Branko Miletic

The Journey of Croatian Protestantism: From Struggle to Future Survival

Matthias Flacius Illyricus (Matija Vlacic), a prominent follower of Luther, born on the Dalmatian coast in Croatia, played a key role in modern hermeneutics and critical church historiography

Based on the 2021 Croatian Census, Protestants comprise a total of 9,956 members, constituting 0.26% of Croatia’s population. This figure includes some individuals who identified as “other Christians” or did not specify their affiliation. Consequently, their overall representation in the total population can be estimated at approximately 0.30%.

Protestant church in Laslovo, Croatia./ istockphoto

The Genesis

In the annals of Croatian history, the emergence of Protestantism stands as a testament to determination and a bold vision. Originating from Germany, the Protestant movement swiftly extended its reach to the Slovenian and Croatian territories. However, the fervent response of the Catholic Counter Reformation in the 1530s forced Croatian (and Slovenian) Protestants to abandon their homeland, leading to the eradication of the Protestant movement by the mid-16th century.


Despite its brief existence, Croatian Protestantism left an indelible mark on the culture, language, and Church under challenging circumstances. A pivotal contribution came from the Bible translation efforts of the Biblical Institute at Urach, providing the Croatian people with their first New Testament in their native language.

Repairing Lutheran Church in Ilok, Croatia

The 16th-century history of Europe comprises not just one culture but many, with these cultures interconnecting trans-culturally. Spiritual and cultural transfers played pivotal roles in these dynamic processes. The “spiritual assets” involved elements such as the Bible, intricate styles of preaching and teaching, diverse liturgical practices, and attempts at institutionalizing spiritual and socio-political structures.

In addition to the contributions of Croatian humanists such as Matthias Flacius Illyricus, Andreas Dudithius (Dudić), Paulus Skalic (Paulus Scalichius, Pavao Skalić), and others, the reformers who played active roles during the Reformation and influenced events in the historical Croatian lands and the diaspora left a legacy of at least 111 published works. These works still conceal unexplored yet remarkably rich theological ideas from the historical Croatian Protestant perspective.

The leadership of the Reformed Christian Calvinist Church in Croatia has been re-elected

Matthias Flacius Illyricus (Matija Vlacic), a prominent follower of Luther, born on the Dalmatian coast in Croatia, played a key role in modern hermeneutics and critical church historiography. Unfortunately, many books from the Urach production were confiscated, and those that reached their destinations were often destroyed by the Inquisition. The decision of the Croatian Parliament in 1604 to ban Protestantism further delayed access to the Bible for nearly 300 years.

In the subsequent centuries, Croatian Protestantism struggled to integrate creatively into the ethnic space. Geographic limitations and economic-driven colonization by Germans and Slovaks in the 18th and 19th centuries led to the formation of Lutheran congregations in specific areas. Indigenous Croatian Protestant communities, such as the Nazarenes and Baptists, emerged only in the late 19th century, influenced by foreign missionary organizations.

The Exodus

Post-World War I, returning individuals introduced a new stimulus, yet Protestantism remained perceived as foreign and undesirable. The association of “being a Croat” with “being a Catholic” was strengthened by the growing influence of the Catholic Church in the establishment of the Croatian state. After 1945, the forced exodus of Germans further marginalized Protestant minorities, leaving remnants of the Lutheran Church and a modest number of free churches.

For over 45 years, Croatian Protestantism existed in isolated enclaves, disconnected from society and each other. In Tito’s Yugoslavia, Protestant communities survived in small ghettos, financially dependent on their members or foreign mission organizations. While these communities may have been isolated, they served as places of genuine Christian proclamation, authentic prayer, hope, and fellowship. Sincere ecumenical efforts also emerged at the grassroots level among enthusiastic and progressive individuals.

