Hontheim, John Nicolas Von

Hontheim, John Nicolas Von (known commonly as FEBRONIUS), suffragan bishop of Treves (in Rhenish Prussia), was born Jan. 27, 1701, and educated at the Jesuits College and university of that place. Having completed his studies, he went on a journey to Rome, and after his return (1727) was appointed successively to several high positions in the Church, and finally became suffragan bishop May 13, 1748, which post he filled until 1788. He died Sept. 2, 1790. His Historia Trevirensis, diplomatica et pragmatica (Trevir, 1750, 3 vols. fol., with a Prodromus, 1757, 2 vols. fol.; Augsb. 1757, 2 vols. fol.) is considered a work of great merit; but it was as the author of De Statu Ecclesiae et legitima Potestate Romani Pontificis Liber singularis, ad reuniendos dissidentes in religione Christiana composites (Bullioni apud Guillelmum Evrard, 1763, 4to), published under the pseudonym of "Justinus Febronius," that he attracted the attention of the Christian world. The daring expressions of independent thought, which characterize the entire work, created general excitement. As early as 1763- 5 he issued an enlarged edition, and a third, still more enlarged, in 1770-74. An abridgment of the work appeared in German in 1764, another in Latin in 1777, and the translations into the various modern languages soon made it known throughout Europe (French, Sedan and Paris, 1767; Italian, Venice, 1767, etc.). Many Roman celebrities wrote against it, especially Zaccaria (to whose writings an answer is given in Nova defensio Febronii contrap. Zaccaria, Bullioni, 1763, 3 vols.) and Ballerini (De potestate ecclesiastica Roman. Pontif. et concil. generalium contra opus J. Febronii (Verona, 1768, 4to, and often). Pope Clement XIII caused the book to be entered on the Index, although it was dedicated to himself. Hontheim seeks especially to draw a line of distinction between the spiritual and the ecclesiastical, power of the Roman see. He seems to say to his readers, "Without becoming Protestants, you may very well oppose the encroachments and abuse of power of the papal court." The principal points of which the work treats are, the constitution of the primitive Church, the representative character of general councils, the thoroughly human basis on which rests the primacy of the bishop of Rome, the fatal influence of the pseudo-Isidorian decretals, the tendency to usurpation of power by the nuncios, the illegal influence of the mendicant orders, and the monopoly of episcopal elections possessed by the chapters at the expense of the rights of the lower clergy and the people. As his assertions are accompanied by historical proofs, and his book contains hardly anything but quotations from the fathers in support of his views, it exerted great influence. As the work had been published under the nom de plume of Justinius Febronius, the system of Church government, which Hontheim propounded, is generally called Febronianism. During the years, which followed its publication, papal authority was greatly restricted in many countries. Hence, as soon as the real author of the Dee Statu Ecclesiae was known, he became the object of ceaseless persecutions. Pope Pius VI showed himself especially the enemy of Hontheim. The ex-Jesuit Beck, privy councilor of the elector Clement Wenceslas, not satisfied with persecuting Hontheim, persecuted also all the members of his family, most of whom held offices in the province of Trier. The old man (Hontheim was then nearly seventy-nine), tired of all these annoyances, and-perhaps frightened at the prospect of what he might still have to undergo, finally gave way, and submitted to the pope. When his recantation reached Rome in 1778, Pius VI held a special consistory in order to apprise the whole Roman Catholic world of the event; but several Roman Catholic governments opposed the publication of the acts of this consistory in their states. Moreover, the effects of the dispute had been too widely felt to be obliterated by a tardy expression of repentance. The author himself wrote to his friends, "I gave way, like Ednelon, in order to avoid ceaseless annoyance. My recantation can do no harm to the Christian religion, neither can it in any way benefit the court of Rome; the thinking world has read my arguments, and has indorsed them." Some of the more liberal- minded Roman Catholic historians say that Hontheim, in his (first) recantation, declared his object to have been to affect a union of the Roman Catholic and the Protestant churches. He believed that this could only be accomplished by altering or removing some of the institutions of the Romish Church. Later, he modified his recantation greatly by a subsequent Commentary (Frankfort-on-the-Maine, 1781), to which cardinal Gardi replied, at the special request of the pope. But eventually Hontheim made full submission to the Church. In 1788 he resigned his charges, and spent the last years of his life on his estate of Monquentin, in Luxemburg. See Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Géneralé, 25, 91; Herzog, Real- Encyklop. 6, 255; Hase, Church Hist. p. 528; Mohler, Symbolism, p.45; Menzel, Neuere Gesch. d. Deutschen, 11, 456 sq.; Fuhrmann, Handwörterb. der Kirchengesch. 2, 343 sq.; Schröckh, Kirchengesch. 22, 13; s. d. Reform. 6 — 532 sq.; Walch, Neueste Relig. Gesch. 1, 145 sq.; 7, 175 sq., 210 sq., 453 sq.; Henke, Kirchengesch. 7, 133 sq.; Baur, Gallerie hist. Genmalde d. 18ten Jahrh. 4, 402 sq.; Kurtz, Text-book of Ch. History, 2, 234; Hase, Ch. Hist. p. 528. On the Roman Catholic side: Aschbach, Kirch. Lex. 2, 745 sq.; Wetzer und Welte, Kirchen-Lex. 5, 324 sq.; Real-Encyklop. j.d. Kathol. Deutschland 5, 473; Werner, Gesch. d. kathol. Theol. p. 209 sq., 273, and especially Briefwechsel zw. d. Churfursten Clemens Wene, 5. Trier u. d. Weihbisch. N. V. Hontheim 2. d. Buch J. Fabronius etc. (Frankfort-a-M. 1813).

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