JULIUS ECHTER: Bishop of Würzburg 1573-1617; b. at the castle of Mespelbrunn in the Spessart (northwestern Bavaria) Mar. 18, 1545; d. at Würzburg Sept. 13, 1617.

Early Activity.

The circumstances under which his work was begun were as follows: Not till after 1540, after the death of Bishop Conrad II., did the Reformation prosper in the diocese of Würzburg. Then almost all citizens and noblemen separated from the old church and inaugurated Lutheran preachers. Roman Catholic institutions decayed and the secular clergy was without means and protection, so that many of its members adopted the new doctrine. Bishop Friedrich of Würzberg (1558-73) did not possess the necessary energy to stem the tide of the new movement, although he sought a very close political union with Bavaria and in 1567, against the opposition of the cathedral chapter, realized the foundation of a Jesuit college in Würzburg. On Dec. 1, 1573, Julius Echter was elected bishop. He had been educated in the Roman Catholic spirit from 1560 to 1569 at Mainz, Louvain, Douai, Paris, Angers, Pavia and Rome. As a licentiate of law and with a fund of knowledge often praised in later times he came in 1569 to Wurzburg where he was received as an active member of the cathedral chapter. In 1570 he became dean of the cathedral and in his twenty-eighth year was elected bishop, to the great satisfaction of Rome. In spite of contrary statements, it has been proved that he never had Protestant inclinations. He represented the interests of the Roman Catholic estates of the realm at the diet of Regensburg in 1576 and of Augsburg in 1582. Continuing the policy of his predecessor, he kept in the closest touch with Bavaria. He was thought to be secretly inclined toward Protestantism because of his cooperation in the deposition of Balthasar of Dernbach, abbot of Fulda, in 1576 at Hammelburg, but this action was due to a youthful ambition to incorporate the abbacy of Fulda and to become the successor of Balthasar. His act caused general indignation among Roman Catholics, and the abbot was reinstituted in 1602.

His Timidity.

It was only with great hesitancy that Julius undertook the work of counteracting the Reformation in his diocese. Although he had been urged by Rome in 1575 and 1577, he did not convoke a diocesan synod because he dreaded the hatred of the Protestant princes. Moreover, he feared to prod against heretical ecclesiastics lest whole regions should be deprived of ecclesiastics for whom there were no substitutes. From the noble families he did not dare to demand the oath of adherence to the Roman confession of faith because he suspected that none of them had remained faithful. In 1582 he still asked for a papal brief that should censure him on account of the conditions in his diocese and impose upon him a visitation and examination of all ecclesiastics, and a second similar brief to be directed to the chapter. The Curia, granted both of them. His implication in the affair of Fulda also hampered his attempts against the Reformation, but, on the other hand, it required him to give clear proof of his fidelity to Roman Catholicism. But the weakness of the Protestant princes became so evident at the diets of 1576 and 1582 and on other occasions that Julius lost his fear.

His Achievements in Counter-Reform.

Nevertheless, even in the early years of his administration he had made some important changes. In 1575 all concubines, even those of the canons, were forced to leave the city of Würzburg; in 1577 fourteen preachers were expelled from the chapter; in 1581 Julius rejected the interference of the nobility with religious affairs. In 1578 the seminary of priests was newly organized, and in 1582 there was established again the University of Würzburg as an institution of the Counter-Reformation, under the dominating influence of the Jesuits. A new church order (1584 in Latin, 1589 in a remodeled form in German) impressively reminded the clergy of their duties in the spirit of the Council of Trent and enforced a stricter ecclesiastical organization. All Lutheran preachers (about 170) were deprived of their offices; Protestant officers were dismissed. A visitation of the whole diocese (1585 to 1587) was directed against all Protestant members of the population. In 1587 all who did not become Catholic were compelled to emigrate; in the course of three years about 100,000 had been converted. Only a few hundred remained true to their convictions and preferred to emigrate in spite of the fact that they had to leave one-third of their possessions to the bishop. Julius preserved an attitude of calm amid the resentment of the Protestants. Pamphlets were published against him, and the electors of Saxony, Palatinate and Brandenburg, the landgrave of Hesse, the margraves of Brandenburg and Baden, the prince of Anhalt protested, some addressing themselves to the emperor with complaints about the violation of the religious peace; but Julius no longer overestimated the importance of these Protestant admonitione, feeling himself secure under the protection of Duke Wilhelm of Bavaria and of the pope and assured of the favor of the emperor. The reform of ecclesiastical institutions went hand in hand with the suppression of Protestantism. The new church order contained, beside regulations for the conduct of the clergyt instructions concerning the church service, claimed possession of the churches, and ordered observance of the decrees of councils. There appeared revised editions of books for the church service, of breviaries, Psalters, and missals. The book-trade was so controlled that only unobjectionable books were circulated. The monasteries too, felt the reforming influence of the bishop--the possessions of those that were hopelessly ruined were used for other purposes (university, hospital), the others were restored and subjected to rigorous visitations;


in the same way the chapter was reformed. A few of the nobility opposed the new state of affairs, and remnants of the Reformation were still found at the beginning of the nineteenth century; but on the whole Wurzburg had become thoroughly Catholic, and the generation following that of Julius was devoted to the church and the Jesuits. See BALTHAZAR OF DERNBACH AND THE COUNTER-REFORMATION IN FULDA.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. N. Buchinger, Julius Echter von Mespelbrunn, Würzburg, 1843; H. L. J. Heppe, Restauration des Katholicismus in . . . Würzburg, Marburg, 1850; F. X. Wegele, Geschichte der Universität Würzburg, 2 vols., Würzburg, 1882; Lossen, in Forschungen der deutechen Geschichte, vol. xxiii.; M. Ritter, Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Gegenreformation, i. 624 sqq., Stuttgart, 1887; J. Janssen, Hist. of the German People, viii. 335, 366, London, 1905; KL, vi. 2009-16.


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