In anticipation of this year’s Reformation Day (31st October), a festive film and pizza night for Faculty, staff and students was organised on 27th October at the College, when the 2019 film Zwingli. A Life’s Portrait was screened. This screening of the most successful film ever made in Switzerland was made possible by Zurich’s Cantonal Reformed Church, which as part of its outreach makes the film available to partner Churches and institutions under a special licence.
Union’s Church Historian, Dr Martin Cowan, was pleased with the high degree of historical accuracy observable in the film’s reconstruction of early Reformation Zurich and of Zwingli’s own experience and influence:
“The week before the film was screened, a number of our students attended a two-hour lecture offering an overview of the reformations under Zwingli and Bullinger. Still others among those attending had written on Zwingli's view of scripture as part of their MDiv degree. Perhaps the greatest value of the movie for us was allowing those students a glimpse into the material world of the sixteenth century. I hope that the immersive experience of the film will help them to guard against an abstracted view of history and theology and increase their commitment to a properly contextualised study of the past.”
The viewing was followed by a half-hour of comment, reaction and discussion. In general terms, everyone thought it a great resource. We were impressed by how successfully the film dramatised the Zurich Reformer’s life and times in early modern Zurich, amid the horrors of poverty, plague or war as experienced by the ordinary people whom he served. Allowing for the film-maker’s perspective, or the film’s appeal to a contemporary European audience, a reasonable balance was struck between Zwingli’s spiritual strength and scholarly assets and his human limitations and flaws. The somewhat conflicted and tragic relationship of Ulrich and Anna Zwingli offered a contrast to the received view of the happy success enjoyed by the early Reformation’s star couple, Martin and Katherina Luther.
One particularly interesting aspect was how Zwingli could influence but not control the speed at which reformation could take place, or the limits that were set on its development. These factors were in the gift of the Zurich City Council. Against a general backdrop of support for Zwingli, and of tensions with the Catholic establishment, the role of the Council helped highlight key social and political contexts in which radically new religious ideas – fuelled by interaction with Scripture in the vernacular – collided with mediaeval traditions. The very obvious cost and danger to individuals, families or communities of standing up for faith convictions, back then, gave plenty to ponder regarding life on Church and society interfaces today.
For this welcome opportunity to refresh or extend our knowledge of the first-generation Zurich Reformer, through engagement with Zwingli. A Life’s Portrait, our College is very grateful to Zurich’s Cantonal Reformed Church, and especially to Marc Bundi in its Communications Dept. Anyone interested in screening the film should contact Marc for further information: firstname.lastname@example.org.