Three Kaiser: A Sinner, a Servant, and a Saint

by Bbr. Gawain Js!

Kaiserkneipe 2022

Auf Deutsch

It is a great honor to address you all tonight, gathered together as we are to mark the birthday of Emperor Franz Joseph, our beloved Landsmannschaft Josephina’s primary namesake, the original being Emperor Josef II. Given the Imperial nature of our evening, I think it appropriate to explore the efforts of both of them, and Bl. Emperor Charles, to benefit Religio and Monarchia, cum Deo pro Patria. As an aside, our mother body, the Carolina, wanted to name her daughter after Emperor Josef II, the so-called “peasant liberator,” and establish us as a connection especially for the two „peasant“ universities; natural sciences and veterinary medicine. But our founders would have nothing to do with Josef II, keeping the spelling of the name with “ph” in memory of Emperor Franz Joseph. For an American to presume to lecture an Austrian audience upon their own national history is perhaps more than a little arrogant; but then again, sometimes the outsider can shed fresh light upon chapters of history too often ignored by those to whom they rightly belong. Moreover, much of what is presented as history in this part of the world is – to be honest – a tissue of lies. It may be that as a loyal citizen of the nation which in truth put modern Austria and its brother-nations of the former Habsburg Monarchy into their present position, I may speak with a freedom that is not permitted to natives – a situation which, for reasons I shall touch on at the end, must end, and very, very soon.

Despite the reluctance of our founders to be associated with him, we will start with Josef II (1741-1790), who is a key figure in the history of Central Europe – and a very controversial one in Catholic circles. His interventions in Church affairs are often cited as an example of unjust interference in the ecclesiastical realm by the State, an assertion with which this writer cannot argue. However, when he is accused on that basis of having no more Catholic Faith than his “enlightened” fellow Monarchs Frederick II of Prussia and Catherine II of Russia, I must violently disagree. I hope to show that if anything, the mistakes he made in dealing with the Church were in actuality done out of zeal for the Faith and its welfare growth. This is shown by the fact that so many of what we must consider his errors were later repeated by high-ranking clerics whom no one could or would accuse of unbelief. As the Medieval English poet Chaucer wrote of the relationship between clergy and laity in his time: “if gold should rust, what can poor iron do?”

The most obvious of Josef’s errors was the suppression of hundreds of contemplative monasteries around the Empire. In addition to cutting off an important source of grace for him and his people, this act had the effect of further poisoning relations between Catholics and Orthodox. To this day, the latter in Ukraine and Romania will point to what they call “Catholic” suppression of their monasteries by the Austrian government in the 1780’s as another example of Roman evil. But what is left out of this account by either ignorance or malice is that the equivalent Catholic abbeys were shut down as well.

Nevertheless, unlike the similar suppression of the monasteries in 16th century Protestant Europe, Revolutionary France, or 19th century Germany, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, the income and properties did not simply go into the pocket of the suppressor and his henchmen. Instead, Josef used the money realised to build parishes and other Catholic institutions, so that all of his subjects might have easy access to the Sacraments. This shows, if nothing else, a belief in their necessity for his peoples’ souls, considered to be part of the Common Good and as such part of his duty as a Sovereign.

Now, there is of course an error here on the Emperor’s part; it is the belief that the active virtues are superior to the contemplative. But he was far from the only one to hold it. This conviction was condemned by Leo XIII part of a pack of errors that the Pontiff called Americanism, as particularly prominent in my native land. Associated with such prelates as James Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore and Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul, Minnesota (whose views of “foreign” Catholics caused two schisms in America which continue to the present day – one for Poles and another for Ruthenians), this caused a great deal of prejudice in many American dioceses against strictly contemplative orders. As in Josefinist Austria, in many places the only Benedictines who were welcome were those who would take on parish work as well as establishing abbeys.

The reason for Josef’s prejudices in religion may be boiled down to “utility.” For religion to be true, it must be useful, as he saw it, to its congregants. One area where this most obviously shown was in his suppression of shrines and pilgrimages to them. This attitude was also seen in English-speaking clergy in the United States. While my country has a great many shrines and pilgrimages today, these are almost all the result of ethnic Catholics from the various regions of Europe, Latin America, French Canada, and elsewhere. In time, as the proportion of these “foreigners” grew among the Catholic population, this prejudice gradually passed. Ironically, many of the best known and loved shrines in America today were founded by immigrants from the Habsburg lands.

