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The Catholic Historical Review 87.4 (2001) 751-752

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Book Review

Johann Ignaz von Felbiger und Kardinal Johann Heinrich von Frankenberg: Wege der Religiösen Reform im 18. Jahrhundert

Johann Ignaz von Felbiger und Kardinal Johann Heinrich von Frankenberg: Wege der Religiösen Reform im 18. Jahrhundert. By Winfried Romberg. [Arbeiten zur schlesischen Kirchengeschichte, Band 8.] (Sigmaringen: Jan Thorbecke Verlag. 1999. Pp. 191. Paperback.)

Is the term "Catholic Enlightenment" an oxymoron? It all depends on one's choice of definitions. In this brief work, originally presentations by the author at the University at Würzburg, it would appear that the definitions used exclude the possibility of a genuine Catholic Enlightenment.

The reader is presented with two essentially independent sketches of the life and outlook of Felbiger and Frankenberg, Silesian prelates who, after the conquest of their homeland by Prussia, found favor and an outlet for their talents at the hand of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. Although both subjects were Silesian by birth and background, only Felbiger, who served as abbot of the Augustinian monastery at Sagan for many years, worked in his home province. Frankenberg established himself in the Habsburg Monarchy immediately following his return from studies in Rome as a young man.

Romberg presents short sketches of the careers of the two men, then considers the outlook of each, and his relationship to the Habsburg state under Maria Theresa and Joseph II. In so doing, the author implicitly utilizes definitions of both Jansenism and Enlightenment which exclude his subjects a priori. Jansenism is treated as a purely theological movement, with the extreme predestinarian soteriology of Augustine's later years as its foundation, and as best exemplified in Antoine Arnaud's De la fréquente Communion. Enlightenment is seen as a process of secularization and state-building. One might object that these usages are too rigid, too exclusive, for the realities of the eighteenth century, when one ideological position merged gradually into another, and there were few pure Jansenists or enlightened figures by these definitions.

These categories serve Romberg's purpose in these sketches, however. Both Felbiger, known for his work in Silesia and Austria as a reformer of schools, and Frankenberg, the Archbishop of Mechelen (Malines) who fought the seminary reforms of Joseph II and who was exiled by the invading armies of the French Revolution, were devout clerics and genuine reformers. However, utilizing the [End Page 751] definitions he does, Romberg denies to either the category of Jansenist or enlightened figure. Instead, he sees these two Silesians as continuations of the Catholic Reformation codified by the Council of Trent. Their essentially Scholastic mind-set, their deep personal piety, and their devotion to improving the pastoral functioning of the Church, no less than their insistence on the independence of the Church from secular authority, mark them off from all identification with the Enlightenment as defined by Romberg.

While some might quibble with Romberg's categories, all can profit from this opportunity to examine further the mind-set of two significant Catholic reformers of the eighteenth century.


William C. Schrader
Tennessee Technological University



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