Thursday, October 25, 2012

Losing Thy Religion

Along with its neighbors to the north and west, Switzerland -- and particularly Zurich (above) -- was the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation within Christianity in early 16th century Europe.

The Reformation began as an attempt to reform the Roman Catholic Church by priests who opposed what they perceived as false doctrines and ecclesiastic malpractice -- including the buying and selling of clerical offices and the use of "indulgences."

These reformers, such as Huldrych Zwingli in Switzerland (right), Martin Luther in Germany and John Calvin in France, saw the abuses as evidence of the systematic corruption of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, which included the Pope.

In Germany, Martin Luther expressed doubts over the legitimacy of the sale of indulgences and the authority of the Pope, and famously nailed his “Ninety-Five Theses” on the door of the church in Wittenberg.

Luther’s excommunication from the Catholic Church in 1521 was a primary cause of the Reformation. Soon other reformers like Zwingli and Calvin followed Martin Luther’s example.

They utilized inexpensive pamphlets using the relatively new printing press invented by Johannes Gutenberg so there was swift movement of both ideas and documents of the Reformation movement. The Reformation led to a series of religious wars that claimed many lives, including that of Zwingli.

In general, Northern Europe -- with the exception of Ireland, and pockets of England and the Netherlands -- turned Protestant, while Southern Europe remained Roman Catholic.

Today, Switzerland has no official state religion, though Christianity is predominant, divided between the Roman Catholic Church (40 percent) and various Protestant denominations (30 percent). Another 20 percent claim no religious affiliation.