Paul Tillich, A History Of Christian Thought

Zwingli and Luther. Calvin. Predestination and Providence. Capitalism. Church and State.

We started discussing Zwingli, but my state of tiredness prevented me from giving a full account of him. I don’t want to go back to it, but I want to say that the interesting thing, in the first half of the Swiss Reformation, in Zurich where Zwingli was carrying it through, is that one could call it a synthesis of Reformation and humanism. When I say this, you remember that I spoke about Luther’s relationship to Erasmus and the final break, but the continuation of humanistic elements in the further Reformation on Lutheran soil, represented especially by Melanchthon. These two men, Zwingli and Melanchthon (“Melanchthon” from the Greek, meaning “black earth,”) Luther worked together with Melanchthon almost from the beginning of the Reformation, in Wittenberg (the theological wing which was dependent on him was often called Philippism) i.e. dependent on Philip Melanchthon, or “Blackearth,” if you want to retranslate him out of the nobly sounding Greek into less nobly sounding language! This man was deeply influenced by Erasmus, and never broke with him. Similarly with Zwingli. Both were Reformers insofar as they followed Luther. They were at the same time humanists insofar as they accepted elements coming from the master and leader of all humanism, Erasmus.

This was the difference between Luther and the Swiss reformers. When we come to Calvin, keep in mind that he is largely dependent on Zwingli, as well as on Luther, that he turns back to a certain extent from Zwingli to Luther, but in spite of all this he also was humanistically educated and in his writings shows the classical erudition in style and content.

This is the general character of the Swiss Reformation, in contrast to the Lutheran. I believe that whenever liberal theology arises, as it did from the 17th to the 19th centuries, that since that time theologians develop in all denominations who are nearer to Zwingli than to Calvin. One of the main points I made is that Zwingli believes that the Spirit is directly working in the human soul and that therefore God’s ordinary working goes through the Word, the Biblical message, but that God, extraordinarily, can also work on people who never had contact with the Christian message with people whom we speak of as living in foreign religions, or the humanists. The examples given by Zwingli are mostly from Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, and others.

I just read yesterday a hymn which, besides Christ and Luther, l think Socrates was in the content to be sung by a congregation of southern Negroes or Middle Western peasants. And I don’t think whether it is very wise to bring theology in this way into a hymn. And if people like Zwingli, Calvin, and others, speak of revelation and salvation in men like Socrates, and Seneca, and many others, whom they mention, then there is a mistake in this, the mistake that they know pagan piety only in these representatives; but pagan piety has exactly the same character as Christian piety in this respect, that it is at least equally intensive in the common people who are really pious with respect to what they know of God, and these are the men they should have mentioned. But since they were good humanists, they mentioned only their own sociological class, namely the people who were not only great men but who also belonged to the intelligentsia. And if you ever decide as ministers to take such things into a hymn, please decide against it. Although I gave you in these classes as much Socrates and Plato as I could, nevertheless I don’t sing to them Now I come to another point, the immediacy of the Spirit, the possibility of having the Spirit without the Word. I didn’t discuss last time the special doctrine of God in Zwingli, which is a very important doctrine, namely the doctrine that God is the universal dynamic power of being in everything that is. In this sense you can recognize some of my own theological thinking in Zwingli and Calvin, but you can recognize it also in Luther only that the Zwinglian humanistic form in which this was conceived has much more rational deterministic character God works through the natural law. And therefore the idea of predestination which Zwingli strongly accepted has a color of rational determinism. We shall see that the same is true of Calvin, while in Luther it has much more the character of Occamism and Scotusism, namely the irrational acting of God in every moment, which cannot be subjected to any law.

This has something to do and here is another point of difference between the Lutheran and the Zwinglian Reformation, namely that the law plays a different role in both of them. In Zwingli it is not the law which makes us sinful, but the law shows us that we are sinful; while Luther had the profound psychology which we have rediscovered in modern psychological terms, that the law produces resistance and therefore, as Paul has called it, makes sin more sinful. This was lacking very much in Zwinglian and also in Calvinistic thinking. The concept of law has a very positive connotation. Now this refers to natural law generally. And natural law, as you probably have not forgotten, means in ancient literature, first of all law of reason the logical, ethical, and juristic law. And secondly, also the physical law. So don’t think of physics when you read of “natural law,” in books of the past. Usually it means the ethical law which is in us, which belongs to our being, which is re- stated by the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount, but which in itself is by nature, I. e., by created nature, by that which we are essentially. And this kind of law is much more in the mind of Zwingli and Calvin than it is in the mind of Luther.

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