<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=1906385056278061&ev=PageView&noscript=1" />
Skip to main content Accessibility feedback

Johan Joseph Gorres

German champion of Catholic causes; b. 1776; d. 1848.

Click to enlarge

Gorres, JOHANN JOSEPH, b. at Coblenz, in the heart of the Rhine country, January 25, 1776; d. at Munich, January 29, 1848. He was the strongest and most gifted champion of Catholic Germany, from the religious and the political point of view, during the first half of the nineteenth century. His father, Morits Gorres, had been a timber merchant. His mother was descended from an Italian family named Mazza, which had settled in Coblenz. He made his secondary studies at the gymnasium of Coblenz, where, after the expulsion of the Jesuits, pedantic and superficial rationalistic methods prevailed. In his youth Gorres was a republican and rationalist, and he looked upon the French Revolution as a movement to free the nations. His earliest writings, “Der allgemeine Friede, ein Ideal” (1798), likewise the monthly publication “Das rote Blatt”, which was continued in “Der Riiberzahl in blauen Grunde” (1798-1799), reflect this state of mind. He was one of several delegates sent by the Rhine and Moselle provinces to Paris in the fall of the year 1799, to protest against the conduct of the French general Leval in the Rhine country, and to remove the uncertainty hanging over his native country. His stay in Paris cured him of his enthusiasm for the French Revolution, and the city appeared to him as a “flower-bedecked quagmire”. The pamphlet “Die Resultate meiner Sendung nach Paris” (1800) gives an account of his impressions. In it he closes the first period of his life, which was filled with plans and aspirations for the betterment of the human race and with bitter disappointments.

Returning from Paris, Gorres became professor of physics at the Sekundarschule (college) at Coblenz, where he remained until 1806. On September 14, 1801, he married Catherine von Lasaulx. As the fruits of his scientific studies at Coblenz he published a translation of Fourcroys Synoptical Chemical Tables (1801), besides the two treatises “Aphorismen uber Organonomie” (1803) and “Exposition der Phisilolgie” (1805). At the same time under the influence of Schelling he became interested in natural philosophy, art, and poetry, as appears in his essays “Aphorismen fiber die Kunst” (1802); “Glauben and Wissen” (1805); and in his articles in Aretin’s “Aurora”. He identified himself with the Romantic movement, and in 1806 became Docent at the University of Heidelberg, where German romanticism flourished, and where he found himself thrown into close association with Achim von Arnim, Klemens Brentano, and Eichendorff. The last-named assisted him in the production of his “Teutschen Volksbucher” (1807). Later on came the “Alteutschen Volksund Meisterlieder” (1817). He also contributed to the “Zeitung für Einsiedler” and the “Heildelberger Jahrbiicher”, the official organ of the Romanticists. But the hostility of the Protestants at Heidelberg, many of whom turned against the Romanticists when the latter recognized and proclaimed the greatness and nobility of the Catholic church, led Gorres to quit Heidelberg (1808), and to return to his former position at Coblenz. He now devoted himself to Germanic and mythological studies, which enabled him to produce his work, “Mythengeschichte der Asiatischen Welt” (2 vols., 1810). The important political events of the following years compelled him once more to enter the political arena. In 1814 he founded the weekly “Der Rheinische Merkur”, in which he violently attacked Napoleon, labored for the advancement of Germany, and pleaded for the restoration of the old German Empire. Napoleon is said to have called this periodical the fifth of the great powers that were allied against him.

Gorres at this period became superintendent of public instruction in the Rhine provinces. But his demand for the restoration of the old German Empire under the Emperor of Austria, and his courageous struggle on behalf of civil and political liberty, brought down upon him the hostility of the German princes, especially after the publication of his brochure: “Deutschlands Kiinftige Verfassung” (1816). The “Rheinische Merkur” was suppressed by the Prussian Government in 1816, and Gorres was dismissed from his post as superintendent of public instruction. He went back to Heidelberg, but in 1817 returned to Coblenz and founded a relief-society for the alleviation of distress in the Rhenish province. At the same time he continued his fearless work as a pamphleteer, as shown chiefly in his “Adresse der Stadt and Landschaft Koblenz and ihre Uebergabe Beim Fursten Hardenberg” (1818), and his brochure “Teutschland and die Revolution” (1819). The Prussian Government thereupon confiscated his papers and ordered his arrest. He escaped, however, to Frankfort, whence he made his way to Strasburg. Here he remained, save for a visit to Switzerland in 1821 until the year 1827. His written defense “In Sachen der Rheinprovinz and in eigener Angelegenheit” (1821) was a brilliant vindication of himself against the attitude of the Prussian Government. At the same time he addressed a warning to the princes and nations of Europe, which was published the same year, “Europa and die Revolution”. In the following year he published “Die Heilige Allienz and die Volker auf dem Kongress von Verona” (1822).

