Jan Valerián Jirsík

In the Service of God, Church and Country

by Rudolf Svoboda (Author)
©2019 Monographs 282 Pages


Jan Valerián Jirsík (1798–1883) is generally considered to be a well-known figure of Czech history. He is renowned as a priest, theologian, active nationalist, supporter of the education system, pedagogue and, not insignificantly, the fourth bishop of České Budějovice / Budweis (1851–1883) as well as a participant at the First Vatican Council (1869–1870). The intention of this book is a modern interpretation of the life and theological work of Jan Valerián Jirsík, not only in connection with the results of existing historical and theological research but especially in the context of socio-cultural changes within the Middle European area of his time.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Dedication Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Definition of the theme and the content of the book
  • Current state of research of the life and work of Jan Valerián Jirsík: literature and sources
  • I. The Religious and Social Milieu of Jirsík’s Life
  • II. Jirsík’s Early Years and Initial Literary Activities During the Period as an Assistant Priest 1798–1832
  • III. Jirsík’s Activities and Works in His Time as a Parish Priest 1832–46
  • III.1 In general, regarding Jirsík’s life, clerical activities, and literary works of this period
  • III.2 Works focusing on interdenominational and apologetical issues
  • III.3 Popular Dogmatics
  • III.4 Jirsík’s contributions to the themes of pedagogy and formation
  • IV. Prague Period 1846–1851
  • IV.1 Canonical, editorial, and nationalist activities
  • IV.2 Theological works of the canonical period
  • V. The Circumstances of Jirsík’s Episcopal Nomination
  • VI. Jan Valerián Jirsík’s Episcopal Period 1851–1883
  • VI.1 České Budějovice Diocese pre-1850
  • VI.2 Main areas of Jirsík’s episcopal activity
  • VI.3 Jan Valerián Jirsík and the First Vatican Council
  • VI.3.1 Jirsík and his participation at the First Vatican Council
  • VI.3.2 Discussion on Jirsík’s partaking at the council and its significance
  • VI.4 Jirsík’s theological work and spiritual direction during his episcopal period
  • VII. Jirsík’s place in the spiritual and social streams of his time
  • VII.1 Reflections on the specialised texts of other authors
  • VII.2 The issue of Jirsík’s relationship to the Enlightenment and Bolzanism
  • VII.3 Jirsík’s nationalism and his place in the Czech National Revival
  • VIII. Jirsík’s Personality and Legacy
  • Abbreviations
  • Bibliography
  • Sources
  • Literature
  • Resumé
  • Srhnutí
  • Resümee
  • Name Index


Definition of the theme and the content of the book

This book focuses on one of the most significant figures of Czech religious life of the nineteenth century, Jan Valerián Jirsík (1798–1883), who became renowned especially as a priest, theologian, writer, the bishop of České Budějovice (in German, Budweis), a supporter of learning and the education system, as well as an active patriot and defender of Czech national interests in the nationally-mixed Habsburg monarchy of his time.

However, not all of the enumerated life roles of Jirsík have found the same reception in academic research. Perhaps the most emphasised have been his pro-national and patriotic activities and his care for the education system at the time of his episcopal leadership of České Budějovice diocese between the years 1851–83.1 Thanks to the research that has been carried out, today’s general public also has an awareness of Jirsík’s positive social involvement. An echo of Jirsík’s life might be seen in the public sphere in the titles of schools and associations, as well as commemorative plaques. Another significant memorial is his statue, situated in the centre of the city of České Budějovice.

It is, however, evident that a more comprehensive image of Jirsík’s life and work as well as an evaluation of his legacy of thought have not been available, especially because there still exist significant areas of his activities that remain unexplored or Jirsík’s place in these is unclear. This consists of almost all of the thirty years of his priestly life. It was in this period that he wrote all of his works, focusing on the issues of theology that had in their time a significant influence especially in the Catholic Church in the Czech lands.2 These works are in general almost unknown even to the well-read, but their approach, adaptation, and their content per se point to Jirsík’s spiritual horizons at the time of his pre-episcopal period. It is also necessary to mention that besides theologically oriented works, Jirsík was also involved with literary activities in education and besides this he showed significant interest in historical social, as well as contemporary social events. It is not insignificant to observe that the figure of ‘Jirsík-bishop’, so often mentioned and sometimes even glorified, would not be able to exist without ‘Jirsík-priest’. It is apparent that it was the first period of his life which determined the following one both in effect as well as intellectually. It was in effect from the point of view that he would not have been able to become a bishop had he not been found suitable ←9 | 10→by his superiors for this service from the perspective of his previous priestly activities. Intellectually, it was in the sense that his activities during his episcopal office might be understood also as a development and a practical application of his ideas from his pre-episcopal period.

Although throughout the course of the almost one hundred and thirty years that have passed since Jirsík’s death several shorter discussions about Jirsík as a theologian have taken place, these were, however, most commonly on the side of denominationally-determined authors prior to the Second Vatican Council, who, however, perceived him only as a bishop. His importance was seen differently by Catholic authors than by non-Catholics – most commonly affiliated to the Lutheran or Czech reformation tradition. During the communist totalitarian system, ideological misuse of Jirsík’s person took place in the Czech environment when his episcopal motto ‘God-Church-Nation’ was used by a group of Catholic priests collaborating with the Czechoslovakian communist government as a tool for the legitimisation of their actions.3

After the year 1989, that is, after the fall of communism, with the new freedom of academic research in the Czech environment, efforts were made to formulate key features of Jirsík’s theological works. Although these are not weighed down by denominational disputes, the authors of particular studies, however, introduce Jirsík’s theological legacy in a fragmentary way, that is, from the angle of their specialism and often without the wider historical theological context.

With regards to the above, the intention of this book is apparent, being the introduction of the life and work of Jan Valerián Jirsík, not only in connection with the results of the existing historical and theological research but especially in the context of socio-cultural changes within the Middle European area of his time. It is possible to observe these changes also in Jirsík’s life, in his activities and spiritual direction before becoming a bishop of České Budějovice (that is, before 1851) but also at the time of his episcopal office (that being from 1851 to his death in 1883). During this exposition, various issues will be taken into account, being not only Jirsík’s various stages of life but also various fields of his activities and influence through the roles he held, as well as the changes in the social, cultural, and ecclesiastical environment on his thinking and life practice. Using the paradigm of Jirsík’s life and its context, this book intends to touch upon the following matters also: important issues regarding the co-existence of various nationalities within the Habsburg monarchy and especially in the Czech lands in the nineteenth century; the development of the relationship between the Church and the state; and the development of theological streams before and after the issue of the ←10 | 11→Syllabus Errorum and after the declaration of the dogmas of papal infallibility and papal primacy at the First Vatican Council – with their specific ecclesial-political as well intra-ecclesiastical effects.

Internally, this work is chronologically divided according to significant turning points in Jirsík’s life. In the chapters that are placed chronologically to the period before the year 1851, besides general biographical information, a number of his works are introduced, focusing especially on the themes of education, interdenominational relationships, and Catholic dogmatics. The fading influence of the so-called Catholic Enlightenment in the environment of the gradually deteriorating ecclesial-political system of Josephinism is taken into account especially with regards to the texts originating from the 1820s and 30s. In the description of Jirsík’s life and work in the 1830s and 40s, the key element is the context of his current activities and new roles in Church administration and also publishing in the Journal for Catholic Clergy (Časopis pro katolické duchovenstvo), which was at the time the most significant theological platform especially for the Czech speaking clergy. It was precisely thanks to the new experiences that his spiritual horizons expanded, which is apparent again in his literary activities. The sections of this book that are dedicated to Jirsík’s episcopal activities discuss several levels of Jirsík’s activities which are connected with the mutually intermingling roles of bishop, theologian, politician, and organiser of social life. It is taken into account here that Jirsík in his episcopal role influenced the forming of the social, cultural, ecclesiastical, and theological environment much more than in the previous stage of his life. One of the levels discussed is Jirsík’s involvement in social activities in connection with the increasing influence of social and economic liberalism. Another level consists in his activities in the area of culture, which is not only closely connected with his literary and publishing activities but also with the need to come to terms with the continuously growing nationalism in the environment of the nationally-mixed diocese in South Bohemia as well as in the Czech lands as such, and even in the whole Habsburg monarchy or Austrian Empire (later the Austro-Hungarian Empire); here, many nations increasingly claimed their linguistic and political rights. It is necessary to be aware that Jirsík was a bishop at the time of the continually increasing importance of nationalism in politics, society, culture, and general mentalities. His political activities are considered in this context. Attention is paid to his theological thinking, which might be observed especially in the management of the diocese, pastoral letters, and other texts – in natural connection with his thoughts published in his pre-episcopal period. A significant theme is his position at the First Vatican Council (1869–70), where he belonged to the side of the bishops rejecting the declaration of papal infallibility as an article of faith; another significant theme is the post-council period when he faced the personal and social consequences of the declaration of the dogma of papal infallibility. From the above-described there then follows an image of the man introduced in the last chapters of the book, a person who was not only a clergyman and theologian but also one who was dealing with his affiliation to the ←11 | 12→nation and with his loyalty to the Habsburg monarchy and the emperor, as well as the issue of loyalty to the Church and the pope.