The desire for utility also led both Maria Theresia and Josef II to interest them in the reduction of the number of feasts in the Church year; but this interest was shared by both Benedict XV and Clement XIV. St. John XXIII went further than any of the four in his calendar revisions of 1960, when he suppressed a number of hallowed feasts he considered “repetitious” – out went the Apparition of St. Michael, St. Peter’s Chain, St. Francis’ Stigmata, and many others.

This same utilitarian drive inspired Josef to limit the amount of time spent in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament during Holy Week and at some other times. In the wake of Vatican II, Eucharistic devotion – in the United States at least – virtually vanished from the vast majority of churches. It was only with the determined encouragement of Adoration and Benediction by St. John Paul II starting in 1980 that these practises began to return to mainstream American Catholic life.

So too with the intimate intricacies of the Mass itself. There Josef regulated such things as the number of candles on the altar, the use of side altars, procession inside church, and the like. So intense was the Emperor’s interest in these things that the atheist Frederick II ridiculed him as “my brother the sacristan.” But this interest reveals the heart of a believer; many of Josef’s supposed “reforms” and his arguments would be echoed in our own time – consciously or otherwise – by such as Pius Parsch, and have become well-nigh universal since Vatican II. The difference, of course, is that they were imposed not by a well-meaning if mistaken layman in the highest position in the realm, but by highly educated clerics, who could have been presumed to know better.

Indeed, as his plain coffin in the Kaisergruft shows, regardless of what we think of the changes imposed by Josef II, they were part of a religious worldview that he sincerely held. He considered his actions in this realm to be a way of serving the souls God had committed to him. We rightly associate Franz Joseph with the idea of the Emperor as the Monarchy’s first servant; but Josef very obviously held the same view of his own role.

Of course, much as Josef’s changes might be embraced by many modern-day clerics, one particular action of his has recently stirred such reverend gentlemen up. Having taken Vienna’s church of the Friars Minor from the Order which had staffed it so long, he gave it to the Italian community of the city. As most people are aware, after more than two centuries, they have given it to the Society of St. Pius X, who are using it – regardless of one’s views of their canonical status – to maintain the only rite of Mass with which Josef himself was familiar. The Emperor composed his own epitaph, which was not used: “Here lies Josef II, who failed in all he undertook.” However, that may be true in many instances, it may not be so in this case. But whatever one thinks of Josef II’s legacy, one thing is certain: his failures were from ignorance and misunderstanding, not malice. Would that we could say the same for all of today’s authorities in Church and State! In any case, those of us who have the honour to bear his name have a special obligation for the repose of his soul, and the ultimate victory – not of his programme, but of the ultimate hopes for his people which motivated it.

His several times great nephew Franz Joseph, our primary namesake, is an easier character with whom to deal. To this day, his image in pictures, sculptures, and statues can be seen anywhere throughout his former dominions, from Tyrol to Transylvania, and from Czechia to Dalmatia. He is a character whom it is easy to think one knows: the youth brought to power by revolution who – as the successive deaths of his brother, son, wife, and at last nephew pile tragedy upon tragedy upon him – slowly transforms in a figure as steady and immovable as the Rock of Gibraltar. Epitomizing the role of “First Civil Servant,” Franz Joseph became like his contemporary Victoria and like Elizabeth II today a symbol of unshakable and immovable realities and principles.

Not as easily remembered are the political disasters of his reign, which saw Austria ejected from Germany and Italy, thanks to what in hindsight was a supreme mistake – the refusal to join Russia in the Crimean War. This not only saw Franz Joseph without an ally in 1859 and 1866, the latter defeat forced him to accept the Ausgleich in 1867. While this latter had the great benefit of reconciling the Magyars to Habsburg rule, it also subjected their subject peoples – Croats, Slovaks, Serbs, Romanians, and so on – who had loyally fought for the dynasty and the Holy Crown of St. Stephen in 1848, to the Magyarization policies of the Tisza-led Liberal Party. Not only did this lead to feelings of betrayal among those peoples, it did nothing for the loyal Magyars of the Zichy-led Catholic Party. This would lead to great problems indeed later on.

