Truber, Ungnad & Vergerio

Territorial Churches in the Habsburg/Ottoman Borderlands

by Benjamin Esswein (Author)
©2016 Monographs XII, 262 Pages


Truber, Ungnad & Vergerio: Territorial Churches in the Habsburg/Ottoman Borderlands provides a critical study of Lutheran reformers in Krain, formerly a province along what is now the Croatian/Slovenian border, and acts as a case study for the rest of the Habsburg-Ottoman borderlands. Focus is given to the Austrian Habsburgs, benefactors to the reformers, who sought to adopt Johannes Brenz’ Lutheran «territorial church» model that would provide the Habsburgs the means to expand their hegemony over the region for decades.
During this time, there were three individuals who were integral in establishing this movement: reformer and Bible translator Primus Truber, Lutheran diplomat Peter Paul Vergerio, and Austrian nobleman Hans Ungnad, the latter of whom played a central role in transmitting Slavic translation of Biblical and Evangelical texts into Krain through his personal network, which continued to help grow the Habsburg sphere of influence and contributed to their larger goal – keeping the Ottomans out.
All three men established networks of support including notable moderate Catholics and Swiss Reformed, relying on their networks integrally to spread their faith and financially support them. The use of the Lutheran «territorial church» model signifies an attempt to establish a Lutheran confession and church regulation in Slovenian and Croatian lands by making them loyal to the regional reformer responsible for instilling Godly virtue and the true faith.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Urach Printing Press
  • Modern Obliviousness
  • Establishing the Gospel as Truth
  • Tübingen
  • The Advent of the Protestant Printing Press
  • Early Tolerance
  • Territorial Churches and Territorial Princes
  • Regional Movements and Territorial Churches
  • Borderlands
  • Chapter Analysis
  • Chapter 1: Hans Ungnad
  • Ungnad’s Life
  • Ungnad and Ferdinand I
  • Ungnad’s Loyalty to Ferdinand I
  • Ungnad’s Dedication to His Faith
  • Ungnad’s Position in the Evangelical Camp
  • Ungnad’s Loyalty Comes into Question
  • The First Request for the Press
  • Ungnad’s Shift to Maximilian II
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 2: Primus Truber & Hans Ungnad
  • Introducing Truber
  • Broad Support for the Press
  • Truber’s Role in the Press
  • Territorial Church in Krain
  • Competing Interests
  • Maximilian II’s Influence over the Press
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3: Vergerio, Truber & Ungnad
  • Propagandist and Polemicist
  • Vergerio’s Shift to the Evangelical Cause
  • Vergerio Shifts East
  • Vergerio as Evangelical Diplomat and Habsburg Councilor in Poland
  • Vergerio in the Borderlands
  • Vergerio’s Contribution to the Borderlands Printing Press
  • Conclusion: Vergerio’s Legacy
  • Chapter 4: The Politics of Religion: Peace of Augsburg, Maximilian II, and the Protestant Princes
  • The Habsburg Policy of Tolerance
  • Habsburg Diplomacy in the Borderlands
  • Liminal Patterns of Multiconfessionalism
  • Habsburg Diplomacy in the Empire
  • Maximilian II’s Protestant Image
  • Maximilian II’s Catholic Image
  • Conclusion: Protestant’s Luck
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix: Patronage Networks
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

| ix →



1. Title Page to Truber’s Translated Psalter

2. German Foreword to Truber’s Translation of Psalms

3. Final Page of Truber’s German Foreword


1. General Map of the Borderlands

| xi →


There are many people who made this possible and I would like to thank all those involved in this process. A number of particular people come to mind. My advisor, Professor Randy Head, Professors Thomas Cogswell and George Michels. Thanks to everyone at the UCR, the Fulbright Program, and Liberty University.

