A History of the Anabaptists in Switzerland by Henry S. Burrage


Paypal or 2Checkout safe transactions

























The affairs of Switzerland occupy a very small space in the great chart of European history. But in some respects they are more interesting than the revolutions of mighty kingdoms. Nowhere besides do we find so many titles to our sympathy, or the union of so much virtue with so complete success.

—Hallam, Middle Ages, ii. 108.

Unstreitig verdienen die Kampfe, welche die Zuricher Wie- dertaufer zur Reformationszeit veranlasst haben, auch heute noch gewurdigt zu werden.

—Egli, Die Zuricher Wiedertdufer, s. 91.

Sie sehen sich, ein kleines Hauflein, der ganzen feindlichen Welt gegenuber, aber in der Zuversicht, die Wahrheit zu besitzen, verachten sie die furchtsamen Ansleger des Wortes Gfottes, die nicht gedenken dass Grott heute wie gestern sei, und verklaren ihre Aussicht auf Angst und Noth durch den Hinblick auf Christus und die Apostel, die auf demselben Weg der Leiden ihnen zur Herrlichkeit vorangegangen.

—Cornelius, Geschichte des Munsterischen Aufruhrs, s. ii. 24.


Too little attention has been given to the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century. No one among us would be satisfied with a history of the Reformation in Germany, prepared by Dr. Eck, or any other of Luther’s opponents; but works concerning the Anabaptists, written by their bitterest enemies, are received by writers of almost every name as trustworthy history. Books of this character are cited as authorities in Anabaptist history. In his As to Roger Williams, Dr. Dexter cites a number of works from which, as he tells us, the early settlers of New England de­rived their prejudice against the Anabaptists; and he adds for the benefit of his readers, that if one would “complete his know­ledge of the subject,” he would do well to consult the following works: Catrou’s Histoire des Anabaptistes tant en Allemagne, Hollande, quAngleterre, etc., Paris, 1615; J. Gastius’s De Anabaptismi exordio, erroribus, historus abominandis,confutationibus adjectis, etc., Basilese. 1544; Melanchthon’s Adversus Anabaptistas judicium, etc., J. H. Ottius’s Annales Anabap- tistici, hoc est, Historia universalis de Anabaptistarum origine, pi’ogressu, factionibus, et schismatis, etc., Basilese, 1672; and Kerssenbrock’s Geschichte der Wiedertduffer zu Munster, etc., 1771.”[1] Cornelius, Professor of History at Munich, in a thought­ful review of the last of these works, says that Kerssenbrock knows only what is evil of the Anabaptists, and only what is good of their opponents;[2] while of the other works that Dr. Dexter mentions, it should be said that they were all written by the opponents of the Anabaptists, and could be of little use to one who desires to “complete” his knowledge of Anabaptist history.

An illustration of the way in which men are misled by these “authorities” we have in the supplementary chapter, which is found in the late Dr. J. P. Thompson’s “Church and State.” He says; “The Anabaptists of Germany in the sixteenth cen­tury had most of the characteristic features of Mormonism. They claimed to be inspired; they refused to acknowledge the civil government; they established a theocracy, calling Munster ‘Mount Zion’ they collected tithes and practiced polygamy.” Dr. Howard Osgood at once called Dr. Thompson’s attention to the errors into which he had fallen in this statement, saying: “I not only question but deny, and ask for some plain and unim­peachable proof, that the Anabaptists of the Reformation ever claimed to be inspired beyond that illumination of the Spirit now believed by all evangelical bodies; that they ever refused to acknowledge the civil government; that they ever established a theocracy, calling Munster ‘Mount Zion;’ that they ever col­lected tithes; that they ever practiced polygamy or community of wives.” It is sufficient to say that Dr. Thompson never fur­nished the plain and unimpeachable proof for which Dr. Osgood called.

It should also be remembered that of those who at the time of the Reformation were called—and by many are still called— Anabaptists, some neither advocated nor practiced Anabaptism; while the doctrinal views which were represented among them belonged to widely different schools of religious thought. In other words, the term Anabaptist was contemptuously bestowed on all those who were opposed to the union of Church and State, and who conscientiously remained outside of the state-churches.

