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Joseph von Görres
Joseph-Görres-Memorial in Koblenz

Johann Joseph von Görres (25 January 1776 – 29 January 1848) was a German writer.

He was born at Koblenz. His father was moderately well off, and sent his son to a Latin college under the direction of the Roman Catholic clergy. The young Görres' sympathies were initially with the French Revolution, and the conduct of the French exiles in the Rhineland confirmed those beliefs, which would evolve over time. He harangued the revolutionary clubs, and insisted on the unity of interests which would ally all civilized states to one another. He began a republican journal called Das rote Blatt, and afterwards Rubezahl, in which he strongly condemned the administration of the Rhenish provinces by France.

After the Treaty of Campo Formio (1797) there was hope that the Rhenish provinces would be constituted into an independent republic. In 1799 the provinces sent an embassy, of which Görres was a member, to Paris to put their case before the directory. The embassy reached Paris on 20 November 1799; two days before this Napoleon had assumed power. After much delay he received the embassy; but the only answer they obtained was "that they might rely on perfect justice, and that the French government would never lose sight of their wants". Görres on his return published a tract called Resultate meiner Sendung nach Paris, in which he reviewed the history of the French Revolution.

During the thirteen years of Napoleon's dominion Görres lived a quiet life, devoting himself chiefly to art or science. In 1801 he married Catherine de Lasaulx, and for some years taught at a secondary school in Koblenz; in 1806 he moved to Heidelberg, where he lectured at the university. As a leading member of the Heidelberg Romantic group, he edited together with Klemens Brentano and Ludwig Achim von Arnim the famous Zeitung für Einsiedler (subsequently re-named Trost-Einsamkeit), and in 1807 he published Die deutschen Volksbücher. He returned to Koblenz in 1808, and again found occupation as a teacher in a secondary school, supported by civic funds. He now studied Persian, and in two years published a Mythengeschichte der asiatischen Welt, which was followed ten years later by Das Heldenbuch von Iran, a translation of part of the Shahnama, the epic of Firdousi.

In 1813 he again took up the cause of national independence, and in the following year founded Der rheinische Merkur. The intense earnestness of the paper, the bold outspokenness of its hostility to Napoleon, and its fiery eloquence secured for it almost instantly a position and influence unique in the history of German newspapers. Napoleon himself called it la cinquième puissance (the fifth power). The ideal it insisted on was a united Germany, with a representative government, but under an emperor after the fashion of other days, – for Görres now abandoned his early advocacy of republicanism. When Napoleon was at Elba, Görres wrote an imaginary proclamation issued by him to the people, the intense irony of which was so well veiled that many Frenchmen mistook it for an original utterance of the emperor. He criticised the second peace of Paris (1815), declaring that Alsace and Lorraine should have been demanded back from France.

Stein was glad enough to use the Merkur at the time of the meeting of the congress of Vienna as a vehicle for giving expression to his hopes. But Hardenberg, in May 1815, warned Görres to remember that he was not to arouse hostility against France, but only against Napoleon. There was also in the Merkur an antipathy to Prussia, a continual expression of the desire that an Austrian prince should assume the imperial title, and also a tendency to pronounced liberalism—all of which made it most distasteful to Hardenberg, and to his master Friedrich Wilhelm III. Görres disregarded warnings sent to him by the censorship and continued the paper in all its fierceness. Accordingly it was suppressed early in 1816, at the instance of the Prussian government; and soon after Görres was dismissed from his teaching post.

From this time his writings were his sole means of support, and he became a most diligent political pamphleteer. In the wild excitement which followed Kotzebue's assassination, the reactionary decrees of Carlsbad were framed, and these were the subject of Görres's celebrated pamphlet Teutschland und die Revolution (1820). In this work he reviewed the circumstances which had led to the murder of August von Kotzebue, and, while expressing all possible horror at the deed itself, he urged that it was impossible and undesirable to repress the free utterance of public opinion by reactionary measures. The success of the work was very marked, despite its ponderous style. It was suppressed by the Prussian government, and orders were issued for the arrest of Görres and the seizure of his papers. He escaped to Strassburg, and thence went to Switzerland. Two more political tracts, Europa und die Revolution (1821) and In Sachen der Rheinprovinzen und in eigener Angelegenheit (1822), also deserve mention.

In Görres's pamphlet Die Heilige Allianz und die Völker auf dem Kongress zu Verona he asserted that the princes had met together to crush the liberties of the people, and that the people must look elsewhere for help. The "elsewhere" was to Rome; and from this time Görres became a vehement Ultramontane writer. He was summoned to Munich by King Ludwig of Bavaria as Professor of History in the university, and there his writing enjoyed very great popularity. His Christliche Mystik (1836–1842) gave a series of biographies of the saints, together with an exposition of Roman Catholic mysticism. But his most celebrated ultramontane work was a polemical one. Its occasion was the deposition and imprisonment by the Prussian government of the archbishop Clement Wenceslaus reportedly due to his refusal to sanction in certain instances the marriages of Protestants and Roman Catholics.

Görres, in his Athanasius (1837), fiercely upheld the power of the church, although the liberals of later date who have claimed Görres as one of their own school claim he never insisted on the absolute supremacy of Rome. Athanasius went through several editions, and initiated a long and bitter controversy. In the Historisch-politische Blätter, a Munich journal, Görres and his son Guido (1805–1852) continually upheld the claims of the church. Görres received the Order of Merit from the king for his services.

Görres's attention studied mysticism while he stay in Strasburg. He carefully studied the mystical writers of the Middle Ages such as Maria of Agreda as well as observing partly in person the phenomena connected with the ecstatic young women of his time (Maria von Mörl, and others), and strove to comprehend more thoroughly the nature of Christian mysticism, which stands in the strongest contrast to rationalism and naturalism. These studies led to his writing his work: "Die christliche Mystik" (4 vols., 1836–42; 2nd ed., 5 vols., 1879). It proved a strong stimulant to Christian faith and dealt a decisive blow to superficial rationalism in religious matters. He is buried in the Alter Südfriedhof in Munich.

This article incorporates text from the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913. This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

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