Protestantism

   The Reformation of the 16th century brought Lutheranism, and somewhat later Calvinism, to the Habsburg Austrian lands and the Habsburg Empire generally. As part of the German-speaking community, Austrians were open to all of the confessional innovations that originated in Switzerland and the Holy Roman Empire. Aside from the Tyrol, where Catholicism was not seriously challenged, all of the Austrian lands were heavily Protestant by the latter third of the 16th century. In Styria, Carinthia, and Lower Austria, Protestant noblemen who played central roles in the provincial estates wrested permission to conduct Lutheran religious services from the Catholic Habsburgs who ruled them. Archduke, later Emperor, Ferdinand I was himself a devout Catholic and had little use for what he saw as Protestant sectarianism. His son, Emperor Maximilian II (1527–1576), was more flexible in his confessional outlook but did not like religiously divided subjects either. Both, however, were willing to make concessions to the new faith to get financial aid from the deliberative bodies with which they were forced to bargain. However, they never permitted the formal establishment of any Protestant church.
   At the turn of the 17th century, the status of Protestantism in the Austrian lands grew more precarious. In Styria, Archduke, later Emperor, Ferdinand II restricted Lutheran freedoms systematically. By 1600, all of his middle-class subjects were forced to attend Catholic services. Although the nobility still carried on private devotions in their castles, full Lutheran religious services were forbidden. A key figure in the central European Counter-Reformation, Ferdinand took the opportunities that victories in the Thirty Years’ War gave him to effectively drive Protestantism from the Austrian lands. In 1627, Protestant preachers and schoolmasters were banished from Lower Austria. Although the nobility of that province retained somewhat greater religious freedom than their counterparts elsewhere in the Habsburg lands, they were vigorously encouraged to convert to Catholicism.
   From roughly 1630 to 1700, around 100,000 Protestants emigrated from the Austrian territories, among them some of the most productive elements in the population. Only in eastern Hungary, where Calvinism had found a home among the nobility, did the Reformed church survive openly in the Habsburg Empire. For the most part, the evangelical confessions, if they survived at all, did so only clandestinely. In the 18th century, bands of Protestants were driven from the Austrian lands or areas closely associated with them, such as the prince-bishopric of Salzburg. Some of these people found their way to the New World.
   Moved by the Enlightenment and pressures to foster a more productive citizenry, the Habsburg rulers of Austria began to change their attitude about Protestantism in the 18th century. Emperor Joseph II issued a Patent of Toleration in 1781 allowing both Calvinists and Lutherans freedom of worship and the right to churches of their own. However, the location and design of these facilities was closely regulated. Catholic practice continued to intrude into Protestant ecclesiastical affairs. Regulation of interfaith marriages and the confessional training of the children born in such unions were especially thorny issues. It was not until 1861 that Protestants throughout the Habsburg Empire, officially designated as non-Catholics (Akatholiker), received a governing council of their own, with separate subsidiary offices for Calvinist and Lutheran affairs.
   The Treaty of St. Germain required religious liberty for all confessions in the First Republic, and in 1922, faculties of Protestant theology were incorporated into the university system. Nevertheless, the territorial settlements that came out of World War I put Austrian Protestantism in a vulnerable position once again. Reformed churches once in the Habsburg Empire were now in Hungary and Czechoslovakia; their Austrian coreligionists were often dependent on foreign donations to keep their houses of worship solvent. The number of Austrian Lutherans and Calvinists now is about 376,000, with the former predominating. All faiths are equally protected under the current Austrian constitution.
   See also Religion.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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