To the history of the Anabaptists of Switzerland as little atten­tion has been given as to that of the Anabaptists generally and, perhaps, even less. The Swiss Anabaptists had a part, however in the great movement, which, as Dorner says,[3] extended through all Germany; from Swabia and Switzerland, along the Rhine to Holland and Friesland; from Bavaria, Middle Ger­many, Westphalia, and Saxony, as far as Holstein and though they were apparently defeated, the story of their heroic sufferings should be faithfully recorded.

In the preparation of the following pages I have used, aside from official documents, such treatises, doctrinal statements, con­fessions, hymns, and correspondence of the Anabaptists them­selves as could be secured, the source of which will be indicated in the notes. I have also found exceedingly helpful, Zwingli’s Werke, Schuler u. Schulthess Ed. Zurich, 1828; J. C. Fusslin’s Beytrdge zur Erlauterung der Kirchen-Reformations Gcschichten des Schweitzerlandes, Zurich, 1741; 5 Bande, a treasure- house of information in the form of original documents, letters, etc.; also his Neue u. unpartheyische Kirchen u. Ketzerhistorie der mittlern Zeit, Frankfurt u. Leipzig, 1770; Kessler’s (Jo­hannes) Sabbata—diary of the Zwinglian pastor at St. Gall from 1523-1539—St. Gallen, 1870; H. Bullinger’s Reformationsge- schichte, Ed. Hottinger u. Vogeli, Frauenfeld, 1838; also his Der Widertoufferen ursprungJargang, Secten, wasen, furnemen, und gemeine jrer leer Artickel, etc,, Zurich, 1561; G. Arnold’s unpartheyische Kirchen u Ketzer-Historien, SchafFhausen, 1740; Oecolompadius’, Ein gesprech etlicher predicanten zu Basel, gehalten mitt etlichen bekenern des widertoujfs, Basel, 1525; Handlung oder Acta gehaltner Disputatio und Gepsrdch zu Zoffingen inn Bernner Biet mit den Widertouffern, Zurich, 1532; J. J. Hottinger’s Geschichte d. Eidgenossen wahrend der Zeiten d. Kirchentrennung, Zurich, 1829, but first published 1708­1729; G. Walser’s NeueAppenzeller Chronick, St. Gallen, 1740; J. A. Starck’s Geschichte d. Taufe und Taufgesinnten, Leipzig, 1789.

Of more recent works I have been aided by the following: H. Schreiber’s Taschenbuch fur Geschichte u. Alterthum in Sliddeutschland, Freiburg, 1839-1840, containing a valuable, but unfinished, sketch of Hubmeier ; J. J. Herzog’s Das Leben Jo­hannes Oekolampads und die Reformation der Kirche zu Basel, Basel, 1843; J. C. Zellweger’s Geschichte d. Appenzellischen Volkes, St. G-allen, 1850; C. F. Jager’s Andreas Bodenstein von Carlstadt, Stuttgart, 1856; K. Hagen’s Deutschlands literarische u. religiose Verhdltnisse im Reformationszeitalter, Frankfurt, 1868. Of less value are J. Hast’s Geschichte d. Wiedertaufer, Munster, 1836 ; H. W. Erbkam’s Geschichte d. protestantischen Sekten im Zeitalter der Reformation, Hamburg u. Gotha, 1848 ; and Karl Hase’s Neue Propheten (the third part of which is en­titled jDas Reich der Wiedertaufer), Leipzig, 1861.

The most valuable of recent works concerning the Swiss Ana­baptists are C. A. Cornelius’ Geschichte des M’dnsterischen Aufruhrs, Leipzig, of which the first volume appeared in 1855, and the second, entitled Pie Wiedertaufe, in 1860; and Emil Egli’s Die Zuricher Wiedertaufer zur Reformationszeit, Zurich, 1878, and especially his Actensammlung zur Geschichte der Zurcher Reformation in den Jahren, 1519-1533, Zurich, 1879. The de­ sign of Cornelius’ masterly work is to show from a Roman Catholic point of view that all reformation of the church must necessarily lead to revolution, and “Revolution,” it is understood is to be the title of the third and concluding volume which is promised, but has not yet appeared. It is to be said in favor of Cornelius, however, that he aims to be impartial. He has not only gone back to the sources, but he has endeavored to use them with a just discrimination in reference to their value. His success is worthy of all praise, and in that part of his work which he has already published, he has led the way in subjecting the materials of the history of the Anabaptists to a broader and more scholarly treatment than they have hitherto received from Roman Catholic or even Protestant writers.

