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Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Joseph II

German Emperor of the House of Hapsburg-Lorraine (1741-1790)

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Joseph II (1741-90), German Emperor (1765-90), f the House of Hapsburg-Lorraine, son and successor of Maria Theresa and Francis I.

I. DEVELOPMENT OF CHARACTER.—Of his mother’s sixteen children he was the most difficult to manage, and her attempts to frighten him by threats of the spirit-world only laid the foundations of his religious scepticism. A soldier-tutor employed in vain the severity of a martinet; a Jesuit instructed him in religion, Latin, mathematics, and military science, but the pedantic nature of the training deprived him of all disposition for religion and earnest studies; another tutor, who wrote fifteen large volumes for the prince’s instruction in history, destroyed all his respect for the historical characters of the past. Flatterers, and even the tutor himself, stimulated the extravagant imperiousness of the crown-prince, while Martini (professor of natural law) found in him an eager student of physiocracy—a doctrine which affected profoundly Joseph‘s mind, firing him with an enthusiasm for current views, the “rights of man”, and the welfare of the people. French “enlightenment” also influenced him, especially in the persons of Voltaire and his royal adept, Frederick the Great. Joseph viewed with jealous discontent the intellectual superiority of the Protestant North of Germany, then first dominant over the Catholic South: he also reflected with chafing impatience on Frederick’s victories and talent for government, and thence conceived a definite aim in life. But when he ascended the throne, his plans failed utterly.

II. As RULER.—After 1765 Joseph acted as emperor and co-regent with his mother, but administered only the business routine and the military affairs of the empire. Finally, resenting the manner in which his hands were tied by his prudent parent, he took to travel in Italy, France, and the Crown Lands. Twice he met Frederick the Great, and in 1780 Catherine II of Russia. In the same year his mother, Empress Maria Theresa, died, and Joseph was free.

(a) In the Empire.—Joseph applied himself with the best intentions, among other matters, to the reform of imperial jurisprudence. But difficulties from within and without checked his fiery enthusiasm. Although a Liberal and an imperialist, whenever the interests of the Hapsburgs were in question, he allowed the imperial power to be lessened after the fashion of other German princes. Ecclesiastical politics also played a considerable role in the empire. Joseph tried to secure German ecclesiastical preferments for Austrian princes, urged obsolete imperial privileges, e.g. the so-called Panisbriefe, to provide for the support of his lay adherents in imperial monasteries. By cutting off the Austrian territory of such great metropolitan sees as Salzburg and Passau, he severed the last tie which united Austria with the empire. Though not in itself conflicting with German interests, his scheme of exchanging the Austrian Netherlands for the neighboring Bavaria on the occasion of the impending change of dynasty, led to the Bavarian War of Succession. In 1785 Prussia opposed the revival of this scheme by forming the “League of Princes”. Joseph now endeavored to expand his dominions in the north and east, and to make Austria dominant in Central Europe. He obtained a considerable increase of territory in the First Partition of Poland (1773), and concluded a defensive alliance with Russia, which led to great schemes for a larger gain of territory in the east. In the Austro-Russian war against the Turks (1788), however, though Joseph‘s army took Belgrade, Catherine obtained all the fruits of the campaign.

(b) In Austria.—In home affairs, Joseph sought to weld the fundamentally differing peoples of the Austrian State—Germans, Slays, Hungarians, Belgians, Italians—into one compact nation. So he began to level and centralize great and small things in every direction and in the greatest haste. Frederick II said of Joseph: “He takes the second step before the first.” Joseph‘s predecessor had not been heedless of the new tendencies. She had set the machine of state running in a modern groove. In church affairs she had resorted to strict measures to regulate disorders, but Joseph saw in these only “half measures and inconsistencies”, and, in the glow of conviction, “desired by hot-house methods to bring his mother’s incipient reforms to maturity” (Krones). He united the administration of all the provinces in the central council at Vienna, of which he himself was the head, while he abolished their diets or paralysed them by the provincial executive authorities. Though a professed enemy of every irregularity, he often undertook to decide matters belonging to the central government at Vienna. German became the official language in all the countries subject to his rule; the courts of justice were independent and impartial to noble and peasant. Serfdom and the right of the landed nobles to punish their tenants ceased; the codification of the civil and criminal laws, begun in 1753, was furthered, and the death penalty was abolished. In his Ehepatent Joseph created the Austrian marriage law; he subjected the nobility and clergy to state taxation, and opened up new sources of revenue; he abolished the censorship and permitted freedom of speech, a measure which loosed a flood of pamphlets of the most pernicious kind, especially in ecclesiastical polemics.

