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Wilhelm Emmanuel Freiherr von Ketteler
Bishop of Mainz
ChurchLatin Church
Appointed20 May 1850
Term ended13 July 1877
PredecessorPetrus Leopold Kaiser
Ordination1 June 1844
Consecration25 July 1850
by Hermann von Vicari
Personal details
Born25 December 1811
Died13 July 1877

Baron Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler (25 December 1811 – 13 July 1877) was a German theologian and politician who served as Bishop of Mainz. His social teachings became influential during the papacy of Leo XIII and his encyclical Rerum novarum.[1]

Early life and ordination

Ketteler was born in Münster in Westphalia. In 1828 he finished the Matura in Brig, Switzerland far away from his home.[citation needed] He studied theology at Göttingen, Berlin, Heidelberg and Munich, and was ordained priest in 1844. He resolved to consecrate his life to maintaining the cause of the freedom of the Church from the control of the State. This brought him into collision with civil power, an attitude he maintained throughout a stormy and eventful life.[2]

Scholar and politician

Ketteler was instead a man of action than a scholar, and he first distinguished himself as the deputy for the District of Tecklenburg and Warendorf at the Frankfurt National Assembly,[3] a position to which he was elected in 1848, and in which he soon became noted for his decision, foresight, energy, and eloquence.[2]


In 1850 he was made bishop of Mainz, by order of the Vatican, in preference to the celebrated Professor Leopold Schmidt, of Gießen, whose Liberal sentiments were not agreeable to the Papal party. When elected, Ketteler refused to allow theology students in his diocese to attend lectures at Giessen and ultimately founded an opposition seminary in the diocese of Mainz itself.[2]


He also founded religious institutes of School Brothers and School Sisters to work in the various educational agencies he had called into existence, and he labored to institute orphanages and rescue homes.[2] In 1851, he founded the congregation of the Sisters of Divine Providence, with Stephanie Amelia Starkenfels de la Roche.[citation needed]

Death and legacy

He died at Burghausen, Upper Bavaria in 1877.

In Mainz, "Workers' Day" is celebrated in honor of the Bishop. The Herz-Jesu-Kirche, Mainz was built in honor of Ketteler. The fuchsia cultivar "Baron de Ketteler" is named after him. Ketteler's nephew, Klemens von Ketteler, was Germany's envoy in China and was murdered during the Boxer Rebellion.[citation needed]

He is cited in Pope Benedict's encyclical Deus caritas est for his role in the Catholic social tradition.


In 1861, Ketteler published a book on reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants in Germany, Freiheit, Autorität, und Kirche; in it, he proposed the founding of a prayer society "for the Reunion of Christendom".[4] Ketteler was friends with Julie von Massow, a Lutheran woman from Prussian nobility, who indeed founded such a prayer society.[5]

When the question of papal infallibility arose, he opposed the promulgation of the dogma on the ground that such promulgation was inopportune. But after the dogma was defined, he submitted to the decrees (in August 1870).[2]

In 1858, Ketteler threw down the gauntlet against the State in his pamphlet on the rights of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany. In 1863 he adopted Ferdinand Lassalle's views. He published his Die Arbeitfrage und das Christenthum.[2] He was the strongest opponent of the State in the Kulturkampf provoked by Prince Otto von Bismarck after the publication of the Vatican decrees, and was largely instrumental in compelling that statesman to retract the pledge he had rashly given, never to "go to Canossa."[2] To such an extent did Bishop von Ketteler carry his opposition that in 1874 he forbade his clergy to take part in celebrating the anniversary of the Battle of Sedan, and declared the Rhine to be a "Catholic river."[2]


  1. ^ "Wilhelm Emmanuel, baron von Ketteler | Bavarian bishop | Britannica". Retrieved 25 June 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLias, John James (1911). "Ketteler, Wilhelm Emmanuel, Baron von". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 763.
  3. ^ Goyau 1913.
  4. ^ Unitas, Volume 15. Society of the Atonement. 1963. p. 90.
  5. ^ Fleischer, Manfred (1969). "Lutheran and Catholic Reunionists in the Age of Bismarck". Church History. 38 (1): 43–66. doi:10.2307/3163648. JSTOR 3163648. S2CID 246999187.