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Spring Break Adventures and Theological Ponderings

Hello everyone! Over spring break, I went on two amazing trips: first, to Interlaken, Switzerland then to Budapest, Vienna, and Salzburg. I also went on a day-trip to briefly visit Siena, Chianti, San Gimignano, and Monteriggioni. Overall, I would have to say Interlaken was my favorite trip, with Salzburg coming close in second. Salzburg would likely be equal if I had gotten to stay there longer. Returning home from my trip to Switzerland, I found it very interesting to look into the country’s religious history.

Overall, Switzerland has been impacted greatly by the Protestant Reformation, especially in Geneva. In fact, before the Protestant Reformation had even started, the Swiss government had already started supervising many monasteries. The education system was secularized; however, many teachers ended up becoming priests. On top of the secular efforts against Catholic influence, the people also were used to seeing many corrupt priests who lived extravagant lifestyles, abused indulgences, and often didn’t even live celibately.

As a result of these factors, Huldrych Zwingli, the primary force behind the Protestant Reformation of Switzerland, had great success. While still a priest, Zwingli preached against the corruption of the Church in Switzerland. Zwingli and Martin Luther differed on the view of the Eucharist because Luther accepted the more traditional view, which is that Christ is really present in the Eucharist, whereas Zwingli accepted a more symbolic view. Many of the disputes surrounding the Protestant Reformation at this time turned violent, resulting in wars and loss of life. Zwingli was participating in reforms on the Church in Zurich near the end of his life. In 1531, as a part of the reforms, a food blockade was imposed on the Five States who had been in debate with Zwingli and his supporters. It ultimately failed, and the reformers in Zurich had to regroup. During this time, the Five States declared war on Zurich when they were unprepared to take the attack. Reformers tried to band together but were largely unorganized. Zwingli went into battle for Zurich and died in battle.

Still, even with all this conflict, the Reformation in Switzerland remained strong and the government was intertwined with the Calvinistic-Evangelical tradition. However, it is interesting to know that today, the religious demographics have changed drastically. Expatica.com, a site that provides information on countries for tourists, recounts a poll taken in the 2000s on the religiosity of Switzerland:

“Only 16% of respondents said religion was very important to them; religion in Switzerland ranked far below their families, their jobs, sport, or culture. Another survey published the same year showed the number of regular churchgoers had dropped by 10% in 10 years. Among Catholics, 38.5% said they did not go to church, while among Protestants the figure was 50.7%. Only 71% of the total of those asked said they believed in God at all. The demand for church baptisms, weddings and funerals has fallen sharply in the last 30 years.”

Religion in Switzerland

It is important to note how Christian influence fell, even though it had been a central part of Switzerland’s past since the fourth century, after the widespread acceptance of the Reformation. Although this doesn’t necessarily mean there is causation, it is something to keep in mind.

As we can see, the Protestant Reformation had a large impact on the practice of Catholicism in Europe. Between reformers like Zwingli in Switzerland and Martin Luther in Germany, much of Germanic Europe converted to some form of Protestantism, most notably Lutheranism. Practice of the Catholic faith in some of these areas was considered to be illegal and punished by deportation and sometimes even death.

However, while one should think having an essentially whole country convert to Protestantism would have been fruitful, statistics tell an entirely different story. Some statistics show that countries whose population is mostly Protestant have more than half of the population identifying as ‘irreligious’ while on the other hand, Catholic countries like Italy have lower percentages who identify as such. Regardless, in much of the world, we are experiencing a decline in the practice of any faith at all.

Overall, I had a really great time over my spring break and am looking forward to more new adventures! I hope you all will tune in next Tuesday for more discussions on theology in Florence.

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