Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

JOHANN HEINRICH, GRAF VON FRANKENBERG.

Archbishop of Mechlin (Malines), Primate of Belgium, and cardinal ; b. 18 September, 1726, at Gross-Glogau, Silesia ; d. at Breda, 11 June, 1804. He belonged to an ancient family devotedly attached to the House of Hapsburg, and which remained so after the conquest of Silesia by Frederick II (1740). Although he was the sole male heir of his family and assured of the protection of the Empress Maria Theresa, he decided, when quite young, to become a priest. He attended the Jesuit college of his native city, went later to the University of Breslau, and thence to the German College at Rome, where he obtained the degrees of Doctor of Theology, and of Canon Law, and was ordained priest 10 August, 1749. On his return to Austria, he was made coadjutor to the Bishop of Görz in Carniola (1750-54), dean of the collegiate church of All Saints at Prague (1754), later of that of Sts. Cosmas and Damian at Alt-Bunzlau in Bohemia (1756), an finally Archbishop of Mechlin and primate of the Austrian Low Countries on 27 May, 1759. In this exalted post, as in those which he had previously occupied, his life was an example of every private and public virtue. It was not long before he was called on to defend the dignity and independence of his office against the Austrian Government, which, even under Maria Theresa , was foreshadowing the petty tyranny of Joseph II. Despite his great devotion to Maria Theresa, he more than once resisted the improper exactions of her ministers, who wished him to grant Lenten dispensations according to their pleasure, and interfered in the most annoying manner in matters that pertained exclusively to ecclesiastical jurisdiction . He enjoyed, however, the personal favour of Maria Theresa, who sought to have him made Archbishop of Vienna, and in 1778 exerted herself to the uttermost to obtain for him the cardinal's hat. The situation changed with the accession of Joseph II, a disciple of the "philosophers" and imbued with the principles of an "enlightened despotism". This emperor began that politico-ecclesiastical system, known as Josephinism, which meant substantially the absolute supremacy of the State. Each imperial encroachment on the inalienable rights of the Church was opposed by Frankenberg with commendable fortitude, and yet in a gentle manner and with such respect for the civil authority that the cardinal brought upon himself the bitter reproaches of such unflinching zealots as the ex- Jesuits, Feller and Dedoyar. His protests, however, were met by the Government in an ill-humoured and disdainful way. It affected, indeed, to pay no attention to them. The most serious of the conflicts was that which broke out with regard to the General Seminary, founded at Louvain in 1786 by the emperor, and to which he ordered the bishops to send their students, closing at the same time their diocesan seminaries. The heretical teaching of the professors in this new institution, and the avowed purpose of using it as an instrument of ecclesiastical reform and a weapon against "ultramontanism", soon provoked among the students an agitation that ended in a general dispersion. The irritated emperor, forthwith, summoned the cardinal to Vienna to intimidate him by means, as he wrote to Kaunitz, "of those vigorous and unanswerable arguments of which you know so well how to make use". Ill, bereft of his advisers, threatened with indefinite detention at a great distance from his diocese ; reared, moreover, in those principles of respect for the sovereign power, which to us seem so exaggerated, the cardinal consented to sign a rather equivocal declaration, in which he stated that he was convinced of his obligation to conform to the imperial decrees "relative to the General Seminary ", but reserved to himself the right to appeal to the emperor in cases where the eternal salvation of souls appeared to him to be imperilled.

On his return to Belgium, Frankenberg regained his former energy. He felt himself upheld by the ardent Catholic spirit of the nation, and announced to the Government that his conscience would not permit of him to concur in the establishment of the General Seminary. Despite all threats, he thenceforth remained firm. The emperor called on him to express on his opinion on the doctrines then taught at the General Seminary, whereupon the cardinal condemned that teaching in his "Declaration" -- a document which created a profound impression throughout Belgium. The country was already disturbed by insurrectionary movements, and the Government was obliged to close the General Seminary. It was too late, however, to repress the rebellious agitation. The Government sought, therefore, to make the cardinal responsible for it, and wished to place him under arrest. From his place of refuge, the cardinal protested against the accusation: "I take heaven and earth to witness ", said he, "that I have had no share or influence whatever in this insurrection. The entire Netherlands will bear witness to this fact and do me justice in this respect." The Government, finding it to necessary to abandon the criminal process it had begun against the cardinal, exhibited a conciliatory temper. In the meantime, however, the revolution broke out. The new administration found him friendly, and he was henceforth officially a member of the States-General. At the same time he held aloof from purely political discussions and confined himself to recommending political union. He received with submission and respect the re-establishment of the Austrian Government, to which he had always been attached. On the arrival of the French he had to undergo new trials. He refused the pension which the Government wished to grant him in compensation for the suppression of his revenue, declared his opposition to the oath exacted of the clergy, and was finally brutally expelled from Belgium (1797). He retired to Emmerich in Prussia, where, aged, sick, and poor, he lived on the charity of his flock, and continued to warn them against those ecclesiastics who had taken the oath. His apostolic courage and his constancy in these trials elicited solemn eulogies from both Pius VI and Pius VII. In deference to the pope's request and to render possible the execution of the concordat, he resigned, 20 November, 1801, the Archbishopric of Mechlin. Driven from Emmerich by the King of Prussia at the instance of the French Government, which affected to regard him as a conspirator, he retired to Borken in the territory of Münster (1801), and, after the suppression of this principality, to Breda, where he died. His courage, self-abnegation, and patience in the face of persecution and adversity make him one of the noblest figures of the Catholic episcopate during the eighteenth century.


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Second Samuel 7:1-5, 8-11, 16
1 Once the king had settled into his palace and ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29
2 for you have said: love is built to last for ever, ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 1:26-38
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by ... Read More

Reading 2, Romans 16:25-27
25 And now to him who can make you strong in ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for December 21st, 2014 Image

St. Peter Canisius
December 21: In 1565, the Vatican was looking for a secret agent. It was ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter