Historie – Otázky – Problémy

The Case of Josef Sebastian Lang (?1767–1811), Graduate of the general seminary in Olomouc, Local Chaplain in the Znojmo Region of South Moravia

Abstract: This „case study“ deals with the destiny of local chaplain Josef Sebastian Lang, a disciple of Josef Dobrovsky at the general seminary (Generalseminarium) in Hradisko near Olomouc who caused a scandal in 1803 upon his appointment to Lukov near Znojmo (South Moravia) by toppling the local authority, abolishing all duties, and declaring himself lord. Investigation showed that the young priest had for a number of years kept up correspondence with his former seminary colleagues from Olomouc, with whom he discussed the most pressing issues of the day: he was critical of the Catholic Church, complained of the oath of celibacy, and also made no secret of his sympathies for the French Revolution.
Lang’s case, amply documented by sources deposited in various Moravian archives (Brno, Olomouc, Znojmo, Rajhrad u Brna) as well as in Vienna (the archives of the Imperial police bureau – Polizeyhofstelle) represents a valuable testimony of the logic and functioning of the police apparatus at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, when the Austrian state apparatus was prey to nothing less then an obsession with omnipresent “Jacobine conspiracies”. The interrogation records and surviving letters of J. Lang and his friends represent a rather unique documentation enabling a glimpse into the mental landscape of the Josephine clergy, that is, to young priests whose notions were informed by the ideals of Josephine utilitarianism, anti-monarchism, and a degree of apparent anti-clericalism, who were confronted with the reality of a police state under Emperor Francis II, among whose aspirations was the renewal of the pre-Josephine authority of the Catholic Church. The correspondence of the young priests shows that it was already during their early years as students at the seminary that they were exposed to authors such as Immanuel Kant (Religion Within the Bounds of Bare Reason), as well as certains thinkers of the French Enlightenment (Voltaire, Montesquieu). To some of them – and above all Lang – the ideas of J. J. Rousseau were a revelation, which resulted not only in deepening their scepticism towards Catholicism, but possibly even towards Christianity as such. Last but not least, these sources reveal the channels through which information traveled among the emerging young clergy in South Moravia, indicating, to what degree (and from what provenance) these “rural scholars” drew their information of the current world affairs – and above all current affairs in revolutionary France, which represented to them a source of both illusion and hope.

Key words: Catholic Clergy, General Seminary, Znojmo-Znaim, Lang, Josef Sebastian, French Revolution