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Protestant Reformation: Major Documents, The

by Lewis Spitz editor

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Review

Ulrich Zwingli holds much the same place in history as Larry Doby. If you don’t know Doby, you’re not as fanatical about baseball as you should be. Larry Doby was the second man to break the color barrier in baseball. Of course everyone knows the first: Jackie Robinson. And of course everyone knows the leading man of the Reformation: Martin Luther. Zwingli, though just moments behind Luther, gets far less attention.

Less than two years after Luther made his famous stand at the Diet of Worms, Zwingli invited friends and enemies to attend what came to be known as the First Zurich Disputation. In this meeting, Zwingli protested many of the same doctrines Luther called into question: clerical celibacy, indulgences, the concept of purgatory, the exaltation of the pope, etc. Significantly, his presentation received a much warmer response than Luther’s: certain authorities ordered local priests to promote Zwingli’s doctrines. But in spite of this success Luther is often perceived as the catalyst for the Reformation.

Perhaps the reason for this has to do with Zwingli’s other resemblance to Doby: both men were far less flamboyant than their counterparts. No one could steal home like Jackie Robinson, and no one could flame up like Martin Luther. Examples of Luther’s combustibility abound; one of my favorites is directed at a contemporary often described as “the man who laid the egg that Luther hatched”: “Erasmus is an enemy of all religion, he is the true adversary of Christ, a perfect replica of Epicurus and Lucian. Whenever I pray, I pray for a curse on him.”

Such passion tends to thrust Luther to the forefront of discussions. And such passion played out when Luther met Zwingli, and they disagreed about whether Christ abided spiritually in the sacrament of the bread and wine. Luther began the discussion by writing the words “This is my Body” on the table, and declaring that he would never depart from the words of Christ. Because Zwingli believed that the sacrament was simply symbolic, Luther took offence and consistently refused to be reconciled to the followers of Zwingli.

What a friendship might have been forged that day! It’s not an exaggeration to say that such an alliance would have changed history. But Luther reacted with his characteristic impulsiveness—the same impulsiveness that provided much of the impetus for the Reformation.

by Jeff Baldwin

Thegreatbooks.com