I. HISTORY.—In the early Middle Ages the greater part of the territory of the present Diocese of Linz was subject to the bishops of Lauriacum (Lorch); at a later date it formed part of the great Diocese of Passau, which extended from the Isar to the Leitha. The Prince-Bishop of Passau personally administered the upper part or Upper Austria, while an. auxiliary bishop, having his residence at Vienna and called the Official, administered for him the eastern part or Lower Austria. To do away with the political influence in his territories of the bishops of Passau, who were also princes of the Empire, Joseph II decided to found two new dioceses. These were Linz and St. Polten, which in a certain measure were to renew the old Lauriacum, and the emperor only awaited the death of Cardinal Firmian, then Bishop of Passau, to carry out his plans. The cardinal’s eyes were scarcely closed (d. March 13, 1783), before the emperor on March 16 seized all the landed property of the Diocese of Passau in his territories. On the same day he appointed the former Official for Passau at Vienna, Count von Herberstein, first Bishop of Linz. It was the intention of the emperor that the new bishop should at once assume his office. Against these acts of the emperor the cathedral chapter of Passau sent, first, an appeal to the emperor himself, which naturally was rejected; then an appeal to the Imperial Diet at Ratisbon, from which body, however, help could scarcely be expected. Assistance offered by Prussia was refused by Cardinal Firmian’s successor, Bishop Auersperg, an adherent of Josephinism. The Bishop of Passau and the majority of his cathedral chapter finally yielded in order to save the secular property of the diocese. By an agreement of July 4, 1784, the confiscation of all the properties and rights belonging to the Diocese of Passau in Austria was annulled, and the tithes and revenues were restored to it. In return Passau gave up its diocesan rights and authority in Austria, including the provostship of Ardagger, and bound itself to pay 400,000 gulden ($900,000)—afterwards reduced by the emperor to one-half—toward the equipment of the new diocese. There was nothing left for Pope Pius VI to do but to give his consent, even though unwillingly, to the emperor’s despotic act. The papal sanction of the agreement between Vienna and Passau was issued on November 8, 1784, and on January 28, 1785, appeared the Bull of Erection, “Romanus Pontifex”.
The first bishop (1785-8), Ernest Johann Nepomuk, Imperial Count von Herberstein, formerly titular Bishop of Eucarpia, had been the Official of the Prince-Bishop of Passau and Vicar-General of Lower Austria. The appointment was confirmed by the pope on February 14, 1785, and the bishop was enthroned on May 1 1785. By order of the emperor the cathedral chapter was to consist of a vicar-general, a provost, a dean, a custos, and thirteen simple ecclesiastics; the members were appointed by the emperor, before the approval of the pope was received. The Bull of Erection assigned the ancient parish church of Linz as the cathedral, but the former church of the Jesuits was, without notification to the Papal See of the substitution, at once chosen in its place; it was not until 1841 that the change was sanctioned by a Bull. In 1789 the endowment of the diocese was fixed at 12,000 gulden ($4,800), to which were added the revenues from the property of several suppressed monasteries. The territorial limits of the diocese corresponded to those of the Crownland of Upper Austria with the addition of several parishes of Salzburg, to the separation of which the Archbishop of Salzburg gave his consent in1786. At the time of its foundation, the diocese included 26 deaneries with 404 parishes.
The new diocese, like the whole of Austria at that time, suffered much from the numerous, often precipitate and reckless, ordinances of the government officials, who interfered in almost all domains of Church life and often subjected bishop, clergy, and laity to petty regulations. As early as 1785 the Viennese ecclesiastical order of services was made obligatory, “in accordance with which all musical litanies, novenas, octaves, the ancient touching devotions, also processions, vespers, and similar ceremonies, were done away with.” Numerous churches and chapels were closed and put to secular uses; the greater part of the old religious foundations and monasteries were suppressed as early as 1784. In all these innovations the Bishop of Linz and his chapter aided and supported the government much too willingly. Not only in secular matters did the bishop ask for the assistance of the provincial government at Linz, he also sought to obtain the approbation of the civil authorities for the statutes of his chapter, as well as for the episcopal and consistorial seals. Nevertheless there could be no durable peace with the bureaucratic civil authorities, and Herberstein was repeatedly obliged to complain to the emperor of the tutelage in which the Church was kept, but the complaints bore little fruit.
