Switzerland, The Catholic Church in

views updated


The Swiss Confederation (Helvetica) is a republican federation composed of 22 states or cantons. Located in the central European Alps, Switzerland borders Germany on the north, Austria and Liechtenstein on the east, Italy on the south and France on the west. A landlocked, mountainous region possessing many rivers and lakes, Switzerland encompasses the Jura Mountains in the west and the Swiss Alps in the south and east; the highest point in Switzerland is at 15,217 ft. A central plateau region is characterized by rolling hills leveling to plains. The climate is temperate, with humid summers. Agricultural products include wheat, rye, sugar beets, tobacco and wine. Natural resources consist of timber and salt. International banking and tourism account for much of Switzerland's gross domestic product.

Switzerland under Roman Rule. The territory of modern Switzerland has no recorded history prior to the Roman conquest. The first identifiable inhabitants, the Gallic Helvetians, were defeated by Julius Caesar near present-day Autun in 58 b.c. and thereby incorporated into the Roman Empire. The mountain tribes in the east were not conquered until the time of Augustus (15 b.c.), after which Latin language and civilization spread rapidly, especially in the west. Roman occupation lasted for 500 years, with government seated at Aventicum (Avenches). The more important centers were the colony of Augusta Raurica, near present-day Basel, and the military camp of Vindonissa (now Windisch). Well-built roads that stretched throughout the country were strategically important for the Romans, especially in a border and buffer province against the Germanic tribes.

Beginnings of Christianity. The first Christian missions to Switzerland occurred under Roman rule, the first witness to the gospel coming most likely from zealous Christians who reached Helvetia as merchants, artisans or even slaves. While Christianity had already gained a foothold in some places as early as the 3d century, the first documented traces of the Christian faith date from the 4th century, when the Roman Empire in the West was becoming progressively Christianized. Several 20th-century archeological discoveries point to a gradual penetration of the country by Christianity. The earliest Christian monuments that can be dated are two monograms of Christ, the first on a fibula found in 1958 in a tomb in Basel, the second on the inscription of Pontius Asclepiodotus, dating from a.d. 377, now in the town hall in Sion. The oldest Christian church known to exist in Switzerland was a chapel built by Bishop Theodore of Octodurus, between 386 and 392, over the tomb of the theban martyrs in Agaunum (see saint-maurice, abbey of). The fragmentary remains of the oldest altar on Swiss territory were discovered in the late Roman church of St. Germanus in Geneva and dated from about a.d. 400.

The 346 decrees of an anti-Arian synod of Colonia Agrippina (Cologne) were signed by Justinianus, Bishop of the Rauraci. Geneva, as capital of an administrative district (Civitas Genavensium ), also had its bishop, the first-known being Isaac, c. a.d. 400. Chur likely had a bishop as early as the 4th century, since it was the seat of government for the Province of Rhaetia I from 310. However, the first mention of a bishop in Chur, Asinio by name, dates from a.d. 451. No names of early bishops were recorded for Aventicum, capital of the Civitas

Helvetiorum, because Aventicum was sacked by the Alamanni in 265 and 350 and the whole region was devastated from the 5th century. During the 5th and 6th centuries Helvetian bishops resided in the stronghold of Vindonissa.

Traces of Christianity are more numerous from the 5th century onward, and have been discovered in excavated strongholds and castra built by the Romans from the 4th century as defenses against the advancing Germanic tribes and containing small Christian churches. In all probability there were small late Roman churches also within the fortification walls of other strongholds, such as Oberwinterthur, Irgenhausen, Solothurn and Yverdon.

Christianity during the Barbarian Invasions. Located at the heart of Europe, Switzerland was affected by the invasions of the Barbarian nations, which inspired its linguistic and cultural character. Helvetica was settled gradually by two radically divergent and mutually hostile peoples: from the north the pagan Alamanni advanced to take possession of the central portion; from the west the Burgundians penetrated into Switzerland. But the advance of these two peoples developed in quite different fashion. In the west, Roman General Aetius settled the Burgundians (after a.d. 400) as military colonists in Sapaudia to protect the Empire against new thrusts by the Germanic tribes, and these Burgundians rapidly adopted the Latin language and civilization. They were Arians (see arianism) who identified more with the older Catholic Gallo-Roman population than with the pagan Alamanni. Burgundian King sigismund (d. 524) converted to Catholicism and restored the monastery of Saint-Maurice at Agaune in 515, thus helping Christianity gain a firm foothold in the west through monastic foundations. Sigismund's convocation of a Burgundian imperial council at Epao in 517 was further evidence that Christianity persisted without a break in that part of Switzerland settled by the Burgundians.

