Reformation-Era Augsburg: The Tense Stage of Christian Conflict

(Perlach, Augsburg marketplace in 1550, Heinrich Vogtherr II (1513-1568)[Public domain], via Creative Commons)

 

 

Strained Coexistence, Theocracy and Religious Politics

A Time of Church and State

The Protestant Reformations occurred in a time when there was very little separation between church and state. The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and his predecessors, were seen as the defenders of Christendom. Henry VIII of England placed himself at the head of the Anglican Church. Evangelist reformers, such as Ulrich Zwingli, Martin Bucer and John Calvin, imposed a quasi-theocracy upon their cities of Zurich, Strasbourg, and Geneva. Martin Luther also supported a closely-tied church and state, suggesting that the nobles lead the pace of reformation in their domains. The German city of Augsburg, like most other places in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, followed this trend of a closely-allied church and state.

 

Dueling Denominations

Augsburg was an imperial city within the Holy Roman Empire. The city was not ruled by a prince, such as a count or duke, but was ruled by an honorable council that was under direct jurisdiction of the emperor. According to B. Ann Tlusty, author of Augsburg During the Reformation Era: An Anthology of Sources, Augsburg allowed both Catholicism and Lutheranism within the city limits. It was also the site of the diets (theological debates) of 1518, 1530, and 1555.  The Augsburg Confession—a written Protestant creed of the city—resulted from the 1530 diet, and Charles V’s abdication of the Imperial throne in 1555 led to the Peace of Augsburg, which let each prince in Germany determine the state religion in their own territory (1). After the Peace of Augsburg, the city required its citizens to choose between the Lutheran Augsburg Confession and Catholicism. Prior to that, the city government encouraged whichever religious faith was prevalent among the members of the Honorable Council. This resulted in political competition between evangelist and Catholic politicians on the council.

 

(“Luther at the Diet of Worms,” Anton von Werner (1843-1915) [Public domain], via Creative Commons)

 

The Imperial City of Augsburg’s direct ties to the Emperor kept the city near the center of the action during the Protestant Reformation. Despite the Edict of Worms outlawing Martin Luther’s theology in 1521, a Zwinglian-dominant Honorable Council eventually came to power. Protestants continued to maintain a political hegemony in the city following the 1530 Diet of Augsburg. Emperor Charles V, however, was able to bolster the power of the city’s Catholics in the years before the Peace of Augsburg. The Catholics of the city also gained direct Imperial support during the Thirty Years War from 1618 to 1648. During the Imperial occupation of Augsburg from 1629 to 1632, there was a decree that Augsburg’s populace, “in accordance with the abolishment of the practice of the Augsburg Confession here, such secret congregations and sermons in hidden corners are forbidden, and instead His Royal Majesty has earnestly commanded that Sundays and holidays be spent in church listening to the public sermon” (2). The Holy Roman Emperor remained closely allied with the Catholic Church, banning the Lutheran Augsburg Confession and enforcing Catholicism.

 

Protestants in Power

The City of Augsburg fluidly changed between the religious sects as different politicians took hold of the Honorable Council. According to Tlusty, from 1537 to around 1547, the council was heavily Zwinglian under the leadership of the mayors, Hans Welser and Mang Sietz. Under the Protestant government of Augsburg, the Catholics of the city were viewed suspiciously and pressured to abstain from Catholic rituals.  Among legislation passed by the Zwinglian-ruled Honorable Council were many religious decrees. In 1541, the council pressed for a Zwinglian lifestyle among the populace, decreeing, “An Honorable Council also herewith renews all of their previous ordinances and laws regarding gambling, blasphemy, vanity, usury, slander, idleness, going for walks and gambling during the sermon” and asks for the populace to continue praying and to remember God’s punishment for the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (3). A later decree in the year 1543, stated, “No one should be found on holiday mornings strolling, playing games, or chatting on the squares or in front of the gates” (4). There is very little separation of church and state when a government restricts Sunday morning strolls and asks the city to ponder the fates of sinful cities.

 

 

(Portrait of Huldrych/Ulrich Zwingli after his death 1531, by Hans Asper (1499-1571) [Public domain], via Creative Commons)

 

Catholic Counter-Attack

Emperor Charles V, a Catholic, ended the reign of the Protestant government in Augsburg. Tlusty notes that Charles V decreased Protestant power in the city with a new civic constitution in 1548. Assisted by the Emperor’s popularity and support, a Catholic Honorable Council took hold of Augsburg, but the Catholic government tried to coexist with the Protestants while in power. To keep peace, the Catholic-ruled Honorable Council censored hostile works against both denominations—Catholicism and Protestantism. According to Tlusty, written works and political cartoons were subject to censorship to prevent outrages in the Protestant and Catholic communities (5). The government of Augsburg remained closely tied with religion, using censorship to keep peace between Catholicism and Protestantism within its boundaries, and also to keep the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor from personally silencing the tensions through military means.

