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Emperor Joseph II’s Toleration Patent for the Lands of the Austrian Empire (1781)

This important ruling, formulated as an official instruction to the various provincial chancelleries, applied only to Protestant Lutheran and Calvinist as well as Greek Orthodox Christians in those parts of the Austrian state where they had not previously (as they had in the Kingdom of Hungary) enjoyed freedom of worship and the right of settlement as Austrian subjects. Despite these restrictions, and the further, humbling limitations the edict imposed on non-Catholics (so as to minimize the Catholic Church’s opposition), the Toleration Patent was a dramatic and revolutionary step, signaling a major victory of Enlightenment principles in the program of Austrian “enlightened absolutism.” A surprisingly large number of hitherto self-concealed crypto-Protestants emerged into public light, and conversions from Catholicism became so frequent that the authorities took steps to hinder them. After Joseph’s death in 1790, Catholic conservative quarters urged the repeal of the Patent, but it remained in force nonetheless.

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The Toleration Patent

My dear Lieges!

Being convinced, on the one hand, that all violence to conscience is harmful, and, on the other, of the great benefit accruing to religion and to the State from a true Christian tolerance, We have found Ourselves moved to grant to the adherents of the Lutheran and Calvinist religions, and also to the non-Uniat Greek religion, everywhere, the appropriate private practice of their faith, regardless of whether it had been previously customary or introduced, or not. The Catholic religion alone shall continue to enjoy the prerogative of the public practice of its faith, but members of the two Protestant religions and the existing non-Uniat Greek shall be permitted the private practice thereof in any place where the number of persons, as defined below, and the resources of the inhabitants make it practicable, and where the said non-Catholics do not already enjoy the right of practicing it publicly. In particular, We allow:

Firstly, non-Catholic subjects, where there are one hundred families, even if they are not all domiciled in the locality of the place of worship or of the pastor, but part of them live as much as some hours’ distance away, to build a place of worship and school of their own, and those living further away may attend the nearest place of worship (inside Our Hereditary Dominions) as often as they wish, also the pastors belonging to Our Hereditary Dominions may visit the members of their congregations, and may administer the necessary instruction and spiritual and material comfort to the sick, but may not, under pain of severest punishment, prevent a Catholic priest from being called in, if any sick person wishes it.

In respect to the place of worship, We order expressly that it shall not have any chimes, bells, or towers, unless such already exist, or public entrance from the street signifying a church, but otherwise they are free to build it of whatever material they will and shall be completely free to administer their sacraments and celebrate Divine service, both in the place itself and conveyed to the sick in the Chapels of Ease, and to conduct funerals with their pastor in attendance.

Secondly, they are free to appoint their own schoolmasters, who are maintained by the parish, but shall be subject to the supervision of the Provincial Schools Directorate in respect of methods of instruction and discipline. In particular, We allow:

Thirdly, to the non-Catholic inhabitants of a locality, the choice of their pastors, if they pay for and support the same, but where the authorities provide these services they must enjoy the right of presentation; but We reserve to Ourselves the right of confirmation, in such fashion that where there are Protestant Consistories, the confirmation is given through them, and where there are none, granted through the existing Protestant Consistories in Teschen or Hungary, until conditions call for the establishment in a Province of its own Consistory.

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