In Germany and Switzerland, a Landeskirche (plural: Landeskirchen) is the church of a region. The term usually refers to Protestant churches, but—in case of Switzerland—also Roman Catholic dioceses. They originated as the national churches of the independent states, States of Germany (Länder) or Cantons of Switzerland (Kantone, Cantons), that later unified to form modern Germany (in 1871) or modern Switzerland (in 1848), respectively.
Origins in the Holy Roman Empire
In the pre-Reformation era, the organization of the church within a land was understood as a landeskirche, certainly under a higher power (the pope or a patriarch), but also possessing an increased measure of independence, especially as concerning its internal structure and its relations to its king, prince or ruler. Unlike in Scandinavia and England, the bishops in the national churches did not survive the Reformation, making it impossible for a conventional diocesan system to continue within Lutheranism. Therefore, Martin Luther demanded that, as a stop-gap, each secular Landesherr (territorial lord, monarch or a body, like the governments of republican Imperial estates, such as Free Imperial Cities or Swiss cantons) should exercise episcopal functions in the respective territories. The principle of cuius regio, eius religio also arose out of the Reformation, and according to this a Landesherr chose what denomination his subjects had to belong to. This led to closed, insular landeskirchen. The principle was a byproduct of religious politics in the Holy Roman Empire and soon softened after the Thirty Years' War.
At the time of the abolition of the monarchies in Germany in 1918, the Landesherren were summus episcopus (Landesbischöfe, comparable to the Supreme Governor of the Church of England) in the states or their administrative areas, and the ties between churches and nations came to be particularly close, even with Landesherren outside the Lutheran church. So the (Roman Catholic) king of Bavaria was at the same time supreme governor (summus episcopus) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria right of the river Rhine. In practice, the Landesherren exercised episcopal functions (summepiscopacy) only indirectly through consistories (German: Konsistorium/Konsistorien [sg./pl.]).
Those of the following Landeskirchen, which existed in 1922, founded the new umbrella German Evangelical Church Confederation (German: Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchenbund, 1922–1933). There were mergers in the 1920s and under Nazi reign in 1933 and 1934.
The first date given before every entry in the table below refers to the year, when the respective church body was constituted. Such a date of constitution is somewhat difficult to fix for the 19th century, when church constitutions were reformed and came into effect, which usually provided for more or less state-independent legislative and executive bodies more or less elected by parishioners. The Protestant Reformation and some church organisation (Kirchenordnung) of course existed long before.
For the 20th century the given years refer to the formal establishment of the respective church body. The second date refers to the year, when the respective church body ceased to exist (if so), due to a merger or unwinding. The third entry gives the name of each church body alphabetically assorted by the first territorial entity mentioned in the name. This makes sense because Landeskirchen have clear regional demarcations, therefore usually somehow mentioned in their names. The post-World War I church bodies, listed below, have never existed all in the same time. One can sort the table below alphabetically or chronologically by clicking on the button with the gyronny of four.
Those of the following Landeskirchen, which existed in 1948, founded the new Protestant umbrella Evangelical Church in Germany (German: Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland). However, following the violations of the church constitutions under Nazi reign many church bodies did not simply return to the pre-1933 status quo, but introduced altered or new church constitutions – usually after lengthy synodal procedures of decision-taking -, often including an altered name of the church body. In a process starting in June 1945 and ending in 1953 the Evangelical Church of the old-Prussian Union transformed from an integrated church body, sudivided into ecclesiastical provinces, into an umbrella-like church body, renamed into Evangelical Church of the Union under political pressure of communist East Germany in 1953.
The six old-Prussian ecclesiastical provinces (Kirchenprovinz[en], sg.[pl.]), which were not or not completely abolished by the expulsion of its parishioners from the Polish and Soviet annexed German territories, assumed independence as Landeskirchen of their own between 1945 and 1948, however, simultaneously remaining member churches within the Evangelical Church of the (old-Prussian) Union, thus rather converted into an umbrella. The communist dictatorship in East Germany imposed further name changes and administrative reorganisations along the inner German borders. This was reversed after unification.
