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Zwingli, the courage to be

Pierre-Olivier Léchot

Translation Canon Tony Dickinson

I have to be honest: Swiss though I am, I have always preferred Luther to Zwingli. Luther’s theology has always been more eloquent for me than that of the Zurich pastor – closer to my personal questionings, closer to my concern for an embodied theology, closer, finally and perhaps especially, to my need to seek God where human beings are before identifying the signs in the ethereal clouds. This is what disturbed Karl Barth about Luther: it is said that one day he placed an Indonesian carpet with which his son had presented him in front of the Weimar edition of the Reformer’s works so as not to be tempted by Luther’s insistence on man and faith – a prefiguring, in his view, of liberal errors. As a matter of fact Zwingli’s God is for me too often a cerebral God, too “rational” and, sometimes, still too close to that of medieval scholastics. Of course, we can read him more positively and it must be recognized that Bernard Reymond helps us greatly here in the dossier which follows. There is only one thing that has always fascinated me about Zwingli: his courage. Courage, first of all, in front of the religious authorities of his time, in the face of whom he did not hesitate to defend the freedom of the Gospel at the risk of everything he had and all that he was. Courage, next, faced with what had been his own life: as a young priest, Zwingli had tried to abide by his vow of chastity, but had not succeeded. In the face of slander, he did not hesitate to admit the facts and use them as an argument in favour of the marriage of priests. Courage, finally, in the face of death itself: in 1529 he allowed himself to find fault with the Council of Zurich, which was hesitating to defend the religious freedom of Swiss Protestants against the armed threat of the Catholic cantons. In a letter to the Zurich authorities, he said: “Tut um Gottes Willen etwas Tapferes!” (“For the love of God, do something brave!”) We know the rest: the reformer would lose his life at the battle of Cappel in 1531. Zwingli, it is true, had courage and no doubt drew on his personal faith, given his definition of faith as “trust” (as did Luther and Calvin, incidentally). In this sense, Zwingli’s courage was very close to what Tillich called “the courage to be.”

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a été pasteur à Amsterdam et en Région parisienne. Il s’est toujours intéressé à la présence de l’Évangile aux marges de l’Église. Il anime depuis 17 ans le site Internet Protestants dans la ville.

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