Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Seeing Prussia through Austrian Eyes: The Kölner Ereignis and Its Significance for Church and State in Central Europe

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Seeing Prussia through Austrian Eyes: The Kölner Ereignis and Its Significance for Church and State in Central Europe

Article excerpt

On the evening of November 20, 1837 Archbishop Clemens August Droste zu Vischering of Cologne (see figure 1) was in his workroom, in his nightgown, when four men stormed in. The leader of this intrusion was the Oberpräsident of the Rhineland, Emst von Bodelschwingh, who informed the archbishop that by order from King Frederick William III, he was to be conveyed to the fortress of Minden. The arresting officers gave the archbishop an hour to put his affairs in order, while several wagons and a military escort awaited Clemens August and his vicar, Eduard Michaelis. A crowd gathered and as the wagons rolled away with the clergymen, Michaelis shouted to the people, "praise be to Jesus Christ."1

Far from solving Pmssia's conflict with the Catholic Church on mixed marriages and the removal of heretical teachings at the universities, this arrest and the ensuing reaction, known as the Kölner Ereignis (Cologne Incident) or the Kölner Wirren (Cologne Troubles) sparked an uproar across central Europe that forced Pmssia to make ample concessions to the Church. Furthermore, this event marked the absolutist extreme of Pmssia's erratic policy toward the Catholic Church-an open battle with the Catholic Church, as the Pmssian government stmggled to incorporate Catholics into a Protestant-dominated country. This battle injected vigor into the Church and pulled Catholicism out of its political stagnation. The Chmch should have been a source of stability for the conservative order in Prussia, but these factors ensured that instability would ensue when Church and state clashed. Significantly, the turmoil in Cologne had ramifications throughout Central Europe, causing Habsburg officials to fear the spread of disorder. But such an outcome did not occur in the Austrian Empire, as Austria had a stable Church rooted in Josephinist tradition and a nonconfessional state that enabled the Habsburg Empire to weather the storms of religious rancor. A comparison of the two powers in Central Europe, Austria and Prussia, in the Kölner Ereignis not only provides a fuller picture of the event but also illustrates important features of both states in the Vormärz that tend to be overshadowed by developments leading to the Kaiserreich in 1871.2

It is understandable why the Pmssian government would assume that moving against the Church would be an easy affair. Catholicism had suffered a series of blows since the middle of the eighteenth century-including the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the absolutism of the Vormärz. The Enlightenment had questioned the core of Catholic doctrine. The French Revolution had leveled the Church, and the secularization of ecclesiastical property in Germany had gone uncontested. The French had entered the Rhineland in 1792, taking Mainz, and occupied the left bank of the Rhine in 1794. The French introduced the revolutionary calendar in 1798, instituted secular state holidays, banned public religious symbols and processions, and replaced the teaching of religion with ethics.3 Arrangements at Basel, Rastatt, the Peace of Lunéville, and the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss had, by 1803, abolished the ecclesiastical states and compensated German princes who had lost territory west of the Rhine. The largest German states, Austria and Pmssia, had given their blessing to this secularization. East of the Rhine, Pmssia received compensation for its territories lost on the left bank of the Rhine, implemented a state takeover of churches, and supplied monks with pensions. This plundering by German princes elicited little protest from ecclesiastical officials or the pope.4 The Congress of Vienna confirmed Pmssia's annexation of the Rhineland, with the left bank reverting to the staunchly Protestant Pmssian monarch.

Catholic subjects in the Rhineland chafed under Pmssian rule, but the area remained peaceful as discontent about the subde "Protestantization" of the Rhineland was nothing more than grumbling. The provincial Stände (Estates) of Westphalia bemoaned, for example, in 1833 the violation of the freedom of conscience for Catholic soldiers, who were forced to attend Protestant services once a month by the Pmssian army. …

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