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Ulrich Zwingli


Born: 1 January 1484
Died: 11 October 1531 (killed in battle)
Birthplace: Wildhaus, Switzerland
Best known as: Swiss Protestant leader killed in battle for Zurich

Name at birth: Huldreich or Huldrych Zwingli

Ulrich Zwingli's insistence that the Bible, not the church, was the source of Christian truth made him a major force in the Protestant Reformation that swept Europe in the 16th century. Born to a village bailiff, Zwingli studied in Basel, Bern and Vienna before becoming a Roman Catholic priest. He was appointed in 1519 to the Great Minster church in Zurich, where his growing Protestant convictions rapidly became clear. In 1522, he proclaimed the Bible, not Catholic hierarchy and tradition, to be the sole source of Christian authority, and he persuaded civic leaders and the churches of Zurich that things not prescribed in the Bible had no place in the church's life. In 1524, pictures, statues and relics were removed from the city's churches -- reforms more radical than those of his German contemporary, Martin Luther. The two Reformers' greatest difference was over the nature of the Lord's Supper. At a 1529 debate, the Marburg Colloquy, Luther argued that Christ is literally present in the bread and wine, while Zwingli held that it is a symbolic meal. Such differences created long-lasting, uncharitable rifts between what came to be known as the Lutheran and Reformed branches of Protestantism. Meantime, even more radical reformers, called Anabaptists, asserted themselves in Zurich, and Zwingli became involved in their suppression and execution, including the 1527 drowning of Felix Manz. Tensions between Zurich and Switzerland's Catholic cantons led to war. Zwingli, severely wounded in battle, refused a Catholic confessor and was killed by sword.

Extra credit: Zwingli nearly died from bubonic plague in 1519... He married the widow Anna Reinhard secretly in 1522, then publicly in 1524. Their four children -- Regula (1524), Wilhelm (1526), Huldreich (1528) and Anna (1530) -- joined three from her previous marriage... Zwingli's chief theological work was The Commentary on True and False Religion (1525)... After his death, his body was quartered, burned and mixed with dung to keep his ashes from being used as relics.

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