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
rown 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


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


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.