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Otto of Freising

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Bishop and historian, b. between 1111 and 1114, d. at Morimond, Champagne, France, 22 September, 1158. He was the son of St. Leopold of Austria, and Agnes, daughter of Henry IV. Through his mother's first marriage with the Hohenstaufen Frederick I, Duke of Swabia, he was half-brother of Conrad III and uncle of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Like his younger brothers, he was early destined for the priesthood, and when scarcely more than a child he was made provost of the chapter of canons at Klosterneuberg, near Vienna, founded in 1114. For his education he was sent to the University of Paris, the centre of learning, philosophical, theological, and classical. On his journey home he and fifteen other noblemen entered the Cistercian Order at Morimond. It is not known what led him to take this sudden step. Within three years he was elected abbot of the monastery, but shortly afterwards, probably in the same year (1137 or 1138), was called to Freising as bishop, though he did not lay aside the habit of his order. As bishop he displayed a highly beneficent activity by founding and reforming monasteries, and zealously furthering scientific studies by introducing Aristotelian philosophy and scholastic disputations on the model of the University of Paris. As a result the school at Freising flourished anew. He removed many of the abuses that had crept in, in consequence of the investiture strife, and demanded back the properties of which the Church had been robbed. In every way he raised the prestige of the Church in Freising as against the nobility, and after bitter struggles freed it from the burdensome bailiwick of the Wittelsbach counts palatine. As prince of the German Empire and closely connected with the Hohenstaufen family, he possessed great influence, and used his high standing to adjust differences within the empire. He was especially active in bringing about a reconciliation between Frederick and Henry the Lion, and in restoring peace between the emperor and the pope. In 1147 he accompanied Conrad III on his unsuccessful crusade to the Holy Land. The part of the army entrusted to Otto was completely annihilated, and he himself returned home after undergoing the severest privations and facing the greatest dangers. Otto was to have accompanied Emperor Frederick on his march into Italy in 1158, but remained behind on account of ill-health. He went to France to attend the general chapter of his order, and died while revisiting the monastery of Morimond.

In addition to a short fragment of a history of Hildebrand (edited by Goldast, "Apologia pro Henrico IV", Hanover, 1611, 18 sqq.), two historical works by Otto of Freising are extant, the so-called "Chronicle" (Chronicon seu rerum ab initio mundi ad sua usque tempora 1146 libri VIII) and the "History of Emperor Frederick" (Gesta Friderici I imperatoris usque 1156 libri II). The "Chronicle", dedicated to the cleric Isingrim (perhaps Abbot of Ottobeuren), is a universal history in eight books based in the main on the great medieval chronicles, especially on Ekkehard, but also on the church histories of Rufinus and Orosius. Otto's work, however, is by no means a chronicle in the sense of its predecessors. He himself did not call it a chronicle, but gave it the title "De duabus civitatibus", since, as he asserted, he did not wish merely to enumerate the different events but to combine, as in a tragedy, a picture of the evil which abounded in his time. For this purpose he adheres closely to St. Augustine's teaching of two states, especially as elaborated in the "De Civitate Dei", though he also used the ideas of Orosius concerning the misery of the world. Although the doctrine of the two states as it appears in Otto's historical work can be variously interpreted, he undoubtedly wished to represent the conflict between the civitas Dei (City of God) and the civitas diaboli (City of the Devil), between the children of God and the cives Babyloniæ mundique amatores (citizens of Babylon and lovers of the world). Evidently his belief is, that after Christ the conflict between the mundane state of Babel and the Divine state of Israel changed into a conflict between Christianity and paganism or heresy. After the complete victory of Christianity, however, he treats almost exclusively of the civitas Dei, which then merges into the Church. Nevertheless, he is compelled to represent it in its earthly admixture as a corpus admixtum, in which the chosen ones must live and act side by side with the outcasts. Guided by these views, he gives a narrative in the first seven books extending from the creation of the world to the year 1146, while the eighth book depicts the Antichrist, the Second Coming, the Resurrection of the Dead, the Last Judgment, the end of the mundane state, and the beginning of the Divine state. Thus, through a unifying conception, he succeeded in representing the entire range of history as a connected whole, by which he became, if not the first, certainly the most important representative of the medieval philosophy of history. The work, which was spread in manuscripts, was first published in 1515 in Strasburg (ex oedibus M. Schureri). Wilmans issued a critical edition of it in "Monumenta Germ. Scriptores", XX (Hanover, 1868), pp. 115-301, and a German translation of the sixth and seventh books was published in Leipzig (1881, 1894).

Otto began his second historical work, "Gesta Friderici", almost ten years after the completion of his "Chronicle". But he could not finish it, and at his death entrusted the continuation of it to his chaplain Rahewin. Of course he had command of excellent, reliable sources, and therefore could reproduce verbatim a number of extremely important documents. Although a unifying thought is not so apparent in this work, it is not difficult to perceive that Otto here desired to prove that happiness in this world depends upon the harmonious co-operation of Church and State. Throughout the "Gesta" he endeavours to show that a happy state of peace followed the termination of the conflicts between the emperor and the pope at Frederick's accession to the throne. And even though the feeling of the world's misery (the so-called pessimism of Otto, or rather of the Middle Ages — cf. Hauck, "Kirchengeschichte", IV, 479 sqq.), which dominates his "Chronicle", crops up repeatedly, a spirit of "cheerful buoyancy" pervades the entire work, and the dramatis personæ are depicted more freely and with greater self-confidence. In the first book he describes the events from the beginning of the disputes between the empire and the papacy under Henry IV to the death of Conrad III. In the second he relates the history of the years of peace (1152-6). The "Gesta Friderici", therefore, is an extremely important work, despite the fact that the author himself could not give it the final polish. It is notable both as to form and content, though it cannot be expected to fulfil all the requirements of modern standards. The first edition was published at Strasburg in 1515; Wilmans published a critical edition of it in "Monumenta Germ. Scriptores", XX (Hanover, 1868), pp. 347-415, and a German translation of it appeared in Leipzig (1883, 1894).


POTTHAST, Bibl. hist. med. ævi, II (Berlin, 1896), 885-7, contains many bibliographical references; WATTENBACH, Deutschlands Geschichtsquellen im Mittelalter, II (Berlin, 1894), 271-9; BERNHEIM, Der Charakter Ottos und seiner Werke in Mitteil. des Instituts für österr. Geschichtsforschung, VI, (1885), 1-51; HASHAGEN, Otto von Freising als Geschichtsphilosoph und Kirchenpolitiker (Leipzig, 1900); HAUCK, Kirchengesch. Deutschlands, IV (Leipzig, 1903), 476-85; SCHMIDLIN, Die geschichtsphilos. und kirchenpolit. Weltanschauung Ottos von Freising (Freiburg, 1906).

About this page

APA citation. Schlager, P. (1911). Otto of Freising. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Schlager, Patricius. "Otto of Freising." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Gerald Rossi.

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

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