A theory of the constitution of the Church and of Church-State relations developed by Johann Nikolaus von hontheim (1701–90), Auxiliary Bishop of Trier, under the pseudonym Justinus Febronius, in The State of the Church and the Legitimate Authority of the Roman Pontiff, a Book Composed for the Purpose of Uniting in Religion Dissident Christians (Frankfurt 1763). Professing to be based on accepted teaching, De statu ecclesiae (its Latin title) is censorious and bitter in tone, with many quotations from sources condemned as heretical.
Principles. Its thesis is that the papacy claims many powers not given by Christ or exercised in the Church of the first eight centuries. The Church is not monarchical. The primacy of the pope is to effect unity, to assure vigilance, and to promulgate laws enacted by a general council. It would be well if each general council would set the date for the next general council to convene. Failing this, a general council may be called by the pope, the emperor, or bishops [see bishop (in the church)]. As all bishops are equal, the pope has no jurisdiction outside his own see, which need not be Rome. Infallibility resides in the whole Church. Only the consent of the bishops makes papal pronouncements binding. The false decretals of Pseudo-Isidore account for the changed role of the papacy. The Roman Curia is the special object of vituperation. Instruction of the people, national synods, appeal to the royal power, reform in the Church, can bring about conditions necessary for Christian reunion. The effect of Febronianism would be the creation of a national German church, a collegium, or body, subject to the prince, a department of government.
Roots. Febronianism grew out of the enlightenment gallicanism, conciliarism [see conciliarism (history of)], jansenism, regalism, absolutism. Hontheim studied at Louvain under the canonist Z. B. van espen, whose On the Promulgation of Laws, though it had been placed on the Index, he frequently quotes. He studied too in Leiden, where national and natural law intermingled. He was influenced by J. von Spangenberg, whom he assisted when the Councilor represented Trier at the electoral Diet of Frankfurt in 1742. Spangenberg thought a scholarly work on the gravamina and the German Church necessary. Hontheim's association with G.C. Neller, who came from Würzburg to teach in the seminars of Trier, brought greater familiarity with Gallican literature. Neller's Principia juris publici ecclesiastici, placed on the Index in 1750, was a much-used source for Febronius.
The concept of sovereignty that developed during the Enlightenment caused princes to treat papal envoys as diplomats of a foreign power, without status regarding the affairs of the Church in their countries. The rights of papal nuncios in the Rhenish electoral bishoprics and a Roman court's acceptance of a cause not yet judged in the Metz episcopal court of the first instance were under discussion at the time De statu ecclesiae appeared.
Response to Book. The book was translated into German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. Supplements came out as volumes two to four, 1770 to 1774, and an abridgment by the author in 1777. The first edition was placed on the Index in 1764, and Clement XIII requested German bishops to outlaw it in their dioceses. The response was delayed and fainthearted; the Elector of Trier was among those who complied. After its condemnation, Maria Theresa ordered the suppression of the first Latin and German editions. Through G. van Swieten this was reduced to a simple prohibition, withdrawn in 1769. Even earlier a new canon law based on Febronian principles had developed. josephinism antedates, embraces, and extends Febronianism. Congenial to Kaunitz, it was taught in Austrian universities. The dislike of Roman centralism and ultramontane Jesuits increased the popularity of Febronianism in Portugal, Spain, the Austrian Netherlands, Venice, Tuscany, and Naples. The bishop of Coimbra was imprisoned in 1770 for denouncing Febronianism. In 1786 Pius VI's brief Super soliditate petrae condemned Febronianism as it appeared in Was ist der Papst? (1782) by the Viennese canonist, J.V. Eybel.
Febronius was answered by more than 20 Catholic theologians. Clement XIII sent encouraging briefs to several such defenders. P. ballerini, the Dominican T. Mamachi, and the Jesuit F. A. zaccaria were among the most prolific. Zaccaria was exiled from Naples for his Anti-Febronius.
Klemens Wenzeslaus of Saxony and Poland, grandson of Emperor Joseph I, became bishop of Trier in February 1768. He continued to protect Hontheim as had J.P. von Walendorf, his predecessor, though his auxiliary's identity with Febronius was known to the papal nuncio N. Oddi. In 1775 Klemens Wenzeslaus asked the French clergy's opinion of De statu ecclesiae. In their assembly that year, the French clergy repudiated Febronianism; it went far beyond Gallicanism in their opinion.
Protestants also wrote against Febronius. More than the primacy of the pope was at issue between Catholics and "dissident Christians." G. E. lessing thought the book mere flattery of princes; every argument used against the pope could be used more tellingly against secular rulers.
At the Coblenz Conference of 1769, the elector-bishops of Mainz, Trier, and Cologne, with Hontheim's aid, listed 30 grievances against the Holy See. The importance of Febronianism can be seen in Pius VI's choice of the Christmas consistory of 1778 to announce the long-awaited recantation of Hontheim. Even after this the rumor that the recantation had been forced, denied by Hontheim in the press but supported by his commentary on his recantation, kept the issue alive.
Further Influence. The Congress of ems, 1786, saw the elector-bishops and the Prince-Bishop of Salzburg draw up the Punctation of Ems along the lines of the Coblenz Gravamina to win a greater measure of independence. In the same year the Synod of Pistoia, called by Duke Leopold of Tuscany, brother of Joseph II, drew up resolutions inspired by Bishop Scipione de' ricci. Based on Febronian-Jansenist principles, they were repudiated by the majority of the Tuscan bishops and condemned in Pius VI's constitution auctorem fidei, Aug. 28, 1794.
The wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon ended the Rhenish electorates, but the influence of Febronianism continued into the 19th century. After the Congress of Vienna, Metternich hoped for the creation of a German national church, to be constituted at the Frankfurt Bundestag. He used his cousin, Ignaz Heinrich von wessenberg, Vicar-General of the Prince-Primate Dalberg for the Diocese of Constance. The effort was revived by Bismarck in the second half of the 19th century. Some even consider that the refusal of a German primate, requested by the 1848 Bishops' Conference at Würzburg, to head a Reich Church was due to Rome's memory of Febronianism and the perfidy of the last primate, Dalberg.
See Also: church and state.
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