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Clemens August von Droste-Vischering

Archbishop of Cologne, b. Jan. 21, 1773, at Munster, Germany; d. Oct. 19, 1845

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Droste-Vischering, CLEMENS AUGUST VON, Archbishop of Cologne, b. January 21, 1773, at Münster, Germany; d. October 19, 1845, in the same city. Besides attending the University of Münster, he had as private tutor the well-known church historian Theodore Katerkamp (d. 1834). At an early age he was introduced into the circle of learned men that gathered around Baron von Furstenberg and the pious and refined Princess Amelia von Gallitzin, where he imbibed the thoroughly Catholic principles which characterized him while Archbishop of Cologne. After completing his studies he began, in June, 1796, an extensive educational journey under the direction of Katerkamp, through Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, returning to Münster in August, 1797. The following year, on May 14, he was ordained priest by his brother Caspar Maximilian, then Auxiliary Bishop of Münster. In accordance with the wish of the aged Baron von Fürstenberg, Vicar-General and Administrator of the Diocese of Münster, the cathedral chapter elected Clemens August as his coadjutor on January 18, 1807, and when Fürstenberg resigned six months later, Clemens August became his successor. As administrator he founded in 1808 an independent congregation of Sisters of Mercy, the so-called Klemens-Schwestern, who, though practically confined to the Diocese of Münster, numbered 81 houses and 1126 members in 1904. When in 1813 Münster became part of Napoleon’s monarchy, the emperor appointed Baron von Spiegel as Bishop of Münster without the knowledge of the pope, but after Napoleon’s fall the pope restored Clemens August to his former office in March, 1815. Under Prussian rule the administrator repeatedly came into conflict with the Government on account of his attitude towards mixed marriages and the supervision of theological studies. When by an agreement between the Holy See and the Prussian Government the dioceses of Prussia were again supplied with bishops, Clemens August, who was not persona grata to the Prussian Government, withdrew from public life and devoted himself to works of piety and charity. He remained in seclusion even after being consecrated Auxiliary Bishop of Münster with the titular See of Calama in 1827.

After the death of Baron von Spiegel, the incumbent of the metropolitan See of Cologne, the Prussian Government, to the surprise of Catholics and Protestants alike, desired Clemens August as his successor.

This unexpected move on the part of the Government was intended to conciliate the Catholic nobility of Westphalia and Rhenish Prussia as well as the Catholic clergy and laity, who began to lose confidence in the fairmindedness of the Government and justly protested against the open favoritism shown to Protestants in civil and ecclesiastical affairs. The cathedral chapter of Cologne, which had become accustomed to act as a passive instrument in the hands of the Government, elected Clemens August as Archbishop of Cologne on December 1, 1835. He received the papal confirmation on February 1, 1836, and was solemnly enthroned by his brother, Maximilian, Bishop of Münster, on May 29. Soon after this he came into conflict with the adherents of Hermes (d. 1831), whose doctrines (see Hermes and Hermesianism) had been condemned by Pope Gregory XVI on September 26, 1835. When many professors at the University of Bonn refused to submit to the papal Bull, Clemens August refused the imprimatur to their theological magazine, forbade the students of theology to attend their lectures, and drew up a list of anti-Hermesian theses to which all candidates for sacerdotal ordination and all pastors who wished to be transferred to new parishes were obliged to swear adherence. The Government was angered because the archbishop had enforced the papal Bull without the royal approbation, but gave him to understand that it would allow him free scope in this affair, provided he would accede to its demands concerning mixed marriages. Before Clemens August became archbishop he was asked by an agent of the Government whether, if he should be set over a diocese, he would keep in force the agreement regarding mixed marriages, which was made “in accordance with the papal Brief of March 25, 1830”, between Archbishop von Spiegel and Minister Bunsen on June 19, 1834. Clemens August did not then know in what this agreement consisted, and misled by the words “in accordance with the papal Brief”, answered in the affirmative. After becoming archbishop he discovered that the agreement in question, far from being in accordance with the papal Brief, was in some essential points in direct opposition to it. The papal Brief forbade Catholic priests to celebrate mixed marriages unless the Catholic training of the children was guaranteed, while in the agreement between von Spiegel and Bunsen no such guarantee was required. Under these circumstances it was the plain duty of the archbishop to be guided by the papal Brief, and all attempts of the Government to the contrary were futile. His conscientious devotion to duty finally caused the Government to have recourse to the most drastic measures.

Advised by Minister Bunsen, Frederick William III ordered the arrest of the archbishop. The order was carried out in all haste and secrecy on the evening of November 20, 1837, and Clemens August was transported as a criminal to the fortress of Minden. If the Government thought it could overawe the Catholics of Prussia by thus trampling under foot the religious liberty of its subjects, it speedily discovered its mistake. The Bishops of Münster and Paderborn, fired by the example of Clemens August, recalled the assent they had formerly given to the agreement; while Martin von Dunin, the Archbishop of Gnesen and Posen, was imprisoned at Kolberg for the same offense that had sent Clemens August to Minden. In an Allocution of December 10, 1837, Pope Gregory XVI praised the course of the Archbishop of Cologne and solemnly protested against the action of the Government. The slanderous “Darlegung”, or expose, in which the Government attempted to defend its course by accusing the archbishop of treason, was refuted by Joseph Gorres in his great apologetical work “Athanasius”, and a declaration of the true state of affairs was published at Rome by order of the pope. The Government saw its mistake and the archbishop was set free on April 22, 1839. He was permitted to retain the title of Archbishop of Cologne, but, in order to uphold the authority of the State in the public eye, was prevailed upon to select a coadjutor in the person of Johannes von Geissel (q.v.), Bishop of Speyer, who henceforth directed the affairs of the archdiocese. The slanderous accusations of the above-mentioned “Darlegung” were publicly retracted by Frederick William IV, who had meanwhile succeeded to the throne. In 1844 the archbishop went to Rome, where he was most kindly received by the pope and the Curia. The cardinalate, which was offered him by the pope, he refused with thanks and returned to Münster in October. Clemens August is the author of a few ascetical and ecclesiastico-political works. The most important is an exposition of the rights of Church and State entitled “Ueber den Frieden unter der Kirche and den Staaten”, published at Münster in 1843.


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