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a term used in historical literature to designate the policy pursued toward the Catholic Church in certain Catholic states of Europe at the end of the 18th century by representatives of enlightened absolutism, above all by Joseph II of the Hapsburg monarchy. The term is derived from his name.

An attempt to reform Catholicism by adapting it to the demands of the absolutist state and the needs of incipient bourgeois development, Josephinism resembled French Gallicanism and, particularly, 17th-century Jansenism. Reforms in the spirit of Josephinism usually included strengthening the national church’s independence of the papacy and its complete subordination to state authority, eliminating the influence of the Jesuits, particularly in education, strengthening the secular school, partial secularization of church properties and banning of monastic orders, and proclamation of moderate religious toleration. However, these reforms were not realized under the conditions of absolutism or during the subsequent era of the Restoration. In the Austrian Empire, Josephinism was no longer a part of state policy after the conclusion of the Concordat of 1855 with the papacy.

Sometimes scholars used the term “Josephinism” to refer to the whole system of reforms under Joseph II, in which they see one of the sources of the ideological bourgeois-liberal current in the Hapsburg monarchy during the reactionary period that ensued after 1815.


Winter, E. Der Josefinismus: Die Geschichte des Osterreichischen Reformkatholizismus, 1740–1848. Berlin, 1962.
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