The next bishop, Joseph Anton Gall (1788-1807), had been of great service to the Austrian school system as cathedral scholasticus and chief supervisor of the normal schools. He was an adherent of Josephinism, and permitted the chancellor of the consistory, George Rechberger, a layman and Josephinist, to exercise great influence over the ecclesiastical administration of his diocese. Ecclesiastical conditions became more satisfactory during his episcopate, but much of the credit for this is due to Emperors Leopold II and Francis II who repealed many overhasty reforms of Joseph II. The general seminaries introduced in 1783 were set aside, and the training of the clergy was again made the care of the bishops. Bishop Gall, therefore, exerted himself for years to establish a theological institute for his diocese; it was opened in 1794. Another permanent service of the bishop was the founding of a seminary for priests; for this he bought in 1804 a house out of his own means, and made the institution heir to all his property. The third Bishop of Linz, Sigismund von Hohenwart (1809-25), had been a cathedral canon of Gurk and Vicar-General of Klagenfurt. He was appointed by the emperor on January 10, 1809, but the appointment did not receive papal approbation until December, 1814, on account of the imprisonment of the pope. The bishop took energetic measures against the visionary followers of Poschl and Boos, who were then numerous in Upper Austria. His successor was the Benedictine Gregor Thomas Ziegler (1827-52), formerly Bishop of Tarnov. Although the Church throughout Austria at this date was still dependent to a very great degree on the government in ecclesiastical matters, the bishop knew how to revive and strengthen the ecclesiastical spirit in his clergy and people. Of great importance was the introduction of the Jesuits and their settlement on the Freinberg near Linz, which was accomplished by means of the vigorous and generous aid of Archduke Maximilian of Este, and the foundation of numerous other religious establishments (Franciscans, Salesians, Sisters of Mercy etc.).
The Revolution of 1848 not only increased political liberty, but also gave to the Church greater independence in its own province, and the bishop at once made use of the regained freedom to revive popular missions, which had been discontinued since the reign of Maria Theresa. In 1850 at his instance a ten days’ mission was held by the Redemptorists, at which the number of communicants was reckoned at 50,000. In the same year the diocesan theological institute was placed entirely under episcopal supervision, and an examination of candidates for the position of parish priests was established; in October for the first time examinations were held by prosynodal examiners. The session of the Third German Catholic Congress, held at Linz in 1850, also strengthened the Church in the diocese. A great development of religious life in the diocese resulted from the restored liberties of the Church. Much of the credit for this growth is due to the vigorous and unwearied labors of the fifth bishop, the great Franz-Josef Rudigier (1853-84). His deep religious faith and his preeminently Catholic principles, as well as his unyielding will, made him for many years the intellectual leader of the Austrian Catholics in their struggle with Liberalism. Austrian Liberalism, antagonistic to the Church, controlled for decades the destinies of the country. The bishop was the zealous friend and promoter of every expression of religious life: Christian schools, religious associations, the building of churches, the Catholic press, the founding of houses of the religious orders and congregations, which greatly increased during his episcopate. Ever memorable is the manly stand he took on behalf of the Concordat of 1855. This Concordat was bitterly antagonized and much calumniated by the Liberals and was annulled by the government in 1868 and 1870 without consultation with the Holy See.
Equally memorable is his struggle against what are called the “Interconfessional” laws of May 25, 1868, which were hostile to the Church, and to the marriage and school laws. The bishop’s opposition to these ordinances led to judicial proceedings against him and to a fine, which was, however, at once remitted by the emperor. His defense of the rights of the Church in regard to the Christian schools had for result that the Liberal parliamentary majority in 1869 confiscated the lands forming the endowment of the diocese, and withheld them until the downfall of Liberalism in 1883. The great bishop left a lasting memorial in the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at Linz, for which he prepared the way by founding in 1855 an association for building the cathedral. His successor, Ernst Maria Muller, had only a short episcopate (1885-8). In the next bishop, Franz Maria Doppelbauer (1889-1908), the diocese received a truly apostolic head, whose influence extended far beyond his own sphere of work. He was a vigorous patron and promoter of every Catholic interest in Austria. As a true modern bishop he gave special encouragement to Catholic associations and the Catholic press, which, even during his earliest years on the mission, he had done much to encourage, establishing personally a newspaper. He founded at Urfahr a magnificent seminary for boys, the Petrinum, as a fine training-ground for the future clergy. The completion of the cathedral (consecrated May, 1905) was also due to his energetic efforts. The present bishop is Rudolf Hittmair, who has written the history of the suppression of the monasteries in Austria by Joseph II. He was born July 24, 1859; appointed bishop March 17, 1909; consecrated May 1, 1909.
