Bern, Geneva, or Rome? The struggle for religious conformity and confessional unity in early Reformation Switzerland
AuthorBruening, Michael Wilson
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThe Reformation in French-speaking Switzerland outside of Geneva has received relatively little attention from historians. Unlike the movement in Geneva, the Reformation in its neighboring lands progressed in a completely different manner and was ultimately imposed on the people by the magistrates of Bern. Before 1536, Protestant reformers such as Guillaume Farel and Pierre Viret hardly touched most areas of the Pays de Vaud, which was governed by the Catholic duke of Savoy. Instead, they concentrated their efforts on areas within the jurisdiction of or allied to Protestant Bern, where they met with strong resistance from the people. The reformers focused their attacks---in preaching, in print, and symbolically in acts of iconoclasm directed against church altars---on the Catholic mass. Very few parishes abolished the mass, however. The religious situation shifted dramatically in 1536, however, when Bern conquered Vaud in its war against Savoy. Due to widespread resistance to the Protestant preachers, Bern imposed the Reformed faith on all its subjects following the 1536 Lausanne Disputation. The "new religion" was opposed by many, particularly the former Catholic clergy, many of whom continued to celebrate Catholic ceremonies in secret while waiting for a final resolution by the promised general council. The nobles suddenly found themselves vassals of the "common man," the Bern city council, and were loath to institute religious changes on their lands. The commoners in Vaud continued to practice traditions, such as praying to the saints and observing Catholic feast days. The Bernese magistrates and the Calvinist ministers in Vaud recognized these problems but could not agree on how to fix them. The Bernese saw the Reformation as a long-term process and hoped eventually to effect change by their ordinances. The ministers, led by Pierre Viret and strongly influenced by John Calvin, believed that change was taking place too slowly and that meanwhile the "body of Christ" was being polluted by unworthy communicants taking the eucharist. They argued for the necessity of greater ecclesiastical discipline, including excommunication, and the dispute led to the banishment of Viret and his colleagues, who subsequently moved to Geneva.
Degree ProgramGraduate College