Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor
JOSEPH II, HOLY ROMAN EMPEROR
Reigned 1765 to 1790; b. Vienna, Mar. 13, 1741; d. there, Feb. 20, 1790. As the eldest son of Emperor Francis I and maria theresa, he was carefully educated. At an early age he showed keen intelligence but also a changeable, imprudent character, lack of sympathy, and a pronounced tactlessness, especially with inferiors. In 1764 he was elected emperor and coregent in Austria with his mother. In reality, at this time he could play an independent role only in military affairs. He successfully insisted upon the participation of Austria in the first partition of Poland (1772) and later obtained the territory of Bucovina, which Turkey ceded voluntarily (1775). However, a plan for the acquisition of Bavaria was frustrated by frederick ii of prussia in 1778, 1779, and again in 1785. Toward the end of his reign Joseph allowed Russia
to draw him into a hapless war against Turkey (1782–92); after severe reverses, his troops conquered Belgrade (1789) but were forced to evacuate it at the conclusion of the Treaty of Sistova on Aug. 4, 1791.
Plans for Church Reform. Imbued from youth with the ideals of the enlightenment, he submitted to his mother such a radical plan for the transformation of the Catholic monastic orders that it was unacceptable even to Prince Wenzel von kaunitz. Joseph welcomed the dissolution of the Society of Jesus and eagerly collaborated in a scheme for its liquidation in Austria. He also supported the introduction and execution of Kaunitz's new State-Church system and regretted that his mother was too frightened to carry it out fully. One of his first executive acts as a sole and absolute ruler (1780) was to ask for a perusal of all the legislative proposals that Maria Theresa had not acted upon because of religious scruples. At the same time he informed the qualified expert in ecclesiastical affairs, Councilor Franz Joseph heinke, of a program of innovations he intended to introduce into the Austrian Church. This plan was so little thought out that Heinke dissuaded him from executing some of his ideas; for example, the appointment of a primate of Austria.
The emperor then sought to effect his reforms in another direction. First he severed all jurisdictional ties between national monasteries and their superior generals residing abroad. Then he put the correspondence of the Austrian bishops, which until that time had been free, under state control. Particularly vicious was the demand of the emperor, inspired by Kaunitz, that the pope should grant him the right to nominate the bishops of his Italian provinces, as was the case in the other parts of the empire. Should the Holy See not accede to this demand, the emperor threatened to exercise his ancient sovereign rights and appoint the Catholic bishops in Lombardy himself. Pius VI resolved to journey to Vienna to try by personal talks to divert the monarch's intentions. He arrived on March 22, 1782, and diplomatically succeeded in eliminating Chancellor Kaunitz from the discussions. Kaunitz, however, sent his master an ultimatum, demanding control of the negotiations and, having obtained it, refused every important concession. To avoid more extreme developments, the pope conceded to the emperor the right to nominate the Italian bishops, but as a papal privilege. This was confirmed by a concordat on Jan. 20, 1784, after the emperor's visit to Rome on Dec. 23, 1783. The chancellor nearly succeeded in having the bishop of Laibach (Ljubljana), persona non grata with the pope, appointed archbishop; only the bishop's death frustrated this plan.
Monasteries and Parishes. More spectacular were Joseph II's innovations within the Austrian Church. First, all contemplative orders were suppressed, for the reason that contemplative life is useless to the world and therefore cannot be agreeable to God. Secondly, it was enacted that members of any and all monasteries could be used to remedy cases of pastoral need. These two measures showed Joseph's lack of understanding of monastic life in general and resulted in the suppression of 876 monasteries and convents within the empire. The money realized by the sale of their properties, often squandered irresponsibly, formed a patrimonium ecclesiasticum to provide pensions for monks expelled from their houses, salaries for clergymen, and funds for new parishes—774 in all. Through this new system of salaries, the clergy became ecclesiastical civil servants to look after the interests of the state in a domain not directly accessible to secular civil servants. Thirdly, it was established as a policy that no foreign bishops should have jurisdiction of an Austrian diocese, and similarly no Austrian diocese should include non-Austrian territory.
Seminary Legislation. Since the clergy had been reduced to servants of the Josephinist state, the state had to take care of the education of priests and to provide buildings for that purpose. Maria Theresa had already put the study of theology under strict state supervision. In 1783 Joseph II established in all of Austria 12 general seminaries to replace the episcopal seminaries and the corresponding institutions of the religious orders. In the new institutions, administered by rectors appointed by the state, the students of theology received an education for the priesthood penetrated by enlightened and anti-Church ideas, but neglecting the most elementary moral training. The emperor himself found reason to reproach the administration of the general seminary in Prague in 1787 on this point. An outstanding interference in the ecclesiastical domain was the Josephinist Marriage Act of Jan. 16, 1783, which separated the marriage contract from the Sacrament; abolished several ecclesiastical marriage impediments, replacing them with impediments formulated by the state; and assigned complete jurisdiction over matrimonial affairs to the state in contradiction to canons of the Council of Trent.
Since Joseph II enforced these innovations with his accustomed haste and harshness and without consideration for tradition, the new rules aroused the resentment and growing resistance of the people and finally led to a national revolution in Hungary and Belgium. The emperor, already weakened by tuberculosis, could no longer cope with such opposition. He was forced to apply for help from the pope he had treated so badly. Finally, toward the end, he withdrew most of his political reforms in despair over the failure of his actions, without, however, being able to restore peace to his dominions. Joseph II was denied a harmonious family life. He held a true affection for his first wife, Isabella, daughter of the duke of Parma, but she died when he was 22 years old. His second marriage to Josepha (d. 1767), daughter of Charles Albert, elector of Bavaria, was a political maneuver and was unhappy. He left no children and was succeeded by his brother, Leopold II (reigned 1790–92), formerly the grand duke of Tuscany (1765–90).
Bibliography: p. p. mitrofanov, Joseph II, seine politische und kulturelle Tätigkeit, 2 v. (Vienna 1910). f. maass, Der Josephinismus: Quellen zu seiner Geschichte in Österreich 1760–1790, 5 v. (Vienna 1951–61) v.2–3. e. wolf, 3:862–864. s.k. padover, The Revolutionary Emperor Joseph the Second (New York 1934). RGG3-Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 1957–65). f. fejtÖ, Un Habsbourg révolutionnaire: Joseph II (Paris 1953). m. c. goodwin, The Papal Conflict with Josephinism (New York 1938). e. benedikt, Kaiser Joseph II (2d ed. Vienna 1947).
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"Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/joseph-ii-holy-roman-emperor