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Recatholicization describes a process within the history of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation . The Counter-Reformation was above all a movement of intellectual confrontation with the Reformation with the aim of limiting its effects and ultimately canceling them. Recatholization, on the other hand, represented an attempt made by power-political means since the 1540s to win back Protestant territories for Catholicism , after the intellectual conflict with Protestantism did not lead to any result in this sense.

Historical overview

Since the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, the principle applied in the empire that the sovereign determined the denomination of his subjects ( Cuius regio, eius religio ) . The background to this principle was the common conviction of the time that a mixed denominational territory was not viable and peaceful and not at all desirable.

In this context, re-catholicization meant the reintroduction of Catholic worship in a parish church , or in all parish churches in an area in which Lutheran or Reformed services had previously been held, on the instructions of the Catholic ruler.

Specifically, this happened through the expulsion of the Lutheran or Reformed, and the appointment of Catholic pastors. The “parish priests” who had been Protestant for two to three generations and were used to the Bible as translated by Martin Luther, to worship in their mother tongue, and to the Protestant catechism, were forced to become Catholics. The Latin mass, the ban on priestly marriage and the lay chalice (i.e. the Lord's Supper with bread and wine for all believers), the veneration of saints, the processions and pilgrimages - all of this was new to them or only known from family tradition. You were suddenly considered Catholic again.

Teaching, that is, catechesis , in the new and imposed denomination for these people, was often carried out by the Jesuits in the Catholic territories .



Archduke Charles II was one of the driving forces behind the re-Catholicization

About a quarter of the population in the Holy Roman Empire was affected by re-Catholicization . The focus was on the direct Habsburg possessions . There were also some spiritual territories in the empire and Wittelsbach areas.

During the 1570s the recatholicization began in ecclesiastical territories or related areas such as Kurtrier , monastery of Fulda , Bishopric of Würzburg , Bishopric of Bamberg or to Kurmainz belonging Eichsfeld .

The first phase of increased re-Catholicization took place between 1579 and 1609. In the Habsburg lands, the religiously tolerant Maximilian II made possible the spread of Protestantism. In 1572 his brother Karl von Innerösterreich had to meet the Protestants in the Graz pacification against his will in his area.

In 1579 there was the Munich Conference at which, in addition to Charles of Inner Austria, the papal nuncio and representatives of the Duchy of Bavaria , the Archbishopric of Salzburg and Tyrol agreed on a strategy for the re-Catholicization of the Habsburg territories. The Catholic authorities were supposed to control the printing works, gradually weaken the agreements with the estates in their favor, use the patronage rights in the Catholic sense, arrest and expel Protestant preachers, and prevent the building of Protestant churches. Protestant officials should give way to Catholics.

Inner Austria

On this basis, Karl pursued the re-Catholicization in Inner Austria . In addition to the anti-Protestant measures, such as the ban on attending Protestant churches, he founded the University of Graz and banned attending foreign, especially Protestant universities. These measures were intensified during the reign of Ferdinand II . Reformation commissions were set up. These should expel Protestant clergy and teachers, replace Protestant officials with Catholics and change the order of the cities in the Catholic sense. Resistance to these measures was regarded as a riot and was suppressed militarily if necessary. The preachers were driven out and Protestant books were burned . The churches were partially destroyed. The Protestant schools were also closed. Catholic priests were installed in place of the Protestant preachers. People were required to attend their conversion sermons. Those who were not ready to convert lost their civil rights and had to emigrate. In the cities, granting citizenship was dependent on the approval of the Catholic priest. A not inconsiderable number of people went into exile. By 1609, the re-Catholicization in Inner Austria was completed.

Spiritual Territories

Title copper for Caspar Christian Voigt by Elspes Agnitio veritatis religionis (Cologne, 1682). The author who converted to Catholicism is sitting in the carriage. This crushes the reformers Luther and Calvin. (Original today in the Hildesheim Cathedral Library)

