Meeter Center celebrates 500th anniversary of the Swiss Reformation

On Friday Sept. 13 and Saturday Sept. 14, Calvin University’s Meeter Center celebrated the 500th anniversary of Zwingli’s reformation in Switzerland — a formative event in the history of the Protestant church — with a two-day conference at Calvin Seminary that featured an impressive line-up of guest speakers from Yale Divinity School, Goshen College, and other institutions.

Dr. Karin Maag, director of the H. Henry Meeter Center, emphasized that the story of the Swiss Reformation is important because it continues the conversation about how and why we do things the way we do within the Calvinist tradition. The story of Huldrych Zwingli is not as well-known as the stories of reformers such as Luther and Calvin. Maag says, “When we think of the Reformation, we think of Luther, we think of Calvin, but to understand the Reformation correctly, it’s better to understand it as a multifunction event.”

She continued, “The Swiss Reformation proved to be very influential in shaping the course of the Reformation, not just in Switzerland, but also, in fact, in England.” Maag explained that Zwingli’s writings and the structure of his reformation also influenced John Calvin in Geneva some 20 years later.

Bruce Gordon of Yale Divinity School, who spoke on current debates about Zwingli and his legacy, explained the importance of the Swiss Reformation, saying, “It is the beginning of a whole tradition, and one of the things the Reformation does is imagine a whole new way in which the Christian world can be. It reimagines the church. … That then unleashes a whole series of questions that we’re still wrestling with.”

Friday’s events included talks on Zwingli’s legacy and the suffering of the Anabaptists in the Swiss Reformation. After a dinner of sausages (representing Zwingli’s protest of Lenten avoidance of meat consumption), the evening concluded with a reenactment of one of Zwingli’s debates put on by 14 seminaries and Meeter Center faculty members in costume.

Saturday’s celebration included a very relevant perspective on the Swiss Reformation with a talk given by Esther Chung-Kim of Claremont-McKenna College, entitled “Poor Relief and the Politics of Preaching in Sixteenth Century Zurich,” as well as a discussion panel made up of the conference’s five speakers.

The event was hosted by the H. Henry Meeter Center. Sponsors were listed as Calvin Theological Seminary, the Acton Institute, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and The Institute for Global Faculty Development at Calvin University. 

On Oct. 31, the Meeter Center will host English professor Susan Felch to speak on English reformer Anne Locke. On Nov. 14, Jason Van Horn of the geography department will present on cartography and early printed Bibles in the sixteenth century.