Love Under Fire


Debate With Rome's Representatives

When they saw how little persecution had accomplished in suppressing Luther's work in Germany, the representatives of Rome decided they would hold a debate with Zwingli. They would make sure of victory by choosing not only the place of combat but the judges that would decide between the two sides. And if they could just get Zwingli in their power, they would see to it that he did not escape. This intention, however, they carefully concealed. LF 78.3

The debate was scheduled to be held at Baden. But the Council of Zurich, suspecting the plans of Rome's representatives and warned by the fires lit in the papal cantons to burn those who accepted the gospel, forbade their pastor to venture into such a dangerous situation. To go to Baden, where the blood of martyrs for the truth had just been shed, was to go to certain death. Oecolampadius and Haller were chosen to represent the Reformers, while the famous Dr. Eck, supported by a great many scholars and church officials, was the champion of Rome. LF 78.4

The Roman side chose all the secretaries, and everyone else was forbidden to take notes, on pain of death. Even so, a student attending the debate made a record each evening of the arguments presented that day. Two other students undertook to deliver these papers to Zwingli at Zurich, with the daily letters of Oecolampadius. Zwingli answered, giving counsel. To avoid being caught by the guard at the city gates, these messengers brought baskets of poultry on their heads and were permitted to pass without trouble. LF 78.5

Myconius said that Zwingli “has labored more by his deep thoughts, his sleepless nights, and the advice that he transmitted to Baden, than he would have done by discussing in person surrounded by his enemies.”10 LF 78.6

Rome's representatives had come to Baden in their richest robes and glittering with jewels. They ate luxuriously from tables spread with costly delicacies and choice wines. In contrast to this, the Reformers had simple, inexpensive food that kept them only a short time at the table. Oecolampadius's landlord sometimes watched him in his room. Finding him always studying or praying he reported that the heretic was at least “very pious.” LF 79.1

At the conference, “Eck haughtily ascended a pulpit splendidly decorated, while the humble Oecolampadius, poorly clothed, was forced to take his seat in front of his opponent on a crudely carved stool.” Eck's loud voice and limitless assurance never failed him. As the defender of the faith, he was to be rewarded by a handsome fee. When he didn’t have better arguments, he resorted to insults and even swearing. LF 79.2

Oecolampadius, modest and self-distrustful, did not relish the combat. Yet although he was gentle and courteous in conduct, he proved himself capable and unflinching. He held firmly to the Scriptures. “Custom,” he said, “has no force in our Switzerland, unless it agrees with the constitution. Now, in matters of faith, the Bible is our constitution.”11 LF 79.3

The calm, clear reasoning of the Reformer, presented so gently and modestly, appealed to minds that turned in disgust from Eck's boastful claims. LF 79.4

The discussion continued eighteen days. Rome's representatives claimed the victory. Most of the delegates sided with Rome, and the council pronounced the Reformers defeated and declared that they and Zwingli were cut off from the church. But the contest resulted in new energy for the Protestant cause. Not long afterward, the important cities of Bern and Basel declared for the Reformation. LF 79.5