in Zürich

Reformation in Geneva

A.) Geneva before the Reformation

Geneva, seat of a bishop, who during the Middle Ages also was the territorial lord; the city was surrounded by territory belonging to the Duke of Savoy. In the early 16th century, acclestiastic authority broke down and Geneva experienced 6 years of Savoyard rule (1519-1525). The citizens of Geneva threw off the Savoyard yoke and in 1526 concluded an alliance with Bern and Fribourg (intended to protect the newly acquired liberty).

B.) The Reformation in Geneva

In 1534 Geneva, pressed by Bern, took in the first protestant priest, FAREL. In 1535 JEAN CALVIN passed through the city; Farel challenged him to make his stand in Geneva. In Oct. 1536 the LAUSANNE DISPUTATION was held, attended by Farel and Calvin. The protestants at Geneva split in two factions - the supporters of Farel and Calvin, and the Bernese faction (Artichauds). Calvin and Farel were ordered to leave; Calvin left for STRASSBURG in 1538. In Strassburg a Genevan delegation asked him to return; he made it a condition that the entire city would submit to his reform policy. The city council agreed, Calvin returned (1541) and the ORDONNANCES ECCLESIASTIQUES were adopted the same year. The Catholic church organization was abolished, the Calvinist organization consisted of 4 offices - pastors to preach, doctors to teach, presbyters or church elders who together with the pastors formed the powerful CONSISTORY, and deacons in charge of charity. Attendence at religious services was made mandatory; dances, theatre performances, display of any kind of luxury and games were forbidden. The consistory was to supervise public morals.
Calvin regarded the church he founded not as one of many different confessions, but as God's church on earth; he was as intolerant toward dissenters as was the Counterreformation Catholic church. Genevan JACQUES GRUET was executed for publicly criticizing French ministers by the means of a poster (1547); Spaniard MICHAEL SERVET who had managed to escape the Spanish Inquisition, because of an interpretation of trinity that diverged from Calvin's, was declared a heretic and burnt at the stake (1553). A 1543 plague epidemic was blamed on witches.
Many pupils of Calvin founded reformed communities in France and elsewhere. In 1559 the GENEVAN ACADEMY was founded. Calvin died in 1564.
Throughout Calvin'r rule, Geneva was protected by Bern, which had acquired the territory immediately surrounding the city in 1535; however in 1564 Bern was forced to cede this territory back to Savoy (TREATY OF LAUSANNE).

C.) Geneva after Calvin

Geneva was an associated territory, not a full member of the Swiss Federation. The Canton of Geneva consisted of several patches of territory surrounded by Savoyard territory, separated from the Swiss Confederation by a couple of kilometers. In 1602 the Savoyards at night tried to scale the city walls and take the city by surprise (the Duke of Savoy was a Catholic). The Genevans were alarmed in time and overwhelmed the intruders.
Geneva continued to attract (Calvinist) religious refugees; here, English Puritan exiles translated what is called the GENEVA BIBLE (in 1599)

Rise and Establishment of Protestantism in Geneva, from History of the Reformation by J.A. Wylie (1878)
Historical Dictionary of the Reformed Church of Zürich, from Zürich reformiert online, in German
The 1599 Geneva Bible, from The Global Corporation
Chronology of the Reformation at Geneva, by Mark Greengrass
REFERENCE Wolfgang von Wartburg, Geschichte der Schweiz (History of Switzerland), München : Oldenbourg 1951
Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform 1250-1550, New Haven : Yale UP, 1980, pp.358-372 ; KMLA Lib.Sign. 274.05 O99t
John B. Roney and Martin I. Klauber (ed.), The Identity of Geneva. The Christian Commonwealth 1564-1864, Westport CT : Greenwood 1998, KMLA Lib. Call Sign 274.9451 R772i

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on January 8th 2003, last revised on October 22nd 2007

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