Reformation History Resource: Zwingli Online

Zwingli is the forgotten Reformer. Hated by the Lutherans as a “sacramentarian” moralist and not terribly favored by the mature Reformed Reformation, he’s the ugly step son of the Reformation. Here’s a blog (operated by whom?) which collects Zwingli resources. (HT: Jim West)

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. What I don’t get is why many modern Calvinists lump him with the Anabaptists when he was not anything like them in his theology! I highly recommend reading J.A. Wylie’s _A History of Protestantism_ wherein he goes into some depth on Zwingli and the dialogues/debates that he had with Luther. He really put Luther and Melanthon in their place in regards to the Lord’s Supper, but Luther was too stubborn to see the Truth in this regards and cast him away, only to later lament terribly when news of Zwingli’s death reached him.
    In what I have read, there is more affinity between Calvin and Zwingli than with Luther, especially in reagrds to the Lord’s Supper. Zwingli truely was a pioneer of the Reformed Faith, but God in His wise providence removed him before he could do more to edify and further a more Reformed reformation, but then again He did raise up Calvin to take up that task.

    • Edgar,

      Well, JAW’s account is outdated. I don’t read Zwingli that way. His relations to Reformed theology are a little more complicated than your post indicates. Zwingli was a bit of a rationalist (universalist) and had other theological problems. He’s a father of the Reformed churches but one with whom we have ambiguous relations. Calvin was NOT a big fan of Zwingli and much closer to Luther than Zwingli on the Supper. On the other hand, Zwingli’s covenant theology was important and his defense of infant baptism became fairly standard in Reformed theology.

      We need to read Zwingli with appreciation and historical sensitivity but we should resist the attempt, as was common in the 19th cent., to make him THE father of the Reformed churches and the normative theologian (a move that continues to echo through some denominations).

  2. Thank you Dr Clark. I read more of what you posted on Zwingli elsewhere on the HB and now see what you mean. Makes sense to me now. But I still do not agree with some assumptions today that he was a pre-cursor to the Anabaptists, why does he get lumped with them at times? It baffles me.

    Thanks again for clearing this up.

  3. Dr. Clark,

    Do you think Calvin was closer to Zwingli or Luther on the issue of baptism? It seems like many of our theologians in the PCA (James Montgomery Boice, Sinclair Ferguson, RC Sproul, and Lig Duncan) are closer to Zwingli than to Calvin on the issue of baptismal efficacy. Jason Stellman has a good conversation going on over at his blog on that issue.

    • There are ways in which Calvin is like Zwingli (in that he placed baptism in a covenantal context) and like Luther in that it was about God’s grace in Christ toward us.

      Granted a distinction between the “external” and the “internal” relation to the church and to Christ, we can use the language of “sacramental union.” That language sounds baptismal regeneration, but it isn’t because it always assumes the internal/external distinction. Baptism, per se, does nothing. The question is what the Spirit has promised to do. Nowhere does the Spirit promise to work “ex opere” through baptism. The sacraments are not magic but, as Bob Godfrey says, they aren’t empty either.

  4. just to be clear- zwingli never asserted that the ‘sacraments’ were empty. claims that he did cannot in any event be proven by what he himself wrote. they can only be made by citing what his adversaries said he said.

    it’s the old old problem so many who study the reformation have- they don’t read zwingli, they read about zwingli.

  5. Scott,

    I’m not convinced that Zwingli’s view of the supper is accurately represented by talk of ‘mere symbol’ or ’empty representation’. The primary sources lack any such language (or anything really remotely similar to it). If I’ve missed or overlooked something though I’d love to look into it more closely if you wouldn’t mind providing a citation. I have in my collection the Corpus Reformatorum edition as well as Schuler and Schulthess (without Bde. 6 I’m afraid, which I’ve never been able to find) so I should be able to look at any reference.


    • No, I agree Jim on the other hand, I find no evidence in Z. that there’s any more going on, even in his last writings, than an intense psychological/subjective experience. There’s no sense in Zwingli, that I’ve found, as there is in Luther and Calvin, that Christ feeds us with his “proper” and “natural” (that’s the language of the Belgic Confession) body and blood, the actual, ascended body and blood. I don’t think Calvin thought that Zwingli agreed with him either.