Gorres meanwhile turned again to his scientific studies, which now led him to give more attention to religious matters. He published during his stay in Strasburg “Firdusis Heldenbuch von Iran”, and was a contributor to the magazine “Der Katholik”, which had been founded in Mayence by Raess and Weiss, and in 1824 transferred to Strasburg. He contributed numerous articles to this review, among others the paper “Der hl. Franziskus von Assisi, ein Troubadour” (1826; 2nd ed., Ratisbon, 1879), the preface to Diepenbrock’s edition of the works of Heinrich Suso, besides a study on Swedenborg. In this way Gorres became more and more active as a champion and defender of religious interests.

Gorres’s nomination by King Ludwig I of Bavaria to a professorship at the University of Munich (1827) marked the opening of the last period of his life. His lectures attracted a number of distinguished students among whom we may mention Brunner, Haneberg, Sepp, Windischmann. But he became above all the head and front of a society of distinguished Catholic gentlemen who came to Munich under the patronage of King Ludwig I and who worked for the renovation of spiritual life, for the liberty of the Church, and for all things of interest to the Catholic Faith. Among the most eminent members of this circle we find the names of Arndts, Cornelius, Dollinger, Mohler, Phillips, Ringseis, and Streber. At intervals Gorres was also visited by political and religious leaders of Catholicism, both in Germany and in other countries, among them Brentano, Bohmer, Lacordaire, Lamennais, and Montalembert. In Munich also he continued his fertile and versatile literary activity. He pleaded for a Christian interpretation of history in his “Grundlage, Gliederung and Zeitenfolge der Weltgeschichte” (1830, new ed., 1884), and in the publication issued under his direction since 1831, “Gott in der Geschichte, Bilder aus alien Jahrhunderten der Christ-lichen Zeitrechnung”. Other historical productions of his pen at this period were: “Die Japhetiden and ihre Gemeinsame Heimat Armenien” (1844), and “Die drei Grundwurzeln des Keltischen Stammes in Gallien and ihre Einwanderung” (1845). He treated political questions in the “Eos”, a review founded by Herbst in 1828. His work “Der Dom zu Koln and das Munster zu Strassburg” (1842) properly belongs to the history of art.

But what engrossed Gorres’s attention above all since his stay in Strasburg was the study of mysticism. He carefully studied the mystical writers of the Middle Ages, observed partly in person the phenomena connected with the cases of the ecstatic young women of that time (Maria of Morl and others), and strove to comprehend more thoroughly the nature of Christian mysticism, which stands in the strongest contrast to rationalism and naturalism. These studies led to his writing his great work: “Die christliche Mystik” (4 vols., 1836-42; 2nd ed., 5 vols., 1879), which notwithstanding its lack of historical criticism, and in spite of many incorrect views in matters of philosophy and theology, is a magnificent work. It proved a strong stimulant to Christian faith and dealt a decisive blow to superficial rationalism in religious matters.

The religious difficulties in Prussia, in the thirties, which culminated in the arrest of the Archbishop of Cologne, Clement August (1837), recalled Gorres into the lists to champion once more the rights of the Church against the State. His “Athanasius” (1834), of which there appeared four editions that same year, written in defense of the Archbishop of Cologne, who was persecuted for doing his duty, produced a profound impression and a vigorous movement on behalf of the Archbishop. This was soon followed by his “Die Triarier” (1838), in which he opposed H. Leo, P. Marheinecke, and K. Bruno, as the advocates of liberalism in science. After the settlement of the Cologne troubles he reviewed the conflict in his treatise: “Kirche and Stoat nach Ablauf der Kolner Irrung” (1842). This attack on the religious liberty and the religious interests of German Catholics led a number of Gorres’s friends in Munich, with his assistance, to found the “Historisch-politische Blatter”, a periodical, intended to defend the rights of Catholics and to maintain Catholic interests. It began to appear in 1838, under the editorial management of Phillips and of Guido Gorres, son of the great Gorres. He himself was a zealous contributor to this publication for the first ten years of its existence and until the close of his life. We find in the very first volume an interesting article by him, “Die Wetlage”, while there is not one of the first twenty volumes which does not contain something from his gifted pen.

An important occasion once more led Gorres to come forward as the champion of Catholic life. In his “Die Wahlfahrt von Trier” (1845) he combated the schism of the so-called German Catholics, set on foot by Johannes Ronge on the occasion of the exhibition of the Holy Coat of Trier, in 1844. The evening of his life was painfully saddened by the Lola Montez epi-sode, in consequence of which several of the ablest Munich professors and Gorres’s friends were dismissed from their chairs by King Ludwig I (1847). Gorres himself was not interfered with on this occasion. His writings were published in a collected form: “Gesammelte Werke, hg. von Marie Gorres”, 6 vols. (Munich, 1854-1860); also “Gesammelte Briefe hg. Von Marie Gerres u. Fr. Binder” (3 vols. Munich 1858-74).

J. P. KIRSCH


Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission! Donate