Egli, too, who is pastor at Aussersihl, near Zurich, and Privat-Docent in the University of Zurich, has gone back to the sources, and the result is the two works mentioned above. Had hisActensammlung fallen into my hands at an earlier period than it did, I should have been greatly aided in my work. My manuscript was nearly ready for the press before I was aware of its publica­tion. His Züricher Wiedertdufer I found most helpful, and I am otherwise indebted to him for kindly assistance in the prepara­tion of my work. As pastor in the State Church, his point of view, of course, is not one of sympathy with the Anabaptists, and in some places, as it seems to me, he fails to do them justice; but he is so far in advance of Swiss writers generally, that other than words of the highest commendation are almost out of place. His Actensammlung is a work for which he deserves the thanks of all students of the history of the Protestant Reformation.

Mention, also, should be made of Heberle’s Die Anfange des Anabaplismus in der Schiveiz, in the Jahrbuclierfur Deutsche Theologie, 1858, 2te Heft.; Keim’s Ludwig Hetzer in theJahrbücher für Deutsche Theologie, 1856, 2te Heft.; Heberle’s Jo­hann Denk u. die Ausbreitung seiner Lehre, in the Studien u. Kritiken, 1855, 4te Heft., and Heberle’s Johann Denk u. sein Büchlein vom Gesetz, in the Studien u. Kritiken, 1851, Iste Heft.

Concerning Thomas Münzer’s relation to the Swiss Anabap­tists, little is to be learned from G. T. Strobel’s Leben, Schriften, u. Lehren Ihomä Müntzer, Nürnberg, 1795, and Seidemann’sThomas Münzer, Dresden, 1842; but of especial value is Grebel’s letter to Münzer, which Cornelius gives in full in the ap­pendix to the second volume of his Geschichte des Münsterischen Aufruhrs.

Most of the works to which I have referred are in my own library. Füsslin’s Beyträge I obtained from the library of Crozer Theological Seminary, a favor for which I return thanks to the courteous librarian, Dr. Bliss. To Dr. Howard Osgood, of Rochester Theological Seminary, I am indebted for the use of Schreiber’s Taschenbuch für Geschichte u. Alterthum in Süd­deutschland for 1840, a valuable book, but as rare as it is valua­ble; and especially for manuscripts of Hubmeier’s works; also manuscripts of important documents in reference to Hubmeier and Hetzer. Indeed, Dr. Osgood’s assistance has been invalua­ble in many ways, and without it, I should early have abandoned my task.

That I have only imperfectly performed this task I am well aware. It is my hope, however, that in calling attention to the history of the Swiss Anabaptists, I may be the means of enlist­ing the interest of others in this hitherto unfamiliar department of church history, and so at length of securing a more complete vindication of the character and aims of these Protestants of the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland.

Portland, Me., May 6, 1881.



AT the opening of the sixteenth century the Swiss Confederation comprised thirteen cantons. Of these, Schwytz, Uri, and Unterwalden formed a league as early as 1291. This league was renewed in 1305, the time to which the Tell-legend is as­signed, and was confirmed as a perpetual Confedera­tion in 1318, after the decisive battle of Morgarten, the Thermopylse of Switzerland, in which the Austrians, under Duke Leopold, were signally defeated, and the Duke narrowly escaped the vengeance of the hardy mountaineers whom he had contempt­uously assailed in their rocky fastnesses. In 1332, Lucerne joined the Confederation, which was now known as the Four Forest Cantons (Vierwaldstätte), a name which is still preserved in that of the beauti­ful lake which is bounded by them and is known as the Lake of the Four Forest Cantons (Vierwaldstatter-See.)