III. ECCLESIASTICAL POLICY.—(a) Its Development.—Joseph was the father of Josephinism, which is nothing else than the highest development of the craving common among secular princes after an episcopal and territorial church. Its beginnings can be traced in Austria to the thirteenth century, and it became clearly marked in the sixteenth, especially so far as the administration of church property was concerned. It was fostered in the second half of the eighteenth century by the spread of Febronian and Jansenist ideas, based on Gallican principles. These notions were by no means new to wide circles of German Catholics or at the court of Vienna. Prince Kaunitz, the chancellor of state, who directed Austrian politics for forty years from 1753, was a personal friend of Voltaire, and thus a zealous champion of Gallicanism. The Jansenist, Van Swieten (court-physician to Maria Theresa), was president of the imperial commission on education. At the university, “enlightenment” had powerful advocates in Martini, Sonnenfels, and Riegger, and it was there that Joseph‘s idea of a national state-church received its legal basis. According to natural law, the chief object of a state ought to be the greatest possible happiness of its subjects. The chief obstacles, neglect of duty and lack of mutual goodwill in individuals, religion alone can remove by its appeals to conscience. Hence the State recognizes religion as the principal factor in education: “The Church is a depart-ment of police, which must serve the aims of the State until such time as the enlightenment of the people permit of its relief by the secular police” (Sonnenfels).The canonist Riegger derived the supremacy of the State over the Church from the theory of an original compact (pactum union’s), in Virtue of which the Government exercises in the name of all individuals a certain ecclesiastical jurisdiction, the Jura circa sacra. Another canonist (Gmeiner) formulated the following theory: Any canonical legislation that conflicts with the interests of the State is opposed to natural law, and therefore to the will of Christ; consequently the Church has no right to enact such laws, nor can the State accept them. Kaunitz reduced these principles to practice: “The supremacy of the State over the Church extends to all ecclesiastical laws and practices devised and established solely by man, and whatever else the Church owes to the consent and sanction of the secular power. Consequently, the State must always have the power to limit, alter, or annul its former concessions, whenever reasons of state, abuses, or altered circumstances demand it.” Joseph raised these propositions to principles of government, and treated ecclesiastical institutions as public departments of the State. Maria Theresa has been incorrectly represented as favoring Josephinism. Most of the measures that presaged Josephinism in the latter part of her reign had not her approval. Joseph‘s entire policy was the embodiment of his idea of a centralized empire developing from within and in which all public affairs, political and ecclesiastico-political, were treated as an indivisible whole. His reforms, a medley of financial, social-reformatory, and ecclesiastico-reformatory ideas, have no solid foundation.

(b) The Reforms.—Bishoprics, religious orders, and benefices were limited by the Austrian boundary. Non-Austrian bishops were excluded, which simplified the often very confused overlapping of diocesan authorities. The announcement of papal, in fact of all ecclesiastical, decrees, was made dependent on imperial approval (see Placet); decisions on impediments to marriage were referred to the bishops; the communication of the bishops with Rome, and of the religious orders with their generals in foreign countries, was forbidden, partly from considerations of political economy. In 1783, while at Rome, Joseph personally threatened that he would establish an independent state-church; he abolished all exemptions from episcopal authority and by an obligatory oath brought the bishops into dependence on the State. The acceptance of papal titles and attendance at the German College in Rome were forbidden, and a German College was established at Pavia in opposition to the Roman institution. The Edict of Toleration of 1781 granted to all denominations the free exercise of their religion and civil rights; at the same time a series of petty regulations concerning Divine service prescribed the number of the candles, the length and style of the sermons, the prayers, and hymns. All superfluous altars and all gorgeous vestments and images were to be removed; various passages in the Breviary were to have paper pasted over them; dogmatic questions were excluded from the pulpit, from which, on the other hand, all government proclamations were to be announced. “Our Brother the Sacristan“, as Frederick the Great named Joseph, sincerely believed that in doing this he was creating a purified Divine service, and never heeded the discontent of his people and the sneers of non-Catholics.