Central Switzerland as far as the Alps, and in some places even beyond, was occupied by the Alamanni in a much less peaceful fashion. The Alamanni advanced into the region only after being defeated by the franks under clovis in a.d. 496497. Through a slow infiltration of clans and individual families, they occupied the area to the Reuss, and later to the Saane, making that river the dividing line between German and French speech. Because the Alamanni at first avoided the walled Roman towns, Christianity continued to survive more or less precariously along with Roman institutions in such late Roman strongholds as Arbon, Eschenz, Pfyn, Oberwinterthur, Pfäffikon, Zurich, Vindonissa (an episcopal see), Zurzach, Augst, Basel, Olten, Solothurn and Aventicum. During this period Grammatius signed decrees of the two synods of Orléans (541 and 549) as bishop of the civitas and church of Vindonissa. The episcopal See of Vindonissa was later transferred to Aventicum and thence to Lausanne. Meanwhile, the Alamanni extended their military expeditions into northern Vaud. The monastery of Romainmôtier and the church erected in 587 in Payerne were destroyed c. 600 as a result of Alamanni attacks.

The valleys of Churrhaetia withstood the advancing Alamanni, thus maintaining their Romance dialects, Romansh and Ladin, and Christianity persisted without a break. From the 6th to the 8th century the office of governor and that of bishop were in the hands of the powerful family of the Victoridae.

The occupation of Switzerland by Germanic tribes split the region into three political unitsBurgundy, Alamannia and Churrhaetiawhich continued to exist after the Franks added Switzerland to their growing Empire, subjugated the Alamanni (496), then the Burgundians (534) and finally Churrhaetia (536). The three areas enjoyed a certain independence under the merovingians (481752) and, to some extent, even under the carolin gian dynasty.

Conversion of Alamannic Switzerland. While the Alamanni repressed Christianity in the areas they had occupied, they did not annihilate it. Nevertheless, the Alamannic portion of Switzerland had to be Christianized a second time, in contrast with Burgundy and Churrhaetia. This conversion, undertaken by Irish and Frankish monks, progressed very slowly between the 6th and 9th centuries, the achievement of St. gall and the Irish fri dolin being most notable However, the gradual conversion of the Alamanni was due less to the effort of individual missionaries than to the permeation of the country by Christian settlers from the Frankish kingdom and the activity of the monasteries. As early as the 7th century, the monasteries of Moutier, Grandval, Saint Ursanne, and Vermes had been established in the Swiss Jura

area from luxeuil, Columban's chief foundation. sankt gallen was the most important monastery in the eastern region, while the abbey founded about 724 on the Island of reichenau by St. Pirmin was also influential. The Monastery of disentis was founded in the 8th century via the Lukmanier, a Benedictine monastery was founded in Lucerne about the middle of the 8th century, and the Abbey of einsiedeln was founded in 934. The Diocese of Constance, founded in the early 7th century, became the bastion of Christianity among the Alamanni.

Switzerland in the Middle Ages. Initially Switzerland was a part of the Carolingian Empire. With the collapse of the Carolingians, Burgundy became independent in 888. Alamannia claimed independence in 917 as the Duchy of Swabia, but as early as 919 was incorporated into the new German Empire, along with Burgundy in 1033. Thenceforth the entire territory of present-day Switzerland was a part of the German Empire (see holy roman empire). The six ancient dioceses of Basel, Lausanne, Geneva, Sion, Chur and Constance, which had been founded by the early 7th century, remained essentially intact throughout the Middle Ages, the only changes being in diocesan boundaries and assignment of metropolitan sees. The cluniac reform penetrated into Switzerland as early as the 10th century. Romainmôtier joined the monastic federation and experienced a new upsurge. The Burgundian Queen Bertha founded Payerne as a Cluniac monastery (962). The Monastery of All Saints in Schaffhausen received the Customs of Cluny in 1079 from the south German reform Monastery of hirsau. muri was founded in 1027 and Engelberg in 1120.

