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Joseph (or Josef) Wilhelm Karl Kleutgen (9 April 1811 – 13 January 1883) was a German Jesuit theologian and philosopher. He was a high official in the government of the Society of Jesus, and was also an expert at the Vatican I council.
Kleutgen was born in Dortmund, Westphalia. He began his studies with the intention of becoming a priest, but owing to the Protestant atmosphere of the school which he attended, his zeal for religion gradually cooled. From 28 April 1830, to 8 January 1831, he studied philology at the University of Munich. He was intensely interested in Plato's philosophy and the Greek tragic poets. Though he clung to the Catholic faith, it ceased to be the ruling principle of his life, and he fell into a deep melancholy. As member of the fraternity Germania he came under prosecution after political revolts in Munich that were inspired by the July Revolution in France. He fled to Jena. In this state he was about to enter upon a secular career, but in Easter 1832 he entered the theological academy of Münster, indicating a decisive turn in his convictions. According to his own report, he suddenly received a special illumination from heaven. During the preceding years he had imbibed certain ideas from Lessing's and Herder's writings, which he could not reconcile with the Christian faith. After several weeks of internal conflict he betook himself to prayer, and to his astonishment many of his difficulties vanished at once; the remainder disappeared gradually. After two terms at Münster he went to the seminary at Paderborn, where he was ordained subdeacon on 22 February 1834. With the Prussian police attempting to arrest him due to his involvement in the 1830 revolts and also in order to evade military service, he went to Switzerland. On 28 April he entered the Society of Jesus at Brig, Switzerland, and, to avoid any trouble with the Prussian Government, he became a naturalized citizen in one of the Swiss cantons, and changed his name to "Peters". After his ordination to the priesthood in 1837 he was professor of ethics in Fribourg, Switzerland, for two years; he then taught rhetoric in Brig from 1840 till 1843. In 1843 he was appointed professor of sacred eloquence in the German College, Rome. In the political unrest of the 1848/49 Revolution in Rome, jesuits were in danger, so Kleutgen alias Peters lived undercover. He later admitted to having had a sexual relationship with the woman with whom he had shared a flat, Alessandra Carli.
During his residence in Rome and the vicinity (1843–74), besides pastoral work and the composition of his principal writings, he was substitute to the secretary of the Superior General of the Jesuits (1843–56), John-Philip Roothaan, secretary (1856–62), consultor of the Congregation of the Index, and collaborator in the preparation of the Constitution Dei Filius of the First Vatican Council. He composed the first draft of the encyclical "Æterni Patris" of Pope Leo XIII on Scholasticism (1879). He played a leading part in the revival of Scholastic philosophy and theology, and so thorough was his mastery of the teachings of Thomas Aquinas that he was called Thomas redivivus (Thomas returned to life).
With the object of combating the doctrines of Georg Hermes, J. B. Hirscher, and Anton Günther, he composed his Theologie der Vorzeit (Theology of the Past) and Philosophie der Vorzeit (Philosophy of the Past), works which upon their appearance were pronounced in many quarters to be epoch-making. When he died, Leo XIII said of him: "Erat princeps philosophorum" (he was the prince of philosophers).
In 1856, Kleutgen alias Peters became confessor extraordinary to the franciscan Convent of St. Ambrose in Rome. The nuns of this convent honoured as a saint their founding abbess, Agnese Firrao (died 1854), although this had been forbidden by the holy office in 1816, which had convicted the abbess of "false sanctity", or pretending to be a saint. In 1859, Princess Katharina of Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst, who had recently joined the convent as a novice, denounced its activities to an inquisition, accusing mistress of novices Maria Luisa, among others, of sexual transgressions, heretical practices and homicidal schemes. Maria Luisa claimed to receive messages from St. Mary, was performing rituals usually allowed only for priests, and slept with several of the novices. Other transgressions included affairs between the women and priests. When she challenged convent practices, Katharina became the victim of an attempted poisoning. As the investigation proceeded it emerged that Peters alias Kleutgen who as the "spiritual father" of the nuns had been entitled to hear confession in the convent and administer the sacrament of Penance had entered into sexual relations with Maria Luisa, whom he regarded as a saintly person given to visions and divine revelations. He had had knowledge of the poisoning of Katharina, although the degree to which he had instigated the attempted murder could not be ascertained. He was convicted as an heretic for his fostering of the cult of Agnese Firrao and sentenced to three years of emprisonment - and suspended from saying Mass for 20 days. However Pope Pius IX reduced the sentence to two years, which Kleutgen spent outside Rome in a jesuit house of recreation at the shrine of Our Lady in Galloro, allowing him to continue work on his theological magnum opus, Theologie der Vorzeit and Philosophie der Vorzeit. Several high-ranking ecclesiastics as e.g. Cardinal Karl-August von Reisach and Peter Jan Beckx, Superior-General of the Society of Jesus, had been involved in the cult of Agnese Firrao and had - like Kleutgen himself - put faith in Maria Luisa's supposed letters from the virgin Mary, so they took an interest in keeping the scandal from public view.