The failed attempt by Gebhard I von Waldburg to enforce Protestantism in Kurköln was decisive for the re-Catholicization of the Catholic territories in north-west Germany . During the Cologne War in 1583, the spiritual reservation was enforced. With Ernst von Bayern , Kurköln and its neighboring countries , the Duchy of Westphalia and Vest Recklinghausen , were ruled by descendants from the Catholic line of the Wittelsbach family until the 18th century. Contrary to the express provision of the Council of Trent , the Archbishops of Cologne were allowed to take over other spiritual dominions at the same time with the aim of re-Catholicization. The archbishops were also able to promote the re-catholicization in the dioceses of Münster and Paderborn as well as in other dioceses such as Hildesheim . However, this proved to be a tedious task. In the archbishopric itself, re-Catholicization lasted until the 18th century. Similar recatholization processes took place in Kurmainz and in the Hochstift Würzburg . In Mainz, Johann Adam von Bicken banned Protestant worship and reintroduced the Catholic rite. Important offices were reserved only for Catholics. The situation was similar under Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn in the Würzburg monastery. There, too, Protestant officials were replaced by Catholics, and those who did not want to convert in the previously Protestant cities had to go into exile.

Bohemia and Habsburg hereditary lands

Reformation patent from Ferdinand II, with which he ordered the expulsion of all Protestant preachers and schoolmasters in 1624

There was also change in the Kingdom of Bohemia . There was only a minority of around 10-15 percent Catholic. The Jesuits were allowed to settle under Ferdinand I. They founded a second university to train a Catholic elite. Recatholization gained supporters among the nobility. These made sure that their subjects also changed their faith. They also held high state offices. Rudolf II , under pressure from the papal nuncio, turned to an intensified policy of recatholization, particularly from the 1590s, but met with resistance. The majesty of 1609 interrupted this development. Even afterwards, some ecclesiastical princes, such as the Prince-Bishop of Breslau Charles of Austria , tried to recatholize their territories. These measures contributed to the Prague Defenestration and the Bohemian Uprising . After the victory on the White Mountain in 1620, the measures tried and tested in Inner Austria and other areas were also applied in Bohemia and the associated areas. Apart from Silesia, where there were special conditions under pressure from the Elector of Saxony, re-Catholicization was enforced in Bohemia, Moravia and the County of Glatz . As elsewhere, the Protestant officials were replaced by Catholics. The Protestant nobility largely lost their property and had to leave the country. The Catholic Church was declared the only authorized denomination. While citizens and nobles still had the option of emigrating, peasants were forbidden to emigrate.

In the chronicle of the town of Falkenau an der Eger in Bohemia, the articles on the re-Catholicization of the town's citizens are listed for the year 1626:

  1. Whoever gives residence to a predicant should lose his goods and his life.
  2. Whoever mocks a Catholic pastor, his sermon words or gestures, should be banished and be forfeited of all goods.
  3. Anyone who allows non-Catholic services to be held in his home should be banished and be forfeited of all goods.
  4. If a housefather does not go to mass on Sundays and holidays, he has to give four wax lights to the church.
  5. Anyone who secretly teaches the youth in his home should be deprived of everything and then led out to town by the henchman.
  6. No human will should be valid who is not of a Catholic religion.
  7. No non-Catholic child is allowed to learn a trade.
  8. Anyone who speaks or sings improperly about God, the Blessed Virgin, or about church customs, should be punished for life and lost his goods without any grace.

It is reported in the chronicle that citizens in most cities so stubbornly resisted these articles that more severe means of coercion were used. 12–20 soldiers were put in their houses, and they had to be provided with food, drink and whatever else they wanted until the residents of the house became or promised to become Catholic. In this case the pastor made a white cross on the front door and the soldiers moved into the house of the next opposed citizen, "which then led the people to extreme despair, left house and farm and pulled out of the country in heaps".

Because the nobility in Lower and Upper Austria had joined the rebels in Bohemia, similar measures were taken there too. The Protestant aristocrats either had to leave the country or prevented them from being driven out by emigrating. The goods were sold or pledged. Nobles from other parts of the Habsburg monarchy took the place of the old local nobility. Numerous Protestant nobles and citizens also went into exile from Vienna . It is estimated that 150,000 people in Bohemia and around 100,000 in Austria had to leave the country for these reasons.


Recatholization should also be implemented in Silesia. This happened first in the areas directly under the Crown. In the Peace of Prague , Protestant religious practice was only allowed in the city of Wroclaw and in the Duchies of the Protestant Piasts . These provisions were confirmed in the Peace of Westphalia of 1648. However, so-called Protestant peace churches were allowed at the gates of Schweidnitz , Jauer and Glogau . After the death of the last Protestant duke in 1675, the Habsburgs began to recatholize the last duchies. As a result, about a third of the churches were converted to Catholicism. However, under pressure from Karl XII , Leopold I. of Sweden in 1707 promise a return to the denominational conditions of 1648. Due to the efforts of foreign powers, two religious groups of roughly equal strength existed side by side in Silesia, even if the attempts at recatholization continued until the Prussian conquest in 1740.

