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Karl Joseph von Hefele

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Bishop of Rottenburg, b. at Unterkochen, Würtemberg, 15 March, 1809; d. at Rottenburg, 5 June, 1893. He was the son of the royal superintendent of furnaces at Unterkochen. After attending the gymnasia at Ellwangen (1817-25) and Ehingen (1825-27), and the University of Tübingen (1827-32), he was ordained on 10 August, 1833. For a time the young priest was vicar at Mergentheim, tutor at the Wilhelmsstift, Tübingen, and substitute professor in Rottweil Gymnasium. After the departure in the autumn of the year 1835, of the famous church historianMöhler, for the University of Munich, Hefele was appointed by the Catholic faculty of theology of Tübingen to the department of church history, with which he was connected as privatdozent from the spring of 1836. In 1840 he became ordinary professor. He retained this post until his election as bishop in the summer of 1869. In scholarly method as well as in the general character of his work, he followed closely in the footsteps of his great predecessor, Johann Adam Möhler. He combined accuracy in historical detail with a thorough grasp of the chief facts of church history, and a great power of exposition.

Möhler, though at first affected by the current Illuminism, had eventually freed himself from it and introduced into the Catholic faculty of Tübingen an unswerving devotion to the Catholic Church and a high degree of enthusiasm, thereby counteracting the aforesaid Illuminism (as far as it was an inner disrupting force) and the external attacks of Protestantism. This was also the spirit and the method of Hefele who, in addition, was endowed with rare gifts as a teacher, an excellent memory, a clear understanding, earnest affection for his pupils, and a diction at once simple and beautiful. His lectures were frequented, in the golden age of the Tübingen faculty of Catholic theology, by hundreds of students from all parts of Germany and Switzerland. In 1895, Professor Knöpfler of Munich published his admirable manual of church history based on the academic lectures of Hefele. Von Funk, successor of Hefele at Tübingen, also owes much in his manual of church history to Hefele's teaching. The same spirit and scientific temper pervaded all the writings of Hefele. Besides his work in various learned periodicals, etc. he wrote about 150 articles for the first edition of the "Kirchenlexikon" and contributed a multitude of critical book notices and reviews to the Tübingen "Theologische Quartalschrift", some of which were collected and published in two volumes under the title "Beiträge zur Kirchengeschichte, Archäologie und Liturgik" (1864). Hefele was probably the first Catholic theologian to introduce Christian archæology into the academic curriculum (1840). From 1854 to 1862 he was also at the head of the diocesan association for Christian art (Christliches Diözesankunstverein). Among his earlier works are "Geschichte der Einführung des Christentums im südwestlichen Deutschland, besonders in Würtemberg" (1837); "Patrum Apostolicorum Opera" (1839; 4th ed., 1855); "Das Sendschreiben des Apostels Barnabas" (1840); "Der Kardinal Ximenes und die kirchlichen Zustande Spaniens am Ende des 15. und Anfange des 16. Jahrhunderts" (1844; 2nd ed., 1851); "Chrysostomuspostille" (1845; 3rd ed., 1857); "S. Bonaventuræ Breviloquium" (1845, 1861).

The standard work of Hefele's, however, is the "Conciliengeschichte" in seven volumes, reaching to the fifteenth century and embracing the history of dogma, canon law, liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline, and political history, so far as necessary. Von Funk rightly says that "as one of the most detailed and thorough works on church history, it has attained a prominent place in the learned literature of our time ". The first edition, for which the matter had been in part gathered in a prize essay on Nicholas of Cusa, written during his student years, and in a number of more important recensions and articles, appeared between 1855 and 1874. His life of Cardinal Ximenes was soon translated into French and English, and his history of the councils was likewise rendered into French and the earlier volumes into English. The second edition was edited by Hefele himself as far as the fourth volume inclusive, and appeared in 1873-79 (Freiburg im Br.); the next two volumes were prepared by Professor Knöpfler in 1886 and 1890 respectively. Cardinal Hergenröther issued (1887, 1890) an eighth and ninth volume extending to the Council of Trent. Since 1907 the Benedictine H. Leclercq is publishing a French translation of the second edition. Suitable honours were conferred on Hefele by faculties, universities, and even by the Government. In 1852-53 he was made rector of the university, and in the spring of the latter year he was made a Knight of the Order of the Würtemberg Crown, and with it received the rank of nobility.

In addition to his other work, he had a parliamentary seat (1842-45) as representative of the government district of Ellwangen. In Würtemberg, as in almost all districts of Germany in the first half of the nineteenth century, the Church groaned under the oppression of the Illuminati and a Protestant government. When in 1842 Bishop von Keller made an energetic attempt to liberate the Church, he was supported by the skill and vigour of his fellow- representative Hefele, who endeavoured in this way to realize Möhler's ideal programme. The historian of the councils was summoned to Rome in 1868 as consultor for the Vatican council. He spent the winter of 1868-69 in Rome, and on his return he was appointed Bishop of Rottenburg ; his consecration took place 29 December of the same year. He was to bring sorely needed peace to the diocese, torn by the so-called "Rottenburg Dissensions", a conflict between the more rigorous and the laxer clergy. Immediately after his consecration, the bishop set out for Rome to attend the council. When the definition of the dogma of papal infallibility was proposed, he was one of the most prominent bishops in the opposition minority. He even published the reason for the stand he had taken in his "Causa Honorii Papæ" (Naples, 1870). In the decisive session of 13 July he voted "Non placet", and having signed the address of the minority to the pope on 17 July, returned home. Even after the definition of the dogma he held to his opinion, but was soon placed in a most difficult position, whence neither his expectation of a common stand on the part of the opposition bishops, nor his hope of a speedy resumption of the œcumenical council, nor yet the thought of resignation, could extricate him. Shrinking from a schism, urged by Rome, importuned by the clergy of his diocese, perhaps also influenced by the desire of the Government, but above all, solicitous for his diocese, Hefele promulgated the decrees of the council, 10 April, 1871.

Various judgments were pronounced on this step. Karl von Hase, in his "Handbuch der Polemik gegen die römisch-katholische Kirche" (5th ed., 1890, p. 237), declared that "the bishop had strangled the scholar". It was the Old Catholics, however, who attacked Hefele the most severely. To compromise him they published various letters written to their leaders both during and after the council, and explained that his submission was merely external. But they erred ; good evidence for this may be found in the declaration made to his coadjutor bishop during an illness in the late autumn of 1890: "It is true that I stood on the side of the opposition. But thereby I made use of my right ; for the question was proposed for discussion. However, once the decision had been made, to tarry in the opposition party would have been inconsistent with my whole past. I would have set my own infallibility in the place of the infallibility of the Church " [From a discourse of Bishop Reiser at the burial of Bishop Hefele (Rottenburg, 1893), p. 11]. Apart from the aforesaid matter, the bishop brought peace to his diocese. It was not disturbed when the Kulturkampf was raging in other parts of Germany. That peace was preserved in Würtemberg, was due, after King Charles, to the services of Hefele. After November, 1886, he was aided by Bishop Reiser as auxiliary bishop.

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