I’ve read this claim before and I’ve heard it repeated. I’ve never seen any evidence for it, however. As I’m about to begin the Reformation section of the “Medieval-Reformation” course I thought it would useful to ask readers if they have any leads. To which Zwingli texts or to what evidence would one point to substantiate the claim that, at some point, Zwingli was an Anabaptist?
Update 26 Mar 2009
Thanks to John Fesko, who has a massive book coming out on baptism, for sending this quotation from 1523:
This manner of instruction I should like to see adopted again in our own day, namely that inasmuch as children are baptized so early, we undertake to instruct them when they reach that degree of understanding at which they are capable of hearing the word of God. Otherwise they might be at a great disadvantage which could be harmful to them, should they not be well instructed in the word of God right after baptism, as the young were instructed in times past, before baptism (Zwingli, Writings, ed. E. J. Furcha (Allison Park: Pickwick, 1984)1.100-01).
The context for this quotation, as John notes. was that (quoting from John’s forthcoming book), “Zwingli acknowledged that in the early church infants were baptized but that the practice was not as widespread as it was in his own day. Nevertheless, without citation, Zwingli argued that children were first catechized and then later baptized.”
This is very helpful and explains a bit of the formal ground for the appeal but the case remains circumstantial: he spent time with Anabaptists and he expressed doubts based on his understanding of patristic practice. Neither of these lines of evidence make Zwingli an Anabaptist before he was a paedobaptist.
UPDATE 1 April, 2009
This is no April Fools joke. Thanks to WSC student Matthew Seufert for pointing me (in a term paper) to Zwingli’s 1525 treatise, von der Taufe (Concerning Baptism…). The German text is in the Corpus Reformatorum (Zwinglis Werke, vol 4). The English translation is in the Library of Christian Classics volume Zwingli and Bullinger. Zwingli wrote:
For some time I myself was deceived by the error [of the Anabaptists] and I thought it better not to baptize children until they came to years of discretion. But I was not so dogmatically of this opinion as to take the course of many today, who although they are far too young and inexperienced in the matter argue and assert rashly that infant baptism derives from the papacy or the devil or something equally non-sensical (139).