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Paul Melchers

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Cardinal, Archbishop of Cologne, b. 6 Jan., 1813, at Münster, Westphalia; d. 14 December, 1895, at Rome. He studied law at Bonn (1830-33), and a few years practice at Münster, took up theology at Munich under Klee, Görres, Windischmann and Döllinger. Ordained in 1841, he was assigned to duty in the village of Haltren. In 1844 he became vice-rector of the diocesan seminary, rector (1851), canon of the cathedral (1852), vicar-general (1854). Pius IX appointed him Bishop of Osnabrück (1857) and Archbishop of Cologne (1966). Here he laboured zealously and, moreover, inaugurated (1867) at Fulda, those annual reunions of the German bishops which have since produced such excellent results. Though he had always accepted and taught the doctrine of papal infallibility, he regarded its formal definition as untimely, a conviction which he, with thirteen other bishops, expressed in a letter to the pope, 4 Sept., 1869. At the same time, however, the bishops, in a pastoral letter which they signed without ex ception, warned the faithful against reports unfavourable to the future (Vatican) Council and exhorted them to await calmly its decisions. In the Council itself Archbishop Melchers took a prominent part. At the session of 13 July, 1870, he voted negatively on the question of papal infallibility; but he refused to sign an address in which fifty-five other members of the minority notified the pope of their immediate departure and reiterated their non placet. He left Rome before the fourth solemn session, giving as his reason the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, and declaring his readiness to abide by the decisions of the Council. On his return to Cologne he proclaimed in an elegant address (24 July) the dogma defined 18 July. As a means of insuring obedience to the Council, the bishops assembled by him at Fulda, published (1 Sept.) a joint letter, which produced a deep and salutary impression, and for which Pius IX (20 Oct.) expressed his gratitude to Archbishop Melchers. To eliminate the opposition at Bonn, the archbishop (20 Sept. and 8 Oct.) called on professors Dieringer, Reusch, Langen, and Knoodt to sign a declaration accepting the Vatican decree and pledging conformity thereto in their teaching. Dieringer alone complied; the others were suspended and eventually (12 March, 1872) excommunicated.

The encroachment and repressive measures of the Kulturkampf were firmly resisted by Archbishop Melchers. In June, 18973, he excommunicated two priests who had joined the Old Catholics; for this and other administrative acts he was fined and imprisoned for six months (12 March-Oct., 1874). On 2 December, 1875, the President of the Rhine Province demanded his resignation on pain of deposition; he refused, but learning that preparations were being made to deport him to Küstrin he escaped (13 Dec.) to Maestritch and took refuge with the Franciscans. From their monastery he administered his dioceses for ten years. Knowing, however, the temper of the German Government, and fearing that his absence from his see would prove injurious to religion, he on different occasions informed Leo XIII of his willingness to resign for the general good. The pope at last reluctantly consented, but called him to Rome, and created him cardinal (27 July, 1885). In 1892 during a serious illness he was received into the Society of Jesus and lived as a Jesuit until his death three years later. He was laid to rest in the cathedral of Cologne amidst obsequies that attested to the people's admiration and love. St. Paul's church in the same city, completed in 1908, fittingly commemorates Melcher's heroic struggle for the liberty of the Church.

His principal publications are: "Erinnerungen An die Feier des 50 jährigen Bischofsjubiläums des h. Vaters Pius IX" (Cologne, 1876); "Eine Unterweisung über das Gebet" (Cologne, 1876); "Einer Unterweisung über des heilige Messopfer" (Cologne, 1879); "Das Sendschriben des heilige Vaters Papst Leo XIII über den Socialismus" (Cologne, 1880); "Die katholiche Lehre von der Kirche" (Cologne, 1881); "Das enine Nothwendige" (Cologne, 1882); "De canonica dioecesium visitatione" (Rome, 1892).


LUDWIGS, Kardinal Ertzbishof Dr. Paulus Melchers und die St. Pauluskirche in Köln" (Cologne, 1809); GRANDERAH-KIRCH, Geschichte des Vatikanischen Konzils, I, II, III (Freiburg, 1903-1906); GRANDERATH, Acta et Decreta S. S. conciliorum recentiorum, tom. VII (Freiburg, 1890).

About this page

APA citation. Paul Melchers. (1911). In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. "Paul Melchers." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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