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Franz Xaver Kraus

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An ecclesiastical and art historian, b. at Trier, 18 September, 1840; d. at San Remo, 28 December, 1901. He completed his studies in the Trier gymnasium, began his theology in 1858-60 in the seminary there, and finished it in 1862-64, having passed in France the time from the autumn of 1860 to the spring of 1862 as tutor in distinguished French families. He was ordained a priest by the suffragan bishop Eberhard of Trier, 23 March, 1864. Even after he became a priest, he continued his studies in theology and philology at the universities of Tübingen, Freiburg — where he had received the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in 1862, and received that of Doctor of Divinity in 1865 — and Bonn. In the autumn of 1865 he became beneficiary of Pfalzel near Trier, where he developed a zealous literary activity, interrupted by several journeys of the purpose of study to Paris Belgium, and to Rome in January, 1970. In the spring of 1872 he was attached to the faculty of philosophy at the university of Strasburg as professor extraordinary of the history of Christian art, and in the autumn of 1878 he succeeded Johann Alzog as Professor ordinary of Church history at Freiburg. In 1890 he was made grand-ducal privy councillor, and held the office of pro-rector of the university for the period 1890-1. He was also curator of religious antiquities in the Grand Duchy of Baden, and from 1883 a member of the Badern Historical Commission.

Kraus was a man of brilliant and versatile talents, a scholar of great learning, a clever and elegant writer, and, in spite of ill-health and the acute bodily sufferings of his closing years, an author of wonderful productivity, who delighted in his work. Although, from an ecclesiastical standpoint, much of his literary work is greatly to be deplored and rejected and though his political activity — to which we shall refer later — did not always influence favourably his intellectual labours, his achievements of positive and permanent value form a sufficiently imposing array to entitle Kraus to a place among the ablest scholars of the nineteenth century. After a few translations from the French (van Hemen, de Ravignan, and Lacordaire) he began his independent literary career with small works on the history of early Christian literature in the first centuries and the Middle Ages, among them: "Ægidius von Rom" (in "Oesterreichische Vierteljahreschrift für kath. Theologie", I, 1862) "Observationes criticae in Synesii Cyrenaei epistulas" (Sulzbach, 1863);

"Studien uber Synesios von Kyrene" (in "Theologische Quartalschrift, XLVII, 1865; "Der Briefwechsel Pauli mit Seneca" "Theologissche Quartalschrift", XLIX, 1867), and later "Ueber das Martyrium des h. Ignatius von Antiochien" ("Theol. Quartalschrift", LV, 1873). Of the edition of the "Opera omnia" of Thomas à Kempis, undertaken by Kraus, only the first volume appeared ("Opuscula", Trier, 1868). Another series of writings, published in the "Bonner Jahrbucher des Vereins von Alterthumsfreunden" and in the "Serapeum", deals with particular features of the history and archæology of Trier. In this manner Kraus was led on to the study of Christian archaeology in general, and then to Christian art in all its aspects, thus reaching the field of research for which he seemed particularly qualified, and in which he was to accomplish his best work. Among other larger or smaller publications we may mention: "Beitrage zur Trierischen Archaologie und Gesehichte. I, Der heilige Nagel in der Domkirche zu Trier" (Trier, 1868); "Die Kunst bei den alten Christen" (Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1868); "Die christliche Kunst in ihren fruhesten Anfangen. Mit besonderer Berucksichtigung der neuesten Resultate der Katakomben-Forsehung popular dargestellt" (Leipzig, 1872); "Ueber den gegenwartigen Stand der Frage nach dern Inhalte und der sedeutung der römischen Blutampullen "(Freiburg, 1872); "Das Spotterucifix vom Palatin" (Freiburg, 1872); "Roma sotterranea: Die römischen Katakomben. Eine Darstellung der neuesten Forschungen, mit Zugrundelegung des Werkes von J. Spencer Northcote und W. R. Brownlow" (Freiburg, 1873; 2nd ed., 1879); "Ueber das Studium der Kunstwissenschaft an den deutschen Hochschulen" (Strasburg, 1874); "Ueber Begriff, Umfang, Geschichte der christlichen Archaologie und die Bedeutung der monumentalen Studien far die historische Theologie. Akademische Antrittsrede" (Freiburg, 1879); "Synchronistische Tabellen zur christlichen Kunstgeschichte" (Freiburg, 1880).

These were followed by the great works which constitute Kraus's chief claim to an enduring fame: "Kunst und Alterthum in Elsass-Lothringen. Beschreibende Statistik im Auftrage des kalserlichen Oberprasidiums von Elsass-Lothringen herausgegeben" (4 vols, Strasburg, 1876- 92); "Beal-Encyklopadie der christlichen Alterthümer" (2 vols., Freiburg, 1882-6); "Die Kunstdenkmäler des Grossherzogthurns Baden" (vols. I — VI, 1, Freiburg, 1887-1904 — is being continued by other authors); "Die christlichen Inschriften der Rheinlande" (2 vols, Freiburg, 1890-4); and lastly his masterpiece: Geschichte der christlichen Kunst" (vol. I and the first half of volume II (Freiburg, 1896-1900). The second half of volume two, which brings the description of the Italian Renaissance to a close, was published by Joseph Sauer in 1908. This work combined the results of all Kraus's labours in the field of art. Its chief merit lies in the description of the connection of art with the general and religious culture of the different periods. Other important publications belong to the special history of art: "Die Wandgemälde der St. Georgskirche zu Oberzell auf der Reichenau" (Freiburg, 1884); "Die Miniaturen des Codex Egberti in der Stadtbibliothek zu Trier" (Freiburg, 1884); "Die Miniaturen der Manesseschen Liederhandschrift" (Strasburg, 1887); "Die mittelalterlichen Wandgemälde im Grossherzogthum Baden" (with H. von Oechelhäuser, vol. I, Darmstadt, 1893); "Die Wandgemälde der Sylvesterkapelle zu Goldbach am Bodense" (Munich, 1902). Kraus 's literay leanings were directed especially towards Italy. After a close study of Dante, covering years of labour, he published the work, which must be ranked among his greatest: "Dante. Sein Leben und sein Werk. Sein Verhältniss zur Kunst und Politik" (Berlin, 1897). Though his opinions may not be in all cases incontestable, this work will always claim a prominent place in Dante literature. Somewhat earlier he had published "Luca Signorelli's Ilustrationen zu Dante's Divina Commedia" (Freiburg, 1892).

