A Brief Introduction to the Life and Ministry of Ulrich Zwingli

God’s Providence in Zwingli’s Life

Ulrich Zwingli had a great career, from about 1519 to 1529. He was trained as a Catholic priest and studied at the City of Basel. Basel was quite a university city in Switzerland. The fascinating thing about Basel is that the scholar Erasmus went to print his Greek text there, and at the same time he was printing the Greek text, Zwingli was a student in Basel.

In 1516, when Zwingli left Basel, he had with him the Greek New Testament, and for the next few years he studied it. In fact, Zwingli handwrote a copy of Paul’s epistles—so he had the printed copy and his own handwritten copy.

A New Kind of Preaching

He was appointed as the pastor of Grosmunster: the great cathedral in the city of Zurich. And on January 1, 1519, he started preaching in Matthew chapter one, verse one.

This was unprecedented. When you showed up for church at that time, all you had was the Mass and perhaps an occasional homily during Advent or Lent—you never heard an expositional sermon. But that is what Zwingli did, starting at Matthew 1:1 and preaching systematically, verse-by-verse, through the New Testament.

The Reformation of Zurich

After about three years of this, Zwingli recognized that what he saw in the church and what he read in Scripture were two different things. So in 1522, during Lent, he and a few of the fellow noble citizens of Zurich gathered together and had a sausage supper. Now, during Lent this was forbidden according to the canon law. But Zwingli recognized that this was a tradition; it was not in Scripture. Things quickly came to a head as it literally became a debate with the town council. The city of Zurich sided with Zwingli, and the city became Reformed.

The School of the Prophets

Zwingli went on to preach the gospel there from the Grosmunster. He also founded a university called the School of the Prophets. Today, it’s the University of Zurich—originally founded by Zwingli. Students studied the New Testament and the Old Testament.

They had a lecture in the morning in Hebrew, then they would have a lecture in Greek from the New Testament. And then one of the pastors would come and preach in German. That was the curriculum. The students went from Genesis through Revelation, studying the Bible in the original languages.

The Reformation

Stephen J. Nichols

Goes behind the scenes and uncovers the human side of the larger-than-life Reformers through user-friendly narrative stories on the Reformation.

A Short but Fruitful Career

In 1529, while some Swiss city-states were becoming Reformed and some remained Roman Catholic, significant wars broke out between these city-states. Zwingli got involved in one of these battles, serving as a chaplain. In the Battle of Kappel (which some historians say wasn’t much of a battle, but don’t tell that to Zwingli) Zwingli was killed on the battlefield.

Thus we have this ten-year career of a fiery Reformer in the city of Zurich—the life of Ulrich Zwingli.

Related Articles

Related Resources

Crossway is a not-for-profit Christian ministry that exists solely for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel through publishing gospel-centered, Bible-centered content. Learn more or donate today at crossway.org/about.