Zurich was added to the Confederation in 1351, Glarus and Zug in 1352, and Berne in 1353. For more than one hundred years after the admission of Berne no other cantons were received into the Con­federation; and until the close of the last century these original eight cantons enjoyed many privileges not shared by the later members of the Confedera­tion.[4]

In 1481, Freiburg and Soleure were added. In 1498, the Emperor Maximilian endeavored to bring the Confederation under the power of the Empire for the purpose of securing the aid of the Swiss in his projected advance into Italy. But the Swiss did not favor his design, and in the war that followed, in which the Tyrolese subjects of Maximilian and the Swabian League bore the brunt, the Swiss were victorious; and in the following year, for faithful service during the war, Basel and Schaffhausen were added to the Confederation. They were followed by Appenzell in 1513. Thus at the opening of the sixteenth century Switzerland was a free country, a Confederation of thirteen Cantons owing allegiance neither to the German Empire nor to individual lords. Upon the banner which the Confederates bore was inscribed the motto: “Each for all, and all for each.”

But in their religious affairs the free spirit of the people had not been so strikingly illustrated. It was in the early part of the seventh century that the first efforts were made to convert to Christianity the pagan inhabitants of these mountainous wilds. Columban, an Irish monk from the monastery of Bangor, after a score of years of Christian labor in the Frankish Empire, established himself in 610 in the present territory of Zurich, near Tuggen, on the Limmat, in the hope of bringing the Allemani or Suevi of that region under the power of the gospel of Christ. But his efforts were in vain. The people compelled Columban to withdraw, and with his companions he took refuge in a castle named Arbon, on the southern shore of Lake Constance. A second attempt was made near the ruins of an ancient castle, known as Pregentia (Bregenz), at the eastern end of the lake. Here a church was erected and missionary labor was commenced. But the hostile pagans at length drove Columban from this place also; and in 613 he made his way into Italy, where he founded the monastery of Bobbio, near Pavia.

One of his disciples, however, an Irish monk by the name of Gallus, was left behind on account of sickness. After his recovery, instead of following Columban into Italy, he resolved to make an added effort for the conversion of the Pagans, whose con­dition had so deeply stirred his heart. Leaving the castle at Arbon he advanced a days journey into the wilderness, and came to a spot where he said, “Here will I abide.” Upon that spot he erected a monastery, which subsequently received his name, and from which went forth the missionaries who led the ignorant people to renounce their idol worship, and accept the Christian faith. Gallus closed his long and useful life in 640, but the work which he had commenced was carried forward by his disciples, who, inspired by his example, established other centres of religious influence, until at length the whole country was brought under the dominion of the Roman Church.[5]

This hold upon these hardy mountaineers the Roman Church retained at the opening of the sixteenth century. At that time, however, there were influences in operation that soon loosened that hold in some of the Cantons of Switzerland, and prepared the way for the Protestant Reformation.

Among these, first of all, was the revival of classical learning. Everywhere the students in the universities caught the spirit of the new era, and so intense was the interest manifested in the study of the humanities, that the scholastic philosophy and theology were more and more neglected. The University at Basel, which was founded by Pius II, in 1459, was at first strongly under the influence of the hierarchical spirit; but in this revival of classical learning the authorities of the University found it impossible to continue strictly in the old paths. Instruction in the Creek language and literature was given by Andronicus Contoblikas, a learned Creek, possibly one of the many Creek scholars who, in 1453, when Constantinople fell into the hands of the Turks, were obliged to make their way to other lands. In 1474, Reuchlin, afterwards the instructor of Melanchthon, came to Basel. He was then twenty years of age, and with enthusiasm, under the guidance of Contoblikas, he entered upon the study of the Creek and Latin classics. Two years later, at the suggestion of Contoblikas, Reuchlin began to give instruction in Creek and Latin Grammar, and also to expound some of the Greek and Latin authors. Crowds of students gathered around him, and the interest in classical studies was greatly increased. It was not long before the representatives of scholasticism in the University assailed Eeuchlin, charging him, in giv­ing instruction in the classical languages and literature, with undermining Christianity. Indeed, so strong was the hostility which was manifested toward Eeuchlin, that he was compelled to leave Basel in 1479, and for awhile the spirit of the new era was excluded from the University.

