The idea that the Protestant Reformation began with Martin Luther nailing the ninety-five theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany is fairly well known. Less known is that the spark for Reformation in nearby Switzerland was a controversy over sausages.
March 9th was the first day of Lent in 1522, and Huldrych Zwingli, a pastor in Zurich, Switzerland, was the guest of printer Christoph Froschauer, who published some of Zwingli’s sermons and later his translation of the Bible into German. Froschauer, working long hours with his staff, invited Zwingli to dinner on March 9th and served slices of smoked sausage to fortify everyone for the work ahead. However, during Lent eating meat was illegal under the Catholic church-run government at the time, and Zwingli was arrested along with others at the dinner.
Zwingli said he did not eat any sausage and so was spared the indignity of arrest, but the event was a turning point for him, and about one month later he preached a sermon titled “Freedom of Choice and Selection of Food” where he argued for freedom of conscience regarding observance of Lent. The sum of the sermon was: “if you want to fast, do so; if you do not want to eat meat, don’t eat it; but allow Christians a free choice.”
Zwingli, having previously been only loosely connected to Martin Luther and other Reformation figures and ideas, was appalled by the prioritization of state and priestly authority over the authority of God in each person’s heart:
“If you would be a Christian at heart, act in this way. If the spirit of your belief teaches you thus, then fast, but grant also your neighbor the privilege of Christian liberty, and fear God greatly, if you have transgressed his laws, nor make what man has invented greater before God than what God himself has commanded…You should neither scorn nor approve anyone for any reason connected with food or with feast days whether observed or not.”
Also in the sermon, Zwingli emphasizes the “why” a Christian does what he does over the “what”:
“Here is another sign of the times. I think that there is danger of this age being evil and corrupt rather than reaching out towards everlasting righteousness. Further, simple people think everything is all right if they go to confession in Lent only, observe the fast, take Communion and thus account for the whole year. God should, however, be acknowledged at all times and our life should be one of piety, whereas we act to the contrary when we think that it is quite enough if we pay attention only to the times of fasting whereas Christ says, ‘Be vigilant: for you know not the day or the hour’”
In an earlier post on Lent, I wrote that whatever our liturgy, it is useless as a “bargaining chip” with God, and that “if we do not value the prize – God Himself – nothing we give up for Lent will make us – or God Himself – happy.” Zwingli became a forceful voice during the Reformation arguing that external pressure from church and state can strip us of grace and enslave us to legalism, but he also recognized with Paul that “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things” Self-control cannot be forced by others, but in search of an “imperishable” prize, each should prayerfully consider the disciplines that help them better serve God, in accordance with His word, while showing grace towards others who God may ask to behave differently. Not all athletes compete in the same events and train the same way.
I once considered naming this blog “Lenten Sausages” after the events described above, but that might have defined the blog as what it’s against. Instead, the current name emphasizes the common destiny of all for whom Christ was crucified. Every Christian became one because of Christ. Before there were Protestants there were Christians. Many of them. After there were Protestants there are Catholic believers and Protestant nonbelievers, and vice versa. One man’s liturgy is sometimes another man’s legalism. Regardless of what’s on the sign in front of your church, it’s what’s inside that matters.
Soli Deo Gloria