The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church

Biographical Dictionary
Pope Clement XIV (1769-1774)
Consistory of December 14, 1772 (IX)


(11) 1. FIRMIAN, Leopold Ernest von (1708-1783)

Birth. September 22, 1708, Trent. First son of Baron Franz Alfons Georg von Firmian, imperial chamberlain and royal counselor, and Countess Barbara Elisabeth von Thun. His brother Franz was special confidant of Emperor Joseph; another brother, Vigilius Augustine, was bishop of Lavant (1744-1754); and his younger brother, Karl Joseph, was Austrian plenipotentiary in Milan. Nephew of Leopold Anton Eleutherius von Firmian, archbishop of Salzburg. Nephew of Joseph Maria von Thun, bishop of Gurk (1741-1762); and of Passau (1762-1763). Uncle of Franz Karl von Firmian, titular bishop of Ascalon, auxiliary of Passau (1773-1778). Grand-uncle of Leopold Maximilian von Firmian, titular bishop of Tiberias and auxiliary of Passau (1797-1800), bishop of Lavant (1800-1822), and archbishop of Vienna (1822-1831). He is also listed as Leopold Ernst Passau.

Education. Completed his gymnasial studies at Trent; then, studied philosophy in Graz, 1724-1726; and theology at the Jesuit Pontifical Collegium Germanicum, Rome, 1726-1729; although he was in agreement with Jesuit teachers, he established contacts with both the reform circle around the Dominicans, and later, with Cardinal Giuseppe Agostino Orsi, O.P.; there he found and became familiar with Jansenist literature which gave the theological basis for the high moral seriousness which he practiced throughout his own life. For health reasons, he had to leave Rome in 1729, and completed his law studies in Salzburg. There he also joined the Muratori-circle, which advocated for the reform of the Church.

Early life. Domizellar in Trent and Passau, since 1723; and in Salzburg in 1728.

Priesthood. Ordained, September 25, 1729, by his uncle the archbishop, with papal dispensation for not having yet reached the canonical age. Consistorial president in Salzburg, 1730-1739; and provost in Trent. Dean of the metropolitan cathedral chapter of Salzburg, 1733. He distinguished himself as an outstanding administrator, as well as a shrewd diplomat.

Episcopate. Elected bishop of Seckau, February 13, 1739. Consecrated, March 1, 1739, at the cathedral of Salzburg, by Leopold Anton Eleutherius von Firmian, archbishop of Salzburg, his uncle, assisted by Joseph Franz Valerian Felix von Arco, bishop of Chiemsee, and by Ferdinand Joseph von Sarentheim, titular bishop of Hypsus. During the War of Austrian Succession, 1740-1748, jointly with his brother Augustine Vigilius, vainly pleaded with the archbishop, their uncle, for a policy of neutrality towards Bavaria. Vicar general for the Salzburg districts of Styria and the Neustadt, 1741-1763. Bishop Firmian devoted himself wholeheartedly to the reform of his diocese and the regions of the archdiocese of Salzburg under his care. He placed a strong emphasis on preaching and teaching the Christian doctrine. His reservations about the many holidays and pilgrimages made it clear that a new religious era had started. The increase of the secret Protestantism, especially in Upper Styria, caused him great concern. Bishop Firmian's commitment to the famous catechetical mission of the Jesuit Ignaz Parham secured him a prominent place in the history of the People's Mission. Granted dispensation to accept the election to coadjutor of Trent, with right of succession, made by the cathedral chapter on May 29, 1748. He reorganized the diocese and tried to solve the numerous problems created during the administration of Bishop Dominick Antonius von Thun. Resigned coadjutorship, January 20, 1756, and returned to his diocese Seckau. In 1761, he was a candidate for the diocese of Passau, but he eventually abandoned the candidacy in favor of Joseph Maria von Thun, bishop of Gurk when the latter died unexpectedly in 1763, Bishop Firmian was postulated unanimously with the support of Empress Maria Theresa. Elected bishop of Passau by its cathedral chapter, September 1, 1763; preconized, September 26, 1763; on that same day he was granted the pallium. He was allowed to maintain his benefices situated outside Passau. He remained one of the closest advisors of the empress until her death. In Passau, Bishop Firmian devoted his attention, as before in Seckau, to the education of the priests. Although he generally was positive about the Society of Jesus, he refused, like his predecessor Bishop von Thun, to give them exclusive competence in this area. And thus, the newly founded seminary, named Josepho-Leopoldinums, for secular priests was led not by the Jesuits, but by the secular clergy; the bishop wrote its statutes by hand and published them in 1764. The priest houses in Enns (Upper Austria) and Gutenbrunn (Lower Austria) found in Bishop Firmian an energetic promoter. In his pastoral letter of 1764, "Pastor Bonus", in which he follows the work of Jan Opstraet, pastoral theologian of the University of Louvain, was recommended as a guideline for the pastors of the diocese. Given that in Styria, Salzburg and on the Austrian part of Passau, existed secret Protestantism, he considered necessary to create a counterweight by an educated clergy of personal piety and integrity of life, who could offer the people spiritual help. From "Pastor Bonus", Bishop Firmian hoped a profound renewal of pastoral care, the curbing of the spread heresies, and the consolidation of Christian morality. In 1764, he was denounced in Rome as a Jansenist. There were serious clashes, and the bishop refused, despite repeated reminders, the confiscation of works listed in the Index. Although Bishop Firmian's suspicions that the Jesuits were the cause of action in Rome against the "Pastor Bonus" and his secular clergy seminary were not entirely unfounded, he acted very carefully in the suppression of the Society of Jesus. He was neither enemy of the Jesuits nor Jansenist in the strict sense. Ultimately, he was hardly interested in the doctrinal and ascetical struggle between Jesuits and Jansenists. Rather, his concern was pastoral, as promoted in the work of Opstraet. With the help of ex-Jesuits, he reorganized the entire school system; and when he founded the Prince Bishop Academy, the philosophical, legal and theological faculties were formed by ex-Jesuits. Within 13 years, he visited almost all the 850 parishes of his vast diocese. He not only celebrated the Eucharist with the faithful, but also preached and imparted catechesis; he received everywhere delegations of the faithful who told him what their wishes were. Decorated by the emperor of Austria with the grand cross of the Austrian Order of Sankt Stefan in 1765.

