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Persecutions In Switzerland From 1813 To 1830








The information contained in the following account of the persecution in
Switzerland, is derived principally from the Christian Spectator and the
London Christian Observer.

Scarcely any country of Continental Europe, has excited so deep an
interest in the minds of Americans, as Switzerland. Its valleys and
lakes, its streams and cataracts, its lofty mountains and the seas of
ice and deserts of snow which crown their summits, have been the Ultima
Thule of the traveller, from whatever land. But we have dwelt upon
them from the very days of boyhood, with an interest belonging to
scarcely any thing earthly, because we regarded all this magnificent and
beautiful display, as the mere scenery and decoration of the stage, on
which an important act in the great drama of liberty, was exhibited. In
the christian, these magnificent objects awaken emotions perhaps less
tumultuous, but deeper and more elevating; for it is here that another
scene of that great drama was early opened, involving interests
incomparably more valuable, and a struggle far more deadly, not for the
civil liberty of Switzerland, but to free the world from a tyranny, in
comparison with which, that of Austrian dukes was paternal kindness,--a
despotism that held the soul itself chained to the papal throne, and
assumed the triple crown of heaven and earth and hell, which its
representative still wears. To the christian, the names of Tell and
Winkelreid, sink into insignificance beside those of Zuingle and Calvin;
and the war of Swiss independence scarcely deserves a thought, in
comparison with that struggle for the moral reformation of the world,
in which these men were such distinguished actors, and to whose
influence we ourselves owe that religious liberty, which is the most
precious part of our birthright.

But it is an humbling reflection, that the palladium of liberty could
not be kept inviolate, even in the fastnesses of the Alps. A few years
only have elapsed, since some of the fairest portions of this "land of
the free," were held as conquered tributaries by other cantons, and were
governed by a bailiff residing in his castle, and exercising a power
like that of a feudal baron. A considerable portion of Switzerland is
still subject to an aristocracy, as absolute in its sway, and as much
opposed to the extension of light and liberty, as any other branch of
the holy alliance. The press is, in many cantons, under severe
restrictions, and industry and enterprise are checked by the regulations
of the incorporated trades, which place the rod of oppression in the
hands of ignorance and self-interest; and which bring home its influence
to the work-bench of the mechanic, and too often paralyze the arm of
laborious poverty. Within ten years, and in one of the most enlightened
cantons, men and women have been arrested, and fined, and imprisoned, in
the most cruel manner, for assembling to read the word of God; have even
been banished under pain of death, and without any passport to secure
them from imprisonment as vagrants in the neighbouring countries, merely
for preaching and hearing the gospel, out of the established church.

In the protestant churches of German Switzerland, the Helvetic
confession and the Heidelberg catechism, both in the strictest sense
orthodox, are recognized as standards of faith. This, however, is the
only bond of union between the different portions of the Helvetic
church. The spiritual concerns of each canton are under the direction of
what is called the "church council," established by the government, and
composed of some of its members united with some of the clergy. This
body license, locate and pay the clergy; and form the court of appeal in
the affairs of the church. A congregation have no voice in the selection
of their pastor. Baptism and confirmation, or admission to the Lord's
supper, in the established church, are required by law, as indispensable
to the exercise of civil rights; and the latter ceremony is generally
regarded as a mere introduction into life. In the canton of Berne, no
person can enter the most menial station as a domestic, without
exhibiting his certificate of communion; and so far is this from being
an obsolete law, that we have known a person incur its penalty, because
he delayed for a few days the exhibition of this certificate to the
police. In this canton, (and we believe in most others,) no person can
be excluded from the communion, except by government; and, as a
necessary consequence, no discipline exists in the church. The Lord's
supper is received with great regularity by the whole parish; and in
some districts at least, the opinion prevails, that this ordinance is a
seal of the pardon of their sins.