The cistercians also made foundations in Switzerland. In 1123 bernard of clairvaux sent 12 monks to Bonmont near Nyon, while hauterive was settled in 1138 with monks from Cherlieu, who in turn founded Kappel on the Elbe in 1183. Saint Urban (1190) and wet tingen (1227) were the most famous Cistercian abbeys of the country. In the 13th century, many houses of the mendicant orders were founded. The franciscans came from Strasbourg to Basel in 1231; they were in Zurich in 1240, in Schaffhausen before 1253, in Bern in 1255, in Geneva and Fribourg in 1256, in Lausanne in 1256, and in Lucerne before 1269. poor clares were established in Paradies, above Schaffhausen in 1235 and in Kleinbasel at St. Klara in 1275. The double monastery of Königsfelden was founded in 1310 by the consort and the daughter of the murdered Emperor Albert. The Dominicans made foundations in Zurich in 1229, Basel in 1233, Lausanne in 1234, Geneva in 1262, Bern in 1269, Chur in 1277 and Zofingen in 1286 (see dominicans).

Origin of the Swiss League. The Swiss League, or Eidgenossenschaft, was founded during a time of upheaval following the overthrow of the Hohenstaufen Emperors. The cantons on the Vierwaldstättersee recognized Rudolph I of Hapsburg as ruler of the Empire after the Interregnum (125073), but refused to become subjects of a hapsburg principality. On the death of Rudolph in 1291, a pact in perpetuity renewed between Schwyz, Uri and Nidwalden to throw off the Austrian hegemony served as the founding document of the Swiss Eidgenossenschaft. These three cantons were joined in 1332 by Lucerne, in 1351 by the city of Zurich, in 1352 by Zug and Glarus, and in 1353 by Bern, then a rapidly rising city, to become the eight cantons and cities or city-states of the Eidgenossenschaft. Federation territory was subsequently extended by victories over the Hapsburgs in the battles of Sempach (1386) and Näfels (1388), while Austrian Aargau was conquered in 1415 and Thurgau in 1460. To these initial "Common Domains," others were later added, reaching into southern Switzerland (Ticino), as well as the abbey and city of Sankt Gallen (Saint Gallen), the Toggenburg and the cities of Solothurn, Fribourg and Biel, which formed the so-called "associates" (Zugewandten ). During the Burgundian Wars (147477) the confederates eliminated Burgundy as a major power. Solothurn and Fribourg joined the confederacy in 1481, and in the Swabian War (1499), the confederates made themselves de facto free of the German Empire. In the north, Basel and Schaffhausen joined the confederacy in 1501, and Appenzell joined in 1513. Thus the confederacy of 13 members took definite form. In 1536 Bern conquered the Vaud from Savoy, expanding the Eidgenossenschaft into the form it would maintain until the French Revolution of 1798.

The Church in the Old Confederation. After the rise of the Eidgenossenschaft, ecclesiastical relations altered only to the extent that the confederation took over the rights of the Austrian archdukes; the privileges and rights of the churches and monasteries were respected and there was no illegal seizure of Church property. Of special importance to the position of the Church was the Pfaffenbrief of 1370, an accord that forbade any appeal to foreign, especially ecclesiastical, courts via foreign clerics except in spiritual and matrimonial matters. During the western schism (13781418), the confederates initially adhered to the Roman pope and later to the pope of the Pisan obedience, while Austria was on the side of the Avignon popes. The confederates managed in this way to secure new privileges from the pope, and would later be particularly successful under Popes sixtus iv and julius ii, who were dependent on Swiss military help. In 1506 the 100-member swiss guard was formed by Pope Julius II as the personal bodyguard of the pope.

The Reformation in Switzerland. In Switzerland, as in neighboring Germany, conditions for a schism were present in the 16th century. Continuing efforts at reform begun in the late 15th century had come to nothing. The efforts of Bishop of Constance, Hugo von Hohenlandenberg (14961532) at reform during the Synod of Constance in 1497 encountered great resistance from the clergy of Switzerland. The Bishop of Basel, Christoph von Utenheim (150227), an enthusiastic humanist, encountered similar opposition following a 1503 diocesan synod during which were promulgated excellent reform decrees: implementation was opposed, particularly by the cathedral chapter. Such experiences incited the city councils to occupy themselves all the more with the problems of reform, although such councils did not desire, at least initially, any break with the Church. Instead, they hoped to renew the Church by prescribing the Scripture as the norm of faith and of divine service. It is against this background that the Reformation in Switzerland must be understood.

