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Franz Xaver von Funk

Church historian, b. in the small market-town of Abtsgemund in Wurtemberg, October 12, 1840; d. at Tubingen, February 24, 1907

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Funk, FRANZ XAVER VON, church historian, b. in the small market-town of Abtsgemund in Wurtemberg, October 12, 1840; d. at Tubingen, February 24, 1907. The son of an inn-keeper, Franz first attended the gymnasium at Ellwagen, and, on finishing his course of secondary studies, proceeded in 1859 to the University of Tubingen. Residing at the theological house of studies called Wilhelmsstift he studied philosophy and theology, and also found time to attend courses on classical philology and political economy with such profit that in 1862 he gained the prize offered by the faculty of political science for the best essay on the theme: “Was verstand man im 18. Jahrhundert unter Polizei?” (What signification had the word police in the 18th century?). Some of his earlier publications treated subjects connected with political economy. Having received his doctorate of philosophy in 1863, he devoted a year in the ecclesiastical seminary to moral theology and preparation for the priesthood. He was ordained at Rottenburg, August 10, 1864, and his first work was in the care of souls; he felt, however, that the whole bent of his mind lay in the direction of intellectual labor. In October, 1865, he obtained permission to proceed to Paris to pursue further the study of political economy; the journey through France and his residence at Paris acted as a great mental stimulus. On his return in 1866, he was appointed tutor at the Wilhelmsstift, where his duty was to direct the personal studies and preparation for examinations of the theological students. When Hefele, then professor of church history at Tubingen, was called to Rome in 1868 as consultor during the preparation for the Vatican Council, Funk acted as substitute. Hefele did not return to his chair, being appointed Bishop of Rottenburg on June 17, 1869, and Funk was appointed his successor. In 1870 Funk was named extraordinary, and in 1875 ordinary professor of church history, patrology, and Christian archaeology, an office which he filled till his death.

His life was henceforth entirely devoted to his professorial duties and historical researches, especially to the various branches of the history of the early Church. His first important publications belong to the sphere of political science and the history of economics, and include the two treatises, “Zins and Wucher, eine moraltheologische Abhandlung” (Tubingen, 1868), and “Geschichte des kirchlichen Zinsverbotes” (Tubingen, 1878). Other articles on the same subject written by him either during this or a later period are: “Klemens von Alexandrien tither Familie and Eigentum” [Theologische Quartalschrift” (1871), 427-449; reprinted in “Kirchengeschichtliche Abhandlungen and Untersuchungen”, II, 45 sqq.]; “Handel and Gewerbe im christlichen Altertum” [in “Theol. Quartalschrift” (1876); reprinted in “Kirchengesch. Abhand. u. Untersuch.”, II, 60 sqq.]; “Veber Reichtum and Handel im christlichen Altertum” [Ibid., III, 150 sqq., first published in “Histor.—politische Blatter” (1902), II]. Funk’s professorial duties and his early study of classical philology soon led him into the province of early Christian literature and church history, and in these departments he accomplished his most important work as a scholar. In the former department his task consisted principally in the issuing of new editions of texts, prepared in accordance with the rules of historical and textual criticism. His predecessor Hefele had issued a scholarly edition of the works of the Apostolic Fathers, “Opera patrum apostolicorum”, but the last edition was that of 1855, and the discovery of important manuscripts rendered a new edition necessary. Funk undertook the task, and the “Opera patrum apostolicorum” appeared in two volumes (Tubingen, 1878-1881), the first containing the authentic and the second the apocryphal writings. After the discovery of the Didache, a new edition of the first volume was issued in 1887; a fresh edition (the second) of the whole work appeared in 1901. The “Sammlung von Quellenschrif ten” (Tubingen, 1901; 2nd ed., 1906) contains a synopsis with the text of the authentic writings. Funk also published separately the Didache and certain of the early writings connected with this work (“Doctrina XII apostolorum”, “Canones apostolorum ecclesiastici ac reliquae doctrinte de duabus viis expositiones veteres”, Tubingen, 1887). His studies of the “Apostolic Constitutions” led Funk to the conviction that the existing editions of the “Constitutiones apostolic” and of the Syrian “Didascalia apostolorum” were unsatisfactory. He devoted many years to the preparation of a new edition, which was given to the public in 1905 (“Didascalia et Constitutiones Apostolorum”, ed. F. X. von Funk, 2 vols. Paderborn, 1905), and was received with the greatest commendation by the learned world. He also published three works connected with early Christian literature. In the treatise “Die Echtheit der Ignatianischen Briefe” (Tubingen, 1883), he successfully refuted the attacks made on these important sub-apostolic writings, and demonstrated conclusively the authorship of St. Ignatius of Antioch.

