Sascha Weber: Katholische Aufklärung? Reformpolitik in Kurmainz unter Kurfürst-Erzbischof Emmerich Joseph von Breidbach-Bürresheim 1763-1774 (= Quellen und Abhandlungen zur mittelrheinischen Kirchengeschichte; Bd. 132), Trier: Selbstverlag der Gesellschaft für mittelrheinische Kirchengeschichte 2013, X + 405 S., ISBN 978-3-92913567-1, EUR 36,00
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The Electorate of Mainz was the most important of the ecclesiastical states of the Holy Roman Empire, thanks to its wealth, strategic location and its ruler's senior position in the imperial hierarchy. It has benefited accordingly from the general rehabilitation of the Empire undertaken by a growing number of scholars since 1945. During the Cold War, however, the historiography was distorted by concentration on the occupation of the city by a French Revolutionary army between October 1792 and July 1793. This led to the meeting of a 'Rhenish-German National Convention', which voted to petition the National Assembly in Paris for incorporation in France. Despite the patently unrepresentative nature of this body and the rejection of the new regime by the overwhelming majority of native citizens, historians in search of democratic antecedents for the BRD or DDR elevated the 'Mainz Jacobins' to heroic status. That thin vein was soon mined out, so more recently attention has moved back to the old regime.
One yawning gap has been the short but interesting reign of Emmerich Joseph Freiherr von Breidbach-Bürresheim (1763-74), which was marked by a resounding clash between enlightened reformers and conservative opposition. This has now been filled by Sascha Weber with a study distinguished by exceptionally broad and deep documentary foundations. The twenty-plus archives consulted include some that are obvious - the diocesan and municipal archives in Mainz and the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv in Vienna - but many that are well off the beaten track - the papers of the Grafen zu Eltz at Eltville, for example. Weber has shown commendable enterprise in tracking down private correspondence - that between the Seinsheim brothers now held at Schloss Sünching near Regensburg, for example. Together with an exhaustive re-reading of the numerous printed sources and previous accounts, this material has allowed Weber to write the definitive history of these turbulent years.
The reform programme introduced after 1763, itself a continuation of policies first introduced during the previous reign by Emmerich Joseph's mentor, Count Stadion, can be summarised under the heading of 'modernisation'. The wealth and power of Protestant countries, most spectacularly Prussia, encouraged an uneasy feeling among the more alert Catholics that their states were falling behind. What was needed, they concluded, was less emphasis on preparing for admission to the next world and more attention to improving conditions in this one. In particular, less time spent on religious ritual and more time spent on secular education would promote greater material prosperity and intellectual freedom. So the reform programme called for a reduction in the number of festivals and pilgrimages, an amortisation law to prevent monastic houses accumulating more property, and a thorough-going modernisation of education, beginning with primary schools. The result was vigorous and sustained opposition from all sections of society, high and low, urban and rural.
The coincidence of the reforms with the subsistence crisis of 1770-1, which affected a large part of Europe, naturally led to the conclusion: post hoc, propter hoc. As Weber shows, the government could face down popular opposition to allegedly heterodox school-teachers and their new curricula, but it was a different matter when the Cathedral Chapter got involved. The twenty-four canons regarded themselves as the Electorate's Estates and made life very difficult for Emmerich Joseph and his ministers. The dissolution of the Jesuits in 1773, and ensuing seizure of their property, united Chapter and people in a common conservative front. They also enjoyed powerful support from Rome, where Pope Clement XIV had been alienated by Emmerich Joseph's episcopalist programme. In part this was a culture clash, with many canons and their supporters clearly believing that the Catholic faith was endangered by the innovations.
On the other hand, as Weber makes amply clear, there was also a strong element of factional politics involved, with the much-coveted position of Imperial Vice-Chancellor at stake. In the spring of 1774, an exasperated Emmerich Joseph launched a counter-attack, seeking the support of the Emperor Joseph II. Given the latter's own reforming agenda, he would probably have responded favourably. Before he could do so, Emmerich Joseph died of a heart attack. Back in the saddle during the interregnum, the canons moved swiftly to take their revenge on the late Elector's senior ministers. This is a good story, with a rich cast of characters and some big issues at stake, and is very well told here, lucidly, cogently and authoritatively. Although it would have been good to have had a more extensive comparative section on similar events elsewhere in the Holy Roman Empire, this is a major contribution to the history of Germania sacra.