Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



In the 1780s, Emperor Joseph II implemented reforms of the Catholic Church in Austria. By the time of his death in 1790, Joseph had cut off the Austrian Church from Rome, dissolved one-third of the monasteries in the Habsburg Empire, made marriage a state matter, granted toleration to Protestants, controlled clerical education, and restricted many religious activities. After the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars (1789-1815), Europe retreated toward conservatism, and reform in Austria ended. Yet most of the religious changes in the 1780s, aptly labeled Josephinism, remained in the Austrian Church. This thesis will examine the persistence of Josephinism in the Austrian Church. Austria continued to restrict communication between the Church and the papacy, used books banned by Rome in its clerical educational system, tolerated Protestants, retained control of marriage laws, and regulated overall religious activity. Josephinism was a compromise between anticlerical liberalism and the Catholic reaction that characterized several other European nations after 1815. Austria censored egregiously anticlerical literature and tolerated religious minorities in a manner that did not offend ordinary Catholics. Bureaucrats cultivated the support of the growing liberal middle classes, who supported a reduction in the Church’s temporal power, by attempting to restrain zealotry. This religious settlement helped ensure political and religious stability in the Restoration (1815-1848). Through the lens of Church policy, one can see Austria’s response to the challenges of modernization. Austrian officials remained committed to the ideals of Josephinism, and religious policy in the Habsburg Empire was surprisingly progressive and peaceful until the Revolutions of 1848. For the Restoration era, Josephinism worked well as a balance between Catholic reaction and the secularism of the modern world. But in the 1850s, Emperor Francis Joseph dismantled the Josephinist Church and concluded a concordat with Rome that favored the papacy. When international events forced the emperor to share power in the 1860s, the concordat and other conservative Church policies of the 1850s became an easy target for anticlerical liberals. This religious turmoil in the 1850s and 1860s confirms that the moderate Church policy pursued before 1848 had, indeed, been the proper course of action for Austria.



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Committee Chair

Marchand, Suzanne



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History Commons