Martin Luther was in the foreground of the Reformation, and it was only later that Huldrych zwingli, the real reformer of German Switzerland, took Luther's place. Zwingli began by criticizing liturgical customs and practices not founded on Scripture and by attacking genuine abuses. He hoped to advance his cause in Zurich by means of two religious debates in 1523. The new doctrine was then introduced in Zurich the following year, after wholesale and ruthless destruction of images. The monasteries were dissolved, and in 1525 celebration of the Mass was forbidden. From Zurich the new doctrine spread especially in east Switzerland; the original cantons of Lucerne, Zug and Fribourg, however, rejected it decisively. At their instigation, the diet announced a religious debate whereby the Catholic localities hoped, with the help of the state, to preserve religious unity against Zwingli by theological argument. The religious debate took place in mid-1526, in Baden and ended with the triumph of the Catholics.

Zwingli won his greatest triumph when Bern, the largest member of the Eidgenossenschaft, introduced the Reformation in 1528. Bern's example set the style for Basel which went over to the new doctrine in 1529; Schaffhausen embraced the new faith in the same year as Basel. However, Zwingli's attempt to advance the Reformation by force in central Switzerland was repulsed in the second battle near Kappel (1531), where he was killed. The defeat of the Reformers at Zwingli's death put an end to the spread of the Reformation in German Switzerland and ensured the continued existence of the Catholic faith in dependent areas as well.

In west Switzerland the Reformation was closely connected with the struggle of the city of Geneva to free itself from the Dukes of Savoy, who had filled the episcopal See of Geneva with princes of their house since the 15th century. To obtain freedom from Savoy, Geneva attached itself to Bern, under which protection the new faith was proclaimed first in Neuenburg (1530) and then in Geneva, which openly adopted it in 1535. After Savoy tried to subdue the city by force of arms, Bern rushed to Geneva's aid, conquered Vaud in 1536 and introduced the new doctrine there as well. Reformer John calvin would later make Geneva the center of international Protestantism.

Counter Reformation and the Last Wars of Religion. Before the Council of trent, reform in Catholic regions was in the hands of the secular governments where it did not make the progress it should have made. Then, in 1570 the Archbishop of Milan, Charles borromeo, as "Protector of Catholic Switzerland," visited the interior of Switzerland, and turning the tide for Catholic reform. Borromeo sent jesuits into Switzerland to found colleges in Lucerne (1574), Fribourg (1582, by St. Peter canisius), Pruntrut (1591), Pollegio (1622), Sion (1625), Bellinzona (1646), Brig (1662) and Solothurn (1668). The Archbishop did not rest until the Catholic regions had been given a papal nuncio of their own. Giovanni Francesco Bonhomini worked in Switzerland from 157981 as first nuncio; he tried to implement the Tridentine reform and also promoted the entry of the Capuchin franciscans into the region. Capuchin monasteries were founded in Altdorf (1581), Stans (1582), Lucerne (1583), Schwyz (1585), Solothurn and Appenzell (1588), Baden (1593), Frauenfeld and Zug (1595) and elsewhere. The most outstanding reform bishops were Christopher blarer of Wartensee in Basel (15751608) and St. fran cis de sales in Geneva (160222).

This period saw alliances form between the Catholic cantons and Savoy (1577) and with Bishop Blarer of Basel (1579). Especially important was the mutual defensive pact of the seven Catholic cantons, the Golden League (1586), and the alliance with Spain's King Philip II (1587).

