The Swiss Sausage

Posted on 22nd September 2020 under The Rectory Bulletin | Church History


And [Jesus] said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” Thus he declared all foods clean. (Mark 7:18-20)

It was Lent in Zurich in the year 1522. Almost five years had passed since Luther began the Reformation rumblings in Wittenberg, some four hundred miles distant, but Zurich was still for the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. The “People’s Priest” at the Grossmünster was one Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531), and he was at the workshop of a printer friend of his, along with two other priests.

When the story was told a little later, it was said that the workers at the print shop were exhausted from a day spent printing Paul’s Letters. The printer, Christoph Froschauer, decided to give them a meal and so they tucked into some dried smoked sausage. Two of the three priests joined in too.

Now, this might seem a rather underwhelming event, but do remember that this is during Lent in a Roman Catholic city which is all too aware of the ructions surrounding Luther. These were controversial, rebellious sausages. These were sausages designed to provoke the church. Zwingli may have been the priest who did not eat, but he did leap to defend those who did.

On 16th April of the same year, Zwingli published a sermon entitled “Regarding the Choice and Freedom of Foods”. The church shouldn’t insist upon something the Bible doesn’t command, he argued. He wasn’t against fasting as such, but he did object to others making it mandatory. As he said: “For my part, one may fast the whole year if he have not enough in forty days; only I hold that fasts should not be imposed on any one by the threat of excommunication.”

This prominent local priest took on delegations from the bishop, and silenced them in formal debates in front of a crowd of six hundred. In the end it was Zwingli who won over the population and city council of Zurich and the Reformation took hold in Switzerland. And so it is that a dried Swiss sausage had its effect on the religious life of a city.

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