The fundamental idea underlying a state-church is that the State is the administrator of the temporal property of the Church. Joseph embodied this idea in a law merging the funds of all churches, religious houses, and endowments within his territories, into one great fund for the various requirements of public worship, called the Religionsfonds. This fund was the pivot measure around which all other reforms turned. Not only ecclesiastical property hitherto devoted to parochial uses, not only the property which the suppressed religious houses had devoted to parochial works, but all ecclesiastical property the still remaining religious houses, chapels, confraternities, and benefices, and all existing religious endowments whatsoever—was held to be part of the new fund. The suppression of the religious houses in 1782 affected at first only the contemplative orders. The Religionsfonds, created out of the property of the monasteries, gave a new direction to Joseph‘s monastic policy. In the foreground stood “the wealthy prelacies”, which from 1783 were the chief object of his suppressions. The journey of Pius VI to Vienna was fruitless, and the laity reacted but feebly against the suppressions. Of the 915 monasteries (762 for men, and 153 for women) existing in 1780 in German Austria (including Bohemia, Moravia, and Galicia), 388 (280 for men, 108 for women) were closed—figures which are often greatly exaggerated. By these suppressions the “religious fund” reached 35,000,000 gulden ($14,000,000). Countless works of art were destroyed or found their way to second-hand dealers or the mint, numberless libraries were pitilessly scattered.

The suppression of the tertiaries and hermits brought no increase to the fund, and the suppression of the confraternities (1783) was likewise a financial failure. They were looked upon as sources of superstition and religious fanaticism; half their property was allotted to educational purposes, the other half was given over, “with all their ecclesiastical privileges, indulgences, and graces”, to a new “Single Charitable Association”, which possessed the features of both a confraternity and a charitable institution, and was intended to end all social distress. But the people had little taste for this “enlightened confraternity”. The suppression of the filial churches and chapels-of-ease permitted the creation of new parishes. In carrying out this measure and in the suppression of the confraternities, Joseph‘s reforms met with the first popular resistance. The endowments for Masses and altars, for oratories, chapels-of-ease, and confraternities, for processions and pilgrimages, and for devotions no longer permitted in the new arrangement of Divine service, all went to the Religionsfonds, which undertook to satisfy the provisions for Masses, wherever the fact of endowment could be proved. Joseph assigned a definite number as pensions for dispossessed monks and as the stipends of parochial clergy. Benefices without cure of souls, prebends in the larger churches, and all canonries above a fixed number, belonging to collegiate churches and cathedral chapters, were forfeited to the “religious fund”, and the incumbents transferred to parochial positions. A maximum was fixed for the endowment of bishoprics, the surplus being turned over to the “religious fund”, as were also the incomes of livings during their vacancy.

The first duty of the “religious fund” was to provide for the ex-religious. Their number did not exceed ten thousand. They received a yearly salary of 150 to 200 gulden ($60 to $80), and the monks were transferred to parochial and scholastic work. The state-church reached its fullest expression in the parochial organization. The State undertook to train and remunerate the clergy, to present to livings, and to regulate Divine service. No parish church was to be over an hour’s walk from any parishioner; and a church was to be provided for every 700 souls. The monasteries which still remained bore the main burden of the parochial organization, and their inmates, as well as the ex-monks, were required to pass a state concursus for the pastoral positions, while only in cases of extreme necessity did the “religious fund” furnish the means for the building of churches and rectories, for the care of cemeteries, and the equipment of churches. Naturally, the “religious fund” had to pay the costs of placing the clergy under state control, of the general seminaries and the support of the young clerics, who thus became wholly dependent on the Government, of the institutes for the practical education of the clergy, which were to be established in every diocese, and of the support of sick and aged priests after the incorporation with the “religious fund” of the funds created for superannuated priests (Emeritenfonds) and to supply needed support (Defizientenfonds).

