My blog posts revolve around my interests and vocation as a historian: the intersection of history and contemporary church life, the intersection of history and contemporary politics, serendipitous discoveries in archives or on research trips, publications and research projects, upcoming conferences, and speaking engagements.
I sometimes blog for two other organizations, the Canadian Baptist Historical Society and the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.
The views expressed in these blogs represent the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of any organizations with which they are associated.
Here I sit craving dark chocolate. Craving… Craving… I am fighting to remain faithful to my Lenten vow to go without dark chocolate, my favorite snack (low sugar, yummy cocoa).
But I am not alone in my suffering during Lent. And as the following story indicates, nor were some hungry printers roughly 500 years ago. They were craving sausages. And their cravings were a catalyst to reforming the church’s view of Lent.
Although not as well-known as John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) played a key role in the formation of the Reformed movement. He was eclipsed, though, by the fact that he was a contemporary of the larger-than-life Martin Luther (born within seven weeks of one another).
Zwingli’s fiery and biblical preaching made him a popular preacher, and, on 11 December 1518, he was chosen as priest in the prominent Great Minster Church, Zurich. It was in this prestigious position that he would grow to be the leader of the Swiss Reformation.
While Luther’s reform began with his dispute of indulgences, the reform movement in Zurich really began in 1522 with the “Affair of the Sausages.”
Zwingli was at a printer’s house during Lent. The printer was working hard trying to complete a new edition of Paul’s epistles, and to give his workers an energy boost he gave them some sausages. As Carter Lindberg notes, this “public breaking of the Lenten fast flouted both medieval piety and ecclesiastical and public authority.” The printer was arrested by the town council (but not Zwingli, who had not eaten any meat).
Zwingli was one of the most prominent preachers in the city, and what he said about the issue really mattered. He quickly published On the Choice and Freedom of Foods and the following month it was turned into a pamphlet. Like Luther in his tract on Christian freedom, Zwingli’s point was that Christians were free to fast - or not fast - since the Bible did not prohibit eating meat during Lent.
Note, it was a matter of individual conscience on matters not stated in scripture. The church could certainly celebrate fast days, but individual Christians had the freedom to take part, or not, in things absent in Holy Writ.
Note that it was not a statement against the goodness of fasting. In fact, every Protestant reformer believed in the value of fasting. However, it was a statement on the Christian freedom to act when something was not proscribed or prescribed in scripture. It was also a statement on letting others be free without judgment.
Which brings me back to my chocolate craving during Lent.
Some Protestants look askance at me, wondering why I should subject myself to self-denial on this point. And some wonder why I would “do Lent” since that is “what Catholics do.” My answer is that my feeble attempt at self-denial is simply what the Protestant reformers would have thought wise.
Of course, one’s intentions for fasting were a concern for reformers. Fasting for spiritual merit or to gain brownie points with God was soundly rejected by the reformers. But willing self-denial of vices as well as pleasures (such as chocolate!!) is a time-tested way of growing in spiritual discipline.
And that is why I sit here craving chocolate...
 Carter Lindberg, The Reformations, 169.
 This was a time when the state and church worked in a partnership often coined “Christendom.” The state supported the church’s expectations by punishing those who strayed from church teaching on Lenten rules.