Peace of Augsburg

Peace of Augsburg
Peace of Augsburg

The Peace of Augsburg refers to a settlement between Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and the Lutheran princes that accorded Lutheran churches legal status in Germany. This settlement resolved the conflict on a state level but did not resolve any of the theological issues in the Reformation.

The period between 1546 and 1555 was one of substantial warfare in Europe, characterized mostly by smaller battles, opportunistic in nature, with a few more major conflicts. The main actors up to this time had been Charles V, the Emperor; Francis I, king of France; Pope Paul III; and various princes in Germany who had made an association for mutual defense together in what was called the Schmalkaldic League (named after the town of Schmalkalden in central Germany).

Charles V was frustrated by the religious conflict tearing apart his Empire. He pressured the pope to resolve the differences, resulting in the Council of Trent, which began in 1545. Charles V wanted the council to include the Protestant leaders, but this did not happen.

At the same time, Charles was maneuvering to gain greater control over the German princes, using military pressure and negotiations. His hope was to break apart the Schmalkaldic League by diplomacy (and intrigue), but if that failed, to drive a wedge through Germany with his armies and break up the league by military means.

This was accomplished in a series of battles beginning in later 1546 and concluding in April 23, 1547, with the defeat of the league forces in Mühlberg and the subsequent imprisonment of a key leader, the landgrave, Philip of Hesse. Charles’s main ally in the battles was the Elector Maurice of Saxony, an opportunist with Lutheran leanings.

While Charles V accomplished his goal of gaining political and military control over Germany, Lutheranism was to prove impossible to eradicate. In April 1548, in an edict published in Augsburg (called the Augsburg Interim), Charles mandated restoration of the Roman Catholic Mass and other practices, allowing only two concessions to the Lutherans: married clergy and the use of both bread and wine in Communion.

Later that year, the Lutheran Philip Melancthon was directed by Charles and Maurice to make certain alterations to the document in the hopes of making it more acceptable to the other Lutheran princes, who had refused to support the Augsburg Interim. This edict was published as the Leipzig Interim. Neither edict succeeded in bringing uniformity of church practice back to Germany.

The Interim failed to gain support from the populace of Germany and Melancthon found himself reproached by his fellow Lutherans for his part in the Leipzig Interim. The only real effect of the Interim was the ability of those who were still Roman Catholics to observe their faith in the Lutheran territories.

The balance of power that allowed Charles V to gain control over Germany in 1547–48 soon changed. Charles was forced to give Maurice of Saxony a great deal of control over Germany in exchange for his continuing military support.

Charles had negotiated a peace settlement with Francis I, king of France, in 1544, but Francis died in 1547 and was succeeded by his son, Henry II, who would prove to be troublesome for Charles in the coming years.

After several years of political maneuvering, Maurice of Saxony formed the League of Torgau in May 1551 with several other German Lutheran princes. In January 1552, Maurice made formal peace with Henry II, who agreed to support the German princes against the emperor.

This led to open war from March 1552 through June 1553. At this point, Charles was essentially surrounded. France was assaulting his territories from the east, Maurice from the north, and the Turkish sultan was battling Charles’s brother Ferdinand from the south and west.

Yet no one had the military power to defeat Charles completely, as the lands and armies of Charles’s dominion were still immense, containing Spain, Austria, the Netherlands, and substantial amounts of Italy. Maurice of Saxony died in June 1553 from battle wounds, ending the major battles of that period.

An uneasy truce remained until 1555, when the representatives of the Lutheran princes met with representatives of Charles at the Diet of Augsburg, held from February through September 1555. Representatives of the pope were not invited.

The various emissaries were able to negotiate both political and religious peace. The Lutheran princes were granted territorial independence. All people in Lutheran territories would follow the religion of their prince.

All people in Catholic territories would be required to observe Roman Catholicism. Certain cities that had both significant Catholic and Lutheran populations would allow both churches. People who did not wish to live in one territory because of their faith could freely move to another territory.

The Peace of Augsburg was a significant milestone in Western Christianity. It recognized the Lutheran Church as a separate church body, allowing its members rights within the empire. It did not settle any of the theological issues and was a major fissure in Western Christianity; nor did it address the rights of Reformed or Anabaptist believers.

For Reformed believers, recognition would come at the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. Anabaptist believers would continue to endure persecution for several centuries, causing many to flee into eastern Europe and eventually to America to practice their faith.

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