There was commotion in many cities over the reformers’ preaching and changes coming into the church. When Zwingli was consulted by the council, he suggested that everyone should obey the church’s rules until a group of competent men came to a decision about how to handle the changes. The council agreed.
Zwingli’s enemies saw an advantage for them in this decision. They planned to land a solid blow to the Reformation and give Rome back the power she had lost through the preaching of Luther, Zwingli, Myconium, and others. But they weren’t prepared for what happened when they made their attack. Like a powerful windstorm, the controversy blew seeds of truth all through the valleys and villages of Switzerland. And soon, it seemed all Switzerland was talking about the Reform doctrines.
On April 7, 1522, the Bishop of Constance sent three representatives to Zurich to deal with the reformers. They called an early morning meeting with all the priests. Melchoir Battli read a haughty and violent tirade against Zwingli without actually using the Reformer’s name. When he was done, Zwingli calmly stood and answered the charges against him, explaining the doctrines he was preaching. His wise defense silenced his enemies.
Zwingli’s enemies then brought their complaints before the Smaller Council of Zurich. Zwingli was not allowed to attend this council and he was unable to defend himself against his enemies’ untrue accusations. The Reformation would have been snuffed out at this point except that a few councillors sympathetic toward Zwingli and the Reform faith demanded that the Great Council of Two Hundred be consulted in this matter.
Zwingli’s accusers refused to allow him to attend the Great Council. Knowing this, Zwingli went to each councillor and begged them to allow him to present his side. Some were sympathetic, but they could not reverse the Council’s decision. After doing all he could, Zwingli prayed, committing the meeting to God.
The next morning on April 9, 1522 the Great Council began. The first thing the friends of the Reformation did was to request that their pastors be present for the meeting. Although the members of the Smaller Council strongly disagreed, the members of the Great Council insisted. Zwingli and the other pastors were summoned.
The Bishop’s representative, Battli, stood up and made a long, impassioned speech against the Reformation and its followers. He said that men had appeared who taught “revolting and seditious [or rebellious] doctrines….The civil constitution and the Christian faith itself are endangered.”[i] He said the church’s “ceremonies alone are capable of bringing the simple to a knowledge of salvation.” When he was done, he gathered his papers and prepared to leave the Council with his men.
Zwingli courteously invited Battli to stay and hear his defense, but Battle refused saying that Zwingli was known to be violent. The surprised chairman of the meeting insisted that the Bishop’s representative remain. Embarrassed and speechless, Battli eventually took his seat.
Zwingli refuted the false accusations of Battli, and then talked on the Reformation principles of freedom and choice. He specifically spoke about the freedom for all to study Scripture for themselves and freedom to obey Scripture as it is understood without fear of being called a heretic.
Wishing for more time before settling this case, the Council voted to ask the Cardinals and the Pope to explain about the law prohibiting the eating of meat during Lent. Until a decision had been reached, they asked the people to follow the church’s laws. Thus, the struggle between the Roman Church and the new Reform faith continued.
[i] History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 452.