But what we want to look at right now are Franz Josef’s religious attitudes. Often, they are ignored as being simply a conventional acceptance of the Habsburg Pietas Austriaca; but there is far more to the story, as the prie-Dieu in his rooms at the Wiener Hofburg, Schoenbruun, Ischl – and most especially the pitiful one at the Carmel of Mayerling – would imply. The foot-washing on Maundy Thursday and marching in the Corpus Christi procession were not empty ceremonies for Franz Joseph. He took seriously the prayers offered for him in the Canon of the Mass, and on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. His devotion to the Gnadenbild – Maria mit dem geneigten Haupt – was legendary, and as the website of the church which holds it tells us, “…Kaiser Franz Joseph vertraute auf die Hilfe Marias durch dieses Bild und ließ sich das Bild für ein Friedensgebet nach Schönbrunn bringen.” Both the Votivkirche and the Kaiser-Franz-Joseph-Jubiläums-Kirche are reminders of how his Catholic subjects felt about him. It hardly bears repeating that his 1857 concordat wit the Holy See was a rejection of Josefinism.

Without a doubt, as common father to all his peoples of whatever faith, Franz Joseph offered a certain amount of patronage to Orthodox, Lutherans, Calvinists, Jews, and Muslims with the bounds of the Monarchy as well. But what is not nearly so well remembered was his work in maintaining and expanding the Habsburg tradition of supporting the Church beyond their boundaries. From the time that Rome established the Apostolic Vicariate of the North in 1622, the Imperial family had been a major supporter of Catholic Missions in Lutheran Germany and Scandinavia; the double eagle in the sanctuary of St. Ansgar’s Catholic Cathedral in Copenhagen and the tabernacle in St. Eugenia’s church in Stockholm are reminders of this. The Habsburgs also undertook to support and defend Catholics in the Balkans, and under Franz Josef this was shown by financial support for the new cathedral in Shkodra, Albania, and other places. His visit to the Holy Land and Egypt underlined Austria’s interest in both the first named country (where the Austrian Hospice remains as an important reminder of the country’s presence) and the second, where the Catholic Copts owe their origins to Habsburg protection – and where Franz Joseph donated a good deal of money to church construction for them. So it was as well with the Comboni Missionaries in Africa, who operated under Habsburg protection.

If, with the possible exception of Albania, none of the areas where the Emperor supported missionaries could be viewed as areas of Imperial expansion (unlike any of the other great powers of the time), so much less was an especially large receiver of Habsburg and Austrian largesse – the United States of America. We will set aside the fact that our first permanent settlement, St. Augustine, Florida was founded under Philip II of Spain; that the Spanish Habsburgs ruled Florida, New Mexico, and Texas; and that the historically deep devotion of the French Canadians for St. Anne was due directly to the careful attention given New France by Anne d’Autriche, and her support for the great shrine to her name saint at Beaupre, Quebec. In 1829, the Leopoldinenstiftung was founded in honour of Kaiser Franz I’s daughter, who had died early as Empress of Brazil. Led by successive Emperors from Franz to Franz Joseph, and contributed to both by members of the Imperial family and ordinary believers, it would by the time it stopped in 1914 have poured the equivalent of €26,000,000 into the Catholic Church in the United States, and founded over 400 parishes. Over 300 missionaries would be sent to America by the Society – including Ven. Frederick Baraga and St. John Nepomucene Neumann. In addition, Emperor Franz Joseph aided the fledgling Byzantine Catholic community in America. What makes this enormous contribution all the more amazing is that it was completely altruistic – there was literally nothing to be gained by the Emperor or the Monarchy for all of this largesse. Less surprising, perhaps, is it being forgotten on both sides of the Atlantic. Despite our innumerable virtues (which we are happy to talk about at great length), we Americans do tend to lack gratitude. On the other side of the ocean, of course, it has been forgotten alongside any other facts which would disprove the “Habsburgs are evil” lie, upon which so much of the current Central European establishment rests. Thankfully, the revolution in English-language Habsburg historiography is taking place in this area as well; noted British scholar Jonathan Singerton is tackling this vast topic as we speak, and I for one look forward to the results.

