Sailer, Johann Michael

Sailer, Johann Michael, a Roman Catholic bishop of Ratisbon, the originator of a tendency in German Catholicism, and one of the purest and noblest theologians of the Church universal. His life lies between Nov. 17, 1751, and May 20, 1832. He was born near Schrobenhausen, in the bishopric of Augsburg, of upright, devout parents. His mother left upon his young heart an impression for which he expressed public thanks to the end of his days. His readiness in learning induced his father to send him in his tenth year to school at Munich. For five or six years he earned his way as attendant on a young nobleman. Having finished his gymnasium studies at the age of nineteen, he entered as Novitiate into the Jesuit Society at Landsberg, and passed three very studious years. On the dissolution of the order (1773), he went to Ingolstadt, and pursued philosophy and theology until 1777, when he was consecrated to the priesthood.

Up to his sixteenth year, Sailer suffered under a tender and often upbraiding conscience. But, finding a wise spiritual guide, he was now led to a clear, evangelical conversion. At his eighteenth year he was troubled with historical doubts. An aged missionary from India helped him, happily, over these. But other, even severer, temptations beset him subsequently. In 1777 he became repetitor publicus of philosophy and theology at Ingolstadt. Here he formed intimate bonds with the zealous and devout pastor Feneberg, and with Winkelhofer, the German Fenelon. In 1780 he was promoted to the chair of dogmatics. He now began his public literary activity, and published notes to the Imitatio Christi, also a prayer book, which has enjoyed great popularity, and a discussion of the province of reason. From 1784 to 1794 he served as professor of pastoral theology at the University of Dillingen — a very fruitful period. He planted evangelical principles in the hearts of thousands of students, who in turn spread them throughout German Catholicism. He formed religious friendships with many eminent Protestants, especially Lavater, and with all who were earnestly upholding religion against the inflooding of rationalism. This finally brought persecution upon Sailer, and in 1794 he was abruptly dismissed from his chair. For a while he shared the hospitality of Winkelhofer in Munich, but then retired into greater privacy at Ebersberg. The next six years brought to Sailer great spiritual temptations. He was brought into the stream of earnest evangelical mysticism which centerd in Martin Boos; but he was not entirely carried captive by it. Partially convinced that he still retained something of the Pharisee and formalist, yet unable to break entirely away from Catholic tradition, he finally sought refuge and consolation in fervent prayer and active labor upon the souls of men. Not fully rising to the subjective self assertion of Luther, he yet clung with his whole heart to Christ, and followed the examples of Fenelon and Francis de Sales. His piety resembled that of Charles Wesley, while his adhesion to Catholicism, though less passionate, was yet of the same type as Charles Wesley's devotion to the Establishment. In 1799, Sailer was again favored with a chair in Ingolstadt. The next year the university was removed to Landshut. Here he labored with great fruitfulness until 1821. He lectured on ethics, pastoral theology, homiletics, pedagogics, liturgies, and served as university preacher. His pen was also very busy. He attracted students from every part of Germany, and received many tempting calls to other fields, one of them to the archbishopric of Cologne; but he declined them all. Even yet he did not entirely escape persecution and abuse; but he bore it all with the greatest patience, holding as his motto the words of the prophet (Jer 30:15), "In spe et silentio erit fortitudo vestra." While Napoleon accused him of being a bigoted papist, the pope distrusted him and refused to confirm him as bishop of Augsburg. Accused of mysticism and of fraternization with Protestants, he published, in 1820, a detailed defense of all that he had done or taught, and submitted the whole to the judgment of the pope, "following the example of the great Fenelon." This document did not fully satisfy Rome, and it was only after considerable negotiation that the king of Bavaria obtained papal consent to his ecclesiastical preferment. In 1821 he was made prebendary of Ratisbon, and in 1822 vicar-general and coadjutor of the aged bishop Von Wolf; at the same time he was made bishop in partibus of Germanicopolis. With great conscientiousness he now entered upon the weighty duties of this great diocese of Ratisbon. Everywhere he endeavored to look into matters with his own eyes, and to correct all abuses to the extent of his ability. He held regular meetings with all his clergy, and endeavored to improve the popular education. In 1829 he became in name what he had long been in reality, bishop of Ratisbon. Three years later he died at the age of eighty- one. A complete edition of his works was published by J. Widmer (Sulzb. 1830-42) in forty volumes. Among them the following deserve special mention: Briefe aus allen Jahrhunderten (1800-4): — Grundlehren der Religion: — Moralphilosophie: — Erziehung fur Erzieher: — Die Weisheit auf der Gasse: — Pastoraltheologie: — and many sermons and addresses. Though lacking in profound speculative power, Sailer's writings have yet had a very wide and very stimulating influence. He has been compared to Herder, but he had far more respect than Herder for the objective fruit of ecclesiastical thought. He endeavored in all things to practice the maxim In necessarsiis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas. Of a school of theology as springing from Sailer, we cannot properly speak. He did not leave a school, but only a spiritual impulse. He was of decidedly irenical tendency. Full of Christian love, his ideal was a "mild orthodoxy," equally opposed to rationalism, on the one hand, and to a stiff, arid, Roman orthodoxy, on the other. Among the most eminent followers of Sailer was Melchior Diepenbrock (1798-1851), his companion at Ratisbon, and subsequently princebishop of Breslau and cardinal-priest. See Hagenbach, Church in the 18th and 19th Centuries; but especially Herzog, Real-Encykl. 13, 305-313. (J.P.L.)

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