austria, and sent a deputation to Charles V. at Augsburg which was very honorably received. The fugitive abbot of St. Gall also appeared with an appeal for aid to his restoration. The Zürichers were no less to blame for seeking the foreign aid of Hesse, Venice, and France. Bitter charges and counter-charges were made at the meetings of the Swiss Diet.

The crisis was aggravated by an international difficulty. Graubünden sent deputies to the Diet with an appeal for aid against the Chatelan of Musso and the invasion of the Valtellina by Spanish troops. The Reformed Cantons favored co-operation, the Roman Catholic Cantons refused it. The expedition succeeded, the castle of Musso was demolished, and the Grisons took possession of the Valtellina (1530-32).

Zwingli saw no solution of the problem except in an honest, open war, or a division of the bailiwicks among the Cantons according to population, claiming two-thirds for Zürich and Bern. These bailiwicks were, as already remarked, the chief bone of contention. But Bern advocated, instead of war, a blockade of the Forest Cantons. This was apparently a milder though actually a more cruel course. The Waldstätters in their mountain homes were to be cut off from all supplies of grain, wine, salt, iron, and steel, for which they depended on their richer Protestant neighbors. Zwingli protested. “If you have a right,” he said in the pulpit, “to starve the Five Cantons to death, you have a right to attack them in open war. They will now attack you with the courage of desperation.” He foresaw the disastrous result. But his protest was in vain. Zürich yielded to the counsel of Bern, which was adopted by the Protestant deputies, May 15, 1531.

The decision of the blockade was communicated to the Forest Cantons, and vigorously executed, Zürich taking the lead. All supplies of provision from Zürich and Bern and even from the bailiwicks of St. Gall, Toggenburg, Sargans, and the Rheinthal were withheld. The previous year had been a year of famine and of a wasting epidemic (the sweating sickness). This year was to become one of actual starvation. Old men, innocent women and children were to suffer with the guilty. The cattle was deprived of salt. The Waldstätters were driven to desperation. Their own confederates refused them the daily bread, forgetful of the Christian precept, “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom_12:20, Rom_12:21).

Zwingli spent the last months before his death in anxiety and fear. His counsel had been rejected, and yet he was blamed for all these troubles. He had not a few enemies in Zürich, who undermined his influence, and inclined more and more to the passive policy of Bern. Under these circumstances, he resolved to withdraw from the public service. On the 26th of July he appeared before the Great Council, and declared, “Eleven years have I preached to you the gospel, and faithfully warned you against the dangers which threaten the confederacy if the Five Cantons — that is, those who hate the gospel and live on foreign pensions — are allowed to gain the mastery. But you do not heed my voice, and continue to elect members who sympathize with the enemies of the gospel. And yet ye make me responsible for all this misfortune. Well, I herewith resign, and shall elsewhere seek my support.”

He left the hall with tears. His resignation was rejected and withdrawn. After three days he appeared again before the Great Council, and declared that in view of their promise of improvement he would stand by them till death, and do his best, with God’s help. He tried to persuade the Bernese delegates at a meeting in Bremgarten in the house of his friend, Henry Bullinger, to energetic action, but in vain. “May God protect you, dear Henry; remain faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ and his Church.”

These were the last words he spoke to his worthy successor. As he left, a mysterious personage, clothed in a snow-white robe, suddenly appeared, and after frightening the guards at the gate plunged into the water, and vanished. He had a strong foreboding of an approaching calamity, and did not expect to survive it. Halley’s comet, which returns every seventy-six years, appeared in the skies from the middle of August to the 3d of September, burning like the fire of a furnace, and pointing southward with its immense tail of pale yellow color. Zwingli saw in it the sign of war and of his own death. He said to a friend in the graveyard of the minster (Aug. 10), as he gazed at the ominous star, “It will cost the life of many an honorable man and my own. The truth and the Church will suffer, but Christ will never forsake us.” Vadian of St. Gall likewise regarded the comet as a messenger of God’s wrath; and the famous Theophrastus, who was at that time in St. Gall, declared that it foreboded great bloodshed and the death of illustrious men. It was then the universal opinion, shared also by Luther and Melanchthon, that comets, meteors, and eclipses were fireballs of an angry God. A frantic woman near Zürich saw blood springing from the earth all around her, and rushed into the street with the cry, “Murder, murder!” The atmosphere was filled with apprehensions of war and bloodshed. The blockade was continued, and all attempts at a compromise failed.