There were mergers of church bodies in 1947, 1977, 1989, 2004, 2009, and 2012, and likely more are to come. The German demographic crisis and rising irreligionism influence them, especially in former East Germany. The first date given before every entry in the table below refers to the year, when the respective church body was constituted. Such a date of constitution is somewhat difficult to fix for the 19th century, when church constitutions were reformed and came into effect, which usually provided for more or less state-independent legislative and executive bodies more or less elected by parishioners. The Protestant Reformation and some church organisation of course existed long before.
For the last and this century the given years refer to the formal establishment of the respective church body. The second date refers to the year, when the respective church body ceased to exist (if so), due to a merger or unwinding. The third entry gives the name of each church body alphabetically assorted by the first territorial entity mentioned in the name. This makes sense because Landeskirchen have clear regional demarcations, therefore usually somehow mentioned in their names. The post-war German church bodies, listed below, have never existed all in the same time. The very independent and autonomous organisational structure of German Protestantism provides for unconcerted developments. One can assort the table below alphabetically or chronogically by clicking on the button with the gyronny of four.
This is a list of more Protestant church bodies, which were not members of the German Federation of Protestant Churches
For a list of today's Protestant Landeskirchen in Germany see their umbrella Evangelical Church in Germany.
Switzerland has no country-wide state religion, though most of the cantons (except for Geneva and Neuchâtel) recognise official Landeskirchen, in all cases including the Roman Catholic Church and the Swiss Reformed Church. These churches, and in some cantons also the Old Catholic Church and Jewish congregations, are financed by official taxation of adherents.
In most cantons the Roman Catholic congregations are organised in cantonal church bodies which form statutory corporations with executive and supervising bodies elected by the parishioners. Roman Catholic Landeskirchen developed from denominationally separate committees of the cantonal governments in cantons with populations of mixed denomination, such as Aargau, Graubünden, St. Gallen and Thurgau. These separate government committees, competent for ecclesiastical matters of the respective denomination and founded in the 16th and 17th century, were sometimes called Corpus Catholicorum (for the Roman Catholics, with the equivalent Corpus Evangelicorum for the Reformed Protestants).
In other cantons of prevailingly Reformed population Roman Catholic Landeskirchen were founded after World War II (except of Berne whose Roman Catholic Regional Church established already in 1939) paralleling the long established Reformed Landeskirchen in those cantons, accounting for the recognition of Roman Catholicism as equivalent denomination. Cantons of prevailingly Roman Catholic population then followed that example, first the Lucerne.
So church buildings and other real estate, religious schools, religious charitable organisations and religious counselling centres are often owned, run and financed by the funds of the cantonally competent Roman Catholic church body. Since each has executive and legislative bodies, elected by its statutory members (i.e. the parishioners of age), each Roman Catholic church body is accepted as democratic entity entitled to levy member fees (also by way of church tax), because the usage of the funds is decided by the elected representatives of those who defray them.
As to Roman Catholic doctrine the Roman Catholic church bodies are no churches, since there is only one hierarchic church. So some Roman Catholics oppose the Roman Catholic Landeskirchen as para-ecclesiastical entities paralleling the actual Roman Catholic church, while many others support the idea since they offer Roman Catholics similar opportunities to participate in church life like the Reformed Landeskirchen.
Some cantonal church bodies bear the name Landeskirche in their name, others are called synod, federation or association of congregations or simply Catholic church of the respective Canton. Whereas the term Landeskirche actually implies the body to be a separate denomination, the term cantonal church would better apply for Roman Catholic regional church bodies, since they form a cantonally delineated corporation of the Roman Catholic parishioners within a canton but are cooperating and providing services to their members, who in canonical sense remain members of the Roman Catholic Church pastoring them by its respective diocese.
The Roman Catholic cantonal church bodies form part of the Roman Catholic Central Conference of Switzerland (RKZ, official names in German: Römisch-Katholische Zentralkonferenz der Schweiz, French: Conférence centrale catholique romaine de Suisse, Italian: Conferenza centrale cattolica romana della Svizzera, Romansh: Conferenza centrala catolica romana da la Svizra).
The Roman Catholic Cantonal Church of Schwyz (Römisch-katholische Kantonalkirche Schwyz) enjoys the status of an associated guest.