The reformed cantons developed still closer ties with the Alsatian cities of Mühlhausen and Strasbourg, prompting a deep-seated opposition that led finally to the two Wars of Religion of Villmergen (16561712). By the terms of the peace that marked their conclusion the five Catholic cantons lost administrative control of important subject territories. The division of Switzerland into two confessional camps extended into the 18th century; it was only under the influence of the enlightenment, which came to Switzerland from France, that "enlightened" Catholics began to collaborate with "enlightened" Protestants in matters of Swiss culture and politics. absolut ism, josephinism, and the ideal of a state-controlled church also were imitated in Switzerland. The Lucerne statesman J. A. F. Balthasar (d. 1810) composed the treatise De Helvetiorum iuribus circa sacra, in which he attempted to formulate a code of Church-State law for the country. The disastrous effects of this treatise would be revealed only too clearly in the ecclesiastico-political strife of the 19th century.

Fall of the Old Confederation. The old order in Switzerland collapsed in 1798 under the influence of the revolutionary upheavals in neighboring France. France invaded Switzerland, imposed a new constitution, and proclaimed the Helvetian Republic, consisting of 19 cantons enjoying equal rights. The Helvetic constitution (17981802), distinguished by its anti-ecclesiastical and antireligious spirit, caused all monasteries to be dissolved and their holdings to be declared national property. As a result, more than 130 monasteries were nearly forced out of existence. In 1803 a new constitution, the Act of Mediation imposed by Napoleon I, restored the old confederation of states and added six new cantons to the earlier 13: Saint Gallen, Graubünden, Aargau, Thurgau, Vaud and Ticino. Most of the monasteries were restored; only the Abbey of Sankt Gallen remained suppressed. Unfortunately, the Church's situation was less favorable than it had been before the revolution, as Napoleon reintroduced State control of the Church.

The 19th Century and the Kulturkampf. After the political upheavals of the 18th century, diocesan boundaries were redrawn with the aim of separating various nationalities and native bishops were placed in charge. In 1815, to checkmate the influence of the Vicar-General of Constance, Ignaz von wessenberg, Pius VII detached the Swiss part of the Diocese of Constance and placed it under an administrator. The Diocese of Basel was erected in 1828; its seven cantons included parts of the Swiss section formerly belonging to Constance and the remains of the prince bishopric of Basel. Urschweiz was provisionally placed under the administration of the bishop of Chur in 1819. Saint Gallen and Chur united in 1823 to form a double diocese, but this union was dissolved in 1836, when Saint Gallen became a separate bishopric. In western Switzerland the canton of Geneva was placed under the bishop of Lausanne (1819), but the episcopal residence remained at Fribourg, whose collegiate church of St. Nicholas became the cathedral in 1924. The canton of Ticino belonged to the Dioceses of Como and Milan until 1884; four years later it became an administration apostolic, with its own bishop.

During the Kulturkampf (187086), Church activities were severely restricted by the liberalism and radicalism dominant in many cantons, and Catholics polarized into ultramontanes and Catholic liberals. The Baden Articles (1834) were a concerted effort to subordinate the Church to the State, and although condemned by Pope Gregory XVI attempts by some cantons to implement them let to further conflicts. Monasteries were dissolved in the canton of Aargau in 1841, whereas Lucerne called in the Jesuits in 1844 to take over the theological college. In 1845 the Catholic cantons concluded an alliance (Sonderbund ) to defend religious liberty, and their refusal to dissolve this alliance led to a civil war in which they were defeated (1847). As a result, more monasteries were dissolved, and the Jesuits were banned from Switzerland. The federal constitution, adopted in 1874 during the Kulturkampf, contained special decrees regulating the Catholic Church. Dioceses could be erected only with the federal government's approval. New monasteries could not be created, nor could dissolved monasteries be restored. Liberals and radicals so harassed the Catholic minority that for a long time the Church was forced into a purely defensive position.

In defense of the Church and its interests, Catholics founded a great variety of associations and organizations. Most important were the Pius Verein (1857) and the Society for Home Missions (1863), the latter which devoted itself mainly to Catholics in the diaspora. Despite their losses, Catholics developed new enterprises. The outstanding social apostle Theodosius florentini founded the Teaching Sisters of the Holy Cross in 1844 and the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross in 1856, which grew to be the largest congregations of women in the country. Over 1,000 new churches were built in the diaspora regions. A Christian worker movement developed, and the Union of Fribourg, founded under the leadership of the future Cardinal mermillod, did preliminary work toward resolving the worker question. To replace the suppressed Jesuit colleges, new schools were started by Benedictines, Capuchins, Augustinian Canons and secular priests. The most important educational accomplishment was the foundation of the Catholic University of Fribourg by Georges Python in 1889.

