(Published in GralsWelt 37/2005)
As of September 25, 2005:
The "Augsburg Religious Peace" was proclaimed 450 years ago - a first step towards a religious tolerance that we are still struggling over today.
Historians cite various important dates that mark the beginning of the modern age: the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks (1453), Columbus' trip to Central America in 1492 or Martin Luther's 95 theses from 1517.
Another event that marks the beginning of the modern age is generally less noticed: Exactly 450 years ago, on September 25, 1555, after lengthy, tough negotiations, the "Augsburg Religious Peace" was proclaimed. A first step towards religious tolerance, which we have still not fully realized worldwide to this day.
It was a stalemate: The social groups were divided - imperial estates and churches fought with disagreement within their own ranks, which went as far as open betrayal. The "rebels in the church" - reformers like Martin Luther (1483-1546), Johann Calvin (1509-1564) or Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) - had created new facts with their teachings: The religious unity was broken, the medieval empire with the "spiritual sword" of the church or the Pope and the "earthly sword" of the emperor no longer existed.
One had to bow to these facts. And so the Reichstag, the assembly of electors, princes and imperial cities, now recognized the Protestant religion as well as the Catholic.
At the same time one did not want to tolerate two religions side by side in the same city. But if you wanted to move to another city because of your religion, you should be allowed to move and sell your property unhindered: A first, hesitant step towards religious freedom!
The previous heretic legislation, which originated in the Middle Ages, was thus outdated, and the Catholic Church saw its claim to sole agency being permanently called into question.
Religious intolerance among the people, among Catholics as well as Protestants, was still in full swing. The “Augsburg Compromise” was a half-hearted agreement with which neither party was satisfied - but perhaps the utmost that was politically enforceable at the time.
The unsatisfactory agreement could therefore not prevent political and religious tensions from escalating a generation later in a Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), which brought terrible destruction but still no spiritual freedom.
Even after that, in the Age of Enlightenment, religious tolerance had to be fought for for a long time.
And this tolerance, which would also be necessary on a global scale, has not yet been fully realized even in our present day.
What we need for a lasting religious peace is the courage to exercise spiritual freedom within ourselves and the courage to grant this freedom to others. Not what someone believes, but how he behaves must be the criterion for the limits of our tolerance.
(1) Hammer Wolfgang, we only have one Lord, Evang. Press Association for Bavaria, Munich 1955.
(2) Children Hermann / Hilgemann Werner, dtv-Atlas zur Weltgeschichte, Munich 2000.
(3) Pfeiffer Gerhard, Der Augsburger Religionsfriede und die Reichsstädte, Journal of the Historical Association for Swabia, 61st volume, 1955.
(4) Simon Matthias, Der Augsburger Religionsfriede, Evang.-Luth. General Church Administration, Augsburg 1955.