In 1502, however, Thomas Wittenbach was added to the faculty of the University as professor of theology. He had studied at Tübingen, and un­derstood the value of the revival of classical learning in connection with his department. He was accustomed to say to his students that the time was not far distant when the scholastic theology would be set aside, and the old teachings of the church, as laid down in the writings of the church Fathers and in the Scriptures, would reappear. In his teaching he boldly assailed many abuses in the administration of the sacraments, and attacked indulgences. Indeed, on one occasion in a public discussion, he defended the proposition that papal indulgences have no value, and that the death of Christ is the only adequate ransom for the sins of men. Zwingli, who in 1502 came to Basel as a teacher of the classics in St. Thomas parish school, became interested in the new professor, and learned from him lessons which, at a later period, bore such abundant fruit in his reformatory work.

But of unspeakable importance to the new move­ment in Switzerland was the presence at Basel of Erasmus, who came thither in 1514, at the height of his splendid fame, in order to carry through the press the first edition of the Greek New Testament. The friends of classical learning at once gathered around him. His frequent references to the Scrip­tures, as the foundation to which theology must return, attracted to him the most distinguished of the theologians in Basel, among them Dr. Ludwig Ber, who confessed with sorrow that he had wasted so much of his strength in scholastic instead of biblical studies, and commenced at once to make himself familiar with the Hebrew and Greek lan­guages. Capito, who in 1515 was appointed pro­fessor of theology in the University, and soon after was made rector, also came under the influence of Erasmus, and in his exegetical lectures directed his students to the Scriptures as the source of divine knowledge.[6]

The press greatly aided in the new movement. Among the first books published in Basel were the Latin Vulgate, and the writings of the scholastic theologians, Peter Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, and others. The philosophical works of Aristotle, Petrarch, and Reuchlin followed. A Hebrew gram­mar, by Pellican, was printed in 1503. Later, in 1516, from the press of the celebrated publisher Froben, appeared the edition of the Greek Testa­ment which Erasmus had prepared, and which could not fail among the learned to direct the minds of those who were in search of the truth to the inspired word of God.

But while these influences were such as to loosen the hold which the Papal Church had upon a people over which it had long exercised an almost imperial sway, other influences were even more potent in effecting this result. In the fifteenth century Swiss soldiers, who had learned the arts of war and proved their valor in the long struggle for inde­pendence in which they had been engaged, were hired to fight the battles of the Pope upon the plains of Italy. In these campaigns they were brought face to face with the corruptions which at that time characterized the Papacy, alike in head and members; and on their return to their native mountain valleys, they brought with them, not only such proverbs as, “The nearer Rome, the worse the Christian,” and “He who goes to Rome should leave his religion behind him,” but also such reports of the notorious profligacy of those who occupied the highest positions in the Roman See as could not but lessen the reverence of the people for those whose spiritual rule they had so long acknowledged.[7]

Nor was the character of the Swiss clergy such as to make these reports in any way seem im­probable. Some of the parish priests were Italians, favorites of Roman ecclesiastics, soldiers of the Papal guard even, who had been assigned to posi­tions in the churches of Switzerland for the sake of the revenue which these positions afforded. The immorality of these foreigners was as conspicuous as their cupidity. Among the native parish priests, also, a low state of morals seems to have been the rule. Zwingli, in 1522, with some of his friends, addressed a letter to the Bishop of Constance, and another to the chief officials in the Confederation, asking permission for priests to marry. In the latter he said: “Your lordships have seen already how shameful have been our relations with women— for we will speak only of ourselves—how these have been the scandal and disgrace of many.”[8] Of the ten[9] who joined Zwingli in this appeal three had already been married without the sanction of the church, and were living, as was the case with many other parish priests, with their wives in open viola­tion of the rule of the Roman Church. It was the custom of the Bishop of Constance to absolve these priests on the payment of a fine of four guldens for every child born to them. In 1522, he increased this fine from four to five guldens, and his revenue from this source alone is said to have been 7,500 guldens.[10]

Indeed, the bishops, for the most part, were more intent on securing the perishable possessions of earth than the everlasting treasures of heaven. They mingled in political affairs, and the duties which they owed to foreign princes and to the Confederation not unfrequently clashed. Indeed, so accustomed were the people to see these dignitaries of the church censured at the Diet, slain in the field, and banished from the land as disturbers of the peace, that public opinion in reference to the sanctity and inviolability of their office was greatly diminished.[11]

