Christian Cyclopedia

About the Cyclopedia


Area: ca. 32,376 sq. mi. Pop.: ca. 7,171,000. Rep. 1919–33; lost indep. in Eur. upheaval of 1930s and 1940s; reest. as rep. 1945. Austria covers the territory of the Roman provinces Raetia, Noricum, and Pannonia. Christianity was probably brought to Noricum by Christian legions. Florian(us)* was martyred under Diocletian.* Severin(us)* worked in Noricum in the 5th c. The ch. was given a permanent structure in the 8th c. The Benedictines, who were chiefly instrumental in evangelizing the country, founded elaborate monasteries and est. the ch.

Bet. 1483 and 1804 Austria, under the Hapsburgs, was most intimately concerned in all the fortunes of the Ger. Empire. Maximilian I really est. the empire and incidentally fixed its relation to the Pope, esp. by uniting Sp. and the Neth. under his dominion; as a result Philip II became one of the most powerful RC monarchs the world has ever seen.

Ev. pastors were active in Austria at time of Reformation (P. Speratus,* M. Stiefel,* J. Strauss*). Many students went to Wittenberg; by 1527 there were many demands for the pure Gospel. Countermeasures were taken. Kaspar Tauber, Leonhard Kaiser, and Hubmaier were martyred. Luther's writings were forbidden.

In 1568 Maximilian II est. a measure of toleration. The nobility and scholars supported the Reformation. Chytraeus* was called in to organize the evangelicals.

But the cause of Protestantism received a severe setback 1629 by the Edict of Restitution of Ferdinand II; the Ev. congregations had to fight for their very existence. So severe were the persecutions of the Protestants, that large areas of the country were almost depopulated by the zealotism of their rulers, as in the case of the Salzburgers.* From 1624 Prot. clergy were exiled. In 1628 ev. services were forbidden. Protestantism survived through private reading of the Bible and devotional books. Under Joseph II non-RCs were granted limited religious freedom by the Edict of Toleration 1781. The greatest victory for the hierarchy was the Concordat of 1855, which practically made the Pope the ruler of the country. But 6 yrs. later the Evangelicals won a pronounced victory, and the Patent guaranteeing them religious liberty and ecclesiastical indep. was followed 1870 by the recall of the Concordat.

The RC Ch. is both numerically and politically by far the strongest ch. in Austria. Of its pop. ca. 89% are RC. It has many societies, institutions, and foundations. In almost every parish there are brotherhoods and societies for prayer, associations for both sexes and all ages, societies of priests, congregations of Mary, Franciscan Tertiaries, and the Soc. of the Holy Family. Children and youth are cared for in protectories, kindergartens, orphan asylums, boarding schools, refuges, training schools for apprentices, and the like.

The Prot., or Ev., churches of Austria are a minority. The Luth., Swiss, and Anabaptist movements gained strong support at the time of Reformation but only a remnant remained. The movement away from Rome has gained some force in the Ger. sections of Steiermark. Among the institutions of the inner miss. of the Ev. Ch. the Deaconess Mother House of Gallneukirchen, over 85 yrs. old, is important. Lutherans and Ref. are under one administration in the Ev. Ch. of the Augsburg and Helvetic Confessions. The situation of the evangelicals had improved after WW I, but the 1933 Concordat brought new difficulties.

The govt. has recognized the following besides Luth. and Ref.: Gk., Orthodox 1781, Israelite 1781, Old Catholics 1877, Herrnhüter 1880, Islam 1912, Methodists 1951, Mormons 1955. Baptists and Mennonites are also active in Austria. Non-RC Christians participate in the Ecumenical Council, est. 1958.

Georg Loesche, Geschichte des Protestantismus im vormaligen und neuen Österreich, 3d ed. (Leipzig, 1930); H. Zimmermann, “Österreich,” Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. H. v. Campenhausen et al., IV (Tübingen, 1960), 1588–95.

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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