  6. No, Zwingli and Calvin wouldn’t have agreed. Bullinger bridged the considerable gap with the Second Helvetic Confession. A confession that neither Calvin nor Zwingli would have been completely happy with. Or so it seems.

    • I think that’s probably right. Calvin and Bullinger did sign the Consensus Tigurinus (which did him no good with the Lutherans!) in ’49. Tom Davis argues that Calvin compromised for the sake of Reformed ecumenism. That seems about right to me in light of Calvin’s Short Treatise and his later responses to Westphal

  7. Did Calvin teach a view of the real presence of Christ in the Lords Supper where instead of Him being physically present all over the place[which would offend Chalcedon] that the Church comes to Him in the execrise of the sacrament? I may be asking this question crudely, but I hope someone who know what I mean can respond.

    • Hi Brad,

      Here’s an essay (just one among many) on Calvin’s view of the Supper:

      Calvin used the adverb realiter (really) relative to the supper quite infrequently. He preferred to speak of Christ’s “true” presence. For Calvin the question is not where is Christ’s true humanity: it’s at the right hand of the Father. There’s no question of whether believers eat the true, real, natural body and blood of Christ. On that he agreed with Luther. The question was “how.” The answer, for Calvin, is the mysterious operation of the Holy Spirit who unites believers to Christ. We eat by faith. How? It’s a mystery. Christ feeds us with himself. How? By the Spirit.

      Calvin didn’t teach that Christ is bodily ubiquitous (but the Lutheran orthodox did). His doctrine of the Spirit, i.e., his Trinitarian theology made that unnecessary. The Spirit is ubiquitous but Christ’s true humanity is locally present in heaven.

      For Calvin (as for the Reformed orthodox) what can be said of a nature (humanity or divinity) can be said of the person, but not the reverse. The Lutherans teach that what can be said of the person can be said of either nature. These are two distinct doctrines of the communicatio idiomatum (communication of properties).

  8. Calvin speaks at length about the meaning of the Supper in Book 4, Chapter 17 of his Institutes. He rejects both transubstantiation and consubstantiation (in sections 11ff). See

    So I don’t think Calvin is all that close to Luther either. It’s in section 19 that Calvin gets to his own views.

    It’s a VERY long chapter, so you’ll have to work through quite a lot.

    I also recommend that you pick up a copy of Barth’s lectures on the theology of Calvin (either in German or English). He has a fine section on the subject.

  9. Scott, in regard to the feeding on the “proper” and “natural” body, Wayne Spear made the point in a lecture a few years ago that that language is missing from the Westminster Standards. Arguing that the Westminster Assembly followed more closely the language of the Thirty-Nine Articles contra Calvin as compared to the Irish Articles and other Reformed confessions of the period.

    Do you consider it problematic that today we tend to over empahsize the views of Calvin as compared to say Bullinger whose works some claim had a much greater influence during the period? In other words, reading the Reformed confessions through the lens of Calvin as if Calvin’s personal views represent Reformed orthodoxy.


    • Adam,

      You make a good point. I think Calvin was right and there’s no question in my mind that the Belgic and the Heidelberg intended to follow Calvin or to express the same sort of views. I think Wayne is probably right that the Westminster Divines wanted to be more inclusive. Nevertheless, the language of 29.7 is certainly consonant with Calvin’s and with that of the BC and HC:

      7. Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive, and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of his death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.

      Upon which Christ do believers feed? The ascended Christ? How, “really.” How? By faith. Obviously most of the chapter is a denial of Roman errors and the last is a denial of ubiquity but neither is this language Zwinglian.

      The language of WLC 168 is fairly called Calvinian:

      Q. 168. What is the Lord’s supper? A. The Lord’s supper is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine according to the appointment of Jesus Christ, his death is showed forth; and they that worthily communicate feed upon his body and blood, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace; have their union and communion with him confirmed; testify and renew their thankfulness, and engagement to God, and their mutual love and fellowship each with other, as members of the same mystical body.

      Upon what do believers feed? His body and blood. What sort of body and blood does Christ have? He only has one body. He only has real blood. These are not elaborate but they do affirm the essential truth of the earlier view.

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