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§ 48. Reflections on the Disaster at Cappel.

We need not wonder that the religious and political enemies of Zwingli interpreted the catastrophe at Cappel as a signal judgment of God and a punishment for heresy. It is the tendency of superstition in all ages to connect misfortune with a particular sin. Such an uncharitable interpretation of Providence is condemned by the example of Job, the fate of prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and the express rebuke of the disciples by our Saviour in the case of the man born blind (John 9:31). But it is found only too often among Christians. It is painful to record that Luther, the great champion of the liberty of conscience, under the influence of his mediaeval training, and unmindful of the adage, De mortuis nihil nisi bonum, surpassed even the most virulent Catholics in the abuse of Zwingli after his death. It is a sad commentary on the narrowness and intolerance of the Reformer.293293    In his letter to Albrecht of Prussia, April, 1532 (in De Wette, IV. 348-355), Luther expresses a doubt about Zwingli’s salvation (on account of his denial of the corporal presence). He scorns the idea that he was a martyr; he regrets that the Catholic Cantons did not complete their victory by suppressing the Zwinglian heresy, and he warns the Duke of Prussia not to tolerate it in his dominion. In his furious polemic tract, Short Confession of the Holy Sacrament, written in 1645, a year before his death (Werke, Erlangen ed., vol. XXXII. 399-401, 410), Luther says that "Zwingel" (he always misspells his name) and Oecolampadius "perished in their sins"; that Zwingli died "in great and many sins and blasphemy" ( in grossen und vielen Sünden und Gotteslästerung), having expressed a hope for the salvation of such "gottlose Heiden" as Socrates, Aristides, and the "greuliche Numa" that he became a heathen; and that he perished by the sword because he took up the sword. He adds that he, Martin Luther, "would rather a hundred times be torn to pieces and burned than make common cause with Stenkefeld [Stinkfeld for Schwenkfeld], Zwingel, Carlstadt, and Oeclampadius!" O sancta simplicitas! How different is the conduct and judgment of Zwingli, who, at Marburg, with tears in his eyes, offered the hand of brotherhood to his great antagonist, and who said of him in the very heat of the eucharistic controversy: "Luther is so excellent a warrior of God, and searches the Scriptures with such great earnestness as no one on earth for these thousand years has done; and no one has ever equalled him in manly, unshaken spirit with which he has attacked the pope of Rome. He was the true David whom the Lord himself appointed to slay Goliath. He hurled the stones taken from the heavenly brook so skilfully that the giant fell prostrate on the ground. Saul has slain thousands, but David tens of thousands. He was the Hercules who rushed always to the post of danger in battle ... Therefore we should justly thank God for having raised such an instrument for his honor; and this we do with pleasure."

The faithful friends of evangelical freedom and progress in Switzerland revered Zwingli as a martyr, and regarded the defeat at Cappel as a wholesome discipline or a blessing in disguise. Bullinger voiced their sentiments. "The victory of truth," he wrote after the death of his teacher and friend, "stands alone in God’s power and will, and is not bound to person or time. Christ was crucified, and his enemies imagined they had conquered; but forty years afterwards Christ’s victory became manifest in the destruction of Jerusalem. The truth conquers through tribulation and trial. The strength of the Christians is shown in weakness. Therefore, beloved brethren in Germany, take no offence at our defeat, but persevere in the Word of God, which has always won the victory, though in its defence the holy prophets, apostles, and martyrs suffered persecution and death. Blessed are those who die in the Lord. Victory will follow in time. A thousand years before the eyes of the Lord are but as one day. He, too, is victorious who suffers and dies for the sake of truth.294294    Christoffel, I. 409. Comp. also the beautiful preface of Zwingli to the history of the passion, in which he shows his readiness to die for Christ, quoted by Mörikofer, II. 415.

It is vain to speculate on mere possibilities. But it is more than probable that a victory of the Protestants, at that time would have been in the end more injurious to their cause than defeat. The Zürichers would have forced the Reformation upon the Forest Cantons and all the bailiwicks, and would thereby have provoked a reaction which, with the aid of Austria and Spain and the counter-Reformation of the papacy, might have ended in the destruction of Protestantism, as it actually did in the Italian dependencies of Switzerland and the Grisons, in Italy, Spain, and Bohemia.

It was evidently the will of Providence that in Switzerland, as well as in Germany, both Churches, the Roman Catholic and the Evangelical, should co-exist, and live in mutual toleration and useful rivalry for a long time to come.

We must judge past events in the light of subsequent events and final results. "By their fruits ye shall know them."

The death of Zwingli is a heroic tragedy. He died for God and his country. He was a martyr of religious liberty and of the independence of Switzerland. He was right in his aim to secure the freedom of preaching in all the Cantons and bailiwicks, and to abolish the military pensions which made the Swiss tributary to foreign masters. But he had no right to coërce the Catholics and to appeal to the sword. He was mistaken in the means, and he anticipated the proper time. It took nearly three centuries before these reforms could be executed.

