- Lutheranism spread into Austria from neighboring Germany very quickly, reaching both Salzburg and Vienna in the 1520s. At the same time, the mountainous western part of the country became a refuge for the Swiss Brethren, who had been driven out of Zurich. The Habsburg royal family, though staunchly Roman Catholic, did little to suppress the Protestants, granting Lutherans a limited legal status in 1552. The situation changed following the 1620 arrival in Vienna of Jesuits eager to spread the Counter-Reformation. By the end of the Thirty Years' War (1618-48), Protestantism's legal status was revoked in an attempt to impose Roman Catholic uniformity.When the Lutherans were granted recognition in 1552, the Reformed believers were excluded. Eventually the two communities united as the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg and Helvetic Confessions in Austria (with each church retaining internal autonomy), which henceforth carried the Protestant tradition in the country. After surviving as an underground movement for more than a century, Protestants found new life during the reformist reign of Emperor Joseph ii (1780-90). Though a pious Roman Catholic, Joseph proclaimed an Edict of Tolerance in 1781 that gave the Evangelical Church a legal status similar to that of Catholicism.While there was some religious differentiation during this period, the proliferation of Protestant sects did not really begin until new laws on religious freedom were passed in 1867 and 1874. State approval was granted to both the Moravians (who today have no active congregations in Austria) and the Methodists (related to the United Methodist Church). After World War I, further efforts were made to separate church and state.A wide spectrum of Protestant and Free Church groups become active in 20th-century Austria. Among the more prominent are the Jehovah's Witnesses (founded in 1910), the Salvation Army (1927), and the Seventh-day Adventist Church (1947). One of the largest groups, the Evangelical Association of Congregations of Austria, with 10,000 members, was not founded until 1991. There is relatively little sign of Pentecostal activity in Austria.The Evangelical Council of Churches in Austria includes the Evangelical Church, by far the largest member, as well as the Baptist, Methodist, Anglican, Old Catholic, and Orthodox churches. It is affiliated with the World Council of Churches. Conservative Evangelicals are associated in the Oesterreichische Evangelische Allianz, which is affiliated with the World Evangelical Alliance. The Protestant and Free Church community in Austria consists of fewer than a half million believers or about 5 percent of the population. Of that number, 350,000 are members of the Evangelical Church.Further reading:■ M. Lawson, ed., Christliches Handbuch für Österreich: Kirchen und Missionen (London: MARC Europe, 1991)■ Religions in Austria. Austria documentation. (Vienna: Federal Press Service, 1990).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.