The intention of this book is not to capture the entire events in the diocese of České Budějovice during Jirsík’s episcopate. We will focus upon the history of the diocese only in limited ways necessary for a more accurate grasp and understanding of his intellectual world and the causes of his specific decisions.

Current state of research of the life and work of Jan Valerián Jirsík: literature and sources

Soon after Jirsík’s death, shorter articles began being published, focusing upon his life and legacy in various contexts. The first significant biography might be found in a book by Franz Mardetschläger, which was published on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the founding of České Budějovice’s diocese (1885).4

The popularity of Jirsík’s person was apparent in tens of other articles where he is mentioned in the course of the following century. Even some longer works were focused on him, however, not one of them achieved discussing Jirsík critically – and not to mention evaluating his spiritual horizon and theological thinking. What they all have in common is that they focus especially on his episcopal activities and, within this, mainly on his patriotic activities or actions for supporting the Czech educational system. Of course, even here we might find exceptions, for example, efforts for evaluating Jirsík’s involvement at the First Vatican Council from František Michálek Bartoš and Josef Kubalík in the 1930s and 40s.5 Both authors perceive Jirsík’s importance for their denominations – Bartoš as a Protestant and Kubalík as a Catholic. The thoughts of the well-known historian Eduard Winter possess a certain significance for the further consideration of Jirsík’s spiritual direction, having mentioned Jirsík several times in connection ←12 | 13→with the ideas of Bernard Bolzano as an important figure of the late Enlightenment in the Czech lands (however, without further specification) in his book focusing on the spiritual history of the Czech lands (1940).6

Although between the years 1948 and 1989, that is, under the communist totalitarian system, the theme of Jirsík did not fully disappear from historical works, his role of priest and bishop was not at all emphasised. An exception was the studies by a German historian with Czech roots, Kurt Augustin Huber, that were published in the year 1985 in the journal Archiv für Kirchengeschichte von Böhmen-Mähren-Schlesien on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the foundation of České Budějovice’s diocese; that is, they do not originate from the Czech environment. As a foundation Huber uses especially the sources kept in archives in Vienna and the Vatican, thanks to which he created up until then the most complete – albeit definitely not exhaustive and error-free – description of Jirsík’s activities.7

Very soon after the fall of communism, Jirsík and his work came gradually to the forefront of some Czech researchers, mostly Church historians and theologians, who began researching those areas of his life that were for decades left aside regarding academic interest. The historian Karel Pletzer introduced Jirsík’s bibliography and a historiographic list of works on Jirsík (1993).8 Within the revival of interest in this person, several popular short books and newspaper articles were published, which only briefly summarised what had been written previously. Their aim was to popularise and remember the former bishop of České Budějovice. For historical or theological research, they have virtually no significance.9

←13 | 14→

Jirsík’s figure also deserved several solid encyclopaedic mentions from Jaroslav Kadlec, Milan M. Buben, or lastly Vojtěch Novotný.10

The first – and the last for now – specialist monographic publication focusing upon Jirsík’s life published after the year 1989 was written by the Church historian Jaroslav Kadlec. Although by its method it does not correspond to the current standards required of publications of this type, it might anyway be evaluated as very significant. The author focused predominantly on life events during Jirsík’s episcopal period, while basing his work especially on studying selected documents kept in home archives. Kadlec’s book contains – similar to that of Pletzer – a summary of a bibliography of Jirsík’s works and a valuable outline of previous authors’ bibliographies. Although it has been the most complex – albeit rather concise – treatise about Jirsík’s life and work, the treatise suffers certain deficiencies, amongst others a lack of developed footnotes, which would always enable the identification of the used sources with the accuracy required.11 Kadlec reflects upon Jirsík’s theological works and his spiritual horizons as such only in brief.