Péter Szenn, the re-elected bishop of the Reformed Christian Calvinist Church in Croatia (Fotó: Facebook-page of the Reformed Christian Calvinist Church in Croatia)

The journey of Croatian Protestantism, marked by resilience and survival, reflects a complex interplay of historical events, societal perceptions, and the enduring spirit of a minority faith seeking its place “under the Croatian sun.”

Ultimately, the process of ghettoization largely desensitized Croatian Protestantism concerning its socio-political involvement. Nevertheless, Croatian Protestantism remained steadfast in acknowledging its responsibility for participating in various social and political activities. This commitment contrasts with the Catholic Church, which, due to its long-standing tradition of supporting and influencing the Croatian people, similarly maintained its engagement in diverse social and political spheres.

The landscape for religious communities underwent a transformation following the establishment of an independent Croatian state. However, not all religious communities were equally equipped to navigate this change. The Catholic Church, with its unwavering commitment to influencing society, played a pivotal role in preserving and developing Croatian national identity. Consequently, it embraced the new situation with full readiness. In contrast, Protestant churches, lacking a tradition of socio-political engagement, found themselves less prepared for the upheavals that ensued.

A collection of Primož Trubar Slovenian and Croatian Protestant books in the British Library

The challenges intensified as the establishment of an independent state coincided with a war to defend Croatian independence. In this tense and highly sensitive environment, Croatian Protestantism, facing varying degrees of difficulty, managed to secure a legislative framework for its existence within the new state. Official registration with the government followed, granting these churches the legal status of recognized religious communities.

Given the preceding discussion, a natural inquiry emerges regarding the role of intellectual Protestant elites, particularly theologians, in mitigating the repercussions of adverse historical circumstances and actively working towards the optimal advancement of Protestantism in contemporary Croatia.

The Revelation

In recent times, the Theological Faculty “Matthias Flacius Illyricus” has successfully emerged from its challenging circumstances. Despite significant obstacles, the faculty elevated its programs to the highest academic standards and seamlessly integrated them into the University of Zagreb in 2010. The integration process culminated in 2017 with the establishment of the University Centre for Protestant Theology Matthias Flacius Illyricus.

University Center for Protestant Theology Matthias Flacius Illyricus. We are a faculty within the University of Zagreb, Croatia, and offer Undergraduate and Graduate Programmes in Protestant Theology.

This development sets the stage for the institution’s growth, serving as a hub that unites primarily Croatian theological resources and nurtures collaborations with foreign Protestant and Croatian ecumenical theological entities and scholars. This partnership extends to academic endeavours and engagements with the Protestant church community. Looking ahead, the Centre faces a formidable task. It must advocate for a more prominent position within the academic community while concurrently raising awareness within the broader Protestant community about the imperative for a more articulate expression of faith and improved relationships with Protestant and broader Christian ecumenism, as well as society at large.

Protestant Reformation began in 1517 with Martin Luther

However, the transformed socio-political landscape in present-day Croatia has granted Protestant religious communities a legislative framework for their existence and operations, notably enhancing their access to the public sphere. This evolution has paved the way for the establishment of Croatian Protestant theological institutions. These educational and faith-based entities shoulder the crucial responsibility of shaping a distinctive and unified Protestant identity while preserving individual denominational identities within the diverse landscape of modern Croatian Protestantism.

This article was based on the work: Two Protestants, Three Churches: Croatian Protestantism – Denominations, and Theological Institutions

By Lidija Matošević, University Center for Protestant Theology Matthias Flacius Illyricus, Zagreb

Enoh Šeba, University Center for Protestant Theology Matthias Flacius Illyricus, Zagreb

Ruben Knežević, University Center for Protestant Theology Matthias Flacius Illyricus, Zagreb

 As well as: The Reformation  in the Croatian Historical Lands Research Results, Challenges, Perspectives  By Zrinka Blažević,  Stanko Jambrek and Nataša Štefanec

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Journalist and editor with 25 years experience, including reporting from Bosnia, Japan and all over Australia--- focus includes IT, ethics and geopolitics.
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