 

(Equestrian portrait of the Emperor Charles V- Google Art Project, by Anthony van Dyck (199-1641) [Public domain], via Creative Commons)

 

The Catholic-ruled Honorable Council’s desire to coexist with their rivals did not stop the Protestants from criticizing the Catholic government. According to Tlusty, one such criticism targeted the new Gregorian calendar, named after Pope Gregory XIII. When the German emperor accepted the calendar in 1582, Augsburg followed suit and adopted the new calendar, as well. Protestants in Augsburg favored the old Julian calendar over the new Gregorian calendar—mainly because the pope endorsed the Gregorian calendar. The Catholic Honorable Council solved the issue in 1584 by letting the Protestants follow the Julian calendar until Pentecost. After Pentecost, the Protestants were required to follow the Gregorian calendar (6).  Statements made during the Inquisitions held in 1584 contain insights into what Protestant Augsburgers thought of the Catholic authorities. David Weiss was asked if Protestantism was being oppressed. He said, “they have been noticeably impeded by the removal of the four former councilmen and the church elders, and because preachers were appointed who are not of the Augsburg Confession, and also because they are trying to force upon them new, unusual directives” (7).  The Peace of Augsburg allowed for the existence of both Protestantism and Catholicism within the city, but Catholics still had an advantage when the German emperor was Catholic.

 

Common Ground

Protestants and Catholics may have felt oppressed by each other, but the Protestant and Catholic-ruled Honorable Councils all disapproved of the more radical faiths. According to Tlusty, the Catholic Honorable Council viewed the writings of the Anabaptists, Schwenkfeld and John Calvin as heretical. The only sects accepted in the city were the Augsburg Confession and Catholicism (8). The Honorable Council, under Protestant control, outlawed the Anabaptists. Tlusty writes that Anabaptism was outlawed in 1527, which made “practicing it, meeting about it, teaching it, or harboring Anabaptist preachers and teachers” all illegal under Augsburg law (9). Augsburg’s strict rules of choosing either Catholicism or the Augsburg Confession can be seen in the interrogations of David Altenstetter. The interrogator wrote, “only two religions, the Catholic and the Augsburg Confession, are allowed here,” and when Altenstetter responded that he attended and liked both religious sects, the interrogator noted, “he is committed neither to the Catholic religion nor the Augsburg Confession, he should be clear about what religion he then professes” (10). The city government, after the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, may have tried to let the Augsburg Confession and Catholicism coexist, but they did not want any other sects practicing within the city.

 

Conclusion

Augsburg played a central role in the Reformation, housing multiple diets, and adding its name to the Augsburg Confession and the Peace of Augsburg. The city printed “nearly one third of the 10,000 or so such prints that appeared between 1518 and 1530” and experienced almost all of what the Protestant Reformation had to offer (11).  The governments of Augsburg—both Protestant and Catholic—constantly remained allied with religion. The Honorable Councils dictated the religious beliefs of the city’s populace, and after the Peace of Augsburg, Catholic and Protestant princes could enforce their preferred religion within their lands. Governments were not only allied to religion, they had control over the religion.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

 

thehistorianshut.com

Endnotes

  1. B Ann Tlusty. Augsburg During the Reformation Era: An Anthology of Sources. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 2012. Pg. XVII.
  2. B Ann Tlusty. Augsburg During the Reformation Era: An Anthology of Sources.Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 2012. Pg. 64.
  3. B Ann Tlusty. Augsburg During the Reformation Era: An Anthology of Sources.Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 2012. Pg. 32.
  4. B Ann Tlusty. Augsburg During the Reformation Era: An Anthology of Sources.Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 2012. Pg. 32.
  5. B Ann Tlusty. Augsburg During the Reformation Era: An Anthology of Sources.Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 2012. Pg. 34.
  6. B Ann Tlusty. Augsburg During the Reformation Era: An Anthology of Sources.Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 2012. Pg. 35.
  7. B Ann Tlusty. Augsburg During the Reformation Era: An Anthology of Sources.Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 2012. Pg. 48.
  8. B Ann Tlusty. Augsburg During the Reformation Era: An Anthology of Sources.Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 2012. Pg. 34.
  9. B Ann Tlusty. Augsburg During the Reformation Era: An Anthology of Sources. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 2012. Pg. 25.
  10. B Ann Tlusty. Augsburg During the Reformation Era: An Anthology of Sources. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 2012. Pg. 57-58.
  11. B Ann Tlusty. Augsburg During the Reformation Era: An Anthology of Sources. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 2012. Pg. 3.

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