Early Progress of the Reformation (§ 1).

Reaction under Rudolph II. (§ 2).

Protestant Gains after 1600 (§ 3).

Forces Working for the Roman Catholics (§ 4).

Ferdinand II. His Measures in Inner Austria (§ 5).

Ferdinand Emperor 1619-27 (§ 6).


1. Early Progress of the Reformation.

The culminating point of the Reformation and Counterreformation occurs a full generation later in the Austrian crown lands of the Hapsburgs than elsewhere in Germany; the decisive issue, adversely to the Reformation, does not appear before the first third of the Thirty Years' War, under the rule of Emperor Ferdinand II. When in 1564 the Austrian lands passed from the hand of Ferdinand I. into the hands of his three sons, Maximilian, Ferdinand, and Charles, the Reformation had made nearly equal progress in all these jurisdictions; on all sides it had been tacitly tolerated, and had accordingly gained such accretions that the complete transition to Protestantism appeared to depend only on its recognition by law and the creation of a church organization. The majority of all classes of society had adopted the new ideas. In Bohemia and Moravia, in Silesia and Lusatia, in Upper and Lower Austria, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, and Göritz, nearly the entire population was filled with the new spirit. In Tyrol alone did the Roman Church continue securely predominant.


Maximilian II., in Bohemia (with its dependencies, Moravia, Silesia, Lusatia) and Upper and Lower Austria, and Archduke Charles in Inner Austria (Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Göritz) continued at first in the tolerant disposition of their father. There soon followed most important concessions to the Protestant territorial estates. In Lower Austria, from 1568 to 1571, Maximilian granted religious freedom for the nobility and their subjects; the same concession was straightway claimed for themselves by the Upper Austrians, and it was not denied them, although it was never formally extended to them. The Bohemian nobility obtained the like religious freedom in 1575. In Inner Austria, from 1572 to 1578, Charles accorded the so-called religious pacification, which allowed the lords and knighthood to profess the Augsburg Confession and tolerated Protestant schools and churches already existent; only for the crown cities and towns and for his own estates did the archduke retain express control of religion. Charles made these concessions with the utmost reluctance; nothing but need of money and the threatening danger from the Turks constrained him to do so. Indeed a similar external pressure was operative in the case of Maximilian II.; but his religious sensibilities suffered less by the concession, as he had considerable sympathy with the new views.


2. Reaction under Rudolph II

The first lawful foundations for the development of a Protestant Church were won through these concessions; but under the impulse of an energetic reaction that was developing with new force in Romanism, the successors of these princes, supported by the Jesuits and the Roman Catholic remnant of the nobility, strove to set the concessions aside. In 1578, Rudolph II. (son of Maximilian II., emperor 1576-1612) began to expel all the Protestant preachers from Vienna; but when he encountered strong opposition to his designs in Upper Austria, he set to work more prudently. Nevertheless he achieved a good deal during the following decade; by legal proceedings, one church after another was taken away from the Protestant nobles of Lower Austria and restored to the Roman worship, while entire towns were led back to the ancient faith, thus paving the way as far as possible for the party of Catholic restoration. The situation in Lower Austria stopped short of any formally compacted procedure on the side of the Protestant estates; but in Upper Austria the opposition against all these measures maintained itself till 1597, at last flaming up into the peasants' insurrection of 1595-97, which had its origin in economic distress and the straits of the Church. With this insurrection the Protestant opposition was at the same time decisively suppressed by superior force of arms. A "reformation committee" thereupon began its relentless activity; the nobility, indeed, were still allowed the exercise of Protestant worship in their castles, but the citizens and peasants were so hard pressed in the course of a few years that by the beginning of the seventeenth century the dominion of the Roman Church in Upper Austria was outwardly restored. However, a large portion of the population remained Protestant at heart.


3. Protestant Gains after 1600.

From about 1600, Rudolph II. was diseased in mind. The consequences of his condition were so disastrous, at last, for the government of his dominions that in 1604 it seemed as though a collapse of his rule, and, with it, of the Hapsburg power, were imminent. The emperor's nearest kinsmen sought to obviate the danger by leaguing themselves against Rudolph and preparing to supplant him through his younger brother Matthias. Rudolph not being tractable, Matthias resorted to open conflict, and to strengthen his power he had to entreat the aid of the estates of Hungary and the crown lands and to fortify himself by concessions. In 1606 he promised the Hungarian Protestants free exercise of religion, and guaranteed the Moravian estates against all manner of religious persecution. It proved more difficult for him to make terms with the Austrian estates; these demanded, before the act of homage, complete religious freedom and new statutory rights for themselves. Nevertheless Matthias reluctantly yielded in the essential points, while the estates employed this time of independence in reorganizing the church on Protestant lines and in instituting public worship and schools on all sides accordingly. The same conditions favored the estates in Bohemia; as a condition of supporting the emperor against Matthias they first obtained provisional religious freedom, and then, on July 9, 1609, the imperial brief in solemn acknowledgment of religious freedom and the ecclesiastical organization of the Protestants. Similar results were achieved for themselves by the Silesian estates. On succeeding to the crown lands and the empire in 1612, Matthias confirmed the grants by his brother.


