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Paul Melchers

Cardinal, Archbishop of Cologne, b. Jan. 6, 1813, at Munster, Westphalia; d. Dec. 14, 1895, at Rome

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Melchers, PAUL, Cardinal, Archbishop of Cologne, b. January 6, 1813, at Munster, Westphalia; d. December 14, 1895, at Rome. He studied law at Bonn (1830-33), and after a few years practice at Munster, took up theology at Munich under Klee, Gorres, Windischmann and Dellinger. Ordained in 1841, he was assigned to duty in the village of Haltren. In 1844 he became vice-rector of the diocesan seminary, rector (1851), canon of the cathedral (1852), vicar-general (1854). Pius IX appointed him Bishop of Osnabruck (1857) and Archbishop of Cologne (1866). Here he labored zealously and, moreover, inaugurated (1867) at Fulda, those annual reunions of the German bishops which have since produced such excellent results. Though he had always accepted and taught the doctrine of papal infallibility, he regarded its formal definition as untimely, a conviction which he, with thirteen other bishops, expressed in a letter to the pope, September 4, 1869. At the same time, however, the bishops, in a pastoral letter which they signed without exception, warned the faithful against reports unfavorable to the future (Vatican) Council and exhorted them to await calmly its decisions. In the Council itself Archbishop Melchers took a prominent part. At the session of July 13, 1870, he voted negatively on the question of papal infallibility; but he refused to sign an address in which fifty-five other members of the minority notified the pope of their immediate departure and reiterated their non placet. He left Rome before the fourth solemn session, giving as his reason the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, and declaring his readiness to abide by the decisions of the Council. On his return to Cologne he proclaimed in an eloquent address (July 24) the dogma defined July 18. As a means of ensuring obedience to the Council, the bishops assembled by him at Fulda, published (September 1) a joint letter which produced a deep and salutary impression, and for which Pius IX expressed (October 20) his gratitude to Archbishop Melchers. To eliminate the opposition at Bonn, the archbishop (September 20 and October 8) called on Professors Dieringer, Reusch, Langen and Knoodt to sign a declaration accepting the Vatican decrees and pledging conformity thereto in their teaching. Dieringer alone complied; the others were suspended and eventually (March 12, 1872) excommunicated.

The encroachments and repressive measures of the Kulturkampf (q.v.) were firmly resisted by Archbishop Melchers. In June, 1873, he excommunicated two priests who had joined the Old Catholics; for this and for other administrative acts he was fined and imprisoned six months (March 12—October 9, 1874). On December 2, 1875, the president of the Rhine Province demanded his resignation on pain of deposition; he refused, but learning that preparations were being made to deport him to Kustrin, he escaped (December 13) to Maestricht and took refuge with the Franciscans. From their monastery he administered his diocese during ten years. Knowing, however, the temper of the German government and fearing that his absence from his see would prove injurious to religion, he on different occasions informed Leo XIII of his willingness to resign for the general good. The pope at last reluctantly consented, but called him to Rome and created him cardinal (July 27, 1885). In 1892 during a serious illness, he was received into the Society of Jesus and lived as a Jesuit until his death three years later. He was laid to rest in the cathedral of Cologne amid obsequies that attested the people’s admiration and love. St. Paul’s church in the same city, completed in 1908, fittingly commemorates Melcher’s heroic struggle for the liberty of the Church.

His principal publications are: “Erinnerungen an die Feier des 50 jahrigen Bischofsjubilaums des h. Vaters Pius IX” (Cologne, 1876); “Eine Unterweisung fiber das Gebet” (Cologne, 1876); “Eine Tinterweisung fiber das heilige Messopfer” (Cologne, 1879); “Das Sendschreiben des heiligen Vaters Papst Leo XIII fiber den Socialismus” (Cologne, 1880); “Die katholische Lehre von der Kirche” (Cologne, 1881); ` Das eine Nothwendige” (Cologne, 1882); “De canonica dicecesium visitatione” (Rome, 1892).


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