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460 Years Ago – The Opening of the Reichstag in Augsburg by Michael Achhammer

On February 5, 1555, Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor, opened the Reichstag (former German parliament) in Augsburg. It was supposed to reconcile the conflict that had been going on for decades between the Lutherans and the Catholics.

For a long time it seemed that Kaiser Karl V had come to terms with the Reformation. The devout monarch had to watch on as more and more people north of the Alps aligned themselves with the new doctrine. Large sections of north Germany had become Lutheran in the course of just a few decades. He had wanted to restore the followers of Luther to the Catholic church through the Reichstag in Worms – with force if necessary.

The Situation in the Empire

The lengthy wars with France and the Ottoman Empire had consistently demanded Karl's attention and had tied up his forces, while at the same time the members of parliament forced one concession after the other from him in return for financing his military campaigns. Even after the emperor's troops succeeded in subduing the Schmalkaldian Alliance, which was a union of protestant rulers and cities, a new resistance was formed in Germany a few years later. The protestants made a covenant against the emperor, who even allied himself with the French king this time. Starting in 1552 protestant troops marched through southern Germany, while the French army conquered cities on the other side of the Rhein. In this situation, Karl saw himself being forced to recant the religious diktat against the protestants and negotiate peace. Because he didn't want to discuss the matter with them in person, he sent his govern

Opening of the Reichstag

That is why the German King and his brother, the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I, opened the Reichstag in Augsburg on February 5, 1555. The goal of the session was to negotiate peace between the Lutherans and the Catholics. “We, Ferdinand, Roman King by the grace of God, announce: Peace shall reign with regards to the division of religion.” As early as the opening in the Cathedral, the king discovered that he was but one of the few imperial princes in Augsburg. In spite of the explosive issue, most of the local lords were represented by lawyers and diplomats. They had assumed that it would just be about the acceptance of the “Confessio Augustana” confession, which was also agreed upon in Augsburg in 1530. 

In reality, the imperial councils, diplomats and delegates wrestled for seven months over the balance between the two confessions. The delegates also discussed a few important questions for a similar duration. After this long period of discussion an agreement was not expected anymore. On September 25, they finally came to an agreement on a trend-setting compromise. Henceforth, the imperial princes would have sovereignty over the churches and confessions in their territories and would choose between the Catholic church and Lutheranism. Their subjects would be granted the right to emigrate if they did not want to accept the set of beliefs of their local prince or local lord. Later scholars would summarize the agreement with the phrase, “Cuius regio, eius religio – Whose realm, his religion.”

The Religious Peace of Augsburg was the first writ under constitutional law in western Christendom that allowed two confessions. However, the ultimate equality of both large confessions would not come until the Peace of Westphalia agreement was signed in 1648 – after 30 years in a constant state of war that ravaged large areas of the Empire. Karl V however, who understood himself to be the protector of the Catholic church, could not accept this compromise and abdicated shortly after the Reichstag.