The Forest Cantons had only one course to pursue. The law of self-preservation drove them to open war. It was forced upon them as a duty. Fired by indignation against the starvation policy of their enemies, and inspired by love for their own families, the Waldstätters promptly organized an army of eight thousand men, and marched to the frontier of Zürich between Zug and Cappel, Oct. 9, 1531.

The news brought consternation and terror to the Zürichers. The best opportunity had passed. Discontent and dissension paralyzed vigorous action. Frightful omens demoralized the people. Zürich, which two years before might easily have equipped an army of five thousand, could now hardly collect fifteen hundred men against the triple force of the enemy, who had the additional advantage of fighting for life and home.

Zwingli would not forsake his flock in this extreme danger. He mounted his horse to accompany the little army to the battle-field with the presentiment that he would never return. The horse started back, like the horse of Napoleon when he was about to cross the Niemen. Many regarded this as a bad omen; but Zwingli mastered the animal, applied the spur, and rode to Cappel, determined to live or to die with the cause of the Reformation.

The battle raged several hours in the afternoon of the eleventh of October, and was conducted by weapons and stones, after the manner of the Swiss, and with much bravery on both sides. After a stubborn resistance, the Zürichers were routed, and lost the flower of their citizens, over five hundred men, including seven members of the Small Council, nineteen members of the Great Council of the Two Hundred, and several pastors who had marched at the head of their flocks.


47. The Death of Zwingli

Moerikofer, II. 414-420. — Egli, quoted in § 46. — A. Erichson: Zwingli’s Tod und dessen Beurtheilung durch Zeitgenosen. Strassburg, 1883.

Zwingli himself died on the battle-field, in the prime of manhood, aged forty-seven years, nine months, and eleven days, and with him his brother-in-law, his step-son, his son-in-law, and his best friends. He made no use of his weapons, but contented himself with cheering the soldiers. “Brave men,” he said (according to Bullinger), “fear not! Though we must suffer, our cause is good. Commend your souls to God: he can take care of us and ours. His will be done.”

Soon after the battle had begun, he stooped down to console a dying soldier, when a stone was hurled against his head by one of the Waldstätters and prostrated him to the ground. Rising again, he received several other blows, and a thrust from a lance. Once more he uplifted his head, and, looking at the blood trickling from his wounds, he exclaimed: “What matters this misfortune? They may kill the body, but they cannot kill the soul.” These were his last words.

He lay for some time on his back under a pear-tree (called the Zwingli-Baum) in a meadow, his hands folded as in prayer, and his eyes steadfastly turned to heaven.

The stragglers of the victorious army pounced like hungry vultures upon the wounded and dying. Two of them asked Zwingli to confess to a priest, or to call upon the dear saints for their intercession. He shook his head twice, and kept his eyes still fixed on the heavens above. Then Captain Vokinger of Unterwalden, one of the foreign mercenaries, against whom the Reformer had so often lifted his voice, recognized him by the torch-light, and killed him with the sword, exclaiming, “Die, obstinate heretic.”

There he lay during the night. On the next morning the people gathered around the dead, and began to realize the extent of the victory. Everybody wanted to see Zwingli. Chaplain Stocker of Zug, who knew him well, made the remark that his face had the same fresh and vigorous expression as when he kindled his hearers with the fire of eloquence from the pulpit. Hans Schoenbrunner, an ex-canon of Fraumuenster in Zürich, as he passed the corpse of the Reformer, with Chaplain Stocker, burst into tears, and said, “Whatever may have been thy faith, thou hast been an honest patriot. May God forgive thy sins.” He voiced the sentiment of the better class of Catholics.

