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'Catholicity and Consensus: A Swiss Solution'

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In the mid-1520s, the city of Zürich found itself under political pressure from other members of the Swiss Eidgenossenschaft unhappy with the city’s reformation and attempts to expand its religious and political influence into other Swiss territories. The Baden disputation of 1526 was an attempt to resolve this crisis, as was the flurry of polemical pamphlets that surrounded it.

Zürich objected to the charge of heresy and ‘Lutheranism’, and these are addressed by Utz Eckstein, a polemicist for the Evangelical side, who distances the local reformation from both Luther and the radicals. As a result, indulgences and the papacy recede from view, to be replaced by fasting, baptism, and Eucharist. These are treated in a moderate tone, quite different from that found in other German-language reformation polemics.

At the heart of Eckstein’s presentation is the problem of authority. He acknowledges that scripture alone is capable of more than one interpretation, and deploys two ‘catholic’ solutions to the hermeneutical impasse, in the form of tradition and conciliar authority (hence the title of his 1525 pamphlet, the Concilium). Tradition and council represent the consensus of the Church in history and in the present. Consensus is a particularly well-suited model for the sixteenth-century Swiss context, where authority resided in city and village councils, and constantly had to be negotiated rather than imposed from above.

This paper will therefore argue that Zwingli’s Zürich reformation presents itself as a catholic solution to catholic problems, reached by seeking consensus throughout the broadest possible geographical area.

This talk is part of the German Graduate Research Seminar series.

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