His collected "Essays" also belong to Kraus's most brilliant literary efforts (vols. I and II, Berlin, 1896 and 1901); they are of a literary, historical, and political character, and the majority appeared originally in the "Deutsche Rundschau"; particularly noteworthy are the essays "Antonio Rosmini" — for whom Kraus had a particular veneration — and "Francesco Petrarca in seinem Briefwechsel". Compared with the more congenial occupation of literature and art, Kraus's work on church history takes second place. His "Lehrbuch der Kirchengeschichte fur Studierende" (lst ed. in 3 parts, Trier, 1872-5; 4th ed., 1896, French translation: "Histoire de l'Église par F. X. Kraus traduite par P. Godet et C. Verschaffel" (4 vols. Paris, 1891-2) contains much that is excellent, but has also serious defects. It is distinguished by clear and perspicuous arrangement, based more or less on that of the well-known manual of the Protestant historian Kurtz, and by its elegant and interesting narrative, but its statement of fact is frequently neither sufficiently accurate nor reliable. One misses the calm objectivity of the historian, the author showing in many instances the inordinate influence which his liberalizing views exerted over his judgment. This bias naturally aroused enmity, and as it was still more emphatic in the second edition of 1882, Kraus was compelled by the pope to withdraw this edition and revise it. The revised edition appeared in 1887 with the ecclesiastical imprimatur. The first edition of the church history was followed by the "Synchronistische Tabellen zur Kirchengeschichte" (Trier, 1876) and "Charakterbilder aus der christlichen Kirchengeschichte" (5 parts, Trier, 1877), which were designated the fourth and fifth divisions of the ecclesiastical history, but had really the character of separate works. Among his less important ecclesiastico-historical works are "Briefe Benedicts XIV. an den Canonicus Francesco Peggi in Bologna 1727-1758" (Freiburg and Tübingen, 1884; 2nd ed., 1888): "Medicean Rome" in "The Cambridge Modern History", II (Cambridge, 1903), 1-35. Mention should also be made of his preparation of the tenth edition of Alzog's "Handbuch der allgemeinen Kirchengeschichte" (2 vols., Mainz, 1882), and his "Gedachtnissrede auf Johannes Alzog, Professor der Theologie an der Universitat Freiburg" (Freiburg, 1879). His political rather than his ecclesiastical views are reflected in "Die Erhebung Italiens im 19 Jahrhundert: Cavour" (Mainz, 1902 — "Weltgeschichte in Karakterbildern", vol. V).

As a politician Kraus displayed an extensive journalistic activity, which, from the Catholic standpoint, is greatly to be regretted. Personally, he was a man of deep religious feeling and Catholic faith, but, from association with the Liberal Catholics in France, Italy, and Germany, he soon became imbued with their views on ecclesiastical polity. At the time of the Vatican Council, he entered into close connections with the opposition party, and kept up these relations for some time. He remained in the Church, but the strife had engendered in his mind a certain bitterness. In many anonymous or pseudonymous articles written for the Liberal press, he gave vent to his dissatisfaction with certain ecclesiastical conditions — often with excessive severity and bitterness. The "Kirchenpolitische Briefe" in the "Beilage zur Allgemeinen Zeitung" (1895-9), written under the pseudonym of "Spectator", created a great sensation. It is to him that we owe the distinction between "religious and political Catholicism", a formula in which he imagined he had found the solution of many difficulties. The permanent services of Kraus as a scholar are, however, sufficiently great to permit us to draw a veil of oblivion over his political errors and his secret activity on behalf of Liberalism.


BRAIG, Zur Erinnerung an Frans Xaver Kraus (Freiburg, 1902); HAUVILLER, F.X. Kraus, ein Lebensbild aus der Zeit des Reformkatholizismus (Colmar, 1904; 2nd ed., Munich, 1905), shows Liberal tendencies; GRAUERT in Historische Jahrbuch (1902), 238-44; Kolnische Volkszeitung (1902, nos. 21, 22, 24; KUNSTLE, Notice biographique et bibliographique sur F. X. Kraus in Revue d'historire ecclesiastique, III (1902), 431-41; SAUER, in Kunstchronik, New Series, XIII (1901-2), cols. 225-33; Deutsche Rundschau, CX (1902), 432-59; HURBIN, F. X. Kraus und die Schweiz in Hochland, I, 2 (1904), 650-67; SCHRORS, in Badische Biographien, V (Heidelberg, 1906), 424-42.

About this page

APA citation. Lauchert, F. (1910). Franz Xaver Kraus. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Lauchert, Friedrich. "Franz Xaver Kraus." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Joseph P. Thomas.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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