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The Augsburg Interim was an imperial decree ordered on May 15, 1548, at the Diet of Augsburg, after Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, defeated the forces of the Schmalkaldic League in the Schmalkaldic War, from 1546 to 1547. The document was written by three theologians: Johannes Agricola, Julius von Pflug, and Michael Helding. Although it ordered Protestants to readopt traditional Catholic beliefs and practices, including the seven Sacraments, it allowed for Protestant clergymen the right to marry and for the laity to receive communion in both kinds (bread and wine).

The Schmalkaldic War and the Battle of Mühlberg

In June of 1546 the Pope entered into an agreement with Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to curb the spread of the Reformation. This agreement stated, in part:

In the name of God and with the help and assistance of his Papal Holiness, his Imperial Majesty should prepare himself for war, and equip himself with soldiers and everything pertaining to warfare against those who objected to the Council [of Trent], against the Smalcald League, and against all who were addicted to the false believe and error in Germany, and that he do so with all his power and might, in order to bring them back to the old faith and to the obedience of the Holy See (Bente, p. 219).

Shortly thereafter, Maurice, the Duke (and later, Elector) of Albertine Saxony, invaded the lands of his rival and stepbrother in Ernestine Saxony, John Frederick, beginning the brief, but devastating, conflict known as the Smalcaldic War. The military might of Maurice combined with that of Charles V proved to be overwhelming to John Frederick and the Schmalkaldic League. On April 24, 1547 the armies of the Schmalkaldic League were decisively defeated at the Battle of Mühlberg.

Following the defeat of the Schmalkaldic League at Mühlberg, Charles V’s forces took and occupied the Lutheran territories in quick succession. On May 19, 1547 Wittenbergmarker, the heart of the Reformation, and final resting place of Martin Luther’s remains, fell to the Emperor without a fight.

The Interim

Charles V had won a military victory, but realized that the only chance he had to effectively eliminate Lutheranism as a movement was to pursue political and ecclesiastical compromises. The series of decrees issued by the Emperor became known as an “Interim” because they were only intended to govern the church temporarily until a formal council could be convened, and the matters in question could be dealt with properly. Included in the demands of the Interim was that the Lutherans restore the number of sacraments from two to back to seven. That the churches restore a number of specifically Roman ceremonies, doctrines, and practices which had been discarded by the Lutheran reformers, including also transubstantiation, and the rejection of the doctrine of justification by grace, through faith alone. It also required that the Pope be acknowledged as the head of the Church by divine right and that the churches receive again the authority of the Roman bishops. In concession to the Lutherans, the Interim allowed for the marriage of clergy, and that the laity be given both elements (bread and wine) in communion.

Despite the fact that Philip Melanchthon, friend of Luther and co-architect and voice of the Reformation movement, was willing to compromise these issues for the sake of peace, the Augsburg Interim was rejected by a significant number of Lutheran pastors and theologians.

Pastors who refused to follow the regulations of the Augsburg Interim were removed from office and banished; some were imprisoned and some were even executed. In Swabia and along the Rhine River, some four hundred pastors went to prison rather than agree to the Interim. They were exiled, and some of their families were killed or dies as a result…Some preachers left for England (McCain, et. Al., 476).

The Leipzig Interim

In a further effort to compromise, Melanchthon worked on a second “Interim”. Charles's ally during the Schmalkaldic War, Maurice of Saxony, along with Melanchthon and his supporters, worked out within Maurice's estates a compromise known as the Leipzig Interim. Despite its even greater concessions to Protestantism was barely enforced.Charles V tried to enforce the Interim in the Holy Roman Empire, but was only successful in territories under his military control, such as Wurttemberg and certain imperial cities in southern Germany. There was a great deal of political opposition to the Interim. Many Catholic princes did not accept the Interim, worried about rising imperial authority. The papacy refused to recognise the Interim for over a year, as it saw it as an infringement of its own jurisdiction.

Protestant leaders also rejected the terms of the Interim. The Leipzig Interim, was designed to allow Lutherans to retain their core theological beliefs, specifically where the doctrine of justification by grace was concerned, while yielding in other, less important matters, such as church rituals. This compromise document again drew opposition. Those who supported the Leipzig Interim became identified as Philippists, as they supported Melanchthon’s efforts at compromise. Those who opposed Melanchthon became known as “Gnesio-Lutherans”, or “genuine” Lutherans.

As a result of the Interim, many Protestant leaders, such as Martin Bucer, fled to England, where they would influence the English Reformation.

Elector Maurice, seeing that the Leipzig Interim was a political failure, began making plans to drive Charles V and his army from Saxony. It was, in his estimation “more expedient for him [Maurice] to be viewed as a champion of Lutheranism than as a traitor” (McCain, et. Al., 480). On April 5, 1552 Maurice attacked Charles V’s forces at Augsburg and he was forced to withdraw. This victory eventually resulted in the signing of the treaties of Passau (August 2, 1552) and Augsburg (1555). These two treaties resulted in the principle “Cuius region, eius religio” – He who rules, his the religion – allowing the ruler of a territory to set the religion therein.


  1. Acton, et al., p. 264.
  2. Kagan, p. 367
  3. M Rady, p84
  4. M Rady, The Emperor Charles V, (1988), p84
  5. S Macdonald, Charles V, (2000), p104


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