One last point must be made about Franz Joseph’s religiosity, and that is his support for the Catholic Faith directly in Rome. At his accession he took up, of course, the Imperial obligations toward Santa Maria dell’Anima, the Collegio Teutonico, and the Collegium Germanicum et Hungaricum. But the new Emperor also had inherited the Habsburg obligations toward the Papal States. As a result, in 1849, while France and Spain rescued Lazio and Rome from the revolutionaries, Franz Joseph sent the ever-victorious Field Marshal Radetzky to liberate Romagna. Alas, after his defeat by the French a decade later, Franz Joseph was unable – despite arguing with his ministers about it – to come to the aid of the besieged Pontifical troops at Ancona in 1860. Although excluded entirely from Italian affairs after 1866, the Emperor was able to perform one more important act – perhaps his most important act – for the Church in 1903: vetoing Cardinal Rampolla. This act ought to be better known and highly praised not merely because it brought the Church St. Pius X. Cardinal Rampolla was very sympathetic to the anticlerical Third Republic; he was responsible not only for the disastrous Ralliement which split the French Church, but he also prevailed upon Leo XIII to soften the condemnation of the earlier referred to Americanism, and to avoid naming anyone who held it. Has Rampolla been elected, our grandfathers – who would shortly have more than enough in the way of problems – might well have been subjected to may of the religious and political difficulties their offspring have suffered through for the past few decades.

By this time, of course, Franz Joseph was already in conflict with the heir to the throne, his nephew, Franz Ferdinand. Although not an Emperor – and alas, doomed never to be one – he is an important part of our story. His loss to his peoples, to Europe, and to mankind as whole was huge. Aside from his marital issue, Franz Ferdinand differed with his uncle over politics. Franz Joseph, having sweat blood, as it were, to bring about the Ausgleich which had at least brought stability to the last five decades of his reign, had no desire for any more tinkering with the constitution – bringing about what they had already achieved was difficult enough. But Franz Ferdinand foresaw that more was needed, and that the restive nationalities – especially in the Hungary that he loved (despite the popular myth) – required some sort of autonomy under the Monarchy, if they were to remain more or less happily united. Similarly, for Franz Joseph, the hard-won German alliance was sufficient guarantee of Austro-Hungarian security and European stability. But to Franz Ferdinand, it was a dangerous case of putting their eggs in one basket. Despite his personal regard for Kaiser Wilhelm, Franz Ferdinand feared that the Hohenzollern would not retain real rule in wartime (a fear prefigured in 1902 when Wilhelm’s and Nicholas II’s treaty of friendship and alliance was immediately denounced by their respective governments, and proved in the event, as wartime power shifted from the German Kaiser to Hindenburg and Ludendorff). Moreover, he feared the loss of Austro-Hungarian independence in the German embrace. So it was that as he had his “kitchen cabinet” of advisors from different nationalities for internal affairs, he carried on his own diplomacy, making initiatives toward the Russians and British. Not surprisingly, although head of the Peace Party, he favoured military expansion, preparedness, and professionalism – and wished to cashier a number of senior officers whom he suspected of incompetence – and who proved him completely right when war came upon his death.

For our purposes, Franz Ferdinand is particularly important, however, because of his role in the formation of Bl. Emperor Karl. The murdered heir’s greatness particularly stands out in this area, because it would have been so easy for him to hate and neglect the nephew whom a lesser man would have regarded as usurping the place of his own offspring – our esteemed Hohenbergs, who have played such an illustrious role in the Josephina. Instead, he loved and mentored young Karl, giving him a refuge and an example of a happy marriage that the youthful Archduke would seek to emulate when he married his Zita. Alongside Karl’s mother’s piety, there was Franz Ferdinand’s own – he was a zealous devotee of the Sacred Heart, and when murdered was not only in the midst of the First Fridays but was wearing a Sacred Heart medal. Most of all, he repaired one of Josef II’s mistakes when he bought the former monastery at Hall in Tyrol and turned it into a shrine of the Sacred Heart staffed by sisters. He was scheduled to open it, but the murder at Sarajevo prevented him; in this, as in so much else, Karl took his place.