For letters they cared but little, and this indif­ference was even greater on the part of the lower clergy. The canons of the collegiate church at Zurich, in forwarding a report to the Bishop of Con­stance, said, as a reason why they themselves did not prepare the document, that some of them were unable to write.[12] Bullinger says that at a meeting of all the deans in Switzerland it was ascertained that not more than three could be found, who were familiar with the Bible. The others freely confessed that they had read only the New Testament:[13]with the rest of the clergy the case was still worse. The ignorance of many of the parish priests extended to the most elementary branches of education. They gave little attention to study, but devoted themselves chiefly to social pleasures. Of the clergy in the Va­lais, only one was found who had heard of the Bible.

A yet darker picture is presented when we turn to the numerous religious houses which in the preceding centuries had been established here and there within the limits of the Confederation. Not one of these preserved its ancient reputation for good morals and sound learning. In all of them there was not a man to be found who, in the impending conflict between the Papacy and the Reform party, could exert any influence whatever. Zurich, early in the eighteenth century, passed an order rebuking the immoralities of the monks, and forbidding their idling about the city, and especially in the nunneries. In Basel the Augustinians were in bad repute, while at Interlaken, at the close of the fifteenth century, it was found necessary to introduce monks from abroad, in order to improve the reputation of the brotherhood, while the nunnery was closed as if beyond improvement.[14] The abbot Twinkler, of Cappel, expended vast sums of money for the maintenance of his love of display, and the concealment of his impure life: and he was at length deprived of his office as a wretched econo­mist and a despot. In Wettingen the abbot, John Müller, craved the help of the Confederation, saying that he and his subordinates needed speedy reforma­tion, not only for the salvation of their order, but of their own souls. A letter of the abbot, John of Craux, written in 1514, explains the decline of the monasteries on the ground of the immoral life of the monks, and the neglect of visitation. The nunne­ries were as little the abode of purity as the monas­teries. A visitor to some of these nunneries said of that at Frauenthal: “I detest these nuns, and would not like to say what others tell me. Would that they were virtuous, faithful, honorable. They have desired my services as an inspector, because they know I am simple and easily deceived.” At the nunnery at Grottstadt the nuns were so faithless to their vows that the government of Berne removed the immoral abbess.[15]

It was this state of things, long continued, which aided in preparing the way for a revolt against the papal rule in Switzerland. There were two events, however, which occurred early in the sixteenth century that greatly aided in hastening this result. One of these was the attempt which was made by the Dominicans in Berne, in 1506, to impose upon the credulity of the people by a pretended miracle. At that time the Dominicans were not on friendly terms with the Franciscans on account of a difference of opinion in reference to the dogma of the immaculate conception, the Franciscans affirming, the Dominicans denying, this dogma. The popular feeling was with the Franciscans, and in consequence their revenues far exceeded those of their jealous rivals. This was not a pleasing thought to the Dominicans; and act­ing upon the principle that the end justifies the means, some of the most prominent of the brother­hood, including the prior, conceived a plan, by which they hoped to draw the attention of the community from the Franciscans to themselves.

John Jetzer, of Zurzach, a weak-minded tailor, had asked to be received into the monastery as a lay brother. His request had hitherto been denied; but as it was now thought that he could be of service in the execution of the proposed plan, he was admitted to the brotherhood, and became an inmate of the monastery in Berne. The prior and his accomplices began at once to fill Jetzer’s mind with terrors. One of the number, representing a soul from purgatory, appeared to the lay-brother in his cell, and asked his aid in securing deliverance from painful imprison­ment. Subsequently, also at night, Jetzer received a visit from the Virgin Mary, who bestowed upon him three of the Saviour’s tears, as many drops of his blood, and a letter addressed to Pope Julius II., who, it was said, had been selected to abolish the festival of the immaculate conception. To the bewildered mind of the lay-brother these were tokens of distin­guished favor, but he was told that far greater honors were in store for him; and the pretended Virgin, approaching Jetzer’s bed in order to make upon his body the five wounds of the Saviour, the distinguish­ing marks of a saint, took his hand and pierced it with a sharp nail. Jetzer shrieked and made so much disturbance that the completion of the work was necessarily postponed. On the following night a soporific was administered to him, and he soon had the full number of wounds with which St. Francis and other saints had been honored. As he awoke from his stupor the monks crowded around him, looked upon the miraculous wounds, and greeted Jetzer as highly favored of heaven. Then they bore him to a large room in the monastery which was hung with pictures of the sufferings of Christ. Gazing upon these vivid representations, Jetzer became excited to a still greater degree. He wrung his hands as if he were in the agonies of Gethsemane, bowed his head as if oppressed by the crown of thorns, and sank to the floor as one overpowered in the conflict of death. At times the monks threw open the doors, and the people, attracted by reports of the miracle, crowded the monastery, and gazed upon the wonderful specta­cle which Jetzer presented. “See,” they said, he is suffering the Cross of Christ;” while the monks called the attention of the astonished multitude to the favor thus shown to the Dominican order.

