Religious Reform in Switzerland: Calvin & Zwingli's Teachings in the Reformation

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  • 0:05 The Protestant Reformation
  • 1:14 The Reformation…
  • 1:37 Zwingli
  • 3:57 Calvin
  • 5:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Elam Miller

Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History

The Protestant Reformation resulted in many people splitting from the Catholic Church. This lesson explores the effect of the Reformation in Switzerland under the leadership of Zwingli and Calvin.

The Protestant Reformation

In the 16th century, a German monk named Martin Luther became increasingly dissatisfied with the actions and beliefs of the Catholic Church. At this time, Catholicism was the dominant religion. Most national churches were Catholic and reported to the Pope in Rome.

Catholic clergy issued indulgences to laypeople as a pardon for sins. Indulgences could be bought by paying the clergy member. Luther believed this led to insincerity in the laypeople and was an abuse of power. He believed the church held too much authority over its laypeople and that each person should rely on the Bible for guidance rather than clergy.

Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of a Wittenberg church.
Luthers 95 Theses

Luther, angry with the corruption in the church, wrote 95 theses regarding indulgences and nailed them to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Luther's actions and thoughts spread through Germany and began a movement that nearly covered Europe. Christians, who would soon be called Protestants, began splitting from Catholicism in favor of having more authority over their religion, rather than surrendering it to the Catholic clergy.

The Reformation Spreads to Switzerland

Many people in Switzerland were also dissatisfied with corruption in the church. The selling of indulgences led to wealth that contributed to demoralization in the clergy. Official duties were delegated to others who had not been educated. As the ideals of Luther spread, the unhappy laypeople of Switzerland joined in the demand for reform and discipline. At the forefront of this movement was Huldrych Zwingli.


Zwingli agreed with Luther that the Catholic Church emphasized the administration of sacraments, which were rituals that would affect God's grace on a person. However, while Luther said that church tradition was not overtly contrary to the Bible, Zwingli said that every ritual that was not mentioned specifically in the Bible should be abolished. This included five of the seven sacraments currently practiced by Catholics. Zwingli upheld the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist.

Luther and Zwingli also disagreed on the interpretation of the Eucharist (or communion). They both agreed the sacrament should be practiced and disagreed with the Catholic idea that the bread and wine turned into Jesus' blood and body during the ritual. Luther believed that Jesus was physically present in all things and, therefore, already present in the bread and wine used. Zwingli, on the other hand, believed this was practiced simply as a memorial and that physical objects could not hold the presence of a holy being like Jesus.

The beliefs of Zwingli grew popular in cities like Basel and Zurich.
Huldrych Zwingli

Zwingli and Luther did both agree the sacrament of baptism was necessary. Zwingli believed baptism was needed in infancy and only needed once for salvation. This was in conflict with a group called the Anabaptists. Anabaptists believed children should not be baptized and allowed adults who had been baptized as children to be re-baptized. Zwingli believed the claims of the Anabaptists had no scriptural basis and that they were adding to the scripture. Zwingli held that baptism was a covenant with God rather than a promise to live without sin, as the Anabaptists believed.

Zwingli also believed that the church and the state should govern together because all were under the rule of one god. He believed the government could help a person live honorably but could not make a person righteous in God's eyes. This was why, according to Zwingli, the church is needed along with the government.

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