Reformation in the
Holy Roman Empire
in France

Reformation in Switzerland

A.) Switzerland before the Reformation

The Swiss Confederation had been founded in 1291 and grew by a combination of taking in new members into their confederation, by military conquest and by associating cantons. In 1517, when Martin Luther, by nailing his 95 theses began the protestant reformation, the Swiss Confederation covered an area in which 4 languages were spoken, the largest ethnical group speaking German. Ecclesiastically, Switzerland lacked an identity of her own; the country was divided among the Archdioceses of Mainz (Diocesis of Konstanz), Besancon (Diocesis of Basel), Vienne (Diocesis of Geneva), Tarantaise (Diocesis of Sion), Milan (Diocesis of Novara ?), Aquileja (Diocesis of Como).

B.) The First Reformation and the Treaty of Kappel

Switzerland, just as other regions in Central Europe, had been affected by the corruption of the church. Martin Luther's publications were (re)printed in Basel; they spread quickly throughout German-speaking Switzerland, most notably his German bible translation. While Luther's principle to compare reality within the church organization and her practices with scripture was widely accepted, this was not necessarily the fact with the new order Luther wanted to establish.
The immediate effect of the spread of the reformist publications was that simple priests questioned their role. Some felt compelled by scripture to take on a civil occupation, some gave up their priesthood altogether. Reformist theses began to enter sermons. Another effect was that laymen began to interpret the bible on their own, now they could read it. Church authority showed signs of breakdown, as men began to break the fast, a number of priests married, nuns left convents (unpunished).
The city council of ZÜRICH was the first to decide on the orderly implementation of the reformation, with which HULDRYCH ZWINGLI was entrusted, after not having been proven a heretic in a public disputation (1523). The reformation of Zürich was completed in 1525, by which time the reformed church of Zürich had experienced its first schism - the split-off of the ANABAPTISTS. Outside of the canton of Zürich, Zwingli had many opponents, because Zwingli was an outspoken critic of the practice of permitting foreign powers to recruit mercenaries in Swiss cantons, a practice Zürich had abolished in 1521. While wealthy Zürich could afford to do so, for many of the rural cantons, the mercenary business provided an important contribution to their revenue. The five cantons (Schwyz, Unterwalden, Uri, Luzern and Zug felt their revenues threatened and emphasized their loyalty to the Catholic church.
On the other hand, reform-minded priests were active in other places in Switzerland, most notably in the cities of Bern, Basel (OEKOLAMPAD), Schaffhausen, St. Gallen. Another public disputation was organized in Baden (Aargau) in 1526, where JOHANN ECK was to be Zwingli's opponent. Zwingli, fearing that the Catholic-minded city of Baden might decide to brand him a heretic, chose not to attend, and Eck was declared the winner. Switzerland, in 1526, fell in three areas - reformed Zürich, the explicitly Catholic Five Cantons, and the cantons yet undecided.
Among the Swiss cantons, Bern was most actively engaged in warfare and the mercenary business, and the territory of Bern had expanded significantly in the late 15th and early 16th century. However after a number of military defeats the reform-minded party won the upper hand (1527). Another public disputation was held, attended by Zwingli (1528). He was declared the winner and the reformation was introduced in Bern, where a state church after the Zürich model was created. Basel tried a different approach, passing an Edict of Tolerance (1528) which permitted both Catholics and Protestants to perform religious services their way. In February 1529, an armed mob forced the council to give in, amidst iconoclastic riots; the city accepted the reform. The bishop and many Catholic-minded fled the city. Schaffhausen and St. Gallen also accepted the reformation in 1529. Appenzell and Graubünden decided to leave the decision to accept the reformation or not to the individual community.
Zwingli wished to see the reformation introduced in all of Switzerland, a policy which had to bring Zürich in conflict with the five cantons. War erupted first in 1529 (FIRST KAPPEL WAR), but the conflict was settled without a fight (the Kappel milk soup). When war broke out again (SECOND KAPPEL WAR, 1531), Zwingli and many of his followers (among them a number of his councilmen), without awaiting the complete Zürich force to be assembled, and convinced that God was on their side, marched out to meet the advancing enemy - the skirmish was lost, Zwingli himself and some of the councilmen were among the fatalities.
Peace was restored in the SECOND TREATY OF KAPPEL, which left the decision to implement the reformation to the individual canton. However, Catholic minorities had to be granted toleration in protestant cantons, while the Catholic cantons were under no obligation to tolerate protestant minorities. In territories subject to the Federation as a whole (Gemeine Herrschaften) the situation of 1531 was frozen, change of confession was only permitted if a community intended to convert to Catholicism.

