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Counter-Reformation, the Roman Catholic efforts, mostly supported by state power and promoted by new religious orders, to re-convert the population to Roman Catholicism after the Reformation. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) had created the doctrinal basis for Catholic restoration and new approaches to pastoral work. The Peace of Augsburg of 1555 gave the local princes the right to decide to which creed their subjects were to adhere. While the Habsburgs themselves were hostile to Protestantism, they were repeatedly forced by the Ottoman threat to make concessions to the largely Protestant Estates. At first, they sent Catholic priests from the lands that had remained Catholic out to the cities and market towns that formed part of the Habsburg domain ("Kammergut") and relied in particular on the Jesuits, who had been called to Austria by Ferdinand I; the Jesuits founded monasteries and schools ("colleges") in Vienna (1551, 1563), Innsbruck (1562), Graz (1573), Hall in Tirol (1573), Leoben (1585), Linz (1602), Klagenfurt (1605), Krems (1615), Judenburg (1620) and Steyr (1631). They were followed by Capuchins, Franciscans, Minim Brothers, Servites and others. For his own lands, Ferdinand I (d. 1564) had already decreed a Reformation Order on the basis of the Catholic faith in 1548. Political Counter-Reformation started in Tirol in 1567. At the Munich Conference of 1579, Karl, the ruler of Inneroesterreich, Ferdinand of Tirol and Wilhelm of Bavaria agreed to gradually suppress Protestantism in their lands. In 1576 Emperor Rudolf II initiated Conter-Reformation measures in Vienna and Lower Austria, which were to be effected by Archduke Ernst in his capacity as stadtholder. In 1578 the governmental Reformation Commission was created, which was entrusted in 1589 to the Administrator of the Diocese of Wiener Neustadt, M. Klesl, who was later to become Cardinal. Conflict between the Habsburg brothers Rudolf II and Matthias impeded the Counter-Reformation in Lower and Upper Austria. In Upper Austria, Governor H. J. Loebl tried in 1598 to reinstate the Catholic faith and suppress the Lutherans and the Peasant Revolt of 1594-1597 which had been triggered by the attempt to recatholicise the land; in 1601/02 he subdued the Lutheran mine workers and peasants of the Salzkammergut region.

The fate of Protestantism in Austria was decided by the Battle of the White Mountain near Prague (1920), on account of which the Protestant Estates lost the privilege of the territorial formula "cuius regio, eius religio". In 1627 Protestant predicants and school-teachers were expelled from Lower Austria. In Upper Austria, which was under Bavarian rule as the result of a pledge between 1620 and 1628, Stadtholder A. Herberstorff enforced Counter-Reformation with particular violence, whereupon the Frankenburger Wuerfelspiel triggered the major Peasants' Revolt of 1625/26 ( Peasants' Revolts). Again, many Protestants were exiled. Counter-Reformation measures under Archduke Karl II were particularly harsh and pervasive in Inneroesterreich (Styria, Carinthia, Carniola - "Inner Austria"), where the Jesuit University of Graz (created in 1585) formed the spiritual and intellectual centre. In cities and market towns of Inneroesterreich, Protestant rites were forbidden in 1580, the Protestant school foundation was closed in 1598 and a year later Ferdinand II exiled the Protestants. In 1628 Protestant noblemen in Inneroesterreich were confronted with the choice between converting to Catholicism or emigration. In Salzburg, Archbishop Michael von Kuenburg (1554-1560) started expelling Protestant burghers and craftsmen. The provincial synod of Salzburg of 1569 initiated the further recatholicisation of the region and set an example for the reconversion of the "Inner-Austrian" lands. Archbishop Count Lodron (1619-1653) of Salzburg pursued Counter-Reformation policies in his realm. Religious and pastoral efforts directed against the remaining Protestants continued until the Edict of Toleration.

The Counter-Reformation caused an estimated 100,000 Protestants to leave Austria. The most assiduous promoter of the Catholic faith was Emperor Ferdinand II (1619-1637), who practically eradicated Protestantism in Austria, except for a few enclaves. His efforts were continued by his successor, Ferdinand III, if somewhat less vigorously. Even in the 18th century sanctions such as forced emigration to Hungary and Transylvania were imposed on clandestine Protestants. It was only through Joseph II's Edict of Toleration (1781) that Protestantism was legalised in Austria. In the course of the Conter-Reformation, the absolutist princes ( Absolutism) asserted themselves vis-à-vis the Estates and thus forged Austrian unity, which was the prerequisite for a successful defence against the Turks. Culturally, the Counter-Reformation was succeeded by the era of the Austrian Baroque.


J. Wodka, Kirche in Oesterreich, 1959; E. W. Zeeden, Gegenreformation, 1973; G. Reingrabner, Die Protestanten in Oesterreich, 1981; F. Dolinar, M. Liebmann et al. (eds.), Katholische Reform und Gegenreformation in Inneroesterreich Katoliška prenova in protireformacija v notranje-avstrijskih deželah 1564-1628. Riforma cattolica e controriforma nell"Austria interna 1564-1628, 1994.