Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Melchior, Baron (Freiherr) von Diepenbrock

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 4
Melchior, Baron (Freiherr) von Diepenbrock

by Boniface Luebbermann


Cardinal and Prince-Bishop of Breslau, b. 6 January, 1798, at Boeholt in Westphalia; d. at the castle of Johannisberg in Upper Silesia, 20 January, 1853. He attended the military academy at Bonn and took part in the campaign against France in 1815 as an officer of the militia. Upon his return he was much attracted by the personality of Johann Michael Sailer, a friend of the family, at that time professor at the University of Landshut in Bavaria, and studied public finance at that institution. When Sailer was made Bishop of Ratisbon, Diepenbrock followed him thither, took up the study of theology, and was ordained priest 27 December, 1823. In 1835 he was made dean of the cathedral and vicar-general by the successor of Bishop Sailer. His knowledge of modern languages and his administrative ability, together with his profound understanding of the interior life and his ascetical character, paved the way for his elevation to the episcopal See of Breslau, to which he was elected 15 January, 1845. He at first declined the honor, but finally accepted out of filial obedience to the mandate of Pope Gregory XVI.

From the beginning of his reign he was called to face difficult problems and momentous political events. Sectarian propagandism was especially aggressive in his diocese and was furthered by state officials as well as by the traditional enemies of the Church. The famine in Upper Silesia appealed to his sympathetic and generous nature. The Revolution of 1848 showed him one of the firmest and most loyal supporters of government, law, and order. The pastoral letter which he issued on this occasion was, by order of the king, read in all the Protestant churches of the realm. He devoted his best energies to the training of the clergy, opened a preparatory seminary, and improved the conditions of the higher seminary. He was a watchful guardian of ecclesiastical discipline and, when necessary, employed severe measures to enforce it. He reintroduced, with great success, retreats for the priests and missions for the people.

In 1849 he was appointed Apostolic delegate for the Prussian army and relieved, to a great extent, the sore needs of the Catholic soldiers. He was created cardinal in the consistory of 20 September, 1850, and received the purple 4 November. This event gave occasion to one of the most magnificent public demonstrations ever witnessed in Germany. It was soon followed by another demonstration, equally striking, but sorrowful in character, on the occasion of the cardinal's death from a disease which had long afflicted him. His will bequeathed his estate to his diocese. Cardinal Diepenbrock's episcopate was fruitful in blessings for Upper Silesia, he was a champion of Catholicity for the whole of Germany and an ornament to the entire Church. In personal appearance he was of dignified presence, but pleasant and affable to all. The cardinal was a noted preacher and poet, and his writings bear evidence to his talents. His principal publications are: "Spiritual Bouquet, Gathered in Spanish and German Gardens of Poesy" (Sulzbach, 1826); "Life and Writings of Heinrich Suso" (Ratisbon, 1829); "Sermons" (Ratisbon, 1841); "Pastoral Letters" (Munster, 1853); "Personal Letters" (Frankfort, 1860).

CHOWANETZ, Life of Cardinal von Diepenbrock (Osnabruck, 1853); FORSTER, Life of Cardinal von Diepenbrock (Ratisbon, 1859); Cardinal von Diepenbrock (Bonn, 1878); KARKER in Kirchenlex., s.v.

B. Luebbermann.