Palatinate areas

In addition to the Habsburgs, the Wittelsbachers continued to excel in re-catholicization. After his conversion in 1614, Wolfgang Wilhelm von Pfalz-Neuburg pushed the re-catholicization in Pfalz-Neuburg forward with harshness. After 1619 he tried something similar in Jülich-Berg on the Lower Rhine . While his policies were successful in his home countries, this was not entirely successful on the Lower Rhine, among other things because the Protestants found support from the Brandenburg Elector , who was also ruler in Kleve-Mark .

Elector Maximilian I of Bavaria pursued a policy of recatholicization in the areas of the Palatinate that had fallen to him

Since 1623 the Upper Palatinate was re-Catholicized by Maximilian of Bavaria . In 1628, Catholicism was declared the sole denomination. As in most other territories, the Jesuits were the agents of recatholicization. The Franciscans of the Bavarian Order Province also made an important contribution by founding monasteries in Pfreimd , Amberg , Cham and Kemnath . The pattern was similar to that in the Habsburg areas. Resistance was broken by billeting soldiers. The process of recatholicization was largely ended by 1675. The Wittelsbachers acted in a similar way in the Rhineland Palatinate after 1628 . The loss of this area during the war and the return to the Protestant Wittelsbachers after 1648 put an end to this. When the Pfalz-Simmern line died out in 1685, the heirs from the Pfalz-Neuburg line tried again to recatholicize the Electoral Palatinate. These efforts were continued by the French during the Palatinate War of Succession from 1688. In the end, Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists stood side by side with slight advantages for the Catholics.

Leakage and consequences

Symbolic representation of the reception of Salzburg exiles in Prussia by King Friedrich Wilhelm I.

Recatholization continued in the 18th century. The expulsion of Salzburg exiles from the Principality of Salzburg in the 1730s is known.

Only in a few remote areas were Protestant circles able to assert themselves underground. In parts of Upper Austria and Carinthia , this was successful up until the reign of Joseph II. Where this was not the case, after generations there was acceptance of Catholicism. Baroque Catholicism , which also shaped everyday life, played an important role in this. How strong the acceptance of Catholicism had become in the reclaimed areas was shown by the fact that the church reform measures taken by Joseph II also led to resistance there.

The denominational unity of village and town communities remained the normal state that was welcomed by the population well into the 19th century. As early as the 17th century, the principle of 1555 was no longer strictly adhered to, for example in the case of border shifts, and recatholizations (as well as the reverse process) became rarer.

To the conceptual history

A few years ago, the Hamburg historian Arno Herzig attempted a technical definition of the term “re-Catholicization”, which amounts to a reassessment of this historical process within the Counter-Reformation.

Accordingly, re-Catholicization does not necessarily mean, as common research opinion often reads, an attempt for the 16th to 18th centuries to push back the spreading Protestantism and force the population back to Catholicism. At the beginning of his study, Herzig defined the term “re-Catholicization” as “the establishment of the Catholic denomination as the sole valid denomination in the state, largely brought about by violence ”. The Catholic denomination is thus understood here as an institution - and thus at the same time as a power factor in the state - under which one tries to include the parts of the population that have switched to Protestantism back into the sphere of influence of the Catholic Church. However, this does not mean an internal church renewal, as was intended in the Council of Trent . This is also emphasized by Herzig himself. This process of recatholicization as such has long been known in research. The word recatholicization has also been used for this for a long time. However, Arno Herzig uses it for the first time in a comprehensive study. Herzig's concept of recatholicization is based on the conceptual scheme of (Catholic) denominationalization , which was developed by Wolfgang Reinhard and Heinz Schilling , and that of social discipline , which was coined by Gerhard Oestreich . Oestreich also speaks of “fundamental discipline” when it comes to long-term learning and transformation processes. Ultimately, this can also be included in the modernization paradigm for the early modern period as a whole.

Recatholization basically means, similar to the social disciplining or “fundamental disciplining” of which Oestreich speaks, or the denominationalization of Reinhard and Schilling, a historiographical pattern of interpretation for the early modern period. With the modernization paradigm, in which these processes are integrated, similar phenomena and objectives from the time after the actual Counter-Reformation can be assigned and explained.

