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Reviewed by:
  • La pensée militaire de Zwingli
  • Paul Solon
Olivier Bangerter. La pensée militaire de Zwingli. Züricher Beiträge zur Reformationsgeschichte 21. Berlin and Bern: Peter Lang, 2003. vii + 287 pp. map. bibl. $43.95. ISBN: 3–906769–18–6.

The coincidence of religious reformation and military revolution in the sixteenth century is regularly noted but rarely examined. How exactly do these epochal movements relate? Olivier Bangerter's welcome thesis explores that linkage through the writings of Huldreich Zwingli (1484–1531), a man who was a religious reformer and theologian by profession and a military theoretician by force of circumstance. He combined military and clerical experience to a degree matched only by Ignatius Loyola among Reformation-era religious leaders. Bangerter compellingly argues that Zwingli's life can only be understood in the context of national and military as well as religious crisis. Benefiting from a humanistic education, Zwingli was ordained in 1506. He served the next decade as a priest in the village of Glarus where the Swiss tradition of mercenary warfare first drew his attention to war. He supported military service to the papacy in his earliest writing, the Ochsengedicht (1511), and was quickly was rewarded with a papal chaplaincy pension. Actual campaign service as a military chaplain evidently led to a change of heart and in texts such as the Göttliche Vermahung (1522) and the Treue und Ernstliche Vermahnung (1524) Zwingli develops a theological as well as political case against trafficking in mercenaries. This defiance of Swiss tradition helped provoke his expulsion from Glarus and his move to Zurich in 1518 just as his emerging evangelism was leading to a break from Rome.

Occupying the diplomatic middle ground between Habsburg Austria and the independent cantons, Zurich and its infantry levies had a proud military tradition from the golden age of Swiss infantry warfare that was just ending in disasters such as Marignano. A career there as a political and religious reformer could not avoid a military dimension. Among Zwingli's earliest achievements was leading a successful movement for the Canton to cease exporting mercenary infantry. Thereafter Zwingli continued to take public positions regularly on military and diplomatic affairs. He willingly supported the use of armed force such as against Anabaptists in 1525–26 but typically sought political compromise where possible. For example, he helped end serfdom in Zurich canton in response to the Peasants' War. He even felt drawn to propose military policy with writings such as his Plan zu einem Feldzug (1524) and the Ratschlagüber den Krieg (1529) which comment on city politics, regional diplomacy, and military command structure as well offer specific strategic and tactical guidance in anticipation of war. The feared war actually came years later when Zwingli helped lead evangelical Zurich into catastrophic war against the five forest cantons with his incendiary Was Züich und Bwernn not ze betrachten sye im füfortigen handel (1531). True to his principles to the end, he died in the battle of Kappel that year while, as a chaplain, he was carrying the battle flag.

Bangerter's treatment of Zwingli is useful but best recommended for experts. He makes creative use of John Keegan's The Face of Battle to consider how the shock of battle and loss may have influenced Zwingli, but mentions Geoffrey [End Page 271] Parker's The Military Revolution only in passing. He completely ignores such essential works for his topic as that of Kelly DeVries on the Infantry Revolution, Bert Hall on the technology of war, and John Hale on the relationship between social and military experience generally. These omissions are perhaps understandable in a first work written for a theology degree, but the resulting analysis must be read with care. Bangerter is most successful in evaluating Zwingli as a writer and his close examination of German and Latin military vocabulary in the texts genuinely illuminating. He portrays Zwingli plausibly as a gifted amateur in military affairs who dealt with military affairs reluctantly. Readers may not, however, be entirely persuaded that Zwingli was either an original or a coherent military thinker despite careful efforts to separate him from precedents ranging from Augustine to Aquinas. His apologia defending...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-0236
Print ISSN
0034-4338
Pages
pp. 271-272
Launched on MUSE
2008-03-27
Open Access
No
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