Having written a book and numerous essays about Karl, and being engaged on one about Zita, I am certainly favourable toward the last Habsburg Emperor-King thus far. But there are a few points that must be made about him. One is that his politics and his religion cannot be separated, although many would wish to do so. They were all bound up together, and to neglect either is to misunderstand him completely. Another is that although he understood why Franz Joseph disagreed with Franz Ferdinand, he agreed with the latter – and attempted in the two years of rule allotted him to put his uncle’s programs into practice. That he failed was an immense tragedy; but it was more so for his subjects and their descendants down to the present. Karl was shamefully treated; so much so that in reading the history of that time, betraying him was almost a rite of passage for any figure of note. So much so, indeed that the end of his reign and its aftermath have been covered over with a veil of lies – as when Field Marshal Boroevic, having salvaged his army from the wreckage of the Italian Front, several times telegrammed the Emperor with offers to bring his troops to maintain order in Vienna. This would have altered the situation in the capital greatly. But not only were the Field Marshal’s offers NOT passed on to the Emperor, they were refused in his name. The usually reliable Gordon Brook-Shepherd points to Viktor Graf Dankl as the culprit; but Johann von Kirchbach auf Lauterbach was Commandant of the Vienna garrison to whom the message would have gone, while Dankl was only commander of the Arcièren Leibgarde. One does not know about Dankl, but Kirchbach had sworn allegiance to Karl Renner on October 31, 1918 – a few days before Boroevic made his appeal.

In any case, around the name of Karl Renner the lies swirl into infinity! This Erzkollaborateur betrayed his country four times: first, when he betrayed Bl. Karl; second, when he resigned the Speakership of Parliament in 1932 and paralysed Parliament for the sake of the ability to vote; third, when he ordered the Socialists to back the Anschluss, and passively collaborated with the National Socialists – ordering his followers to do so; and fourth, when he accepted the Chancellorship and then the Presidency from Stalin. Having done so, he then invoked the Habsburg Law, and had Otto – who was responsible due to his influence with FDR for regaining Austria’s independent existence – and his brothers – who had been fighting the Germans with the Resistance in Tyrol – expelled from the country. Neither German, French, nor English are sufficient to describe what a dreadful creature this man was; the fact that he is still considered a hero in so many quarters in Austria today while Dollfuss is universally execrated is a national disgrace. Dollfuss was murdered by the Nazis in defence of Austria’s very existence, and so was called in his own time the Heldenkanzler; Renner was, as I have said, the Erzkollaborateur. All of which having been said, it is unconscionable that both his anti-nobility law and the remnants of his Habsburg law allowing the Nazi Loot stolen by the NSDAP from the Habsburgs to remain stolen are still on the books.

All of which having been said, however, there is far more blame to go around – and not just with figures like Admiral Horthy, who repeatedly broke his oaths to Karl, and Tamas Masaryk (who, however, was the father of the ever-loyal Jan). A tradition of betrayal was established in the Archdiocese of Vienna, with Cardinal Piffl betraying Karl in 1918 (and sealing it with a pastoral letter a year later); Cardinal Innitzer would repeat the act with von Schussnigg two decades later; and Cardinal Koenig would do a two-for-one – betraying Paul VI over Humanae Vitae in 1968, and the ÖVP over abortion the following year. But, to be fair – apart from the many inspiring Kaisertreuen throughout the Old Monarchy, including a Polish Sergeant who would name his son Karol after the Emperor (and who would grow to become Pope John Paul II and beatify him, thus creating his own name Saint in retrospect) – there is one archvillain – my own president, Woodrow Wilson. Had he decided that Karl should stay, he would have stayed, such was his power at that time and place. Instead, he decreed what would be the ruin of millions of people, and the deaths of at least thousands. It is fitting that the revolution in historiography I spoke of earlier started in English, since, after all, we bear the ultimate responsibility. It has begun leaking into Magyar, Romanian, and the Slavic languages – but it must go into German as well and end the long reign of historical lies over Central Europe.