For many years his attention was almost exclusively devoted to a group of writings, which constitute the principal source of information as to early Christian liturgy and discipline, namely the Didache, the Didascalia, the Apostolic Constitutions, the “Canones Hippolyti”, the Egyptian Church Order, and the “Testamentum Domim nostri Jesu Christi” discovered by Rahmani. In opposition to the somewhat different views of other investigators, Funk sought to establish the connection between these writings, and from this the date of their origin. The two works, which Funk devoted to this object, are: “Die Apostolischen Konstitutionen” (Tubingen, 1891), and “Dos Testament unseres Herrn and die verwandten Schriften” (Mainz, 1901). Similar investigations in the field of literary history and numerous questions touching on the liturgy, discipline and religious life of early Christian times form the subject of the numerous articles which Funk contributed to various periodicals during the many years of his academic activity. Most of these articles were published in the “Tubinger theologische Quartalschrift”, the “Historisches Jahrbuch der Gorresgesellschaft”, the “Historisch-politische Blatter” or in the “Revue d’histoire ecclesiastique” and the majority are included, in more or less revised form, in the collection: “Kirchengeschichtliche Abhandlungen and Untersuchungen” (3 vols., Paderborn, 1897, 1899, 1907). Among the most important of these writings are those dealing with the above-mentioned pseudo-Apostolic works and their relations to one another (“Abhandlungen”, II, 108 sqq., 236 sqq., 359 sqq., III, 64 sqq., 218 sqq., 275 sqq., 350 sqq., 362 sqq., 381 sqq.); the early Christian penitential discipline and the catechumenate (Ibid., I, 155 sqq., 182 sqq., 209 sqq.; III, 42 sqq., 57 sqq.); celibacy of the clerics in major orders (Ibid., I, 121 sqq.); the Agapae and the Eucharistic Sacrifice (Ibid., I, 278, 293 sqq., III, 1 sqq., 85 sqq., 134 sqq.). One subject to which he often returned and which involved him in a long controversy with other scholars, especially with Father Kneller, S.J., was the convocation and papal ratification of the ecumenical synods of the early ages [Abhandlungen, I, 39 sqq., 87 sqq., 498 sqq., III, 143 sqq., 406 sqq.; Kneller returned to the subject again in the “Zeitschrift fur katholische Theologie” (1908), 75-99]. Of the various contributions to later Church history, which flowed from Funk’s industrious pen, may be mentioned the “Abhandlungen zur Geschichte der altbritischen Kirche” (Abhand., I, 421 sqq.), “Gerson und Gersen” (Ibid., II, 473 sqq.) “Der Verfasser der Nachfolge Christe, II; 08 sqq.), “Zur Galilei-F’rage” (Ibid., II, 4sqq.). Funk was an industrious contributor to the second edition of Herder‘s “Kirchenlexikon”, in which are found no less than 136 articles, some of considerable length, from his pen. For Kraus’s “Real-Encyklopadie der christlichen Alter-tamer” he also wrote several articles. The excellence of his “Lehrbuch der Kirchengeschichte”, as a general church history, is universally recognized; the first edition appeared in 1886, the fifth in 1907, shortly before his death, the tireless worker being suddenly cut down in the midst of his labors by an apoplectic stroke. The Tubingen “Theologische Quartalschrift” for 1907 (p. 236 sqq.) contained a posthumous article of Funk’s on the reputed writings of St. Hippolytus.

Among the Catholic historians whom Germany has produced in the last three decades Funk was undoubtedly the greatest authority and the chief historical writer on early Christian times. Clear and purely critical in method, his sole aim was the establishment of historical truth. His character was frank and conscientious; his life was blameless, as became a minister of God. As a controversialist he could be severe when an opponent allowed himself to be swayed by any other motive than the demonstration of exact truth. His method has created a school among the Catholic historians of Germany which has been a benefit to the advancement of earnest historical investigation and scholarly criticism.


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