In Austria, Professor Karl Vocelka and Professor Rudolf Leeb for making me feel at home abroad. In my research abroad, thanks to the archives, Haus-Hof und Stadt Archiv, Stadt Archiv, Austrian National Library, and University of Vienna. My friends, Austrian, Slovenian, and American, which I made during my time abroad, provided a much needed invaluable dimension to the Fulbright experience in Austria.

My mother and father, Susan and Paul, for their support and comments. My wife, who has been greatly appreciated for her love, understanding and patience. The joy my children have given me as well, keeps me thankful for all I have. All my other family and friends that have kept me sane through this whole process.

| 1 →


Urach Printing Press

The Protestant Reformation thrived through the establishment of printing presses that spread the reformers’ message to the furthest corners of Europe. Emerging from towns eager to embrace the new technology of moveable type, the Protestant Reformation began as a “German event”, quickly disseminating to foreign lands.1 Consequently, this early production of Protestant materials allowed towns like Urach, on the outskirts of Tübingen in Württemberg, to develop into a significant center for many printing projects. From among these established presses arose one early attempt at Evangelism by translating the Bible into Slovenian and Croatian for distribution along the border with the Ottoman Empire. This endeavor included a broad coalition of support with contributions from Catholic and Protestant princes as well as burghers and nobles from among many of the notable cities throughout the Holy Roman Empire (HRE). In describing the political and religious atmosphere that allowed this press to operate across interfaith and international lines one question presents itself: was this a form of tolerance?

Tolerance and religious coexistence existed in specific circumstances throughout Central Europe during the Reformations including in parts of ← 1 | 2 → Switzerland, Germany and Austria.2 Austria remained the most intriguing area where tolerance flourished, since it would eventually become known as a Catholic bastion. A primitive toleration of Protestants existed in Austria because of the simple fact that in many cities they formed the majority. Important cities such as Vienna and Graz developed burgeoning Protestant movements, particularly among the burghers and nobles.3 This does not mean that tolerance was seen as a virtue, a fundamental difference between the present and the early modern worlds. But it does signify that if the circumstances were right, then differences were begrudgingly tolerated. This was a fundamental point that some Enlightenment thinkers would be keen to embrace. The otherwise zealous Habsburgs reluctantly allowed the Protestants to organize into a politically viable force, which they would remain through the end of the sixteenth century. An often overlooked example of cooperation and religious coexistence between the Hapsburgs and the Protestant nobility, the printing press in Urach, was one of several printing presses in Württemberg that produced Bibles and Lutheran materials for distribution inside and on the outskirts of the HRE. However, it is the only one that developed into an interfaith endeavor.4

The Urach printing press printed Croatian and Slovenian translations of both the New Testament and Lutheran literature particularly for distribution in the Austrian borderlands of Styria and Krain. The press went through three stages of development over an eight year period (1556–1564). The first stage was one of collecting enough funds to translate and print the materials involved. The second stage involved the actual translation of the materials as well as the preparation for distribution. The third stage saw the hurried distribution of the finished translations among the Croatian and Slovenian nobility in the borderlands.

Austrian nobleman Hans Ungnad, previously an administrator in Krain under Ferdinand I, founded and financed the press with his own money and contributions. He was joined by two priests-turned-reformers, Primus Truber and Peter Paul Vergerio.5 These men translated the materials into the vernacular (Truber translated them into his native Slovenian while Vergerio helped to set up the Croatian translation), and performed the majority of the work involved in creating and distributing the printed materials in these borderlands.6 They secured large financial donations from several prominent nobles throughout the HRE, including Christoph of Württemberg, Philip of Hesse, Albrecht of Prussia, and the King of the Romans, Maximilian II.7 Burghers in several imperial cities (Strasbourg, Nuremberg, Ulm, Frankfurt, etc.) as ← 2 | 3 → well as Vienna also supplied generous contributions to help fund the project.8 Altogether, this became an impressive list.

