Döllinger, Johann

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DÖLLINGER, JOHANN (17991890), more fully Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger; Roman Catholic professor of dogmatics and church history at the University of Munich (18261872), who became the controversial center of scholarly liberal Catholicism in Europe. Son of a pious Catholic mother and an educated, anticlerical father, he was ordained at age twenty-three and served briefly as a curate before finishing his doctoral dissertation and being appointed to Munich. There he was somewhat novel among Roman Catholics, though not unprecedented, in his emphasis upon the scholarly study of church history.

The key principle in Döllinger's thought, "organic growth," or "consistent development," gave not only approval but also limits to changes in the Catholic church. Early in his career, defending established developments in Catholicism, he denounced mixed marriages, affirmed the authority of the pope (1836), and favored the policy that Protestant soldiers be required to kneel at the consecration when they were present at a Catholic mass (1843). Likewise, in his works on Luther (1851) and the Reformation (18461848), he denounced the break in historical continuity effected by the Protestant schism. Later in his career, however, he came to oppose as "inconsistent with tradition" new prerogatives of the papacy, such as the opposition to modern scholarship and the assertion of infallibility. In 1863, Döllinger organized, without ecclesiastical permission, a meeting of one hundred Catholic theologians in Munich, to evaluate the scientific study of history. In his opening address he denounced scholasticism and called boldly for a thorough use of critical tools in examining church history, independent of Roman authority. Although hailed by liberal Catholics throughout Europe, such principles were soon condemned by Pope Pius IX, in his 1864 Syllabus of Errors and in his encyclical Quanta cura. Such disagreements intensified as rumors grew that unrestricted papal infallibility was to be affirmed at the First Vatican Council (18691870). For his opposition to infallibility, Döllinger was excommunicated, with both haste and publicity, in March 1871, by Archbishop Scherr of Munich. Some have seen the excommunication as gratuitous. Döllinger's opposition resulted partially from conciliar secrecy, which kept him from learning until too late the restrictions placed on infallibility. Because of the enforced ignorance, some of his arguments (18691871) sound more rhetorical than relevant.

Döllinger provided a rallying cry for the development in Germany of the "Old Catholic" church (which denied papal infallibility). He admitted he belonged to this church "by conviction," but he never formally joined. His refusal of an offer to become the first German Old Catholic bishop hampered that church's growth. Even after excommunication, he continued to attend Roman Catholic services, even though he was denied the sacraments by his excommunication. Despite political ability sufficient to hold national office under Ludwig I of Bavaria, neither his scholarship nor his statecraft was adequate to reconcile Catholicism with modernity. As important to Germany as Cardinal Newman was to England, Döllinger influenced Lord Acton and widened the ambit of historical consciousness in the Roman Catholic church. He has not yet found his definitive place in that church's history. Extolled in a book by his close friend the Old Catholic priest Johannes Friedrich (Ignaz von Döllinger, 3 vols., 18991901), he also was castigated by the Jesuit Émile Michael (Ignaz von Döllinger, 1892), whose criticism was so severe that Döllinger was repudiated even by the usually nonjudgmental modernist Friedrich von Hügel. The definitive Döllinger biography has not yet been written.


For an interesting survey of Döllinger's development, from apologist for Rome to staunchly pre-Vatican I Roman Catholic, see Peter Neuner's Döllinger als Theologe der Ökumene (Paderborn, 1979). Showing similarities and differences between Newman and Döllinger, though with surprisingly superficial analysis of some materials, is Wolfgang Klausnitzer's Päpst-liche Unfehlbarkeit bei Newman und Döllinger (Innsbruck, 1980). Lacking in details, but with an evenhanded treatment of the Vatican I infallibility controversy, is Walter Brandmüller's Ignaz v. Döllinger am Vorabend des I. Vatikanums (Saint Ottilien, 1977). Important correspondence is included in the work edited by Victor Conzemius, Ignaz von Döllinger: Briefwechsel 182090, 3 vols. (Munich, 19631971). An unsurpassed bibliography of Döllinger's writings, including translations, is in Stephan Lösch's Döllinger und Frankreich (Munich, 1955).

Ronald Burke (1987)