Book Recommendation — Zwingli: God’s Armed Prophet


Zwingli: God’s Armed Prophet by Bruce Gordon (Yale University Press, 2021, 385 pages)

Bruce Gordon is the pre-eminent, English speaking, biographer of the Swiss Reformation. His biography of John Calvin (published in 2011) is widely regarded as one of the best recent additions to the corpus of Calvin scholarship. This is now joined by a biography of the other major, and earlier, figure of the Swiss Reformation from Gordon’s pen. There have not been many recent attempts at writing biographies of Zwingli so Gordon’s ‘Zwingli: God’s Armed Prophet’ can be seen as a major contribution to our understanding of the Swiss Reformation and the legacy of Zwingli. As in all of Gordon’s other works, there is a major emphasis on primary source analysis, including the ferreting out of previously ignored sources. I was particularly struck by the new light that Gordon was able to shed on Zwingli’s life before he went to Zurich. This includes a detailed discussion of Zwingli’s relationship with Desiderius Erasmus and his deep involvement in pan-European humanist (of the late-medieval Christian kind) networks. Gordon then goes on to show how these early influences helped shaped Zwingli’s approach to the work of Reform. Gordon is, furthermore, an expert at explaining the bewildering complexities of Swiss politics and the impact of this on the course of the Reformation (and resistance to Reformation). This context, which included suspicions and open conflict, between different Swiss cantons, obviously contributed directly to Zwingli’s demise at the Second Battle of Kappel (1531). The final area where this biography really shines is in its analysis of the legacy of Zwingli. Zwingli is often dismissed as ’The Third Man of the Reformation’, with the implication that he can safely be ignored. Gordon shows how wrong headed this assessment is. He details how Zwingli’s impact went far and wide and fed decisively into the broader Swiss Reformation and the development of Reformed Christianity. We should, therefore, take Zwingli and his contribution very seriously as we study the Reformation era. One way of starting to do this, is to read this excellent work!