Skip to main content

Ketteler, Wilhelm Emmanuel von

KETTELER, WILHELM EMMANUEL VON

German bishop, pioneer in Catholic social thought; b. Münster, Westphalia, Dec. 25, 1811; d. Burghausen, Upper Bavaria, July 13, 1877.

Career. After completing legal studies he entered government service as a law clerk (1835), but left it (1838) in protest against Prussia's treatment of Abp. Clemens von Droste zu Vischering of Cologne in the cologne mixed marriage dispute. He became a member of the circle of Joseph von gÖrres in Munich, where Bp. Karl Von Reisach of Eichstätt influenced him to study for the priesthood. During his theological studies in Munich (184144) he was much influenced by Johann mÖhler, Karl Windischmann, and Ignaz von dÖllinger. After ordination he served as a chaplain in Beckum (184446), pastor in Hopsten (184649), and dean at St. Hedwig's Church in Berlin (184950). This pastoral experience made him keenly aware of the material as well as the spiritual needs of his parishioners. His conviction grew that concern for their social betterment was inseparable from the care of their souls.

As bishop of Mainz, from May 20, 1850, until his death, Ketteler came to be recognized as the spiritual leader of German Catholics; his interest in social questions won general and deep respect. At the National Assembly in Frankfurt (1848) Ketteler was a representative and attracted considerable attention by his speech commemorating the victims of the September revolt. This address contained his basic notions on political and social topics. As a member of the German Reichstag (187172) he opposed unequivocally the beginnings of the kulturkampf. During the following years he was the leading Catholic spokesman and defender of the Church's rights. Ketteler was a cofounder of the Bishops' Conference that began in Fulda (1867) and he was mainly responsible for making it a permanent institution. At vatican council i he opposed the definition of papal infallibility as inopportune and claimed that the assumptions, conditions, and scope of infallibility should be explained with greater precision in relation to the episcopal office. Ketteler was increasingly recognized as a key figure in the Church for opposing current liberalism and laicism and their effects on marriage, education, the family, and economic life, and for upholding the primacy of religious factors as constructive and spiritualizing forces. Ketteler strengthened his case by his utilization of all the modern means at his disposal, by his determination and energy, and by his ability to transform weak, indolent priests infected with liberalism into united and determined clerics. He fulfilled his episcopal duties selflessly, earnestly, and forcefully.

Social Program. Four stages can be distinguished in the ever-widening influence of Ketteler's social program. First came his appeal for social reform in a speech delivered in Frankfurt (1848). At the Catholic congress (Katholikentag ) held the same year in Mainz, and soon after, in his Advent sermons in the cathedral, Ketteler expounded the Church's position on social questions. This was the year when marx and engels issued the Communist Manifesto. The second stage came with Ketteler's book on Christianity and the labor problem, Die Arbeiterfrage und das Christentum (1864), which was based on a thorough investigation of socialist literature and Christian social principles as expounded by St. Thomas Aquinas. A third stage appeared with Ketteler's sermon on the worker problem, in which he proposed concrete reforms (July 25, 1869). The final stage was reached in his sermon (September 1869) at the episcopal conference in Fulda. In this, his most significant pronouncement, Ketteler spoke on the Church's social and charitable obligations to the working class and tried to rouse the interest of his fellow bishops by defining the essentials of the problem. Ketteler emphasized that the natural law and Christian fraternal charity contradicted current economic liberalism and its view that economic life was a war waged by each man against all others. As this system developed, according to Ketteler, it resulted in many places in the growth of a working class that was spiritually and morally crippled and inaccessible to Christian influence. Liberalism, he pointed out, contradicted human dignity, because God intended to bestow the goods of this world for the support of all mankind; liberalism opposed the divine plan for the procreation and education of men by means of the family; and, even worse, it neglected Christian precepts concerning love of neighbor. Ketteler argued that the Church must intervene and fulfill its mission to save the souls of working-class persons, and to release them from a proximate occasion of sin that often rendered the observance of Christian duties almost impossible. His final appeal was for a changed Christian outlook on social thought and for legislative reforms. This was an opportune time to enact social legislation in Germany and the initiative in this direction was taken (1877) by Count Ferdinand von Galen, Ketteler's nephew, in the Reichstag. Unfortunately, this proposal was not enacted into law until 1891; yet Ketteler's name remained closely linked from the beginning with Germany's much-admired social legislation and its safeguards for workers in illness, disability, and old age.

At the Katholikentag in Mainz (1871) Ketteler's address on "Liberalism, Socialism, and Christianity" revealed the false ideas rooted in contemporary social thought and proposed the possibility of correcting them by Christian ideas that would eradicate the evils in current views without sacrificing anything good in them. Ketteler's pastoral letter (February 1876) on religion and social welfare stressed religion's cultural role in the proper regulation of modern social life.

A. F. Lennig, J. B. Heinrich, C. Moufang, P. L. Haffner, and others at Mainz who came under Ketteler's influence, continued his theological ideas and social program later in the 19th century and spread them throughout Catholic Germany. Leo XIII's encyclical rerumnovarum (1891) was so much indebted to Ketteler that the pope referred to him as "my great predecessor" and admitted that he had learned much from him.

Bibliography: Works. Predigten, ed. j. m. raich, 2 v. (Mainz 1878); Briefe, ed. j. m. raich (Mainz 1879); Hirtenbriefe, ed. j. m. raich (Mainz 1904); Ausgewählte Schriften, ed. j. mumbauer, 3v. (2d ed. Munich 1924); Die grossen sozialen Fragen der Gegenwart, ed. e. deuerlein (Mainz 1948). Biographies. o. pfÜlf, 3 v. (Mainz 1899). g. goyau (Paris 1907). f. vigener (Munich 1924). t. brauer (Hamburg 1927). w. franzmathes (Mainz 1927). l. lenhart (Kevelaer 1936). Literature. l. lenhart, Seelennot aus Lebensenge: Das Problem "Lebensraum und Sittlichkeit" nach Bischof von Ketteler (Mainz 1933); j. hÖfer and k. rahner Lexicon für Theologie und Kirche (Freiburg 195765) 6:128130. p. tischleder, Der Totalismus in der prophetischen Vorausschau W.E. v. Kettelers (Mainz 1947). r. aubert, "Mgr. K., évêque de Mayence et les origines du catholicisme social," in Collectanea Mechliniensia 32 (1947) 534539. f. s. nitti, Catholic Socialism, tr. m. mackintosh (2d ed. New York 1895). j. j. laux (g. metlake, pseud.) Christian Social Reform: Program Outlined by Its Pioneer, William Emmanuel, Baron von Ketteler (Philadelphia 1912). w. e. hogan, The Development of Bishop W. E. v. K's Interpretation of the Social Problem (Washington 1946). g. g. windell, The Catholics and German Unity, 18661871 (Minneapolis 1954). c. bauer, Staatslexicon, h. sacher, ed. 4:953957.

[l. lenhart]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Ketteler, Wilhelm Emmanuel von." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Dec. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Ketteler, Wilhelm Emmanuel von." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 14, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ketteler-wilhelm-emmanuel-von

"Ketteler, Wilhelm Emmanuel von." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ketteler-wilhelm-emmanuel-von

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.