C.) Geneva and the Second Reformation

GENEVA had permitted the first reformer to preach in the city in 1534 and had accepted JEAN CALVIN's ORDONNANCES ECCLESIASTIQUES in 1541, had become a THEOCRACY and a model reformed state. Calvin was eager for the (Calvinist) reformation to spread into France; he founded the ACADEMY in Geneva in 1559. His teaching as well as his organization of the community appealed to other reformed communities in Switzerland; the differences were of secondary nature, Calvinism was regarded by many the natural continuation of Zwingli's reform. So the reformed communities took over Calvinism, implemented a few changes.
The reformation had split Switzerland along confessional lines; during the SCHMALKALDIC WAR (1547) Switzerland remained neutral, permitting reformed Konstanz to fall to Imperial troops and was annexed by the Habsburgs.

D.) The Counterreformation in Switzerland

The COUNCIL OF TRENT (1545-1563) was held in the immediate vicinity of Switzerland and was attended by representatives of the Swiss Catholics. In 1579 a papal nuncio was sent to Switzerland; in 1586 he chose Luzern as his seat. JESUIT COLLEGES were founded in Luzern and Fribourg. Swiss Catholic mercenaries fought in the French HUGUENOT WARS. In 1586 the Swiss Catholic cantons founded the GOLDEN or BORROMAIC FEDERATION; the confession issue lead to the partition of the canton of Appenzell in a protestant and a catholic half (1597). The counterreformation in Switzerland resulted in raising the tensions between the Catholic and the Calvinist camps; the Swiss Confederation, in her foreign policy, was practically paralyzed, in a number of foreign conflicts Swiss fought on both sides. The Confederation, however, continued to exist.
The 17th century saw a witch craze (1618-1637) and repressive measures of the Bern authorities against minority Anabaptists the end of the century, many of whom emigrated (the AMISH).

The Reformation in Switzerland and Southern Germany, by Bill Gilbert
History of the Reformation in Switzerland 1516-1525, 1525 to 1531, Rise and Establishment of Protestantism in Geneva, from History of the Reformation by J.A. Wylie (1878)
The Swiss Reformation, from Church History - a Biblical View
Historical Dictionary of the Reformed Church of Zürich, from Zürich reformiert online, in German
A Swiss Reformation Bibliography on the World Wide Web, posted by Snavely / Poythress, scholarly
The Early Swiss Reformers, by Barry McWilliams
REFERENCE Wolfgang von Wartburg, Geschichte der Schweiz (History of Switzerland), München : Oldenbourg 1951
Mark Greengrass, The Longman Companion to the European Reformation c.1500-1618, Harlow (Essex): Longman 1998, pp.92-101, KMLA Lib.Sign. 274.06 GB 121
Hans Berner, Ulrich Gäbler and Hans Rudolf Guggisberg, Schweiz (Switzerland, in : Die Territorien des Reichs im Zeitalter der Reformation und Konfessionalisierung (The Territories of the Empire in the Era of Reformation and Confessionalization, 1500-1650); Vol.5 : Der Südwesten (the South West), Münster : Aschendorff 1993, pp.278-323, in German

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First on January 8th 2003, last posted on November 15th 2004

Click here to go Home
Click here to go to Information about KMLA, WHKMLA, the author and webmaster
Click here to go to Statistics

Impressum · Datenschutz