Questions abound as to why so many people supported this project despite the political and confessional divisions developing in Europe in the sixteenth century. What caused these different cities and princes, often at odds with each other, to work together on this project? With over 25,000 copies produced, why was it as successful as it was? How did Catholics and Protestants work together on this project even as they engaged in polemical and political battles? How did so many people remain involved in the project over dangerously divided religious and political lines?

Modern Obliviousness

The renowned early modernist Lucien Febvre declared that the medieval and early modern eras saw “an immense appetite for the divine” among the general masses.9 This was no idle remark, since it stemmed from his detailed and exhaustive research on manuscripts and letters in various chapels and monasteries, making him one of the premier figures in mid-twentieth century ethnology and history. Perhaps, then, we can take Febvre’s comment to heart as identifying the primary difference between our era and the era of Reformations. The search for the divine serves as the greatest distinguishing feature of the sixteenth century, while the twenty-first century finds humanity in an opposing state of skepticism and doubt. “The wide demographic spread of unbelief is without question a modern story that belongs especially to social and cultural history, beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century and accelerating enormously in Western Europe and somewhat in the United States since the 1960s.”10 Professor Thomas Brady Jr., in his book on the German Reformations quotes Professor H. C. E. Midelfort in reiterating the distance between the Reformations era and ours: here we “see a distant world and its problems as people did in the past.”11

How, then, do we bridge the gap? How do we find commonality with an era that for all intents and purposes looked above, not within, for guidance and direction? One may notice that there is commonality between the two eras on certain values and morals concerning humanity as a whole. After all, since many reformers were also humanists, the Reformations grew up alongside the humanist tradition, and it remains at the core of what has been termed the “Western Tradition.” However, a fundamental difference in ← 3 | 4 → worldviews—stemming from the natural sciences and discoveries in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—has altered the modern way of thinking.12 The Enlightenment has often been touted as the carrier of civilization and understanding to Europe, and because of this the Enlightenment found a willing partner at that time in the natural sciences. Indeed, “once Newtonian physics is absorbed with metaphysical univocity, the positing of something like Kant’s noumenal realm, despite being undetectable among the phenomena of the desacramentalized natural world and human sense experience, is necessary if morality is to be defended as objective and rational.”13 Thus, the very fabric of modern science is wrapped up in certain standards and morals originating in the Enlightenment. To dismantle this connection would breed a type of science too monstrous to consider.14

While we will address Enlightenment concerns about the Reformations era in the section below on tolerance, what is important to note here is the Enlightenment’s displeasure with organized religion, whether it was early modern Catholicism or any of the Protestant state churches that existed by the end of the seventeenth century. Many Enlightenment thinkers agreed with the general presupposition around which most of the early modern confessions were founded: truth was attainable, and its high value did not allow for intellectual divergence from that concept. Most Enlightenment thinkers disagreed not with the idea of attainable truth, but with specific religious confessions and their version of the truth. The primary fear of thinkers such as Locke, Hume, Voltaire, and others was that centralized religion, whether based in Rome or elsewhere, would in fact be the greatest threat to individual human liberty.15 Thus, they saw the Reformations as misguided in-so-far-as it had splintered and divided Christendom, dooming the very idea that any agreement on a single version of truth could ever be found. The seventeenth century’s inauspicious beginnings, including two wars whose causes have generally been agreed upon as having religion as a root cause, the Thirty Years War and the English Civil War, formulated a new truth for many Enlightenment philosophers.16 That truth was that religious confessional disagreement had sparked tremendous destruction and left Europe even more divided than it had ever been.