But the fanatics and foreign mercenaries would not even spare the dead. They decreed that his body should be quartered for treason and then burnt for heresy, according to the Roman and imperial law. The sheriff of Luzern executed the barbarous sentence. Zwingli’s ashes were mingled with the ashes of swine, and scattered to the four winds of heaven.

The news of the disaster at Cappel spread terror among the citizens of Zürich. “Then,” says Bullinger, “arose a loud and horrible cry of lamentation and tears, bewailing and groaning.”

On no one fell the sudden stroke with heavier weight than on the innocent widow of Zwingli: she had lost, on the same day, her husband, a son, a brother, a son-in-law, a brother-in-law, and her most intimate friends. She remained alone with her weeping little children, and submitted in pious resignation to the mysterious will of God. History is silent about her grief; but it has been vividly and touchingly described in the Zürich dialect by Martin Usteri in a poem for the tercentenary Reformation festival in Zürich (1819).

Bullinger, Zwingli’s successor, took the afflicted widow into his house, and treated her as a member of his family. She survived her husband seven years, and died in peace.

A few steps from the pear-tree where Zwingli breathed his last, on a slight elevation, in view of the old church and abbey of Cappel, of the Rigi, Pilatus, and the more distant snow-capped Alps, there arises a plain granite monument, erected in 1838, mainly by the exertions of Pastor Esslinger, with suitable Latin and German inscriptions.

A few weeks after Zwingli, his friend Oecolampadius died peacefully in his home at Basel (Nov. 24, 1531). The enemies spread the rumor that he had committed suicide. They deemed it impossible that an arch-heretic could die a natural death.


48. Reflections on the Disaster at Cappel

We need not wonder that the religious and political enemies of Zwingli interpreted the catastrophe at Cappel as a signal judgment of God and a punishment for heresy. It is the tendency of superstition in all ages to connect misfortune with a particular sin. Such an uncharitable interpretation of Providence is condemned by the example of Job, the fate of prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and the express rebuke of the disciples by our Saviour in the case of the man born blind (Joh_9:31). But it is found only too often among Christians. It is painful to record that Luther, the great champion of the liberty of conscience, under the influence of his mediaeval training, and unmindful of the adage, De mortuis nihil nisi bonum, surpassed even the most virulent Catholics in the abuse of Zwingli after his death. It is a sad commentary on the narrowness and intolerance of the Reformer.

The faithful friends of evangelical freedom and progress in Switzerland revered Zwingli as a martyr, and regarded the defeat at Cappel as a wholesome discipline or a blessing in disguise. Bullinger voiced their sentiments. “The victory of truth,” he wrote after the death of his teacher and friend, “stands alone in God’s power and will, and is not bound to person or time. Christ was crucified, and his enemies imagined they had conquered; but forty years afterwards Christ’s victory became manifest in the destruction of Jerusalem. The truth conquers through tribulation and trial. The strength of the Christians is shown in weakness. Therefore, beloved brethren in Germany, take no offence at our defeat, but persevere in the Word of God, which has always won the victory, though in its defence the holy prophets, apostles, and martyrs suffered persecution and death. Blessed are those who die in the Lord. Victory will follow in time. A thousand years before the eyes of the Lord are but as one day. He, too, is victorious who suffers and dies for the sake of truth.

It is vain to speculate on mere possibilities. But it is more than probable that a victory of the Protestants, at that time would have been in the end more injurious to their cause than defeat. The Zürichers would have forced the Reformation upon the Forest Cantons and all the bailiwicks, and would thereby have provoked a reaction which, with the aid of Austria and Spain and the counter-Reformation of the papacy, might have ended in the destruction of Protestantism, as it actually did in the Italian dependencies of Switzerland and the Grisons, in Italy, Spain, and Bohemia.