4. Forces Working for the Roman Catholics.

The conflict between Rudolph and Matthias had much strengthened the position of the Austrian Protestants; apart from Tyrol and Inner Austria, the situation was now as favorable as at the close of the reign of Maximilian II. But there were some weighty differences. Zealous and closely compacted Roman minorities stood side by side with the Protestant estates of the realm; the Roman Church had gained internal strength; the Jesuit had founded settlements and schools in all the important centers, exerting an influence over the coming generation; the university at Graz belonged to them outright, and Vienna was transferred to them in 1617; the Capuchins likewise exerted a fruitful activity. And still tenser than formerly had grown the opposition between the government and the Protestant estates; ecclesiastical and political points of contention had become inseparably interwoven, and Protestantism and "estatism" belonged together like Catholicism and imperialism. The more the power of the estates increased, and the more distinctly the nobility strove for a federation of all the Bohemian and Austrian estates, just so much the more hostile became the attitude of the monarchy toward all rights and strivings of the estates. Matthias at first allowed things to take their course; but when he contrived, in 1617, to induce the estate to "accept" Ferdinand of Styria as prospective successor to the royal dignity, his courage rose in the direction of Counterreformation measures. The consequence was the Bohemian uprising, and Bohemia's assertion of independence of the Hapsburg dynasty; a Protestant prince, Frederick V of the Palatinate, was elected king. But with the suppression of the Bohemian insurrection, came likewise the final, decisive defeat of Austrian Protestantism. Ferdinand II., the successor of Matthias became the restorer of Roman Catholicism for all Austria, just as Matthias had been for Inner Austria two decades previously (see INNER AUSTRIA, THE REFORMATION IN).


5. Ferdinand II. His Measures in Inner Austria.

Ferdinand (b. at Graz July 9, 1578; d. in Vienna Feb. 15, 1637) had received a strictly ecclesiastical education, first at Graz, then at the University of Ingolstadt; his favorite reading, thanks to the influence of the Jesuits, was edifying tracts and legends of the saints. He succeeded his father, the Archduke Charles, in 1590 and began to reign actively in 1595, with the firm resolve to help forward the Roman Church once again to victory. At the end of June, 1598, he began to institute summary measures throughout Inner Austria. Protestant preachers and teachers were expelled, the Protestant churches were closed, Protestant subjects were directed to choose between return to Romanism and emigration; even the nobility were forbidden the exercise of Protestant worship, their confession of faith being alone left free. Later, when at the height of his success in 1628, Ferdinand enjoined the nobility to return to the Roman Church within a year at the latest. So-called "reformation committees" were active throughout the country; the Jesuits now extended their labors more widely than ever; while the prohibition of foreign schools restricted all aspirants for education to the schools of the Society of Jesus. Ferdinand allowed nothing to disturb him in carrying out his policy; neither the remonstrances of his counselors, of the emperor, nor of the Protestant estates of the realm, caused him to halt. The opposition of his nobility, the vigorous resistance of the people at large, frequently manifested, proved all in vain; his own sovereign power, energetically applied, showed itself strong enough to execute his will with promptness. By 1602, the Counterreformation was completed in the central Austrian jurisdictions, though at the cost of a serious and irretrievable decline of their prosperity, since many of the stanchest and wealthiest inhabitants had left home for the sake of their faith.


6. Ferdinand Emperor 1619-27.

When Ferdinand, after the death of Matthias in 1619, had been elected emperor, his first step, in alliance with Maximilian of Bavaria and the League, was to put down the Bohemian insurrection. Then from 1621 forward, began the systematic execution of the Counterreformation in Bohemia, Moravia, and Upper and Lower Austria. In Bohemia first the Protestant teachers and preachers were expelled from the country, attendance at Roman Catholic worship was made compulsory, and the people were given the choice between subjection and emigration; in this case the property of emigrants was confiscated. In the cities, Catholic municipal counselors were put in office, and the Protestants were excluded from all municipal and civil positions. Military billeting helped to break the spirit of the recalcitrant, while rewards were bestowed for transition to Romanism. From 1624, measures were also prosecuted against the nobility, and in July, 1627, there was issued an imperial patent to the effect that nobody should be tolerated in the land unless he were Roman Catholic, and this irrespective of his rank or station, the nobility being granted a term of six months for making the change, and a corresponding term for the sale of their properties in the event of disobeying these orders. In the course of some years Protestantism was effectually suppressed in Bohemia. Similar procedure was followed in Moravia and Lower Austria, where, however, the nobility remained exempt from compulsory conversion; not until 1641 were more severe measures inaugurated against them, because they were alleged to stand in alliance with the Swedes. In Upper Austria the Counterreformation dated only from 1624, and was virtually accomplished by 1626.


The last active manifestations of Protestant views in central Austria were set aside in 1628 by the expulsion of the Protestant nobles, to the reported number of 800. In Silesia, too, notwithstanding earlier promise to the contrary, Protestantism was antagonized from 1627 onward; although in this case only particular jurisdictions came to be Romanized anew, which the fortunes of war brought completely under the emperor's hand. To carry the Counterreformation through in Hungary was not in Ferdinand's power, but as time progressed, the peaceable Counterreformation was directed by Cardinal Peter Pázmány (q.v.), archbishop of Gran, and achieved such results that at all events the majority of the nobility again became Roman Catholic. As concerns the internal affairs of Austria, the victory of the Counterreformation was likewise the defeat of the estates and their policy; the princes needed no longer to fear the claims of self-willed estates.