History, Department of


Date of this Version



Originally published in Archive for Reformation History 96 (2005), pp. 33-56. The Archive is published under the auspices of Verein für Reformationsgeschichte and the Society for Reformation Research. http://w3fp.arizona.edu/archive/ Copyright © 2006 Amy Nelson Burnett. Used by permission of the author.


Walther Kohler ended his classic account of the eucharistic controversy, Zwingli und Luther, with a description of the synod of Swiss theologians that met in Zurich in April of 1538. Held almost two years after the signing of the Wittenberg Concord, the synod was Martin Bucer's last opportunity to persuade the Swiss to continue negotiations for eucharistic concord with Luther. Bucer had reason to hope for positive results from the synod, for at least some of the Swiss were open to further discussion. The delegates from Basel, Bern, St. Gall, and Mulhouse supported a favorable response to a recent letter from Luther on the issue, while Schaffhausen's instructions told them to remain neutral. Only Zurich and Biel opposed an open statement of agreement with Luther. Nevertheless, Zurich's determined opposition was sufficient to win the day. The synod resolved to send a friendly letter to Luther but refused to continue discussions concerning the sacrament. Bucer's efforts to reconcile the Lutherans and the Swiss had failed, and the breach between the two parties on the Lord's Supper would not be mended. As Kohler put it, "Concord with the Swiss had foundered." Ernst Bizer used the same metaphor in his description of the synod, concluding more pointedly that "the concord foundered on the Zwinglianism of the Swiss."

The Zurich synod thus marked the end of Bucer's efforts to win the Swiss to the cause of eucharistic agreement. This does not mean, however, that those efforts had no long-lasting impact in Switzerland. In fact, Bucer had already achieved a notable triumph in Basel. In the wake of the Wittenberg Concord, the leader of Basel's church, Oswald Myconius, became one of Bucer's most loyal defenders and disciples in Switzerland. His adoption of Bucer's eucharistic theology put Basel on a path that would eventually lead to accusations of "Lutheranizing" and to the distancing of that city's church from those of its Swiss allies.

Included in

History Commons