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Hirscher, Johann


Theologian; b. Altergarten, Württemberg, Jan. 20, 1788; d. Freiburg, Sept. 4, 1865. Hirscher studied at the Weissenau monastery school, the lyceum of Constance, and the University of Freiburg. He was ordained in 1810 and was a curate in Rehlingen until 1812, when he became a tutor in the theology school of Ellwangen. In 1817 he occupied the chair of moral and pastoral theology at Tübingen University, and in 1837 he became professor of moral theology and catechetics in the University of Freiburg. He became a canon in 1839 and dean of the chapter in 1850. Frequently he served as delegate of the University of Freiburg to the First Chamber of the Grand Duchy of Baden. He retired in 1863. Hirscher was a prolific writer on theological subjects, especially in the area of homiletics and catechetics, and a cofounder of the review Theologische Quartalschrift.

In an early work, De genuina missae notione, he proposed sweeping changes in the liturgy of the Mass. He demanded the suppression of private Masses, the use of the vernacular, and Communion under both species for the laity. To this work he appended two suggested texts of the Mass in German. This work was placed on the Index in 1823, two years after its composition.

Much of his writing was concerned with preaching. He wished to replace the long, abstract moral considerations, which were popular in the Germany of his day, with brief homilies based on the text of the Mass for the day. In 1829 he published a commentary on the Lenten Gospels, and in 1837 a commentary on the Gospels and Epistles for the entire year, both of which were reprinted several times.

Hirscher wrote also a three-volume course in moral theology, Die christliche Moral als Lehre von der Verwirklichung des göttlichen Reiches in der Menschheit, which was reprinted five times between 1835 and 1851. He considered Christian morality as the realization of the kingdom of God in mankind. Thus his moral course differed from other manuals of his time and consisted mostly of pious meditations on the Christian life.

Despite much criticism by scholars, his many works on catechetics, especially his catechisms, were well received and were very popular. His 1842 catechism (Katechismus der christkatholischen Religion ) and Der kleinere Katechismus der christkatholischen Religion were reprinted in many editions between 1845 and 1862. Through these works Hirscher exercised a strong influence on pastoral theology in Germany, and through translations of them, in France.

He also wrote, if less happily, on some of the social questions of his time, especially on the relation of Church and State in Germany. His spirit of conciliation toward the State was excessive and his proposals for Church reform were sharply criticized. A collection of his works on these matters was placed on the Index in 1849. He submitted to the condemnation of the Holy See and retracted the errors, but wrote replies to those who attacked them.

Hirscher in his own time was a controversial figure because of his very liberal views with regard to the liturgy and clerical celibacy and because of the suspicion that he was aiming at a German national church. Hence, when he was mentioned as a possible coadjutor for the Diocese of Freiburg, there was an outcry against his appointment in Schweizerische Kirchenzeitung and Revue Sion. When the government of Württemberg asked for the appointment, Rome refused. He has been referred to as an intellectual adventurer, but in some of his ideas he was only ahead of his time. This can be seen from the fact that a number of his suggestions, especially with regard to ecumenism and the liturgy, were discussed and acted upon by vatican council ii.

Bibliography: e. mangenot, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables Générales 1951) 6.2:251214. f. x. arnold, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 5:383384. f. lauchert, Revue internationale de théologie 2 (1894) 627656; 3 (1895) 260280, 723738; 4 (1896) 151174. f. kÖssing in Badische Biographien, ed. f. von weech,v.1 (Karlsruhe 1881) 372377. f. x. thalhofer, Entwicklung des katholischen Katechismus in Deutschland von Canisius bis Deharbe (Freiburg 1899).

[f. c. lehner]

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