The academic reforms of Maria Theresa (Studienreform) and of Rautenstrauch (Studienplan) in 1776, and the introduction of Riegger’s “Manual of Canon Law“, paved the way for the creation of the general theological seminaries. Joseph founded twelve: at Vienna, Graz, Prague, Olmutz, Presburg, Pesth, Innsbruck, Freiburg, Lemberg (two for Galicia, Greek and Latin Rites), Louvain, and Pavia. In 1783 all the monastic schools and diocesan houses of studies were suppressed. The “general seminaries” were boarding-houses (Konvikte) connected with the universities; some of them, however, had their own theological courses. Five years of study in the seminary were followed by one in the bishop’s training-house (Priesterhaus) or in a monastery. The principles of the seminary directors were Liberal, in keeping with the rationalistic theology of the State. Sharp opposition arose, especially on the part of the ecclesiastical foundations (Stifte) and the monasteries. The novices, educated at their expense in the general seminaries, for the most part lost their monastic vocation. Some of the general seminaries were badly managed. At Innsbruck, Pavia, and Louvain, unsuitable directors were appointed; at Louvain the general seminary was eventually the cause of a civil war and of the revolt of Belgium. However, other seminaries sent forth efficient pastors and learned theologians (Freiburg). The fermentation within the ranks of the clergy of southwest Germany and Austria until after the middle of the nineteenth century came from the Liberal ideas imbibed at this time.

The accounts of the deplorably depraved conditions in the general seminaries, which are met with in earlier Catholic literature (Theiner, S. Brunner, Bruck, Stockl) and occasionally repeated even now, are in part exaggerations of faults and blunders that were real enough; to a considerable extent, however, they are based on forgeries “invented for the purpose of stirring up the smouldering flames of the Belgian Revolution”. Seminaries like those of Freiburg and Vienna were counted among the worst, though it has been since proved that they were among the best. The most appalling abuses were reported of a seminary at Rottenburg in the Tyrol, though there was never a seminary in the place. These accusations, true or false, but chiefly the exhaustion of the “religious fund”, hastened their suppression in 1790. They became, however, the models of the actual theological Konvikte (houses for aspirants to the priesthood after their classical instruction in a state gymnasium), and the program of studies laid out by Rautenstrauch is to this day the groundwork of the curriculum in the Catholic theological faculties of Germany and Austria. The vesting of all ecclesiastical property in a single treasury was impossible in practice. In the case of monastic property it was capitalized at great loss. The capital of every church and foundation had to be described publicly, converted into national bonds, and invested in the “religious fund”. In this way Joseph to a certain extent satisfied his distrust of the ecclesiastical administration of property, while the same was placed at the service of the heavily encumbered state treasury. But many of the enterprises formerly conducted by the religious foundations could be no longer carried on owing to the slender returns. Still greater was the damage done to the credit and the resources of entire provinces, for hitherto the ecclesiastical institutions (e.g. the confraternities, chapels and churches in the country districts had been the only moneylenders. Peasants, mechanics, and artisans were now placed at the mercy of usurious Jews and foreigners, while many were forthwith ruined by the sudden demands made on them. A tax was also levied on church property which had escaped complete secularization. From 1788 it was imposed on the still existing religious orders and on the secular clergy. This oppressively high income-tax was meant to divert into the coffers of the “religious fund” all revenues of the aforesaid institutions not absolutely necessary for the support of life.

(c) Historical Importance.—The Religionsfonds was not the magnanimous act in favor of the religious needs of the people that it is held to have been. Formed by consolidating almost the entire property of the Church, it undertook only such obligations as it was in any case the duty of the State to fulfil, especially after the suppression of institutions which had previously of their own accord relieved the State of a portion of these burdens. Moreover the “religious fund” was from the first diverted to other reforms, e.g. in education; in time of war it was made to contribute heavy subsidies and suspended almost all its contributions for the religious needs of the people. We can thus easily understand how in the nineteenth century the “religious fund” came to need state-aid, which indeed the State was in justice bound to give in view of the fact that the national bonds, in which the “religious fund” had been chiefly invested, had sunk to one-fifth of their face value. The secularization under Joseph, if less offensive than other well-known secularizations, is nevertheless reprehensible. Joseph undertook his reforms with the best intentions, but left only vague and incomplete semblances of reform. After a reign of ten years and fully aware of his failure, he ended his unhappy and lonely existence (February 20, 1790), leaving even the monarchy itself in peril. Hungary was in a ferment; Belgium had just been lost; other provinces were in a state of violent discontent. But though in general the Josephinist system collapsed, its essential principles remain: the efforts for union among all the lands of Austria are one result of the system; another is the attitude of the nineteenth-century State towards the Church.


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