After Kadlec, no one has attempted a deeper development of Jirsík’s theme. Perhaps this is also why an evaluation of his life and intellectual legacy has not taken place. This, however, does not mean that there have not been any efforts for discussing certain aspects. We might observe these with various authors from the end of the 1990s and almost up to the present time. Jaroslav Vokoun (1999)12 wrote about Jirsík’s work for the perspective of ecumenical theology, Alois Křišťan (2006)13 and Tomáš Veber (2006)14 from the perspective of practical theology, Ctirad ←14 | 15→Václav Pospíšil (2010, 2011)15 from dogmatic theology, and Eduard Krumpolc (2011)16 from that of fundamental theology. Studies by Rudolf Svoboda focus on his involvement at the First Vatican Council (2010, 2011, 2013, 2016),17 and, in cooperation with Radka Novotna and Soňa Kamenová, introduce the particular context of his contribution towards education (2014).18 Recently, essays from Rudolf Svoboda were published discussing the unknown circumstances of Jirsík’s episcopal appointment (2015)19 and his social and charity activities (2015, 2016),20 ←15 | 16→ecclesial-political positions between the years 1848 and 1850 (2017),21 priestly identity (2017),22 and partially also his theological work (2018).23

We must not omit bachelor and masters degree theses defended in the field of general history and Church history by Vladislava Skůpová (1994)24 and Jan Enderle (2014),25 the history of theology by Rudolf Hušek (2004)26 and Jan Hamberger (2008),27 dogmatic theology by Petr Košulič (2009)28 and Michal Cvingráf (2013),29 and in the area of pedagogical history by Radka Novotná (2014)30 and Soňa Kamenová (2015).31 It is also necessary to mention the habilitation dissertation of Kamila Veverková (2015) mentioning Jirsík’s importance in the context of the late Enlightenment in the Czech lands, or more precisely in the circle around Bernard Bolzano.32

For understanding the context of Jirsík’s episcopal activities, it is also necessary to mention the works from research of the history of České Budějovice diocese and the figures of Jirsík’s predecessors on České Budějovice’s episcopal seat.33 ←16 | 17→Religious as well as social life of the diocese from its beginning to the year 1850 is summarised in the book Die Diözese Budweis in den Jahren 1785–1850 by the authors Miroslav Novotný, Rudolf Svoboda, Lenka Martínková, Tomáš Veber and Marie Ryantová (2018).34 Besides introducing the results of current research, this publication critically evaluates the existing works, continuing from them in many aspects.

A general and current analysis of the history of České Budějovice diocese, which would address also the time of Jirsík’s episcopate, is not available for now. The team of historians mentioned above, however, is preparing for publication another part of a comprehensive history of the diocese, regarding the second half of the nineteenth century, which should fill the vacant space.35

Out of the older publications discussing the diocese in the studied period, besides Mardetschläger’s publication mentioned previously, there was also the text of his contemporary Johann Trajer (1862).36 It was especially Mardetschläger’s text that became the foundation for almost a hundred years for numerous brief essays about the diocese as well as for brief biographies of bishops that were published for various occasions especially in the then current press and in historical works for general readers.37

In the second half of the twentieth century, awareness of the religious situation in South Bohemia and the development of České Budějovice diocese was ←17 | 18→significantly expanded especially by the – already mentioned above – German Church historian with Czech roots Kurt Augustin Huber.38 With regards to the studies that were compiled especially through Austrian and Vatican sources, but not Czech ones, to which he was denied access by the communist authorities before 1989, they are in many aspects fragmentary and often not fully reliable. At the same time, in the Czech lands the historian Jaroslav Kadlec published a series of short essays39 commemorating the same anniversary, which were sub-edited after the year 1989 and collectively published in the book Českobudějovická diecéze.40 In particular entries in Encyklopedie Českých Budějovic Kadlec wrote about the history of České Budějovice diocese, more specifically the history of the diocese and the activities of České Budějovice’s bishops, in even briefer form.41 Although Huber and Kadlec were in contact and knew each other’s texts, in Kadlec’s own work no significant usage of results of Huber’s research is apparent, while the dependence on Mardetschläger’s book is more apparent with which he was not always able to critically cope with.

After 1989, a number of other essays was published focusing on certain selected aspects of the history of the diocese during Jirsík’s episcopate, for example, the development of Church administration, education of the diocesan clergy, and the role of the Church in lower and higher education.42

←18 | 19→

For the sake of completeness, it is necessary to mention – at least selectively – other works significant for the wider context of Jirsík’s life. A number of researchers paid attention to the issue of the position of religion and particular churches in the life of the society of the so-called long nineteenth century. At the centre of their attention there mainly were somewhat comprehensive works focusing on the Enlightenment, Josephinism, the Catholicism of the Enlightenment and Catholic renewal, secularisation, the second process of denominational determination, modernisation, and anticlericalism, as well as the issue of the relationship of the Catholic Church to particular aspects of modern society. Out of foreign works that provide a suitable methodological and factual context for the Middle European works (and thus also Czech) research, it is necessary to remember especially the works of Eduard Winter, Fritz Valjavec, Herbert Rieser, Harm Klueting, Helmut Reinalter, Hugh McLeod, Marcel Gauchet, Nigel Aston and Matthew Cragoe, Owen Chadwick, Hartmuth Lehmann, Manuel Borutta, and Olaf Blaschke.43

