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Balthazar of Dernbach and the Counterreformation In Fulda

BALTHAZAR, bal´thɑ-zɑr, OF DERNBACH AND THE COUNTERREFORMATION IN FULDA: Balthazar of Dernbach, abbot of Fulda 1570-1606, was born about 1548; d. at Fulda Mar. 15, 1606. He came of an old Hessian family, and though his parents were Protestants, took the Catholic side as a boy. In 1570, young as he was, he was elected prince-abbot of Fulda, and became the leading champion of the Counterreformation there. The territory under his jurisdiction, adjoining Protestant Hesse and Saxony, seemed practically lost to Rome. The chapter, jealous of its rights, was willing rather to join with the enemies of the Church than to support a strict, determined abbot; the upper classes were striving for both temporal and spiritual independence; the citizens stood by the Augsburg Confession. Balthazar took a decided stand against all three classes. His first task was the enforcement of ecclesiastical discipline, the appointment of Catholic officials, and the suppression of popular demands for the appointment of a Lutheran preacher and the erection of a Protestant school. He called the Jesuits to his aid; in 1571 they started a school and the next year a college. The chapter were much annoyed by the privileges granted to the newcomers, and as a movement hostile to the abbot grew, Protestant princes took a hand. As selfish motives actuated the chapter and the gentry, so they played a part with the Landgrave of Hesse, who joined the Elector of Saxony and the Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach (Oct., 1573) in sending an embassy to demand the expulsion of the Jesuits and the abandonment of anti-Protestant measures. 431 The demands did not move the abbot, though they strengthened his opponents; a formal alliance was made between the chapter and the gentry. Balthazar gained time by politic delays, and found support from his fellow Catholics; the Curia and Duke Albert of Bavaria sought to influence the emperor in his favor. After some hesitation, Maximilian took his side, and rebuked the princes (Feb., 1574) for their interference. Dissensions sprang up between the allies; and the chapter finally made peace with their abbot. He proceeded more diligently than ever to assert his jurisdiction and to keep down the new faith. In 1576 the three classes joined once more in opposition, and this time the chapter were willing to consider the deposition of their chief. Bishop Julius of Würzburg was destined as his successor, and justified the part he played as the only means of saving Roman Catholicism in the district. He promised religious freedom to the country gentry, while refusing it to the towns, and observance of all the rights, both of the gentry and the chapter—practically the restoration of the conditions previous to 1570. Balthazar was in Hammelburg, supervising the restoration of Catholicism there, which had been previously unsuccessful. On June 20 the forces of his opponents entered the town, followed the next day by Bishop Julius. They numbered about 200 horsemen, and Balthazar had made no provision for defense. On the 23d he was forced to abdicate; compensation in both money and benefices was offered to him, on condition that he would write to the emperor and other princes, assuring them that the proceedings had been freely agreed to by him. A few days later, Julius was formally chosen administrator of Fulda. But it was not possible long to conceal the real facts. The emperor immediately addressed a stern mandate to Julius, annulling the agreement, and Balthazar recalled his forced consent. Julius lost the support of the Roman Catholic princes when the facts were known, and the Protestants had little confidence in him. Long legal proceedings followed. The Diet of Regensburg provided a temporary administrator, who was, however, a vassal of the Bishop of Würzburg. Yet from 1579 onward Catholicism made steady progress, largely through the tireless labors of the Jesuits, which Balthazar, living at Bieberstein near Fulda, supported to the extent of his power. To him also was owing the erection of a seminary at Fulda in 1584. When, therefore, in 1602 the final decision was rendered in his favor, his return in December met with no opposition from the new generation, and the Counterreformation made still more rapid strides during the remaining four years of his activity, until at his death the Roman Catholic faith was restored in practically the whole district, with the exception of the country gentry. This earliest case of the successful resistance of a minority to the Reformation had a great importance as showing what could be done and inspiring the Catholic party to take the offensive in reconquering territory which they seemed to have lost.

Walter Goetz.

Bibliography: Komp, Fürstabt Balthazar von Fulda, und die Stiftsrebellion von 1576, in Historisch-politische Blätter, lvi, 1865 (contains rich collection of sources): H. Egloffstein. Fürstabt Balthazar von Dernbach und die katholische Restauration im Hochstifte Fulda, 1570-1606, Munich, 1890; H. Moritz, Die Wahl Rudolfs II, der Reichstag zu Regensburg und die Freistellungsbewegung, pp. 26, 347, 411 sqq., Marburg, 1895; K. Schellhass, Nuntiaturberichte, iii, 3, Berlin, 1896; W. E. Schwarz, Nuntiaturkorrespondenz Groppers, Paderborn, 1898.

« Balsamon, Theodoros Balthazar of Dernbach and the Counterreformation… Baltimore Councils »
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