Such is the external state of the church in German Switzerland. In
regard to its spiritual condition, we have little encouraging to
present. The mercenary troops which Switzerland has so long been
accustomed to sell to France, Spain and Italy, have usually brought back
corrupt principles and licentious habits; and the young men of patrician
families, from whom the rulers are ultimately chosen, have been
prepared, by serving as officers to these troops, to exert a baneful
influence upon their country. Those who were destined to the ministry,
or to the learned professions, were accustomed to seek an education, if
possible, in the German universities, where they would imbibe a taste
for any thing but evangelical principles. Rousseau, Voltaire, and
Gibbon, during their residence in Switzerland, contributed not a little
to the increase of infidelity; and the French revolution seemed to sweep
away the landmarks of religion and morality, and to banish whatever
might have remained, of the character of Switzerland, from the portions
to which its emissaries had immediate access.

It will not be supposed that the church escaped untainted, amidst all
these causes of corruption. The feeling which we found extensively
prevalent, that it was indecorous to inquire into the opinions of the
clergy and the doctrines actually maintained in the church, and which
presented a serious obstacle to investigation on this subject,
sufficiently indicates, that there is something which will not bear a
comparison with the public standard. But more unequivocal evidence of
the change of opinion is found in the fact, that candidates for the
ministry are now only required to avow their belief in the new
testament, and these regulations are avowedly adopted, in order not to
exclude those who are called "liberal" or "rational" in their opinions.

We trust indeed, that there are many thousands in Switzerland, who have
not bowed the knee to Baal, in any form. We believe especially, that in
the cantons of Basle, Zurich, Appenzell, and Schaffhausen, as well as
Geneva and Vaud, there are many faithful ministers of the gospel. We
know that in the midst of decayed churches, there are little bands, who,
without separating themselves, or exciting public attention, have
adopted the principles and the devotional habits of the United Brethren,
or Moravians. The missionary seminary at Basle is a radiating point,
from which divine truth is going forth to the ends of the earth; and
there is a cluster of christian institutions around it, which are a
monument of love and zeal. Light is springing up in various directions
in the midst of darkness and these first gleamings of the dawn are a
sure and delightful presage, that the Sun of righteousness is about to
arise upon Switzerland, with healing in its beams.

For several years past, two or three of the clergy of the established
church in the city of Berne, have preached the doctrines of the gospel,
as exhibited in the standards of the church, with simplicity and
faithfulness. Much interest was thus excited in a small number of
persons, several of whom were among the class of patricians, and the
result might be termed a little revival. Public attention was called to
it, by the change of conduct in those who were its subjects. Their
consciences would no longer allow them to partake in those violations of
the Sabbath, and those questionable amusements which were customary in
the world around them; and they felt the need of assembling themselves
for social devotion and christian intercourse, during the week. Those
who felt reproved by such conduct, spared neither censure nor ridicule.
The names of "priest," "methodist," "mummer," etc., were
unsparingly applied to them; and in one instance, the windows of a
person who was obnoxious on this account, were broken. It is but justice
to the government to state, that immediate and vigorous measures were
taken to repress all violence; and no one was suffered to interrupt
them, so long as they continued in connexion with the established
church. Much hostility was indeed expressed against these private
assemblies; but so much patrician influence was exerted in their favour,
that the government did not venture to execute the threats, sometimes
thrown out, of prohibiting them. Pietism continued to increase, from the
increased action produced by these social meetings; and the flame was
undoubtedly nourished by the conversation and correspondence of pious
British travellers, whose influence may now be traced in every part of
the continent, from Calais to Naples, and exhibits one of these
remarkable traits in the divine government, by which the seed of the
word is scattered over the world, often by the consent of those who wish
to destroy it. The wealth of the English gives them access every where.
Even the court of Rome, rather than lose this source of revenue, allows
heresy to rear its standard of rebellion on the banks of the Tiber; and
the efforts of such as are piously disposed to spread light around them,
are winked at, to avoid offending or alarming the national spirit,
even of those who are devoted to the pleasures of the world.