I say must advisedly, because of the situation in which we find ourselves. It will have escaped no one here tonight that the level of leadership across the globe is laughably low – only your own Karl Kraus could do the current cast of presidents and prime ministers justice. As opposed to that, we have the vision of noble and self-sacrificial leadership offered by Bl. Emperor Karl. It may be that as our fathers – his Entente enemies, his German allies, and his peoples’ various representatives – virtually crucified him, we deserve no better than we have. But he did not think so. As he lay dying, he declared that he was suffering “that his peoples might come back together.” It is here that I see a glimmer of hope.

On one side of Central Europe lies a Russia whose leader, despite wonderful rhetoric and declared devotion to Christian values (and regardless of whatever provocation my country may have provided), has proved himself to be not above an attempt at what we call in English a “quick snatch and grab.” On the other lies a Western Europe, North America, and Australasia whose collective leadership have committed themselves to a program of child and elder murder, imploding birthrate, and simple perversity – in a word, to suicide; all this while in Western Europe an alien minority that combines a strong belief in its own rectitude with a disdain for the increasingly bizarre mores of its hosts becomes more restive. It would seem that between Soros and Putin, the nations of Central Europe must become either Ireland or Belarus within the next few years.

But there is a third option, one that has perhaps been already prefigured in Poland and Hungary – neither of which could be seen as perfect examples, by their own admission – and even in Czechia, which two years ago restored Prague’s Mariensäule and the Doppeladler over the fountain in that city’s castle, and which is rebuilding the Radetzky Monument in the same capital. It is the path of Central Europe’s peoples regaining their own identities on their own terms. But the problem with this is that since the 19th century (and often exacerbated by the horrors of the 20th) the mutual hatreds that helped pull Austria-Hungary down have become an integral part of those identities. Yet none of them are strong enough on their own to avoid the fate of Ireland and Belarus. What then, is to be done?

Bl. Emperor Karl, in his life and death, gives us a clue. As he said, he was offering his sufferings “that his peoples might come back together.” Now, it is impossible for Austria-Hungary as it was to return – nor would either Franz Ferdinand nor Karl want it to. But what is not impossible is the creation of a sort of Monarchical Federation in Central Europe, under the head of the Erzhaus, and dedicated to the Christian, Abendlaendische beliefs and values which made each of the constituent peoples great in the first place. Sufficiently strong and united to present a firm diplomatic and military policy toward all comers, with sufficient subsidiarity to feel masters in their own homes, and yet strong common bonds of Faith and Loyalty to the dynasty. There are, in fact, pools of pro-Habsburg sentiment everywhere in the Old Monarchy; with assertion of the emerging true history and the dispersal of a century of lies, it may be that sentiment can be fanned into a cause. If it came about, such a Union would be both a symbol and a catalyst for the rest of Europe. The Archduke Otto, in the heyday of Christian Democracy, felt that it was more practical to set aside pursuit of Monarchical restoration in the Habsburg lands in order to press for a free, united, and Christian Europe. In our time, it may well be that achieving a free, united, and Christian Europe requires Monarchical restoration in the Habsburg lands.

Lastly, it might well be asked why an American should have any interest at all in this sort of thing. After all, as Coudenhove-Kalergi predicted, was not Old Europe’s downfall America’s (and Russia’s) opportunity? Did they not divide Europe the world between them? Indeed we did, and lost our souls thereby. The truth is that my country is sick in head and members, and more divided than I have ever seen it. I very much fear what the future holds. Moreover, I know that – with some small minorities in terms of DNA – we Americans are European in our languages and cultures, in our institutions, and in our religion. As long as the Mother Continent is sick, we cannot be well – no matter how wealthy we may be.

To conclude, I have mentioned the enormous contribution of the Habsburgs to the Church in my country. I cannot help but believe that in some strange and utterly unconscious way, the spread in popularity of devotion to both Karl (who now has 20 shrines coast to coast) and Zita (the center of whose cultus in America is Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma) is somehow connected to that past. Their example of self-sacrificial leadership is a revelation to a people who, having – despite our colonial Monarchical roots – an entirely republican national tradition. European history is filled with Holy Monarchs and candidates for Sainthood, from St. Helena the Empress to the Servant of God Elena di Savoia. But for many Americans, the idea that a national leader can wish to emulate Christ the King is astonishing. May the Central Europeans recover what so many of my countrymen are only now discovering.

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