Notwithstanding his onetime conviction as an heretic, later in his life Kleutgen was instrumental in the drafting of the dogma of papal infallibility. After the opening of the first Vatican council, at the urgent request of several bishops, especially Archbishop Steins, Apostolic Vicar of Calcutta, his Superior General, then Peter Beckx, recalled him to Rome to place his talents and learning at the disposal of the council, and Pope Pius IX removed all ecclesiastical censures. Gustav Adolf, Cardinal Prince of Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, Katharina of Hohenlohe's relative and a theological adversary of Kleutgen, had not succeeded in using the Sant'Ambrogio scandal to block Kleutgen's rise. In 1879 some Old Catholics who had split from the catholic church on the issue of papal infallibility spread the report that Kleutgen had been condemned by the Roman Inquisition to an imprisonment of six years on account of complicity in the poisoning of the Princess von Hohenlohe; but, on 7 March, Juvenal Pelami, Notary of the Inquisition, testified that Kleutgen had never been summoned before the Inquisition upon such a charge, and consequently had not been punished by it - which was only partly true as Kleutgen's interrogation before the tribunal did relate to the poisoning, but he was convicted on the charge of sexual intercourse and hereticism, which Pelami did not reveal. The full details of the affair only became known after the opening of the archives of the Roman Inquisition in 1998, where the process files were discovered by Hubert Wolf.
Kleutgen's principal works are:
- "Die alten und die neuen Schulen" (Mainz, 1846, Münster, 1869);
- "Ueber den Glauben an das Wunderbare" (Münster, 1846);
- "Ars dicendi" (Rome, 1847; Turin, 1903);
- "Die Theologie der Vorzeit" (3 vols., Münster, 1853–60, 5 vols., 1867–74);
- "Leben frommer Diener und Dienerinnen Gottes" (Münster, 1869);
- "Die Philosophie der Vorzeit" (2 vols., Münster, 1860-3; Innsbruck, 1878), translated into French and Italian, and recently (2019) into English by William H. Marshner as "Pre-Modern Philosophy Defended";
- "Die Verurteilung des Ontologismus" (Münster, 1868); translated into French and Italian;
- "Zu meiner Rechtfertigung" (Münster, 1868);
- "Vom intellectus agens und den angeborenen Ideen";
- "Zur Lehre vom Glauben" (Münster, 1875);
- "Die Ideale und ihre wahre Verwirklichung" (Frankfurt, 1868);
- "Ueber die Wunsche, Befürhtungen und Hoffnungen in Betreff der bevorstehenden Kirchenversammlung" (Münster, 1869);
- "Briefe aus Rom" (Münster, 1869);
- "Predigten" (Regensburg, 1872; 2 vols., 1880-5);
- "Die oberste Lehrgewalt des römischen Bischofs" (Trier, 1870);
- "De ipso Deo" (Regensburg, 1881);
- "Das Evangelium des heiligen Matthäus" (Freiburg, 1882).
- Wolf, Hubert: The Nuns of Sant'Ambrogio. The True Story of a Convent in Scandal. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015. First published in German, Munich 2013.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "article name needed". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.
- Langhort in Stimmen aus Maria-Laach (1883);
- Liesen in Der Katholik, I (1883);
- Granderath, Gesch. des vatikantschen Konzils, II (Freiburg, 1903);
- Bernard Duhr, Jesuiten-Fabeln (Freiburg, 1891);
- Sachs in Buchberger's Kirchliches Handlex., (Munich, 1908), s. v.;
- Sommervogel, Bibl. de la C. de J. (Paris, 1803).
- Hubert Wolf, The Nuns of Sant'Ambrogio. The True Story of a Convent in Scandal. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.