It was evidently the will of Providence that in Switzerland, as well as in Germany, both Churches, the Roman Catholic and the Evangelical, should co-exist, and live in mutual toleration and useful rivalry for a long time to come.

We must judge past events in the light of subsequent events and final results. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

The death of Zwingli is a heroic tragedy. He died for God and his country. He was a martyr of religious liberty and of the independence of Switzerland. He was right in his aim to secure the freedom of preaching in all the Cantons and bailiwicks, and to abolish the military pensions which made the Swiss tributary to foreign masters. But he had no right to coërce the Catholics and to appeal to the sword. He was mistaken in the means, and he anticipated the proper time. It took nearly three centuries before these reforms could be executed.

In 1847 the civil war in Switzerland was renewed in a different shape and under different conditions. The same Forest Cantons which had combined against the Reformation and for the foreign pensions, and had appealed to the aid of Austria, formed a confederacy within the confederacy (Sonderbund) against modern political liberalism, and again entered into an alliance with Austria; but at this time they were defeated by the federal troops under the wise leadership of General Dufour of Geneva, with very little bloodshed. In the year 1848 while the revolution raged in other countries, the Swiss Diet quickly remodelled the constitution, and transformed the loose confederacy of independent Cantons into a federal union, after the model of the United States, with a representation of the people (in the Nationalrath) and a central government, acting directly upon the people. The federal constitution of 1848 guaranteed “the free exercise of public worship to the recognized Confessions” (i.e. the Roman Catholic and Reformed); the Revised Constitution of 1874 extended this freedom, within the limits of morality and public safety, to all other denominations; only the order of the Jesuits was excluded, for political reasons.

This liberty goes much further than Zwingli’s plan, who would have excluded heretical sects. There are now, on the one hand, Protestant churches at Luzern, Baar, Brunnen, in the very heart of the Five Cantons (besides the numerous Anglican Episcopal, Scotch Presbyterian, and other services in all the Swiss summer resorts); and on the other hand, Roman Catholic churches in Zürich, Bern, Basel, Geneva, where the mass was formerly rigidly prohibited.

As regards the foreign military service which had a tendency to denationalize the Swiss, Zwingli’s theory has completely triumphed. The only relic of that service is the hundred Swiss guards, who, with their picturesque mediaeval uniform, guard the pope and the Vatican. They are mostly natives of the Five Forest Cantons.

Thus history explains and rectifies itself, and fulfils its promises.



There is a striking correspondence between the constitution of the old Swiss Diet and the constitution of the old American Confederacy, as also between the modern Swiss constitution and that of the United States. The Swiss Diet seems to have furnished an example to the American Confederacy, and the Congress of the United States was a model to the Swiss Diet in 1848. The legislative power of Switzerland is vested in the Assembly of the Confederacy (Bundesversammlung) or Congress, which consists of the National Council (Nationalrath) or House of Representatives, elected by the people, one out of twenty thousand, — and the Council of Cantons (Staenderath) or Senate, composed of forty-four delegates of the twenty-two Cantons (two from each) and corresponding to the old Diet. The executive power is exercised by the Council of the Confederacy (Bundesrath), which consists of seven members, and is elected every three years by the two branches of the legislature, one of them acting as President (Bundespraesident) for the term of one year (while the President of the United States is chosen by the people for four years, and selects his own cabinet. Hence the head of the Swiss Confederacy has very little power for good or evil, and is scarcely known). To the Supreme Court of the United States corresponds the Bundesgericht, which consists of eleven judges elected by the legislature for three years, and decides controversies between the Cantons. Comp. Bluntschli’s Geschichte des Schweizerischen Bundesrechts, 1875; Ruettimann, Das nordamerikanisehe Bundesstaatsrecht verglichen mit den politischen Einrichtungen der Schweiz, Zürich, 1867-72, 2 vols.; and Sir Francis O. Adams and C. D. Cunningham, The Swiss Confederation, French translation with notes and additions by Henry G. Loumyer, and preface by L. Ruchonnet, Geneva, 1890.