During the year 1828, a small number of the persons who were thus
awakened, felt it their duty to separate themselves entirely from the
established church. Their consciences were wounded by the prostitution
of the ordinance of the supper, in admitting all who chose to come;
since many of the openly vicious, and a multitude who had no apparent
interest in religion, belonged to the number. They urged the necessity
of discipline from Matt. xvi. and xviii., 1 Cor. v., etc., and
maintained that that could not be deemed a church of Christ, which
tolerated vice in its very bosom. They felt themselves bound by the
precept, 2 Thess. iii. 6, 14, 15, and 2 John 10, 11, to withdraw from a
church in which the gospel was not generally preached; and which
cherished in its bosom, so many who crucified Christ afresh, and whom
they considered themselves as recognizing as brethren, by partaking of
the same bread and the same cup. This measure was promoted by a person
who had been banished from the canton de Vaud; and who was received at
Berne, under a pledge to the police, that he would not speak of
separation. The violation of this pledge led to his expulsion, which was
the first act of the government on this subject. This excited no serious
opposition, since those who agreed with him in sentiment, did not
approve of his violation of truth. It did not however prevent the
continuance of the assemblies of separatists, and their distinct avowal
of their sentiments; and they obtained from a member of the government
belonging to the established church, the use of a room to his own house,
on condition that nothing should be said there in direct promotion of
separatism.

This decided course of conduct, notwithstanding many hints and threats,
placed the government in an embarrassing situation. Eight years before,
the canton of Vaud had treated a similar sect (of which indeed, some of
these very individuals had been members) with great severity; but with
so little effect, that their number had been constantly increasing, and
their spirit had been diffused through a large number of the established
churches; to the great annoyance of those who did not love the gospel.
Thus warned of the danger of violent measures, and yet anxious to find
reasons for expelling the leaders of the obnoxious party, they directed
the superintendent of the police to keep them and their assemblies under
constant and rigid inspection; and all who were concerned with them,
were watched with the same view. At the same time, one of the
evangelical clergymen was sent for, and warned to alter his mode of
preaching; and although he did not approve or preach separation, he was
accused of contributing to the excitement of feeling, which gave rise to
it, by his mode of exhibiting the doctrines of the bible. We need
scarcely add, that the warning was without effect on this faithful
minister of Christ.

In the year 1813, a few pious individuals began to meet in private, for
the purpose of seeking and cherishing that holy truth which was banished
from the public assemblies. These persons were directed by some students
of theology, among whom was M. Empaytaz. The venerable company of
pastors soon heard of these unauthorized proceedings, and lost no time
in evincing their disapprobation respecting them. M. Empaytaz, was
especially marked out as the object of their displeasure; and they
refused to ordain him, unless he would avoid every religious assembly
which had not their sanction. He chose rather to incur their anathema
than to wound his conscience, and departed from the city.

But the light had broke forth, and it was not easy again to extinguish
it. The honourable company seem to have been extremely troubled as to
the course to be pursued. To sit still, however, was to yield to the
rising spirit of reformation, and they determined to bestir themselves.
Accordingly, after due deliberation, they issued certain regulations,
bearing date May 3, 1817, which they hoped would be received as
articles.

These articles however, did not produce the anticipated effect. The
doctrine of the divinity of Christ, and others equally offensive to
Unitarians, continued to be preached. In 1818, M. Malan, a pious
orthodox divine, was deprived of his place of regent of the college; and
another, M. Mejanel, was ordered to quit Geneva.

For some time, however, the individuals who retained their allegiance to
the Helvetic Confession, and remained at Geneva, still held their
meetings, with little other provocation than that of a few hard names,
such as "enthusiasts," "Nazarenes," "advocates for exploded doctrines,"
&c., which the Unitarians, in the exuberance of their wit, and the
overflowing of their liberality, had the gratification to bespatter
them. These attacks produced very little impression upon the persons
assailed. The arguments next adopted, were calculated to supply the
defect. About the beginning of July, 1818, the place of meeting being
changed, when the persons assembled, they found a large mob prepared to
insult them. These enlightened and worthy abettors of the reformed
church of Geneva, and citizens of that free republic, assembled at the
house of meeting, and vociferated amidst other expressions of
hostility--we transcribe the words with shame and horror,--A bas Jesus
Christ! A bas les Moraves! A mort, a la lanterne, &c. and pursued the
obnoxious ministers as they came out, with similar cries. Neither did
they stop here: their valour and zeal, as is the case with all mobs,
became more impetuous as they were not resisted. "Our silence," says one
who was present, "in the midst of these insults, did not satisfy them:
we had to suffer menaces, maledictions; stoning through the streets, and
the violation of our houses." Had not the police exerted themselves to
suppress these disorders, the consequences would probably have been
still more fearful.





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Previous: Persecutions At Port Au Prince



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