Establishing the Gospel as Truth

While the seventeenth century saw confessional disagreement break out into continental warfare, the search for truth began in the sixteenth century. We ← 4 | 5 → are left to wonder: what exactly was the fundamental concept around which these Reformations caused dispute? It was not the existence of God, for that was something that everyone, from the lowliest peasant to the most educated professor knew as a certainty. Nor was it over the boundaries of church and state, an issue that arose primarily as a later product of Enlightenment discussions of tolerance. No, the essence of the dispute around which the Reformations revolved was the nature of God’s salvation of mankind and the role of each in it.17 This question was the reason Martin Luther gave Erasmus fleeting praise in his diatribe Bondage of the Will, stating that Erasmus deserved “hearty praise and commendation on this further account—that you alone, in contrast with all others, have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue.”18 Even while he wrote that Erasmus’ position was untenable, he virulently opposed “the ungodly Sophists,” who along with Erasmus’ Diatribe, “deny the Lord Christ, who bought us, more than ever the Pelagians or any heretics did!”19 Bringing the call for reform back to the days of St. Augustine and the Pelagian heresy was not an unreasonable stretch. St. Augustine’s work, so paramount in the history of Western Christianity, had argued both for the sovereignty of God in the election of man to salvation through Christ’s redemptive work as well as for the authority of the Church in that salvation’s completion. However, the inherent contradiction in such a position (saying that both a human institution and an omnipotent God held the same authority) became the central dispute of the Reformations. As one modern scholar has quipped, “a century or more of turmoil in the Western Church from 1517 was a debate in the mind of long-dead Augustine.”20

Yet we should not cheapen the theological debate that was the central contention around which Protestant and Catholic worldviews would establish Europe’s new confessional communities. Competing Christian views of truth flourished only according to what one’s conscience and each European prince decided was the answer. For this reason, Luther did not pull punches when he attacked the “Scholastics” and “Papists.” Their doctrine of “free will” and good works was useless, for it did “not even know what is righteous in God’s sight.”21 Furthermore, Luther bemoaned that the “Papists” and “Scholastics” blinded others to Christ by their own inability to see, since, “they do not believe that He intercedes before God and obtains grace for them by His blood, … for they abandon Him in His office as a Mediator and kindest Saviour, and account His blood and grace as of less worth than the efforts and endeavors of ‘free will’!”22 Christ’s redemptive work on the cross on behalf of his people was for Protestants the central theme of the Gospel, and this Gospel was of primary ← 5 | 6 → importance to Luther and all the other Protestant reformers, because it meant that they required only faith, and not oversight from any earthly body, in matters of salvation. Thus, a Christian society had to be founded solely upon the Gospel and the Word of God.23 These were the crucial truths around which the reformers built their calls for regional or territorial churches.


Thus, the establishment of a Protestant Reformation around the principles mentioned above inherently rejected the traditional religious authorities and instead put religious matters in the hands of a regional reformer. According to Luther’s interpretation, a territorial form of Christianity meant the establishment of a church where a regional prince was able to assist this reformer in opening his territory to the only purpose for which true Christianity existed, spreading the Gospel (Evangelism). Hence, in German lands, the Lutherans have always been known as the “Evangelische Kirche”.24 One of the early centers for this movement towards the establishment of territorial churches was the Duchy of Württemberg and the University of Tübingen, where many Evangelical scholars gathered after the defeat of the Elector of Saxony and the Schmalkaldic League in 1547. The loss of Saxony and its university (Wittenberg) put into question the longevity of the new Evangelical movement. Evangelicals faced great uncertainty as the triumphant Emperor Charles V attempted to implement the Augsburg Interim and reincorporate those regions back into the Catholic Church. Ultimately, the political movements surrounding the reemergence of the Schmalkaldic League, the help of France, and the newly placed Saxon Elector Maurice (who switched sides to oppose Charles V upon his ascension to the Electorate) gave the Evangelicals the opportunity to continue their movement’s development around Luther’s core principles on the territorial church.


XII, 262
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (September)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XI, 261 pp., ill.

Biographical notes

Benjamin Esswein (Author)

Benjamin Esswein holds a Ph.D. in Reformation History from the University of California, Riverside and is currently Assistant Professor of History at Liberty University. This publication is the result of research done with a Fulbright-Mach Grant in 2011-2012 as well as help from the University of California, Riverside Graduate Program.


Title: Truber, Ungnad & Vergerio
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