1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Otto of Freising
|←Otto IV.||1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 20
Otto of Freising
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OTTO OF FREISING (c. 1114-1158), German bishop and chronicler, was the fifth son of Leopold III., margrave of Austria, by his wife Agnes, daughter of the emperor Henry IV. By her first husband, Frederick I. of Hohenstaufen, duke of Swabia, Agnes was the mother of the German king Conrad III., and grandmother of the emperor Frederick I.; and Otto was thus related to the most powerful families in Germany. The notices of his life are scanty and the dates somewhat uncertain. He studied in Paris, where he took an especial interest in philosophy, is said to have been one of the first to introduce the philosophy of Aristotle into Germany, and he served as provost of a new foundation in Austria. Having entered the Cistercian order, Otto became abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Morimond in Burgundy about 1136, and soon afterwards was elected bishop of Freising. This diocese, and indeed the whole of Bavaria, was then disturbed by the feud between the Welfs and the Hohenstaufen, and the church was in a deplorable condition; but a great improvement was brought about by the new bishop in both ecclesiastical and secular matters. In 1147 he took part in the disastrous crusade of Conrad III. The section of the crusading army led by the bishop was decimated, but Otto reached Jerusalem, and returned to Bavaria in 1148 or 1149. He enjoyed the favour of Conrad's successor, Frederick I.; was probably instrumental in settling the dispute over the duchy of Bavaria in 1156; was present at the famous diet at Besancon in 1157, and, still retaining the dress of a Cistercian monk, died at Morimond on the 22nd of September 1158. In 1857 a statue of the bishop was erected at Freising.
Otto wrote a Chronicon, sometimes called De duabus civitatibus, an historical and philosophical work in eight books, which follows to some extent the lines laid down by Augustine and Orosius. Written during the time of the civil war in Germany, it contrasts Jerusalem and Babel, the heavenly and the earthly kingdoms, but also contains much valuable information about the history of the time. The chronicle, which was held in very high regard by contemporaries, goes down to 1146, and from this date until 1209 has been continued by Otto, abbot of St Blasius (d. 1223). Better known is Otto's Gesta Friderici imperatoris, written at the request of Frederick I., and prefaced by a letter from the emperor to the author. The Gesta is in four books, the first two of which were written by Otto, and the remaining two, or part of them, by his pupil Ragewin, or Rahewin; it has been argued that the third book and the early part of the fourth were also the work of Otto. Beginning with the quarrel between Pope Gregory VII. and the emperor Henry IV., the first book takes the history down to the death of Conrad III. in 1152. It is not confined to German affairs, as the author digresses to tell of the preaching of Bernard of Clairvaux, of his zeal against the heretics, and of the condemnation of Abelard; and discourses on philosophy and theology. The second book opens with the election of Frederick I. in 1152, and deals with the history of the first five years of his reign, especially in Italy, in some detail. From this point (1156) the work is continued by Ragewin. Otto's Latin is excellent, and in spite of a slight partiality for the Hohenstaufen, and some minor inaccuracies, the Gesta has been rightly described as a “model of historical composition.” First printed by John Cuspinian at Strassburg in 1515, Otto's writings are now found in the Monumenta Germaniae historica, Band xx. (Hanover, 1868), and have been translated into German by H. Kohl (Leipzig, 1881-1886). The Gesta Friderici has been published separately with introduction by G. Waitz. Otto is also said to have written a history of Austria (Historia Austriaca).
See J. Hashagen, Otto von Freising als Geschichtsphilosoph und Kirchenpolitiker (Leipzig, 1900); J. Schmidlin, Die geschichtsphilosophische und kirchenpolitische Weltanschauung Otto von Freising (Freiburg, 1906); W. Wattenbach, Deutschlands Geschichtsquellen, Band ii. (Berlin, 1894); and for full bibliography, A. Potthast, Bibliotheca historica (Berlin, 1896).