Central Europe looked to be a smoldering mass of corrupt indulgences and humanism, needing only a spark to explode into revolution. In the Germanies, former monk Martin Luther had nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church, been excommunicated without much of a flinch, and stood before the Diet of Worms refusing to recant. Farther south in Switzerland, a similar surge of reform was welling in Zurich, where layman pastor Huldrych Zwingli preached to his congregation against the corruption of the Church.
The petition caught the attention of the bishop of Zurich, who called upon the civil authorities to uphold order. Zwingli declared the Church corrupt, and the city council became caught in the middle. Hoping to clear the air before the Swiss Diet marched on Zurich to force restoration of order, the council invited the bishop and the unorthodox to a Disputation. The bishop sent Johann Faber and a delegation while Zwingli came himself, armed with his Schlussreden summarizing his theological views. Faber was forbidden to discuss theology with laymen, and so he had been unprepared for such deep discussion. Initially he decided to appeal only to the authority of the Church, but Zwingli’s words pressed him to reply. In an hours-long impromptu speech, he addressed each one of Zwingli’s sixty-seven articles and explained or discredited all of them.
Zwingli and his followers were shocked. The large crowd that had gathered spread the word of the failures of the “reformers,” and support for Zwingli fell throughout the city. He attempted to reclaim his place by holding communion simply on grounds that the Eucharist was commemorative rather than substantial. The political gamble would prove a loss, and the tide of reformation would turn against him as the northern Swiss came to agree with reformed teachings by the Church. As the Peasants’ War guided by the Anabaptists toward a Christian commonwealth went sour in Germany, another huge loss for Protestants sank its holdings in central Europe. Luther had separated himself from the Peasants’ War, but his followers lost numbers as the writings of Johann Faber became more convincing.
Faber would go on to revitalize the Church in his new method of openly discussing theology. Ideals from Lutheranism such as the free reading of the Bible were taken and adapted toward a more unified Church standing. While indulgences would fall out of fashion, the Church would continue its nearly unquestioned position as guide of Christendom accepting petitions and minor reforms. Considered by many the instigator of what perilous times may have come, humanist Desiderius Erasmus was gradually eroded from the collective mind and replaced with Faber’s sense of condemnation for heretics as outlined in his Malleus Haereticorum.
Faber was also instrumental in organizing the New Crusade against the Turks in the late 1520s, where his delegation to England convinced Henry VIII that time and prayer was needed for a male heir, proving correct in the birth of Henry IX in 1533, though at the cost of his beloved wife Catherine’s life.
In reality, Johann Faber did not argue theologically, and Zwingli won his right to preach freely. The Second Disputation followed nine months later where Zwingli again rose in power. As Zurich and other Swiss cities diverged from the rest of the confederation, war became inevitable. Zwingli gathered allies and forged a defensive army to protect the right to preach, which led to the Wars of Kappel, where Zurich would be among those killed in the disastrous battle against Bern and its Five States. The Protestant right to preach would be fought over again in 1656 and finally won in 1712 in the Wars of Vilmergen. Faber, meanwhile, would go on to be chaplain to Ferdinand I of Austria, for whom he would unsuccessfully campaign for a crusade, and Bishop of Vienna, where he would write many works opposing the growing Reformation.