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John Gropper

Eminent jurist and theologian, b. Feb. 24, 1503; d. March 13, 1559

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Gropper, JOHN, eminent jurist and theologian, b. February 24, 1503, at Soest, Westphalia; d. at Rome, March 13, 1559. On the completion of his classical studies in his native place, he entered at the age of fourteen the University of Cologne to take up the study of jurisprudence, and there on November 7, 1525, received the degree of Doctor of Civil Law. The following year he received the office of official sealer in the electoral municipality of Cologne. The religious questions of the day, consequent upon the doctrines of the reformers, now led him to apply himself to the study of theology, and in a short time he had acquired, “privately and without a master”, such an extensive knowledge of that science that he became known as the “os cleri Coloniensis”. In 1522, he was made canon at Xanten, and then successively dean, canon, and finally pastor and dean of Soest. His learning, eloquence, and charity towards the poor elicited admiration from friends and enemies. He supported Archbishop Hermann V of Wied in the reorganization and adjustment of the ecclesiastical and civil law in the electoral province, and was the first to determine the jurisdiction of the archiepiscopate (Jurisdictionis ecclesiastic archiepiscopalis Curiae Coloniensis reformatio, Cologne, 1529). In 1530 he accompanied the archbishop as assistant counsellor to the Diet of Augsburg, where, with Arnold of Wesel and Bernard of Hagen, he came into closer relationship with Melanchthon. To combat more effectually the errors of the Reformers, the archbishop decided upon a provincial synod to be held in Cologne in 1536, and, to insure the best possible results, entrusted the preparation of the decrees to Gropper. The latter performed the task with great credit to himself, and formulated the old canonical regulations regarding the duties of the secular and regular clergy with such clearness and precision that the synod approved his proposals with but slight changes, and requested him to compose an enchiridion which would contain at once the canons and a commentary on them (Institutio compendiaria doctrines christianae, Cologne, 1538). Other editions appeared simply under the title “Enchiridion” (Paris, 1541, 1550). In it the author gives an exposition of the Apostles’ Creed, the Seven Sacraments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Decalogue. Notwithstanding the fact, however, that the work was placed on the index of prohibited books by Clement VIII, because of the author’s adoption of a twofold formal cause of justification, namely the “justitia inhairens” and the “justitia imputata”, it was nevertheless received by many with enthusiastic approbation. It was sanctioned by the theologians of Cologne, and Cardinals Contarini, Pole, and Morone looked upon it as particularly adapted to bring about a reconciliation of the sects with Rome. At the Congress of Hagenau, in 1540, Gropper, at the instance of Philip, Landgrave of Hesse, entered into conciliatory negotiations with Bucer, which were continued at Worms and at the religious discussions in Ratisbon; but, while an apparent union was effected on the questions of grace and justification, in regard to the authority of the Church and the doctrine of the Eucharist no reconciliation was attempted. While Gropper no doubt accomplished much good by his opposition to the innovations of the reformers, it is but too evident that his zeal for union sometimes led him to sacrifice Catholic principles.

When, however, the Council of Trent defined the Catholic doctrine of justification, he at once submitted to its decision. In the meantime the archbishop himself gradually abandoned the Catholic faith and allowed the new doctrines to be preached in his diocese. He engaged Bucer and, later, Melanchthon to draw up plans for a complete reformation of the diocese on Protestant principles. In this critical moment Gropper published his “Antididagma seu christianae et catholic religionis propugnatio” (Cologne, 1544), in which he vigorously defends the Catholic Faith and refutes the errors of the reformers, at the same time requesting the deposition of the archbishop from his see. With this Paul III complied on April 16, 1546, and as his successor in the electorate of Cologne appointed the coadjutor archbishop Adolph III of Schauenburg, who, with the assistance of Gropper, succeeded in expelling from the diocese the Protestant preachers and restoring the Catholic religion. In recompense for his services to the Church, the pope appointed Gropper Provost of Bonn. In 1551 he accompanied his archbishop to the Council of Trent, where he assisted at numerous sessions and delivered the discourse, “De appellationum abusu” (Cologne, 1552). On January 20, 1556, Paul IV created him Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Lucia in Silice. This honor he accepted with great reluctance; neither did he proceed to Rome till the Protestant-minded John Gebhard of Mansfeld was appointed archbishop in 1558. His death occurred at Rome, and the pope himself preached the funeral oration. Among Cropper’s other publications may be mentioned: “Formula examinandi designatos seu praesentatos ad ecclesias parochiales” (Cologne, 1552); “Manuale pro administratione sacramentorum” etc. (Cologne, 1550); “Vonn warer, Wesenlicher vnd Pleibender Gegenwertigkeit des Leybs vnd Bluts Christi nach beschener Consecration” (Cologne, 1548).


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