The provisions of the Federal Constitution of Switzerland, May 29, 1874, in regard to religion, are as follows: — 

Abschnitt I. Art. 49. “Die Glaubens- und Gewissensfreiheit ist unverletzlich.

Niemand darf zur Theilnahme an einer Religionsgenossenschaft, oder an einem religiösen Unterricht, oder zur Vornahme einer religiösen Handlung gezwungen, oder wegen Glaubensansichten mit Strafen irgend welcher Art belegt werden ….

Art. 50. Die freie Ausübung gottesdienstlicher Handlungen ist innerhalb der Schranken der Sittlichkeit und der öffentlichen Ordnung gewährleistet ….

Art. 51. Der Orden der Jesuiten und die ihm affiliirten Gesellschaften dürfen in keinem Theile der Schweiz Aufnahme finden, und es ist ihren Gliedern jede Wirksamkeit in Kirche und Schule untersagt.”

The same Constitution forbids the civil and military officers of the Confederation to receive pensions or titles or decorations from any foreign government.

I. Art. 12. “Die Mitglieder der Bundesbehörden, die eidgenössischen Civilund Militärbeamten und die eidgenössischen Repräsentanten oder Kommissariendürfen von auswärtigen Regierungen weder Pensionen oder Gehalte, noch Titel, Geschenke oder Orden annehmen.”


49. The Second Peace of Cappel. November, 1531

Besides the works already quoted, see Werner Biel’s account of the immediate consequences of the war of Cappel in the “Archiv für Schweizerische Reformationsgeschichte” (Rom. Cath.), vol. III. 641-680. He was at that time the secretary of the city of Zürich. The articles of the Peace in Hottinger, Schweizergeschichte, VII. 497 sqq., and in Bluntschli, l.c. II. 269-276 (comp. I. 332 sqq.).

Few great battles have had so much effect upon the course of history as the little battle of Cappel. It arrested forever the progress of the Reformation in German Switzerland, and helped to check the progress of Protestantism in Germany. It encouraged the Roman Catholic reaction, which soon afterwards assumed the character of a formidable Counter-Reformation. But, while the march of Protestantism was arrested in its original homes, it made new progress in French Switzerland, in France, Holland, and the British Isles.

King Ferdinand of Austria gave the messenger of the Five Cantons who brought him the news of their victory at Cappel, fifty guilders, and forthwith informed his brother Charles V. at Brussels of the fall of “the great heretic Zwingli,” which he thought was the first favorable event for the faith of the Catholic Church. The Emperor lost no time to congratulate the Forest Cantons on their victory, and to promise them his own aid and the aid of the pope, of his brother, and the Catholic princes, in case the Protestants should persevere in their opposition. The pope had already sent men and means for the support of his party.

The disaster of Cappel was a prelude to the disaster of Muehlberg on the Elbe, where Charles V. defeated the Smalcaldian League of the Lutheran princes, April 24, 1547. Luther was spared the humiliation. The victorious emperor stood on his grave at Wittenberg, but declined to make war upon the dead by digging up and burning his bones, as he was advised to do by his Spanish generals.

The war of Cappel was continued for a few weeks. Zürich rallied her forces as best she could. Bern, Basel, and Schaffhausen sent troops, but rather reluctantly, and under the demoralizing effect of defeat. There was a want of harmony and able leadership in the Protestant camp. The Forest Cantons achieved another victory on the Gubel (Oct. 24), and plundered and wasted the territory of Zürich; but as the winter approached, and as they did not receive the promised aid from Austria, they were inclined to peace. Bern acted as mediator.

The second religious Peace (the so-called Zweite Landsfriede) was signed Nov. 20, 1531, between the Five Forest Cantons and the Zürichers, on the meadows of Teynikon, near Baar, in the territory of Zug, and confirmed Nov. 24 at Aarau by the consent of Bern, Glarus, Freiburg, and Appenzell. It secured mutual toleration, but with a decided advantage to the Roman Catholics.

