Christianity entered Switzerland quite early, and the first centers were along the roads that crossed the Alps; between the end of the century. IV and the beginning of the V there are the bishoprics of Aventicum (Avenches), then transported to Vindonissa (Windisch) and later, towards the end of the century. VI, in Lausanne; by Octodurum (Martigny) transferred also in the century. VI in Zion; of Basel, of Geneva, of Chur. The barbarian invasions deeply affected this ecclesiastical life; but with the conversion of the Burgundians to Catholicism it resurrected and the bishops Constantius of Octodurum, Maximus of Geneva, Bubulco of Vindonissa took part in the council of Epaona. Later, the action of the Irish missionaries was added to the monastic foundations, such as St. Maurice in the Valais (which attests the antiquity of the cult of the Theban legion) and to the bishopric of Constance, with the reorganization of Romainmôtier and the foundation of the abbeys. of St. Gallen and Disentis, who then accepted the Benedictine rule, and were followed by others, including Einsiedeln, who later accepted the monastic reform, as well as by the canons regular of St. Augustine (Great St. Bernard), by the Cistercians, by the Carthusians, and then by the mendicant orders. It is superfluous to recall the councils of Basle and Constance; but the mystical movement of the “friends of God” that spread from Basel and that which developed in the Dominican convents of Oetenbach, Totz, Katharinental deserve a brief mention; and, almost on the eve of the Reformation, the attempted reform of the bishop of Basel, Christopher of Utenheim (1503).
The introduction of the Reformation in Switzerland is closely linked to not only cultural facts (Christian humanism which had its center in Basel, and then the impetus given by Luther’s example), but also political (for these, and for the main events, see below: History). Here it should be noted that the Reformation was carried out in the various cities, in close relationship with each other, but also with a certain theological independence: not even U. Zwingli was a leader, much less a founder of religion, in the strict sense of the word; and although they could agree among themselves in some important questions, even against Luther (for example, in the sacramental controversy), an Ecolampadius, a W. Capito, a Bullinger, a Vadian (J. von Watt) represent different tendencies; unification was given only later and gradually, from the prevalence of Calvin’s theology; it too did not affect every aspect of religious life and was far from giving each city the characteristic constitution of Geneva. The prevalence of Calvinism is complete when, in addition to Geneva, also Zurich, Bern, Basel and Schaffhausen are represented at the synod of Dordrecht (1618-1619). But absolute uniformity was not achieved in worship, although certainly already by the end of the century. XVI, Switzerland no longer presents the aspect it offers towards the middle of the century, when, as a country of refuge, it welcomes exiles for reasons of religion from France, England, Italy and – although not without persecution – also Anabaptists and antitrinitarians.
The pietistic movement also split into various currents in Switzerland; then the Enlightenment and rationalism predominated, so much so as to undermine the Calvinist orthodoxy in Geneva itself, where – as in other parts – it opposed this trend, in the first half of the century. XIX, the movement of the so-called Réveil. But even this tendency aroused a reaction, and the contrast was attenuated above all by the action of an intermediate current, which managed to maintain ecclesiastical unity almost everywhere, except for the free churches of French-speaking Switzerland, but giving them an arrangement more democratic and less dogmatic rigidity. Meanwhile, other Reformed sects, especially Methodists and Baptists, also entered Switzerland; as well as the Salvation Army, as well as Mormons, Adventists, etc. In 1920, the Alliance of Swiss Evangelical Churches (Schweizerischer evangelischer Kirchenbund) was formed on the basis of some pre-existing associations.
The Battle of Kappel (1531) undoubtedly marked a setback in the extension of the Reformation in Switzerland; but the expansion of Bern into Valais and the work of G. Farel and Calvino marked further progress of the Reformation. Which was fought above all following the action carried out with political means and character, by the dukes of Savoy and, on the more strictly religious ground, mainly by St. Charles Borromeo, assisted by the bishop of Basel JC Blarer, by the Jesuits in Friborg (S. Pietro Canisio), Brig, Sion, Solothurn, Bellinzona and then by the Capuchins. The religious division was the cause of numerous and serious struggles (see below: History). The Enlightenment, with the so-called Josephite, and still more the repercussions of the French Revolution, greatly aggravated the position of Catholics; and although the restoration, with the reorganization of the dioceses and the return of the Jesuits changed this state of things, later, the prevalence of liberal and democratic doctrines and the political events of the century. XIX again aggravated the condition of Catholics: the constitution of 1848 excluded the Jesuits from the Swiss territory and many monasteries were suppressed. Another sharp contrast occurred after the Vatican Council, when not only were the churches of the Old Catholics organized (Christkatholische Kirche der Schweiz), to which various churches were assigned and Bern granted a theological faculty (1874), but there were lively contrasts between the political authorities and the apostolic vicar of Geneva G. Mermillod and the bishop of Basel E. Lachat; and diplomatic relations between the confederation and the Holy See were broken. In 1883, however, this suppressed the apostolic vicariate of Geneva by transferring Mermillod to the chair of Friborg, while Lachat, renouncing his see, was appointed apostolic administrator of the new diocese of Lugano, erected by removing the Canton of Ticino from the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Como and Milan.. In 1889 the Catholic University of Friborg was established, in 1920 diplomatic relations with the Holy See resumed.
The federal constitution of 1874, while guaranteeing full freedom of conscience and worship, limits the rights of Catholics (no episcopate can be established without the approval of the confederation; the Society of Jesus and its affiliated companies are excluded from Swiss territory: it is forbidden to found new convents or religious orders, etc.).
According to the 1930 census, there were:
The Catholic hierarchy includes the dioceses (all immediately subject to the Holy See) of Basel and Lugano, with residence in Solothurn and an apostolic administrator for Lugano; Chur; Lausanne, Geneva and Friborg, with residence in Friborg; St. Gallen (1823); Zion; in addition to the nullius abbeys of Einsiedeln (934) and China Maurizio di Agaune (from 1840). Old Catholics have a bishop in Zurich.