In 1847 the civil war in Switzerland was renewed in a different shape and under different conditions. The same Forest Cantons which had combined against the Reformation and for the foreign pensions, and had appealed to the aid of Austria, formed a confederacy within the confederacy (Sonderbund) against modern political liberalism, and again entered into an alliance with Austria; but at this time they were defeated by the federal troops under the wise leadership of General Dufour of Geneva, with very little bloodshed.295295    The Swiss Sonderbunds-Krieg was an anticipation, on a small scale, of the Civil War in the United States, though the causes were different. In both cases the confederates rebelled against the federal government, and sought the aid of their hereditary enemy; the Swiss of the Catholic Forest Cantons that of Austria, the Americans of the slaveholding Southern States that of England. For a clear sketch of the Sonderbunds-Krieg, see Vuillemin, Geschichte der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft (1882), pp. 517-537. In the year 1848 while the revolution raged in other countries, the Swiss Diet quickly remodelled the constitution, and transformed the loose confederacy of independent Cantons into a federal union, after the model of the United States, with a representation of the people (in the Nationalrath) and a central government, acting directly upon the people. The federal constitution of 1848 guaranteed "the free exercise of public worship to the recognized Confessions" (i.e. the Roman Catholic and Reformed); the Revised Constitution of 1874 extended this freedom, within the limits of morality and public safety, to all other denominations; only the order of the Jesuits was excluded, for political reasons.

This liberty goes much further than Zwingli’s plan, who would have excluded heretical sects. There are now, on the one hand, Protestant churches at Luzern, Baar, Brunnen, in the very heart of the Five Cantons (besides the numerous Anglican Episcopal, Scotch Presbyterian, and other services in all the Swiss summer resorts); and on the other hand, Roman Catholic churches in Zürich, Bern, Basel, Geneva, where the mass was formerly rigidly prohibited.

As regards the foreign military service which had a tendency to denationalize the Swiss, Zwingli’s theory has completely triumphed. The only relic of that service is the hundred Swiss guards, who, with their picturesque mediaeval uniform, guard the pope and the Vatican. They are mostly natives of the Five Forest Cantons.

Thus history explains and rectifies itself, and fulfils its promises.


There is a striking correspondence between the constitution of the old Swiss Diet and the constitution of the old American Confederacy, as also between the modern Swiss constitution and that of the United States. The Swiss Diet seems to have furnished an example to the American Confederacy, and the Congress of the United States was a model to the Swiss Diet in 1848. The legislative power of Switzerland is vested in the Assembly of the Confederacy (Bundesversammlung) or Congress, which consists of the National Council (Nationalrath) or House of Representatives, elected by the people, one out of twenty thousand,—and the Council of Cantons (Ständerath) or Senate, composed of forty-four delegates of the twenty-two Cantons (two from each) and corresponding to the old Diet. The executive power is exercised by the Council of the Confederacy (Bundesrath), which consists of seven members, and is elected every three years by the two branches of the legislature, one of them acting as President (Bundespräsident) for the term of one year (while the President of the United States is chosen by the people for four years, and selects his own cabinet. Hence the head of the Swiss Confederacy has very little power for good or evil, and is scarcely known). To the Supreme Court of the United States corresponds the Bundesgericht, which consists of eleven judges elected by the legislature for three years, and decides controversies between the Cantons. Comp. Bluntschli’s Geschichte des Schweizerischen Bundesrechts, 1875; Rüttimann, Das nordamerikanisehe Bundes-staatsrecht verglichen mit den politischen Einrichtungen der Schweiz, Zürich, 1867–72, 2 vols.; and Sir Francis O. Adams and C. D. Cunningham, The Swiss Confederation, French translation with notes and additions by Henry G. Loumyer, and preface by L. Ruchonnet, Geneva, 1890.

The provisions of the Federal Constitution of Switzerland, May 29, 1874, in regard to religion, are as follows: —

Abschnitt I. Art. 49. "Die Glaubens und Gewissensfreiheit ist unverletzlich.

Niemand darf zur Theilnahme an einer Religionsgenossenschaft, oder an einem religiösen Unterricht, oder zur Vornahme einer religiösen Handlung gezwungen, oder wegen Glaubensansichten mit Strafen irgend welcher Art belegt werden....

Art. 50. Die freie Ausübung gottesdienstlicher Handlungen ist innerhalb der Schranken der Sittlichkeit und der öffentlichen Ordnung gewährleistet ....

Art. 51. Der Orden der Jesuiten und die ihm affiliirten Gesellschaften dürfen in keinem Theile der Schweiz Aufnahme finden, und es ist ihren Gliedern jede Wirksamkeit in Kirche und Schule untersagt."

The same Constitution forbids the civil and military officers of the Confederation to receive pensions or titles or decorations from any foreign government.

I. Art. 12. "Die Mitglieder der Bundesbehörden, die eidgenössischen Civilund Militärbeamten und die eidgenössischen Repräsentanten oder Kommissariendürfen von auswärtigen Regierungen weder Pensionen oder Gehalte, noch Titel, Geschenke oder Orden annehmen."

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