In this lesson the attempt is made to give an insight into the rise of the Reformed Church in Europe (excluding Germany). Unlike in other European countries, the Reformed Church in Germany developed in very different forms, as a result of the non-uniform and politically divided (patchwork-like) situation in Germany - this was presented in overview in lesson 4.

1. Switzerland

As was presented in detail in lessons 2 and 3, the beginning of the Reformed Reformation took place on the soil of today’s Switzerland, first of all in Zurich (in connection with which Ulrich Zwingli is to be mentioned) and then, at its culmination, in Geneva (in connection with which John Calvin is to be mentioned), although Geneva did not belong to the Swiss Confederation in Calvin’s time. The Swiss Confederation is characterised to this day by the independence of the individual towns and countries (cantons). Zurich introduced the Reformation in the year 1523. Other towns followed, e.g. Bern in 1528 and Basel in 1529. In other cantons the individual communities could decide for themselves whether they wanted to introduce the Reformation or not (e.g. in Appenzell, Graubünden and Glarus). Other towns in the Swiss Confederation remained Roman-Catholic. Armed conflicts arose between the Protestant and Catholic parties, culminating in the infamous defeat of the Protestants at Kappel (near Zurich) in 1531. The reformer Ulrich Zwingli also died in this battle. Of the total 13 political territories in the Swiss Confederation, seven were Roman-Catholic, four were Reformed and in two of them both confessions existed. Heinrich Bullinger, the successor of Zwingli, and John Calvin succeeded in preventing the different orientations of the Reformed Reformation in Switzerland from drifting apart, and thus a Zwinglian and Calvinist Reformation never developed alongside one another. The most important document of this agreement in respect of the Lord’s Supper is the “Consensus Tigurinus” of 1549 (Zurich Consensus) - one can in fact only from this point on speak of the existence of a Reformed Church.

In 1566 Heinrich Bullinger drew up a confession which was accepted by almost all churches of German-speaking Switzerland - the Confessio Helvetica posterior (the Second Helvetian Confession), dealt with in detail in lesson 6. Besides the Confession, catechistic work was also intensified. In Zurich the reformer Leo Jud drew up a catechism which was in use for several centuries in Zurich. In other towns the Heidelberg Catechism was introduced. In 1531 a complete Bible translation was also published in Zurich, the so-called “Zurich Bible,” which is available today in new translation.
For several hundred years there were hardly any structural changes in the Swiss Church. The earlier functions of the bishops were to a large extent performed by the state authorities. The Reformed churches remained independently coexistent churches, only uniting to form a church federation (the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches) in 1920, and even then without losing their independence. In the 19th Century there were admittedly divisions within individual cantonal churches. The churches were to a large extent characterised by liberal theological movements, which for their part were closely associated with the Enlightenment. This liberalism in the churches had the result, among other things, that commitment to the confessions (e.g. the Apostles’ Creed and the Second Helvetian Confession) was renounced in the Reformed churches of Switzerland. In the train of this development, church divisions very nearly resulted in some churches, and actually did so in others, partly in connection with revival movements, as for example in the cantons Waadt and Neuenburg (where reunions occurred again in 1966 and 1943 respectively) and also in the canton Geneva, where there is still today a small Reformed free church besides the land church.
In the 1970s there began a gradual dissolution of what was up to then a very close relation between state and church. This tendency can be perceived earlier on and more clearly in the French-speaking Switzerland.