The Franciscans were greatly humiliated by this triumph of their rivals; and thus far the Domini­can plot was a glorious success. But the triumph of the Dominicans was of brief duration. The im­posture was detected by the credulous Jetzer. The Virgin again manifested herself to him, and in her voice Jetzer recognized the voice of his confessor. On the following night the prior took the confessor’s place, and he, too, was detected; also the sub-prior in the role of Catharine of Sienna. The monks, unwilling to lose their hold upon Jetzer, made addi­tional efforts to deceive him; but skilful as they were in their endeavors, Jetzer’s suspicions were now aroused, and he at length was satisfied that he had been imposed upon as before. The monks now sought to get rid of him by means of poison, but Jetzer discovered the plot, and having made his es­cape from the monastery, he revealed the facts con­cerning the pretended miracle. In an investigation that followed Jetzer was subjected to the rack, but he told the same story as before: and the four monks who had been most conspicuous in the affair, having been convicted of fraud, were sentenced to death and were burned at the stake May 1, 1509, in the presence of thirty thousand spectators.[16]

The history of this affair, in numberless editions, and in many languages, was scattered throughout Switzerland, and had a powerful influence in calling the attention of the common people to the character of the monks, and in preparing the way for the great uprising against the Roman Church that so soon fol­lowed.

An event of even greater importance in securing this result, however, was the appearance of Bernard Samson, a Franciscan monk,-who in August, 1518, entered Switzerland as Apostolic Commissary Gene­ral, having been empowered by the Pope to sell with­in the limits of the Swiss Cantons, at fixed prices, plenary indulgences for all manner of offences. With this traffic Samson was already familiar, having from his sale of indulgences under two previous popes, added hundreds of thousands of ducats to the papal treasury. Full of Italian pride, and bent on plun­dering the people, he crossed the Alps by the St. Gothard pass, and commenced the sale of his wares in Uri. Among the poor mountaineers of this Can­ton he made only a brief halt, and then pushed on to Schwytz.

At that time Zwingli was pastor and preacher of the church of the Hermitage at Einsiedeln, having been called to this place from Glarus in 1516. At Einsiedeln there was a famous abbey, over whose gate were the words, “Here a plenary remission of sins may be obtained;” and already, during his residence in the place, Zwingli’s heart had been stirred by the sight of the crowds of pilgrims who made their way to the abbey allured by the promises of the monks. Light had dawned upon his own soul, and he spoke brave words to the people who had been so grossly misled. But now his heart was even more deeply moved, and with fiery energy he denounced the traffic in which Samson was engaged. “Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” he exclaimed, “has said, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ Is it not, then, most presump­tuous folly and senseless temerity to declare on the contrary: ‘Buy letters of indulgence, hasten to Rome, give to the monks, sacrifice to the priests, and if thou doest these things I absolve thee from thy sins’? Jesus Christ is the only oblation, the only sacrifice, the only way! ”