The chief provisions of the eight articles as regards religion were these: — 

1. The Five Cantons and their associates are to be left undisturbed in their “true, undoubted, Christian faith”; the Zürichers and their associates may likewise retain their “faith,” but with the exception of Bremgarten, Mellingen, Rapperschwil, Toggenburg, Gaster, and Wesen. Legal toleration or parity was thus recognized, but in a manner which implies a slight reproach of the Reformed creed as a departure from the truth. Mutual recrimination was again prohibited, as in 1529.

2. Both parties retain their rights and liberties in the common bailiwicks: those who had accepted the new faith might retain it; but those who preferred the old faith should be free to return to it, and to restore the mass, and the images. In mixed congregations the church property is to be divided according to population.

Zürich was required to give up her league with foreign cities, as the Five Cantons had been compelled in 1529 to break their alliance with Austria. Thus all leagues with foreign powers, whether papal or Protestant, were forbidden in Switzerland as unpatriotic. Zürich had to refund the damages of two hundred and fifty crowns for war expenses, and one hundred crowns for the family of Kaiser, which had been imposed upon the Forest Cantons in 1529. Bern agreed in addition to pay three thousand crowns for injury to property in the territory of Zug.

The two treaties of peace agree in the principle of toleration (as far as it was understood in those days, and forced upon the two parties by circumstances), but with the opposite application to the neutral territory of the bailiwicks, where the Catholic minority was protected against further aggression. The treaty of 1529 meant a toleration chiefly in the interest and to the advantage of Protestantism; the treaty of 1531, a toleration in the interest of Romanism.


50. The Roman Catholic Reaction

The Romanists reaped now the full benefit of their victory. They were no longer disturbed by the aggressive movements of Protestant preachers, and they regained much of the lost ground in the bailiwicks.

Romanism was restored in Rapperschwil and Gaster. The abbot of St. Gall regained his convent and heavy damages from the city; Toggenburg had to acknowledge his authority, but a portion of the people remained Reformed. Thurgau and the Rheinthal had to restore the convents. Bremgarten and Mellingen had to pledge themselves to re-introduce the mass and the images. In Glarus, the Roman Catholic minority acquired several churches and preponderating influence in the public affairs of the Canton. In Solothurn, the Reformation was suppressed, in spite of the majority of the population, and about seventy families were compelled to emigrate. In the Diet, the Roman Cantons retained a plurality of votes.

The inhabitants of the Forest Cantons, full of gratitude, made a devout pilgrimage to St. Mary of Einsiedeln, where Zwingli had copied the Epistles of St. Paul from the first printed edition of the Greek Testament in 1516, and where he, Leo Judae, and Myconius had labored in succession for a reformation of abuses, with the consent of Diepold von Geroldseck. That convent has remained ever since a stronghold of Roman Catholic piety and superstition in Switzerland, and attracts as many devout pilgrims as ever to the shrine of the “Black Madonna.” It has one of the largest printing establishments, which sends prayer-books, missals, breviaries, diurnals, rituals, pictures, crosses, and crucifixes all over the German-speaking Catholic world.

Bullinger, who succeeded Zwingli, closes his “History of the Reformation” mournfully, yet not without resignation and hope. “All manner of tyranny and overbearance,” he says, “is restored and strengthened, and an insolent régime is working the ruin of the confederacy. Wonderful are the counsels of the Lord. But he doeth all things well. To him be glory and praise! Amen.”


Note on the Convent of Einsiedeln

(Comp. § 8.)

Illustration, Einsiedeln

The Abbey of Einsiedeln in the 15th and 16th Centuries.

