It was a sausage that proved to be the rallying-cry for the Swiss Reformation

On the 9th March 1522 a book printer by the name of Christoph Froschauer invited a number of friends to a meal at his house within the city of Zurich in Switzerland, where they sat down and shared two smoked sausages. Nothing particularly remarkable on the face of it, but this minor orgy of sausage consumption took place on the first Sunday in Lent when the Church specifically forbade the eating of meat. It was therefore a piece of symbolic direct action enacted in defiance of the Church's authority.

Present at the meal was the evangelical preacher Ulrich Zwingli, who despite the fact that he was likely the inspiration behind the whole affair, rather hedged his bets by not actually partaking in the sausage. Despite this, within a fortnight however he preached a sermon explaining why the eating of sausages during Lent was justified, which soon afterwards in April 1522 appeared in print under the title, Concerning Choice and Liberty respecting Food.

Here Zwingli distinguished between Divine Law, derived from the Bible which represented the will of God, and mere Human Law. Christians, argued Zwingli, were only obliged to unconditionally obey Divine Law; the prohibition against eating meat during Lent did not appear in the Gospel and therefore the requirement to fast during lent was a Human Law (albeit one invented by the Church) which Christians were free to obey or ignore as they saw fit. As Zwingli himself put it:

In a word, if you will fast, do so; if you do not wish to eat meat, eat it not; but leave Christians a free choice in the matter

Sola scriptura, solely the Bible, was to be the watchword of the Swiss Reformation, and this explains symbolic import of the Lent Sausage eating scandal, that man should look to the Bible for guidance rather than to the Bishop of Rome.


Sourced from Diarmiad MacCulloch Reformation: Europe's House Divided 1490-1700 (Penguin Books, 2004) from which the quotation at the head of this entry is taken, with some additional information taken from

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