←19 | 20→

The general historical framework of the description of Jan Valerián Jirsík’s time is founded, besides the listed foreign works, both on works of Austrian historians about the history of the Habsburg monarchy and the Czech lands44 as well as newer essays of Czech authors. The wider context of interpretation of the changes in Czech society in the period pertaining to the research – in interpretation as well as factually – is founded especially on relevant chapters from ‘A Great History of the Lands of the Bohemian Crown’ (Velké dějiny zemí Koruny české)45 and especially on an extensive synthesis by Milan Hlavačka aiming to cover the key changes in a complex way that the society of the Czech lands in the nineteenth century underwent and which imprinted in it a new, modern face.46

As one of the principle aspects of Jirsík’s time is the issue of gradually strengthening Czech-German competition both in the nationally mixed episcopal city as well as in the whole of České Budějovice diocese, it is necessary to recall at least some key works regarding these matters.47 The gradual awakening of national ←20 | 21→awareness was caused in Austria, as is shown by the works by Miroslav Hroch48 and František Kutnar,49 by the events connected with the French Revolution, and the subsequent Napoleonic wars. Besides the works of Miroslav Hroch, focusing on these issues systematically and long-term both from the Czech and Middle European perspective as well as the greater European perspective, works by Jiří Kořalka must not be omitted, being set especially in the context of the Habsburg monarchy.50 These approaches are supplemented and expanded by works from Jiří Štajf regarding alternative elites of Czech society of the 1830s and 40s,51 together with another book about the gradual emancipation of the modern Czech nation and the birth of Czech civil society after the year 1848.52 Out of the authors focusing on this period it is also possible to mention Robert Sak,53 Ferdinand Seibt,54 Jan Křen,55 Jeremy King,56 and Vladimír Macura.57

←21 | 22→

A general overview of Church history and the characteristics of the religious situation in the Czech lands in the research period is offered by the relatively older syntheses by Jaroslav Kadlec and Bohumil Zlámal.58 More recent efforts for a complex definition of the importance and the role of religion in Czech society of the long nineteenth century are offered by, for example, two collective monographs After Darkness, I Hope for Light (Post tenebras spero lucem) and Religion in the 19th Century (Náboženství v 19. století).59 It is also necessary to mention the book by Daniela Tinková, who, using the story of three young priests brought up in Josephinistic general seminaries, captured vividly the turning period of the late Enlightenment and the incoming Catholic renewal in the Habsburg monarchy; also, we need to bring up the extensive socio-historical analysis of Czech religious history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by Zdeněk R. Nešpor; and further also there is the collection of essays from the 22nd Pilsen symposium regarding the issue of the nineteenth century and the place and the role of religion in the life of the then-current society.60 These issues are also discussed in other collective publications about secularisation and anti-clericalism in the Czech lands of, especially, the second half of the nineteenth century.61 We must not, however, leave aside other individual or collective works regarding the Church in the long ←22 | 23→nineteenth century.62 Analyses of the lives of some Church representatives are available as well as modern treatises about current monastic communities from Jitka Jonová or Dana Jakšičová.63 We must not leave aside also the works focusing on priests and priestly identities in the nineteenth century.64

Regarding Jirsík’s life and activities as a clergyman, a number of sources can be found deposited especially in Czech, Austrian, and Vatican archives – especially in Národní archiv Praha, Státní oblastní archiv Třeboň, Österreichisches Staatsarchiv Wien and Archivio Segreto Vaticano. Publications from the period are located especially in Národní knihovna České republiky, Jihočeská vědecké knihovna, Knihovna Národního muzea, and other research libraries.

←23 | 24→←24 | 25→

1 See section below: Current state of research of the life and work of Jan Valerián Jirsík: literature and sources.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (October)
History Theology 19th Century Habsburg monarchy Bohemia First Vatican Council
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 282 pp.

Biographical notes

Rudolf Svoboda (Author)

Rudolf Svoboda is a member of the Department of Sciences of Theology at the Faculty of Theology, University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice (Budweis) and dean at the same institution. He specialises in the church history of the 18th and 19th centuries, with a focus on the Enlightenment, Josephinism and the history of churches and religious communities in South Bohemia.


Title: Jan Valerián Jirsík