On a visit to Einsiedeln, June 12, 1890, I saw in the church a number of pilgrims kneeling before the wonder-working statue of the Black Madonna. The statue is kept in a special chapel, is coal-black, clothed in a silver garment, crowned with a golden crown, surrounded by gilt ornaments, and holding the Christ-Child in her arms. The black color is derived by some from the smoke of fire which repeatedly consumed the church, while the statue is believed to have miraculously escaped; but the librarian (Mr. Meier) told me that it was from the smoke of candles, and that the face of the Virgin is now painted with oil.

The library of the abbey numbers 40,000 volumes (including 900 incunabula), among them several copies of the first print of Zwingli’s Commentary on the true and false Religion, and other books of his. In the picture-gallery are life-size portraits of King Frederick William IV. of Prussia, his brother, the Prince of Prussia (afterwards Emperor William I. of Germany), of Napoleon III. and Eugenie, of the Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria and his wife, and their unfortunate son who committed suicide in 1889, and of Pope Pius IX. These portraits were presented to the convent on its tenth centenary in 1861. The convent was founded by St. Meinhard, a hermit, in the ninth century, or rather by St. Benno, who died there in 940. The abbey has now nearly 100 Benedictine monks, a gymnasium with 260 pupils of twelve to twenty years, a theological seminary, and two filial institutions in Indiana and Arkansas. The church is an imposing structure, after the model of St. Peter’s in Rome, surrounded by colonnades. The costly chandelier is a present of Napoleon III. (1865).

The modern revival of Romanism, and the railroad from Waedensweil, opened 1877, have greatly increased the number of pilgrims. Goethe says of Einsiedeln: “Es muss ernste Betrachtungen erregen, dass ein einzelner Funke von Sittlichkeit und Gottesfurcht hier ein immerbrennendes und leuchtendes Flämmchen angezündet, zu welchem glaübige Seelen mit grosser Beschwerlichkeit heranpilgern, um an dieser heiligen Flamme auch ihr Kerzlein anzuzünden. Wie dem auch sei, so deutet es auf ein grenzenloses Bedürfniss der Menschheit nach gleichem Lichte, gleicher Wärme, wie es jener Erste im tiefsten Gefühle und sicherster Ueberzengung gehegt und genossen.”

For a history of Einsiedeln, see Beschreibung des Klosters und der Wallfahrt Maria-Einsiedeln. Einsiedeln. Benziger & Co. 122 pp.

The wood-cut above represents the abbey as it was before and at the time of Zwingli, and is a fair specimen of a rich mediaeval abbey, with church, dwellings for the brethren, library, school, and gardens. Einsiedeln lies in a dreary and sterile district, and derives its sole interest from this remarkable abbey.


51. The Relative Strength of the Confessions in Switzerland

We may briefly sum up the result of the Reformation in Switzerland as follows: — 

Seven Cantons — Luzern, Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Zug, Freiburg, and Soluthurn (Soleur) — remained firm to the faith of their ancestors. Four Cantons, including the two strongest — Zürich, Bern, Basel, and Schaffhausen — adopted the Reformed faith. Five Cantons — Glarus, St. Gall, Appenzell, Thurgau, and Aargau — are nearly equally divided between the two Confessions. Of the twenty-three subject towns and districts, only Morat and Granson became wholly Protestant, sixteen retained their former religion, and five were divided. In the Grisons nearly two-thirds of the population adopted the Zwinglian Reformation; but the Protestant gains in the Valtellina and Chiavenna were lost in the seventeenth century. Ticino and Wallis are Roman Catholic. In the French Cantons — Geneva, Canton de Vaud, and Neuchatel — the Reformation achieved a complete victory, chiefly through the labors of Calvin.

Since the middle of the sixteenth century the numerical relation of the two Churches has undergone no material change. Protestantism has still a majority of about half a million in a population of less than three millions. The Roman Catholic Church has considerably increased by immigration from Savoy and France, but has suffered some loss by the Old Catholic secession in 1870 under the lead of Bishop Herzog. The Methodists and Baptists are making progress chiefly in those parts where infidelity and indifferentism reign.