In fact, these are measures of social discipline, ranging from verbal diplomatic influence to open violence. The consequence of the restrictive practice was the development of so-called cryptoprotestantism . For Herzig, the “largely conflict-free social disciplining” in the Catholic territories is the actual modernization potential of Catholicism in addition to the specific forms of collective formation in this epoch.

Related topics

  • The Reconquista refers to the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula, which began in the 9th century and was completed with the conquest of Granada in 1492.
  • Large-scale religious changes, such as Christianization in the Roman Empire and in the early Middle Ages or Islamization , are always associated with institutional pressure and / or corresponding incentives.
  • Against the secular and anti-clerical tendencies of the political left in Europe, authoritarian recatholicization tendencies became noticeable in the 20th century (for example when trying to establish an Austrian corporate state from 1934–38 or in Spain after Francisco Franco's victory in the civil war from 1939).
  • Striving to establish Catholicism in Christian bodies without a Roman Catholic past (e.g. Orthodox territories) is called Catholicization.

Individual evidence

  1. a b Arno Herzig: Recatholization in the German territories in the 16th and 17th centuries . In: History and Society . 26, 2000, p. 79.
  2. ^ Arno Herzig: Recatholization in the German territories in the 16th and 17th centuries . In: History and Society . 26, 2000, p. 80.
  3. ^ Arno Herzig: Recatholization in the German territories in the 16th and 17th centuries . In: History and Society . 26, 2000, pp. 80-82, p. 85.
  4. ^ Arno Herzig: Recatholization in the German territories in the 16th and 17th centuries . In: History and Society . 26, 2000, p. 82.
  5. ^ Arno Herzig: Recatholization in the German territories in the 16th and 17th centuries . In: History and Society . 26, 2000, p. 82 f.
  6. ^ Arno Herzig: Recatholization in the German territories in the 16th and 17th centuries . In: History and Society . 26, 2000, p. 79 f., P. 84.
  7. ^ Arno Herzig: Recatholization in the German territories in the 16th and 17th centuries . In: History and Society . 26, 2000, pp. 87 f.
  8. Falkenauer manuscript (Chronicle of Johann Ferdinand Kirchberger) 1620–1813 . The Egerland Library of the Federation of Egerländer Gmoin e. V. in Amberg / Opf. dedicated. Poecking 1956.
  9. ^ Arno Herzig: Recatholization in the German territories in the 16th and 17th centuries . In: History and Society . 26, 2000, p. 85 f.
  10. ^ Arno Herzig: Recatholization in the German territories in the 16th and 17th centuries . In: History and Society . 26, 2000, p. 99.
  11. ^ Arno Herzig: Recatholization in the German territories in the 16th and 17th centuries . In: History and Society . 26, 2000, p. 88 f.
  12. ^ Arno Herzig: Recatholization in the German territories in the 16th and 17th centuries . In: History and Society . 26, 2000, p. 86.
  13. Raynald Wagner: On the history of the Bavarian Franciscan Province from 1625 to 1802. In: Bayerische Franziskanerprovinz (Hrsg.): 1625 - 2010. The Bavarian Franciscan Province. From its beginnings until today. Furth 2010, pp. 6–29, here p. 26.
  14. ^ Arno Herzig: Recatholization in the German territories in the 16th and 17th centuries . In: History and Society . 26, 2000, p. 89 f.
  15. Jochen Goetze: History of the Electoral Palatinate: The Recatholization. Archived from the original on October 16, 2013 ; accessed on February 17, 2019 .
  16. ^ Arno Herzig: Recatholization in the German territories in the 16th and 17th centuries . In: History and Society . 26, 2000, p. 78 f.


  • Arno Herzig: The compulsion to believe. Recatholization from the 16th to the 18th century . Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 2000, ISBN 3-525-01384-1 .
  • Arno Herzig : Recatholization in the German territories in the 16th and 17th centuries. In: History and Society. 26, 2000, ISSN  0340-613X , pp. 76-106.
  • Wolfgang Reinhard : What is Catholic denomination? In: Wolfgang Reinhard, Heinz Schilling (Hrsg.): The Catholic confessionalization. Gütersloher Verlags-Haus, Gütersloh 1995, ISBN 3-579-01666-0 , pp. 419–452 ( publications of the Association for Reformation History 198).

Web links

  • Review of Arno Herzig: The Compulsion to True Faith. Rebekka von Mallinckrodt was recatholicized from the 16th to the 18th century .