Augsburg, Religious Peace of (1555)

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AUGSBURG, RELIGIOUS PEACE OF (1555). Enacted by the imperial diet (the general assembly of the Estates of the Holy Roman Empire) at Augsburg in 1555, the Religious Peace was the most significant law created in the Holy Roman Empire between the Golden Bull of 1356 and the Peace of Westphalia of 1648. These three laws formed the empire's constitution until 1803. On 25 September 1555 at Augsburg, the imperial diet approved twenty-four paragraphs to govern the status of the Lutheran Confession of Augsburg and its adherents until such date as the religious schism might be settled. The Religious Peace, which aimed to neutralize the danger of war that arose from the schism, governed official relations between the Catholic and Protestant imperial Estates until the opening of the Thirty Years' War in 1618. It was renewed with modifications by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

The Peace transferred the ius reformandi ("right of reformation") from the imperial to the territorial and municipal levels by means of a principle, first proclaimed by the Diet of Speyer in 1526, that until the church could settle the schism, each ruler should act in a way such that he would be responsible to God and the emperor. In 1586 Joachim Stephan (15441623), a Greifswald law professor, summarized this principle in a famous phrase, "whose the regime, his the religion" (cuius regio, eius religio). The Estates, the emperor's direct subjects, were to enjoy this right, which allowed them to force dissenting subjects to conform or emigrate, with four exceptions: (1) Calvinists, Anabaptists, and other dissenters were excluded from the Peace's terms and protection; (2) in imperial free cities where both religions were practiced, confessional parity in the regime was to be preserved and the right of each to exercise its religion assured; (3) if converted to the Protestant religion, ecclesiastical princes (bishops, abbots, abbesses) were forbidden to enforce the right of reformation on their temporal subjects, and they had to resign their offices (Ecclesiastical Reservation); (4) Protestant nobles and burghers in the temporal lands of ecclesiastical princes might continue to practice their religion (Ferdinandine Declaration). The Protestant Estates never formally recognized the third exception, which, if enforced, would have prohibited the conversion of episcopal and abbatial sees and lands to their faith. The Catholics did not recognize the fourth exception, which they considered a gross violation of the right of reformation confirmed to them by the Peace. Two other laws of 1555 restored the Empire's supreme court (the Imperial Chamber Court) and reformed the Imperial Circles, regional administrative organs for police, financial, and military affairs.

The Religious Peace was successful within limits. For sixty or more years it withstood pressures from the religious wars that erupted in the 1560s in France and in the Netherlands, as well as from the rising confessional tensions caused by the Calvinist challenge to Lutheranism since the 1560s and the revival of Catholicism since 1580. These tensions caused a cessation of the diet after 1613 and crippled the Chamber Court and the Circles, the chief agencies for enforcing the Religious Peace. A series of violent incidentsProtestant attempts on the sees of Cologne and Strasbourg between 1583 and 1595 and provocations by both sides in the free citiesmade clear that the two principal exceptions to the Religious Peace remained unsettled.

The Peace of Westphalia, a pair of treaties that ended the Thirty Years' War in 1648, restored the provisions of the Religious Peace with two important modifications: the Reformed (Calvinist) confession was included as a third licit religion; and princes could no longer force dissenting subjects to emigrate. The reform of the diet into a continuously sitting institution (1663), the suspension of majority rule in religious matters in favor of negotiations between two confessional caucuses of Estates (itio in partes), and the restoration of the Imperial Chamber Court at Wetzlar greatly reduced the religious schism as a source of public contention. The 10,500 Lutherans who in 17301731 left the archbishop of Salzburg's lands rather than conform to the Catholic religion, were the Empire's last (illegally expelled) religious exiles.

While an important conclusion to the first phase of the Reformation, the Religious Peace could not be enforced to a degree sufficient to spare the empire a second religious war. Even for its first quarter century, the Peace's importance as a symbol of a liberal irenicism, later destroyed by the Catholic Counter-Reformation, has sometimes been greatly exaggerated. It is more accurate to say that the Peace was exactly what it purported to be, a temporary agreement to last until the achievement of a settlementwhich never cameto the religious schism. Only by removing the schism's effects from imperial public life, which happened after 1648, was the Empire's internal peace restored.

See also Charles V (Holy Roman Empire) ; Ferdinand I (Holy Roman Empire) ; Free and Imperial Cities ; Holy Roman Empire ; Holy Roman Empire Institutions ; Reformation, Protestant ; Westphalia, Peace of (1648) .


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Hermann Tüchle. "The Peace of Augsburg: New Order or Lull in the Fighting?" In Government in Reformation Europe 15201560, edited by Henry J. Cohn, pp. 145156. New York, 1971.

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Thomas A. Brady, Jr.