II. STATISTICS.—The Diocese of Linz includes the Duchy of Upper Austria and some townships in Lower Austria. The Duchy of Upper Austria has an area of nearly 4625 square miles; the population is 840,900. According to the census of 1900, it possessed 810,246 inhabitants, of whom 790,270 were Catholics, 18,373 Protestants, 1280 Jews. The Diocese of Linz is divided into 34 deaneries, and, at the beginning of 1910, included 419 parishes, 1 Expositur, 48 benefices, 718 secular priests, 479 regulars, 561 Catholic schools, and 813,541 souls (20,506 non-Catholics) of pure German descent. The bishop is appointed by the emperor. The cathedral chapter consists of a mitred provost, who is appointed by the pope, a dean, a scholasticus, five canons (one appointed by the bishop, the others by the emperor), and six honorary canons. The ecclesiastical schools and institutions for training and education in the diocese are: the seminary for priests in connection with the diocesan theological school (7 professors, 84 students), the aforesaid episcopal seminary for boys (Collegium Petrinum), connected with the episcopal private gymnasium at Urfahr on the bank of the Danube and opposite Linz (18 professors and teachers, 8 prefects, 365 pupils), and 3 preparatory seminaries for boys.
The male orders in the diocese are: 2 monasteries of Canons Regular of St. Augustine at St. Florian and Reichersberg, with (in 1910) 114 fathers, 12 clerics, 6 lay brothers, and a theological school of the order at St. Florian; 1 monastery of Praemonstratensian Canons at Sclilagl, 42 fathers, 3 clerics, 1 brother; 2 Benedictine abbeys at Kremsmunster and Lambach, 112 fathers, 10 clerics, 12 brothers; 2 Cistercian abbeys, Schlierbach and Wilhering, 60 fathers, 10 clerics, 1 lay brother; 7 Franciscan monasteries, 33 fathers, 31 brothers; 4 Capuchin monasteries, 33 fathers, 20 brothers; 1 monastery of the Discalced Carmelites, 10 fathers, 4 clerics, 8 brothers; 1 monastery of the Brothers of Mercy, 1 father, 19 brothers; 3 houses of the Jesuits, 45 fathers, 14 brothers; 2 houses of the Redemptorists, 14 fathers, 16 brothers; 2 houses of the Congregation of Mary (Brothers of Mary), 5 fathers, 50 brothers; 1 missionhouse of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, 5 fathers, 2 clerics, 3 brothers; 1 house of the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians), 5 fathers, 20 brothers; 1 institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, 4 brothers. Total, 479 priests, 41 clerics, 205 brothers. The female orders and congregations have numerous houses in the diocese; the members devote themselves mainly to the training and education of girls in boarding-schools, day schools, orphan asylums, etc., and also to nursing the sick: Ursulines, 58 sisters; Sisters of St. Elizabeth, 46 sisters; Discalced Carmelites, 39 sisters in 2 houses; Salesian Nuns, 38 sisters; Redemptorists, 41 sisters; Ladies of Charity of the Good Shepherd, 53; Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, 297 in 17 houses; Sisters of Mercy of St. Charles Borromeo, 111 in 44 houses; Sisters of the Holy Cross, 637 in 79 houses; School Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, 377 in 39 institutes; School Sisters of Notre Dame, 24 in 2 houses; Sisters of the Third Order of Mount Carmel, 153 in 26 institutes; Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, 25 sisters; Sisters of the Congregation of Christian Charity, 18 sisters. Total, 186 houses with 1917 sisters.
Religious life is in general in a flourishing condition; there are numerous religious associations and brotherhoods. The Piusverein, with its headquarters at Linz has for its special object the encouragement of the Catholic press. The most important church in the diocese is the new Gothic cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, built from the plans of the Cologne architect, Vincenz Statz. It was begun in 1862 and consecrated in 1905; the tower, 443 feet high, was finished in 1902. The old cathedral, originally the church of the Jesuits, was built in the Barocco style between 1669 and 1682. There are several old collegiate churches (St. Florian, Kremsmunster, Mondsee, Lambach, Garsten, Reichersberg, Wilhering etc.), originally built in the Romanesque period and nearly all rebuilt in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the Barocco style. The most important churches in the Barocco style of architecture are the collegiate churches of St. Florian (1636-1745), and of Baumgartenberg (rebuilt 1684-1718). The most important buildings of the Gothic period are the parish church at Steyr (begun in 1443), with a tower 263 feet high, and the church of the hospital at Braunau on the Inn (1439-92), with a tower 300 feet high. A work of sculpture celebrated in the history of art is the high altar at St. Wolfgang carved by Michael Pacher in 1481.