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Martin von Dunin

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Archbishop of Gnesen and Posen, born 11 Nov., 1774, in the village of Wat near the city of Rawa, Poland; died 26 Dec., 1842. in the city of Posen. He studied theology in the Collegium Germanicum at Rome (1793-97), and was ordained priest in Sept., 1797. After some service in the Diocese of Cracow, he was made a canon of Wloclawek by the Bishop of Cujavia, in 1808 canon of Gnesen, in 1815 chancellor of its cathedral chapter, in 1824 canon of Posen and counsellor to the Government in matters of education. On the death of Archbishop Theophilus von Wolicki (1829) Von Dunin became administrator of the Archdiocese of Gnesen and Posen, was appointed archbishop in 1831, and consecrated 10 July of the same year. He endeavoured at once to reorganize his vast diocese, a work rendered necessary by the vicissitudes of Poland in the eighteenth century, the consequent reunion of the Dioceses of Gnesen and Posen, and the secularization or suppression of the monasteries. He reconstructed on a new plan the ecclesiastical seminaries of Gnesen and Posen, travelled throughout the two dioceses administering the Sacrament of Confirmation and dedicating new churches, and discharged faithfully the other duties of his pastoral ministry. In the exercise of these duties he came into conflict with the Prussian Government on the question of mixed marriages. The conditions laid down by Benedict XIV (1740-58) in the Constitution "Magnæ nobis" (29 June, 1748), by which marriages between Catholics and members of other Christian denominations became lawful, had been well observed in Catholic Poland. But in a treaty concluded in 1768 with various European powers the Prussian Government undertook to enforce another order of things. Mixed marriages were no longer forbidden; male children born of such marriages were to be brought up in the religion of their father, the female offspring in that of the mother. The marriage was to be blessed by the ecclesiastical minister, under whose jurisdiction the bride was; if a Catholic priest should refuse to solemnize the marriage, the minister of the other party was to officiate. Similar provisions were contained in the code of Prussian law extended to Prussian Poland in 1797. By a royal decree of King Frederick William III (1797-1840), 21 Nov., 1803, they were further modified in an anti-Catholic sense: all the children of mixed marriages were to be raised in the religion of the father.

Such legislation was unquestionably hostile to Catholic interests. It often happened, therefore, that Catholic priests blessed mixed marriages without first requiring the usual promise concerning the free exercise of religion for the Catholic party and the education of all offspring in the Catholic Faith. The bishops were silent; both priests and bishops seemed to believe that they must endure what they could not prevent. Penalties were inflicted by the Government on all priests who refused to bless mixed marriages contracted without any of the above conditions. The Catholic conscience was finally aroused by the Brief "Litteris altero abhinc" of Pius VIII (1829-30), 25 March, 1830, forbidding priests to bless a mixed marriage if no promise were given relating to the education of the children in the Catholic Faith. In case of such refusal Pius VIII agreed to tolerate a passive assistance (assistentia passiva) on the part of the priest. Realizing the harm done to the Catholic religion by the lax practice observed so far, Archbishop Von Dunin resolved to break with it. In January, 1837, he requested from the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs in Berlin permission to publish the Brief of Pius VIII, or at least to direct his clergy to obey its provisions. His request was refused. A petition sent directly to Frederick William III, 26 Oct., 1837, was similarly treated. Determined not to betray his high office he sent an instruction to his priests, 30 Jan., 1838, in which he inculcated the principles of the Church relating to mixed marriages; Soon after (27 Feb.) he suspended ipso facto any priest of his diocese who should henceforth bless a mixed marriage without previous assurance as to the Catholic education of the offspring. The king was notified of these acts, 10 March, 1838. While the instructions of the archbishop were well received throughout his diocese, the Government was highly indignant and sought by all means to render them ineffectual. They were declared null and void; the archbishop was asked to recall them, and finally (in July, 1838) a regular trial was commenced against him in the Court of Posen, to which, however, he always objected as conducted by a non-competent authority. In the midst of this struggle he received much consolation from the unanimous support of his clergy, and from an Allocution in his favour by Gregory XVI, 13 Sept., 1838. At the conclusion of his trial in 1839 he was summoned to Berlin where he arrived 5 April. A last ineffectual attempt was made to have him recant; finally the sentence of the court proclaiming his deposition from office, inability ever to hold one, and a confinement of six months in a fortress, was read to him. He appealed directly to the king for clemency, but nothing was changed except that he was detained in Berlin instead of being sent to a fortress.

Meanwhile the archbishop began to think of the needs of his diocese, and being unable to obtain permission to return, he departed secretly from Berlin and arrived in Posen, 4 October. In less than two days, during the night of 5-6 Oct., he was arrested and taken to the fortress of Colberg, where he remained until the death of Frederick William III (7 June, 1840). After his departure the diocese put on public mourning; the bells and the organs remained silent during the celebration of the Holy Mysteries; on all Sundays and feast days public prayers were said for the speedy return of the archbishop; and both the clergy and the nobility of Posen made several fruitless attempts to obtain his release. With the accession of the peaceful king, Frederick William IV (1840-61), matters changed. On 3 Aug., 1840, Von Dunin was set free, and on the 5th of the same month he arrived in Posen amid the rejoicing of his faithful flock. According to an agreement reached with the Government he issued a pastoral letter, 25 Aug., in which his previous instructions were somewhat modified, without detriment, however, to Catholic principle. He recommended his clergy not to insist absolutely on the fulfilment of the usual conditions required for mixed marriages, but at the same time to abstain from all active participation in such marriages, if the usual promises were not given. No mention was made of any punishment in the case of contravention. Later on (21 Feb., and 26 Sept., 1842) he issued new instructions relating to the manner of dealing in confession with the husband or wife of a mixed marriage. The priests were directed to be indulgent towards those who tried their best to influence their children in favour of the Catholic Faith, and to distinguish them from those who were altogether careless in the discharge of this sacred duty. With this the whole controversy ceased. Archbishop Von Dunin did not long survive these conflicts. His memory is held in respect for his unswerving loyalty to Catholic principles, and for his courage, frankness, and prudent moderation displayed in their defence.


Sources

POHL, Martin Von Dunin, Erzbischof von Gnesen und Posen (Marienburg, 1843); BRÜCK, Gesch. der kath. Kirche in Deutschl. im neunzehnten Jahrhundert (Münster, 1903), II; POHL in Kirchenlex., s.v.; MIRBT in Realencyklopädie, s.v.

About this page

APA citation. Schaefer, F. (1909). Martin von Dunin. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05192c.htm

MLA citation. Schaefer, Francis. "Martin von Dunin." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05192c.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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