Joseph Kleutgen

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Joseph (or Josef) Wilhelm Karl Kleutgen (9 April 1811 – 13 January 1883) was a German Jesuit theologian and philosopher. High official in the government of the Society of Jesus, he 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.

In this state he was about to enter upon a secular career, when he suddenly received what he always regarded as a special illumination from heaven. Still he was not at rest. 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. At Easter 1832 he entered the theological academy of Münster, and after two terms went to the seminary at Paderborn, where he was ordained subdeacon on 22 February 1834. On 28 April he entered the Society of Jesus at Brig, Switzerland, and, to avold any trouble with the German Government in the matter of military service, 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.

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 Verzeit (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).

Some years before the Vatican Council Kleutgen was confessor extraordinary to the Benedictine Convent of St. Ambrose in Rome. The nuns of this convent honoured as a saint one of their sisters who had died fifty years earlier. This was reported to the Holy Office and everyone concerned was severely punished; Kleutgen and the ordinary confessor (both men of exceptionally holy lives) were suspended, because of lack of prudence in directing the nuns, for a while even from saying Mass.

Kleutgen consequently left Rome and went to the secluded shrine of Our Lady in Galloro, where he wrote the greater part of his Theologie der Vorzeit and Philosophie der Vorzeit. After the opening of the 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 as soon as he became acquainted with the work which Kleutgen had written.

In 1879 some Old Catholics 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 a 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. He died at St. Anton near Kaltern, Tyrol.


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;
  • "Die Verurteilung des Ontologismus" (Münster, 1868); transIated 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, Befurehtungen und Hoffnungen in Betreff der bevorstehenden Kirehenversammlung" (Münster, 1869);
  • "Briefe aus Rom" (Münster, 1869);
  • "Predigten" (Regenbburg, 1872; 2 vols., 1880-5);
  • "Die oberste Lehrgewalt des römischen Bischofs" (Trier, 1870);
  • "De ipso Deo" (Ratisbon, 1881);
  • "Das evangelium des heiligen Matthäus" (Freiburg, 1882).


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, 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.

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