This book focuses on the most important representative of 19th-century political Catholicism within the ranks of the bishops, Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler (1811–1877), who served as Bishop of Mainz
from 1850 on.
From a broad base of primary sources, the author convincingly reconstructs how this early champion of civil liberties confronted the political demands of the modern era, then consistently reinterpreted
them to support a conservative catholic position and made them his own. The individual conservative reception of what were originally modern demands for liberty can be considered exemplary for German
Catholicism in the second half of the 19th century.
In the book’s first section, Ketteler’s thought – in particular, his understanding of law and, derived from this, his conception of liberty – is situated within the general
conservatism of the first half of the 19th century. This thought gave rise to Ketteler’s criticism of modernity and its precursor, liberalism. Alongside the writings of Friedrich Julius Stahl
(1802–1861), the publications of Carl Ernst Jarcke (1801–1852) and the Historisch-politische Blätter, which appeared in Munich from 1838, served as a particular frame of reference.
At the heart of the book’s second, chronologically-ordered section are the great conflicts between Church and state, in which Ketteler was involved both before and after
his elevation to bishop in 1850: as delegate to the Frankfurt Parliament in 1848; as a young bishop during the reaction of the 1850’s; as an opponent of liberal conceptions of state in the
1860’s, at the time of the German Empire’s foundation, and during the subsequent Kulturkampf.