Zwingli’s warning voice penetrated the mountain valleys of Schwytz, and Samson was compelled to move on. Late in September he appeared in Zug, where a great crowd of poor people, responding to the call of Samson’s heralds, pressed around the Papal Commission. “Let those first come who have gold,” cried one of Samson’s attendants: “the rest will re­ceive attention afterwards.” For three days Samson remained in Zug. At times the throng was so great that many could not get near the cross where the indulgences were sold. Passing through Lucerne and Unterwalden, meeting with increasing success in his mission, Samson came at length to Berne. At first he was not permitted to enter the city, but through the efforts of some of his friends the refusal was at length withdrawn, and he opened the sale of his wares in St. Vincent’s Church. To the poor he sold indulgences on paper for three cents. For the same thing on vellum the rich paid a crown. To absolve themselves from greater sins some paid hun­dreds of ducats. A celebrated warrior, Jacob de Stein, by the present of the grey steed which he rode obtained an indulgence for himself, his five hundred troopers, and all his vassals in the seigniory of Bealp. On the last Sunday of his stay in Berne, at a service in the church, Samson cried out, “All those who kneel down and offer a short prayer shall be as pure as immediately after baptism;” and as all kneeled he added, “I deliver from the torments of purgatory and of hell, all the souls of deceased Bernese, no matter when, where, or how they died.”

In Aargau, Samson, found that, on account of his failure to have his credentials approved, the Bishop of Constance had ordered his clergy not to receive him. In Baden, he held mass in the church. After­ward, while accompanying a procession through the churchyard, he cried out, as if he saw already the souls of the dead released from purgatory, “Look, see them fly!” One of the crowd mounted the tower to the belfry, and throwing out of the window a lot of old feathers he shouted, “Look, see them fly!” and Samson, followed by the derision of the multi­tude, left the place.

He next appeared at Bremgarten, and was wel­comed by the magistrate, and one of his preachers who had made the acquaintance of Samson at Baden. But Henry Bullinger, the pastor and dean of the church, and the father of the well-known historian, refused to recognize Samson. When the latter showed his letters from the Pope, Bullinger replied that he could not open his church to him upon these letters, as they had not been approved by the Bishop of Con­stance. “The Pope is above the Bishop said Sam­son: “therefore it is in the highest degree fitting in you not to deprive your flock of so great grace.” But Bullinger could not be intimidated. “I will not grant your request,” he said, “if it costs me my life.” Samson was in a rage, and cried out, “Brute, inas­much as you put yourself in opposition to the Pope, I pronounce against you the greater excommunica­tion, and I will not absolve you until you have atoned for your rashness by the payment of three hundred ducats.” Bullinger, as he was leaving the room, said, “I know what I have done, and will answer for it where it is fitting. I care nothing for you and your excommunication.” “Impudent brute!” shouted Samson, “I am going soon to Zurich, and I will complain of you there to the deputies of the Canton.” Bullinger turned and defiantly added, “You will find that I have preceded you.”

Zwingli, who in December, 1518, had been trans­ferred from Einsiedeln to the Cathedral in Zurich, was informed of Samsons purpose as revealed in his threat to Bullinger, and attacked indulgences even more vehemently than at Einsiedeln. “No man,” he said, “can remit sins. Christ, who is very God and very man, alone has this power.” Samson was told that Zwingli was preaching against indulgences. “I am aware,” he said, “that Zwingli will speak against me, but I will stop his mouth.”

Bullinger was as good as his word, and reached Zurich in advance of the enraged Samson. On his arrival—it was late in February, 1519—he had a consultation with Zwingli and the principal men in the city, and the result was that when Samson ar­rived in the suburbs of Zurich a few days after, he was informed by the deputies of the Canton that his presence was not desired there. Claiming that he had a message to communicate to the Diet in the name of the Pope, the monk was finally permitted to enter the city; but when it was found that his plea was a false one he was told that he must withdraw his bann of excommunication against the Dean of Bremgarten, and leave the Canton. Hot long after, Samson recrossed the St. Gothard, bearing with him the silver and gold he had plundered from the Swiss, and he and his shameful traffic, thanks to the firm­ness of Zwingli and his friends, were heard of no more.[17]

The popular feeling thus awakened was increased by the publication of Luther’s tract on Indulgences, which with other tracts of the German Reformer was published by Froben, in Basel, in 1519, and widely scattered among the Swiss people. Hot only, there­fore, in the ever-widening circle of scholars who had caught the breath of the new era, but also among the common people, voices were now heard denouncing the tyranny and extortion of immoral ecclesiastics, and calling for the correction of abuses which already had been too long endured.

Additional information


eBook (download), Paperback


There are no reviews yet.

Only logged in customers who have purchased this product may leave a review.