Ad Gloriam Dei

"Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." - 1 Corintians 10:31

"Let us pursue the things which make for peace and those by which one may edify another"- Romans 14:19

"As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend." - Proverbs 27:17

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Reformation Didn't Start with Luther

As I keep hearing about Luther starting the Reformation, I thought it would be worthwhile setting the record straight. Other Reformers like Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland and Jacques Lefevre of the Sorbonne in Paris (picture opposite) were already convinced of the true Gospel, and were publicly proclaiming it prior to 1517 and independent of Luther.

In his commentary on Paul's Epistles published in 1512 Lefevre states, "It is God who gives us, by faith, that righteousness which by grace alone justifies to eternal life" (quoted in J.A. Wylie's "The History of Protestantism", Vol. II, p. 126).

As Zwingli said, "I began to preach the Gospel in 1516, at that time namely when the name of Luther had not even been heard in our country." As Wolfgang Capito stated in a letter to Heinrich Bullinger, "For before Luther had appeared in public, Zwingli and I had conversed together regarding the overthrow of the Pope, even when he lived in the hermitage." (Both quotations in Wylie, Vol. I, p. 431.)

This is not to deny the great and godly man his deserved place in Church history and our thanksgiving to God for raising him up, but to point out that the Reformation started independently at various points under the influence of God's Word, and in some cases prior to Luther.

There is of course the proto-Reformers, Wycliffe and Huss, but the contiguous period known as the Reformation in which Churches were reformed didn't begin with them.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aye, but it was Luther who kicked it off big-time.

Saturday, February 03, 2007 11:25:00 pm  
Blogger John said...

Before the Reformation, there wasn't an idea of confessionalism. Not all members of the Church believed any given doctrine (with the possible exceptions of ones from Councils).

So of course there were true preachers of the Gospel (though it was very much a minority view). Luther himself was arguably pointed to the importance of God's grace rather than human works by his mentor Staupitz (who was a fan of Augustine and remained a Catholic).

What changed with Luther was the division of the church broadly along the lines of the gospel (though if you look at some of the Anabaptists it becomes clearer that the issue was actually closer to being Papal authority), along with the growing influence that Luther's teaching had.

Sunday, February 04, 2007 9:05:00 am  
Blogger John said...

That's not to say of course that Luther wasn't a theological innovator / rediscoverer, but they came after 1517.

Sunday, February 04, 2007 9:09:00 am  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...


Undoubtedly, Luther did "kick it off big time", but he wasn't the one who "kicked it off big time" in all lands.


Yes, there is evidence of those who maintained the true Gospel while remaining in the Catholic Church, aside from the Waldensians, Albigienses, Paulicians, Lollards and Hussites.

As has been pointed out the Swiss Church (at least Zurich) had already independently broken away soteriologically around the same period.

It should also be noted that, as I understand it, the Zurich Church broke away ecclesiastically in 1523 and carried out a series of reforms during the late 1520's. Also, as I understand it, the Lutheran Church didn't break communion officially until the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, although some may argue that the break happened when Luther was excommunicated in 1521.

The point is not who broke first, but that Luther is not responsible for the Swiss Reformed Church breaking with Rome.

Any corrections on these points will be gratefully received as usual.

Sunday, February 04, 2007 9:03:00 pm  
Blogger John said...

I agree that Luther doesn't seem to have been a primary cause for the breaking away of Zurich. On the other hand, it's worth remembering..

1) that Zwingli and Luther did not get on well at all in later life, and that sort of thing colours memories

2) Zurich's break with Rome only happened after Luther's very public trial in 1521, whiuch triggered reformations across Germany.

3) Zwingli was still accepting corrupt papal positions in 1519, though stopped taking money from them in 1520 after starting his series on Matthew.

I guess I think of it rather like the US War of Independence and the French Revolution - many of the same underlying causes, certainly partly independent, but one probably triggered the other.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007 7:25:00 am  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...


Thanks for your comments.

1. I think that it would take blatant lies on the side of Zwingli and Capitio to say what they said. This would not be merely mixing up details of a conversation, for instance. So I would question this point. "Love believes all things, hopes all things..."

2. All the Reformation movements were progressive not instantaneous. I do not deny that Zwingli and Luther were bound to influence each other as time progressed.

3. I'd be interested in more detail on this.

As for the relationship between the American and French Revolutions, certainly the U.S. affected France, but I would dispute the claim that French Radical Enlightenment thought affected the U.S. (Not that you are making the latter claim, but as point of clarification.)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007 1:26:00 pm  

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