Each Canton still retains its connection with one or the other of the two Churches, and has its own church establishment; but the bond of union has been gradually relaxed, and religious liberty extended to dissenting communions, as Methodists, Baptists, Irvingites, and Old Catholics. The former exclusiveness is abolished, and the principle of parity or equality before the law is acknowledged in all the Cantons.

An impartial comparison between the Roman Catholic and the Reformed Cantons reveals the same difference as exists between Southern and Northern Ireland, Eastern and Western Canada, and other parts of the world where the two Churches meet in close proximity. The Roman Catholic Cantons have preserved more historical faith and superstition, churchly habits and customs; the Protestant Cantons surpass them in general education and intelligence, wealth and temporal prosperity; while in point of morality both are nearly equal.


52. Zwingli. Redivivus

The last words of the dying Zwingli, “They may kill the body, but cannot kill the soul,” have been verified in his case. His body was buried with his errors and defects, but his spirit still lives; and his liberal views on infant salvation, and the extent of God’s saving grace beyond the limits of the visible Church, which gave so much offence in his age, even to the Reformers, have become almost articles of faith in evangelical Christendom.

Ulrich Zwingli is, next to Martin Luther and John Knox, the most popular among the Reformers. He moved in sympathy with the common people; he spoke and wrote their language; he took part in their public affairs; he was a faithful pastor of the old and young, and imbedded himself in their affections; while Erasmus, Melanchthon, Oecolampadius, Calvin, Beza, and Cranmer stood aloof from the masses. He was a man of the people and for the people, a typical Swiss; as Luther was a typical German. Both fairly represented the virtues and faults of their nation. Both were the best hated as well as the best loved men of their age, according to the faith which divided, and still divides, their countrymen.

Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli have been honored by a fourth centennial commemoration of their birth, — the one in 1883, the other in 1884. Such honor is almost without a precedent, at least in the history of theology.

The Zwingli festival was not merely an echo of the Luther festival, but was observed throughout the Reformed churches of Europe and America with genuine enthusiasm, and gave rise to an extensive Zwingli literature. It is in keeping with the generous Christian spirit which the Swiss Reformer showed towards the German Reformer at Marburg, that many Reformed churches in Switzerland, as well as elsewhere, heartily united in the preceding jubilee of Luther, forgetting the bitter controversies of the sixteenth century, and remembering gratefully his great services to the cause of truth and liberty.

In the following year (Aug. 25, 1885), a bronze statue was erected to Zwingli at Zürich in front of the Wasserkirche and City Library, beneath the minster where he preached. It represents the Reformer as a manly figure, looking trustfully up to heaven, with the Bible in one hand and the sword in the other, — a combination true to history. Dr. Alexander Schweizer, one of the ablest Swiss divines (d. July 3, 1888), whose last public service was the Zwingli oration in the University, Jan. 7, 1884, protested against the sword, and left the committee on the monument. Dr. Konrad Ferdinand Meyer, the poet of the occasion, changed the sword of Zwingli, with poetic ingenuity, into the sword of Vokinger, by which he was slain. Antistes Finsler, in his oration, gave the sword a double meaning, as in the case of Paul, who is likewise represented with the sword, namely, the sword by which he was slain, and the sword of the spirit with which he still is fighting; while at the same time it distinguishes Zwingli from Luther, and shows him as the patriot and statesman.

The whole celebration — the orderly enthusiasm of the people, the festive addresses of representative men of Church and State, the illumination of the city and the villages around the beautiful lake — bore eloquent witness to the fact that Zwingli has impressed his image indelibly upon the memory of German Switzerland. Although his descendants are at present about equally divided between orthodox conservatives and rationalistic “reformers” (as they call themselves), they forgot their quarrels on that day, and cordially united in tributes to the abiding merits of him who, whatever were his faults, has emancipated the greater part of Switzerland from the tyranny of popery, and led them to the fresh fountain of the teaching and example of Christ.