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The Counterreformation in Inner Austria (1579-80)

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(B) Archduke Charles's Counterreformation Decree for Inner Austria (December 10, 1580)

To inform the Catholic clergy etc. [ . . . ] on behalf of His Princely Grace [ . . . ] N. how they, the aforementioned two estates of lords and knights, have recently submitted their grievances in religious matters to Your Princely Grace and asked for clarification of the same. Also how the prelates and clergy came before Your Princely Grace and complained bitterly that they are oppressed and attacked in many ways contrary to what is right, that they did not know how they could continue to bear this behavior, and with the most earnest pleas and supplications [asked] that [Your Princely Grace] truly put an end to these difficulties and maintain them in their traditional rights and entitlements, just as Your Princely Grace graciously promised in the act of homage and as is otherwise right and proper in ecclesiastical and secular law.

The bishops and other clerical princes of the empire holding property in the lands [of Inner Austria] have often appealed to Your Grace and clearly told You that if Your Princely Grace allows things to continue in such disorder and does not maintain them in those [traditional rights] that have come down to them from their predecessors, they will be forced to appeal to a higher authority and to solicit the requisite intervention and change.

In addition, Your Princely Grace could tell of the many complaints daily brought before You (and giving You not a little trouble) by pastors and poor peasants on account of the unconscionable innovations that have been forced upon them in religious matters in various places. Yet because they are otherwise shrewd and familiar with [conditions in] the land, the [aforementioned] magnates and knights, would like to set Your Princely Grace aside and follow [the innovations] without incurring any other burdens. Since making allowances for them in religious matters (which are well-known) (7), with respect to very many of them, Your Princely Grace has been almost completely deprived of the obedience they owe. For whatever this one or that one desires, he is able to do under the guise of the concessions and, in particular, to take by force from others what is theirs, which they and their ancestors have possessed with good and valid titles from time immemorial. And when Your Princely Grace orders them to cease, as You are obliged before God to do, and to return what they have appropriated to its rightful owners, they begin at once to argue not only with the [owners], but also with the officials [sent to enforce this command] and others. They force the officials to take them to law for their actions, as though You were a painted or paper lord.

In addition, Your Princely Grace has heretofore continuously suffered their preachers not only to blaspheme horribly against our Savior and Sanctifier, the Lord Jesus Himself, in His most reverend Sacrament of the altar and by calling Him the living devil, but also to stigmatize, damn, and slander His Papal Holiness, His Imperial Majesty, Your Princely Grace, Your Lord Brother, and Cousins together with all of their religious confederates, particularly in this Your Princely Grace’s capital city of Graz, as idols, mamelukes, traitorous and apostate Christians and the worst, most worthless men to walk the earth. [They do this] publicly, shamelessly, and in such an unchristian manner that it is astonishing that our Lord God permits it to happen. All this is, in the first instance, contrary to His Divine Majesty’s command, and Your Princely Grace will not find [any evidence] that this has ever before happened to any Christian ruler, still less that he tolerated and suffered the same, as it is contrary to all sound policies, Imperial ordinances, and statutes in which this kind of blasphemy and the damning, rebuking, and maligning of legitimate authority and its allies as well as seizing [goods] by violence, overcoming [others] by force, and usurping [others’ prerogatives] are forbidden in the strongest terms. Therefore, according to all reason, [it is] an indisputable truth that if any ruler or prince tolerates such things in his own lands and among his subjects, and does not avail himself of the sword given to him by our Lord God for the punishment of evil and the protection of good, his rule cannot long endure. Rather, he must precede and lead his subjects as is fitting, or relinquish his position to others, as is often seen in various places.

As, indeed, Your Princely Grace and Your praiseworthy ancestors have always behaved [well] toward the faithful territories still loyal to You, and accorded to [Your subjects] the treatment to which they, as pious, upright people, are entitled. And You have done this without oversight, much less suspicion. And yet Your Princely Grace is nevertheless opposed and pestered, because some undertake to prescribe whom they will or will not tolerate in the land, what sort of retainers You should engage and retain, further, which embassies You should receive or dismiss. For this reason, Your Princely Grace should properly take notice of these and other things and not allow everything to go in one ear and out the other. Your Princely Grace may then truthfully recount that You were warned by distinguished people who had Your Princely Grace’s best interests at heart [that if You] tolerate and do not suspend and abolish the innovations and changes in religious matters, such as have occurred over some time, it will be necessary to undertake and initiate countermeasures that Your Princely Grace and Your people would find extremely onerous.

Your Princely Grace has now been all the more severely shocked by this, because You and Your praiseworthy forefathers long ago learned to Your cost to what extent You might rely upon Your neighbors, who – and may our Lord God punish them for it – would have liked, as they say, to drown the most praiseworthy house of Austria in a teaspoon. With regard to them and to others, this matter is now of even greater concern because religious issues are involved, [and religious disputes have] often brought about the complete destruction of very powerful kingdoms, principalities, and lands both historically and in our own times. Your Princely Grace has for some time pondered all of this in great disquiet, taken it to heart, and, God knows, conscientiously considered the ways and means by which [such destruction] might be avoided as well as fervently asking His Divine Grace for the help of His Holy Spirit, who has revealed to Your Princely Grace the best and most prudent [course]. And upon this faithful consideration, [You] could discover no better counsel than to formulate a resolution in these matters, so that the clergy, the magnates and knights, and Your Princely Grace’s subjects alike might be satisfied and so that the bishops and especially His Papal Highness, others [of Your] neighbors, and (above all) Your Princely Grace Yourself may rest quiet and content in Your Christian conscience. Your Princely Grace can especially console Yourself with the assistance and contributions [without which] the archenemy would break in and take the upper hand, and [without which] Your Princely Grace could not ward off the eternal laments, plagues, and burdens [that would otherwise arise], but would ultimately allow everything to deteriorate into confusion and would doubtless be forced, along with Your loyal lands, to suffer ruinous, irreparable damage and destruction at the hands of heathens and [other] Christians.

Because, then, Your Princely Grace can testify to this in all truth and has ever had no other intention toward his loyal subjects, than to act generously in all circumstances out of good Christian zeal, and [because] Your Princely Grace wants to prevent and avoid an impending general destruction to the best of Your ability, Your Princely Grace wishes the following hereby to be generally set by statute, commanded, mandated, and established in God’s name and by Your authority as territorial ruler:

First, that only the time-honored, Catholic, Christian, Roman religion shall be practiced in Your and Your religious allies’ capital and other cities, market towns, territories, towns, and villages without exception, and adherents of the other [Protestant] religion shall not attempt or undertake any conceivable measures contrary to this.

(7) An allusion to the Pacification of Graz of 1572, confirmed in 1578, which granted the magnates and knights only a free exercise of religion in their own residences – trans.

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