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  • Johann Prokop Schaffgotsch: das Leben eines böhmischen Prälaten in der Zeit des Josephinismus by Rudolf Svoboda
  • Rona Johnston Gordon
Johann Prokop Schaffgotsch: das Leben eines böhmischen Prälaten in der Zeit des Josephinismus. By Rudolf Svoboda. [Beiträge zur Kirchen und Kulturgeschichte 25.] (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Edition. 2015. Pp. 343. €63.50. ISBN 978-3-631-65740-9.)

In 1785 Johann Prokop Schaffgotsch (1747–1813) was appointed by Emperor Joseph II to the newly founded bishopric of Budweis (České Budějovice), in Bohemia, where he remained for almost thirty years. For Rudolf Svoboda, church [End Page 812] historian in the Theological Faculty at the University of South Bohemia, České Budějovice, Schaffgotsch's career provides an opportunity to explore internal church reform in a Central-European Habsburg context. This version of his work, with its useful five-page summary in English, is the second edition of Svodoba's study of Schaffgotsch, with a shorter version first published in 2009 in Czech.

In practice the book falls into three parts. In the first section, which takes up a quarter of his text, Svoboda outlines the broader intellectual, political, and theological context, both thematic and interpretative, of Schaffgotsch's age. He returns to these concepts in the final section of the book, where he places Schaffgotsch within specific streams, as a proponent of the Catholic Enlightenment and of a certain form of Josephinism. The substantial middle section of the book provides an account of Schaffgotsch's life, from his noble origins in Prague and education in Vienna, via his service to the Church in a variety of roles that included vicar general in Königgratz (Hradec Králové) and cathedral canon in Olmütz (Olomouc), to his episcopal duties in Budweis. As bishop of Budweis, Svoboda stresses, Schaffgotsch adopted a modest lifestyle and threw himself into his priestly responsibilities, which included preaching often, participating in processions, distributing the sacraments, and, remarkably frequently, blessing bells.

The extensive archival research on which the study is based enables Svoboda to correct many errors that have found an extended life in earlier studies of Schaffgotsch, while providing a nuanced and judicious narrative of his role as a churchman. Frustratingly, Schaffgotsch wrote little beyond the administrative material required by his episcopal office. Yet Svoboda successfully uses those sources—for example, Schaffgotsch's pastoral letter of 1786 to the clergy and laity of his new diocese, the report on his diocese sent to Leopold II in 1790, and the description of the visitation he undertook between 1805 and 1810—to present a picture of a bishop with many traits of the Catholic Enlightenment, including rejection of baroque piety, insistence on improved practical and moral education for the parish clergy, and a commitment to a devotional life that he himself practiced.

Schaffgotsch was Joseph's man. He was born into the Bohemian branch of a Silesian noble family, educated in Vienna under the influence of reforming minds such as Cardinal Christoph Anton Count Migrazzi, experienced with the demands of clerical education, and appointed to one of Joseph's new diocesan creations, which was largely financed by funds from dissolved religious institutions. But no fighter, Schaffgotsch was able to divide and balance his loyalties to the Habsburg state and Rome. Indeed the dissolution of Joseph's General Seminaries—centralized state-run seminaries for the training of clergy—provided Schaffgotsch with the opportunity to create his greatest legacy: the Philosophical Lyceum and integrated Theological Institute and Seminary at Budweis. As Svoboda points out, Schaffgotsch fully filled his central duty to provide his parishes with capable clergy and to train their successors.

Well-liked, committed, and determined, Schaffgotsch is almost too quiet a subject for the historian eager for revealing friction and conflict. Svoboda makes a [End Page 813] fine case, however, for his subject's relatively trouble-free existence as demonstrating what a co-operative course that steered between tradition and talent, between baroque piety and inward devotion, and between Vienna and Rome, could achieve.

Rona Johnston Gordon
Yale Divinity School (Research Scholar)


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