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The Catholic Historical Review 87.2 (2001) 331-332

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Book Review

Profession und Charisma. Herkunft und Ausbildung des Klerus im Bistum Münster 1776-1940

Profession und Charisma. Herkunft und Ausbildung des Klerus im Bistum Münster 1776-1940. By Thomas Schulte-Umberg. [Veröffentlichungen der Kommission für Zeitgeschichte, Reihe B: Forschungen, Band 85.] (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh. 1999. Pp. 565. DM 138.)

A common misconception views Germany as divided religiously into a Catholic south and a Protestant north. Even before the confessional upheavals wrought by the arrival of millions of displaced persons from those parts of Germany ceded to Poland in 1945, the religious map was never that simple. The north German diocese of Münster, which today comprises 2.1 million Catholics in 689 parishes, served by 1076 diocesan priests, has been for centuries a Catholic bastion. Münster's stolid Catholicism has given rise to the purported saying of the typical Münsteraner: "We don't care what they do down there in Rome: we're staying Catholic." Following Vatican Council I only one Münster priest became an Old Catholic--and he came back. The diocese remains an important influence in German Catholicism today: as these lines are written, no less than seven of Germany's twenty-seven dioceses are shepherded by bishops from the Münster presbyterate.

The work under review, an often mind-numbing monument to German industry and thoroughness, examines the origins, education, and formation of Münster's clergy, from the days when the diocese was ruled by a prince-bishop, exercising civil as well as religious authority, until the start of World War II. Originally a doctoral dissertation submitted to the Catholic theological faculty of the University of Münster, the book is replete with tables, graphs, and statistics--but also with lengthy descriptions of the successive models of priestly life set before Münster's seminarians. Non-German readers will have difficulty with many of these details. There is much of interest in these pages nonetheless.

The author begins his study with the establishment of Münster's first seminary in 1776. This was never (and is not now) what Germans call a "Tridentine seminary," with an in-house faculty. Save for the seminaries of a few religious orders, such institutions have never existed in Germany. Münster's "Priesterseminar" was (and remains today) a "house of study": students attend theological lectures at the university, receiving their spiritual and ascetical formation in the seminary, along with training in pastoral work.

Following the death of Münster's last prince-bishop in 1801 the diocese was without an Ordinary for twenty years. Throughout this time the diocese was administered by a vicar general. Ordinations, confirmations, and other episcopal acts were performed (as previously before the Napoleonic secularization, which abolished all Germany's prince-bishops) by an auxiliary bishop. An aristocrat made bishop at age twenty-five, he was a man of modest intellectual gifts but upright life who sought accommodation with the civil authorities whenever [End Page 331] possible. The sole Catholic bishop in north Germany for almost two decades, during a half-century of "ceaseless travels he performed a million confirmations and ordained almost thirty-two hundred priests." Finally nominated by the Prussian king as Münster's bishop in 1825, he was elected to that office by the cathedral chapter. As in the Church of England, the election was a sham: a royal commissioner was present to ensure that the canons voted as his master had directed.

In 1820 there were still "Mass-priests" unfit for pastoral work, who hardly knew their way through the liturgy and whose lives were not exemplary. Successive seminary rectors raised the standard. Seminarians had to present a certificate from their confessor that they had been monthly to confession and Holy Communion--which until well into the twentieth century was normally distributed outside of Mass. Formation emphasized separation from the world. A diocesan synod in 1897 viewed contact with non-Catholics as a threat. In 1914...


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