The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Priest of Kirchfeld, The
PRIEST OF KIRCHFELD, The. The folkplay in Viennese dialect, ‘Der Pfarrer von Kirchfeld,’ produced 5 Nov. 1870, in Vienna, is Anzengruber's most popular drama even if in the opinion of the critics it is not his best. It raised a struggling unknown author to fame, partly because of its freshness and inherent excellence, but more because it voiced popular feelings in regard to the celibacy of the clergy, mixed unions, enforced civil marriage and the relation of church and state as affected by the declaration of papal infallibility in 1870.
The scene is laid just outside of Austria in the most conservative portion of Old Bavaria among a simple peasantry “whose passions, expressed without reservation or but clumsily concealed” were a novel revelation of human nature to theatregoers. Priest Hell and his feudal adversary, Count Finsterberg, reveal by their very names the nature of the conflict which is precipitated by Hell's innocent gift of a little gold cross to his ward, the orphaned, penniless Annerl. This gives the vagabond Wurselsepp an opportunity to ruin the Priest with his parish as an expression of hatred caused by ecclesiastical prevention of his union to a Lutheran girl 20 years before. In the best scene of the play Hell converts and wins the friendship of this enemy when he permits the burial of Wurzelsepp's suicide mother in consecrated ground. But this employment of his own judgment against the law of the Church loses for him his parish.
Though a member of the “church militant and regnant” he had sought like the ‘Monk of Wittenberg’ for a way short of the requirement to inquire “May I do it, just as I mean it?”, a way which makes men “indifferent or apostate.” Herein lies a part of the tragedy of his position. However, he becomes no champion of the “Away from Rome” movement, which later gained such strength. He conquers self, and submits. More tragic, almost to the point of suicide, is his love for Annerl, who also learns resignation like all Austrians, by giving hand and allegiance to the peasant, Michel. It is this soul conflict, more than its politico-religious purpose, which makes the play great. First produced in the Folktheatre “an der Wien,” it gradually found its way over all German-speaking lands, being played 632 times between 1899 and 1905. Text Vol. VI of Gesammelte Werke (1898). Criticism Sigismund Friedmann, ‘Ludwig Anzengruben’ (Leipzig 1902).