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The Empire and Its Reformation – Lazarus von Schwendi’s Advice to Emperor Maximilian II (1574)

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And although such toleration of both faiths is not the regular rule and ordinary practice in government, but is rather that which the papacy and its adherents most strenuously oppose, contending, in particular, that nothing good can come of it in the long term nor can any orderly, peaceful government survive under these conditions. But this is not at all [our] view, nor was it intended that these means must or should continue and remain forever, but rather that they are only an emergency measure and a resting place [to preserve] the body politic and peace in our Fatherland and to fend off the utter disaster and ruin that looms until God the Lord sends other and better means and opportunities to hand.

[Schwendi demands a realistic policy that takes necessity into account. Licit tolerance in religious matters, he prophetically continues, is made]

more urgent and irresistible by necessity and current conditions over time so that it occurs either with the orderly involvement of the ruling and general authorities in a seemly manner, with moderation, and in a timely fashion, or that one must observe and expect it to begin and penetrate and become widespread through disobedience, upheaval, and the rebelliousness of internal wars, completely overthrowing the commonwealth.

[Schwendi gives historical examples showing that circumstances had at times forced the toleration of religions other than Christianity. In addition to an Imperial Diet, he also refers to a national council as an instrument for the reorganization of religious matters (7).]

As in the saying that one sees more clearly after a good night’s sleep, hindsight will always reveal better counsel and [show] how improvement may be effected in such matters, for the commonwealth will only survive if the authorities exercise faithful care and zeal in dealing with general concerns, and one must never give up hope of God’s grace and succor.

I therefore most humbly ask Your Majesty to interpret and to receive everything that has been said above with gracious indulgence, and not to think that I am interfering in such weighty matters out of arrogance and presumption, but only with the most humble, loyal intentions, which I have and ought to have toward Your Majesty as my natural, highest, and most beloved authority and toward the Fatherland, and [to recognize] that it is done so that Your Majesty might be roundly and openly reminded of the current state of affairs and events and have, as a result, that much more reason to consider these things and seek to help and choose and select the best possible option.

And I commend myself most humbly to Your Majesty.

Dated the 15th of May A.D. 1574.

(7) There had never been a “national” council of the Church in the Empire. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, appeals to this ideal body were frequently made – trans.

Source of German text: Des Lazarus von Schwendi Denkschrift über die politische Lage des Deutschen Reiches von 1574, edited by Eugen v. Frauenholz. München: Beck, 1939, pp. 5-38 (Münchener Historische Abhandlungen. Zweite Reihe: Kriegs- und Heeresgeschichte, Volume 10); reprinted in Bernd Roeck, ed., Gegenreformation und Dreißigjähriger Krieg 1555-1648. Deutsche Geschichte in Quellen und Darstellung, edited by Rainer A. Müller, Volume 4. Stuttgart: P. Reclam, 1996, pp. 58-73.

English translation: Heidi Eberhardt Bate

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