The Modern Church. Despite the suppressions of the 19th century, many religious houses remained in operation by 1900. The bethlehem fathers engaged in foreign mission work, while Switzerland's brothers and sisters conducted numerous Catholic schools on the primary and secondary levels. During the 20th century, aided by Switzerland's position of neutrality during both world wars, the missions gained in strength, and by 2000 there were 300 brothers and 7,000 sisters tending to humanitarian needs in orphanages, hospitals and other outreach centers. In 1920 a papal nuncio was established in Bern. Three Catholic colleges educated Catholic teachers. The University of Fribourg maintained a Faculty of Catholic Theology, Lucerne. Catholic seminaries existed in Chur, Fribourg, Lugano, Lucerne, Sion, Solothurn and Sankt. The bishops' conference met twice annually.

The Industrialization of the late 19th century caused large population movements, one result of which was a notable intermingling of religious groups in the cantons. In most, the Catholic Church was among the officially recognized regional Churches (Landeskirchen ) and enjoyed the right to a church levy in those cantons that imposed it. (Ironically, during the 1990s church membership declined as some Swiss renounced membership in their church as a means of avoiding payment of this tax.) Despite the exclusion article in the federal constitution of May 29, 1874, the Church was free to develop associations, the two largest being the Swiss Catholic Volksverein and the Swiss Catholic Women's League, both supporters of Catholic Action. The faith predominate in the canton was taught in public schools, although students would be exempted at the request of their parent.

By 2000 there were 1,691 parishes in Switzerland, with 1,950 secular and 1,392 religious priests working among them. In the late 1990s both the Church and the Swiss government addressed the issues surrounding the Holocaust era, as accusations surfaced regarding anti-Semitism, the redistribution of Jewish-held property during World War II and the closing of Swiss borders to Jewish refugees in 1942. In 1997 the Swiss bishops admitted that the Church was once hostile to Jews, but noted that "we admit the guilt that occurred then and ask the heirs of those affected for forgiveness, as Pope John Paul II has done in light of [Jubilee 2000]." The government continued to support freedom of religion, although by the late 1990s the activities of Scientologists and the appearance of more than 400 denominations in the region prompted requests for the regulation of sects.

Bibliography: h. barth, Bibliographie der Schweizer Geschichte bis Ende 1912, 3 v. (Basel 191415); Bibliographie der Schweizergeschichte, 19131919, as suppl. to Anzeiger für schweizerische Geschichte; 1920as suppl. to Zeitschrift für schweizerische Geschichte. h. ammann and k. schib, Historischer Atlas der Schweiz (2d ed. Aarau 1958). h. nabholz et al., Geschichte der Schweiz, 2 v. (Zurich 193238). t. schwegler, Geschichte der katholischen Kirche in der Schweiz (2d ed. Stans 1943). f. staehelin, Die Schweiz in römischer Zeit (3d ed. Basel 1948); Die Schweiz im Frühmittelalter (Repertorium der Urund Frühgeschichte der Schweiz, 5; Basel 1959). r. pfister, Kirchengeschichte der Schweiz, v.1 Von den Anfängen bis zum Ausgang des Mittelalters (Zurich 1964). o. vasella, Reform und Reformation in der Schweiz (Münster 1958). j. g. mayer, Das Konzil von Trient und die Gegenreformation in der Schweiz, 2 v. (Stans 190103). f. steffens and h. reinhardt, Die Nuntiatur des G. F. Bonhomini, 15791581, 4 v. (Solothurn 190629). a. chÈvre, Jacques-Christoph Blarer de Wartensee (Bibliothèque Jurassienne 5; Delémont 1963). u. lampert, Kirche und Staat in der Schweiz, 3 v. (Basel 192939), f. strobel, Die Jesuiten und die Schweiz im 19. Jahrhundert (Freiburg 1954). k. s. latourette, Christianity in a Revolutionary Age: A History of Christianity in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 5 v. (New York 195862) v.1, 2, 4. b. meyer and r. pfister, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart 3 , 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 5:160818. f. ehrler Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche 2 , eds., j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 9:541545. Bilan du Monde, 2:809817. Annuario Pontificio has annual data on all dioceses.

[j. b. villiger/eds.]