Cardinalate. Created cardinal priest in the consistory of December 14, 1772; the pope sent him the red biretta with the apostolic brief date January 9, 1773. After he reduced the number of holidays in 1773, he also regulated the secular celebration of Sundays and holidays. All plays and public amusements were prohibited despite the protests of the people on those days. Besides, the processions and pilgrimages were gradually decreased. His focus was against all the forms of superstition. Did not participate in the conclave of 1774-1775, which elected Pope Pius VI. He welcomed the Edict of Toleration issued by Emperor Joseph II in 1781. The rules of conduct that the cardinal had issued to his clergy even went beyond the content of the government decree. He wanted the conversion of the Protestants by the exemplary life of the Catholics, and especially the clergy. Received the red hat and the title of S. Pietro in Montorio in the consistory celebrated by Pope Pius VI in Vienna, April 19, 1782. The lifestyle and the court life of Cardinal Firmian were determined by the rococo splendor of the spiritual princes. As a builder and patron of the diocese itself he had built and refurnished a number of monuments: the new episcopal residence (1765-1771); the Thyrnau hunting lodge; the well-endowed court offices; the General Hospital in 1773; new villages in the "Land der Abtei"; and new roads, which benefited the whole population. He won great sympathy from his subjects in the famine years of 1770-1772: while Bavaria and Austria at that time refused any help, he managed at its own expense to bring grain from Italy to Passau. Also, the consolidation of the diocese was a big concern of his. Through treaties with Austria in 1765 and 1782 he managed to form a closed territory of about 18 square miles with approximately 50,000 residents.

Death. March 13, 1783, Passau. Exposed and buried in the bishops' crypt of the cathedral of Passau.

Bibliography. Accursius aus Freystadt, Pater. Dank und Freudenfeyer der ewigen Vorsicht geweiht, für die freudenvoll und verdienteste Erhöhung zur Kardinalsw|rde ihro hochfürstlichen Eminenz Herrn, Herrn Leopold Ernst, aus dem uralten römisch hochedlen Stamm deren Grafen und Herrn von zu Firmian, des H. Röm. Reichs Fürsten und befreyten Bischofen zu Passau etc. etc., gnädigsten Landesvaters, in der Klosterkirche deren PP. Kapuzinern in der Innstadt begangen, und auf Begehren dem Druck überlassen. Passau : Mangold, 1773. Other title: Dank- und Freudenfeier der ewigen Vorsicht geweiht, für die freudenvoll und verdienteste Erhöhung zur Kardinalswürde ... Herrn Leopold Ernst ... Bischofen zu Passau ... Responsibility: von Pater Accursius aus Freystadt; Ausführliche Nachricht von dem Haupt und Freyschießen : welches in hiesiger ... Residenzstadt Passau ... den 1. des Herbstmonathes als höchst erfreulicher Wahltag des hochwürdigsten F|rsten und Herrn Leopold Ernst ... von und zu Firmian ... Anfang genommen, im 1764 Jahr. Passau, 1764; Die Freude des jungen Grafen Leopold von Firmian und seiner kleinen Geschwistern Auf dem Frey-Bal Zu Ehren ... Des Hochwürdigsten Fürsten, und Herrn Herrn Leopold Ernest, Der Heiligen Römischen Kirchen Cardinalen von Firmian ..., Seines Gnädigsten Großöhms. Passau : Mongold, 1773. Other title: Freiball; Glückwünschungsgedicht An den Hochwürdigsten Des H.R.R. Fürsten und Herrn Herrn Leopold Ernest exempten Bischof und Fürsten zu Passau, Grafen von und zu Firmian [et]c. Als seine Hochfürstliche Gnaden in Ihrer Residenzstadt Passau zum erstenmal Ihr glorreichstes Namensfest feyerlich begieng. [s.l.], 1763. Responsibility: ... abgestattet von dem ... passauerischen neu errichteten Collegio Clericorum Alumnorum; Glückwünschende Muse Auf die Höchstbeglückte Stunde Da Se. Hochfürstliche Eminenz, Der Hochwürdigste Fürst Leopold Ernest, Befreyter Bischof, und des Heil. Röm. Reichs Fürst ... von und zu Firmian [et]c. [et]c. Mit der Cardinalswürde beehret, Die Reichsfürstl. Residenzstadt Passau verherrlichte. Passau : Mangold, 1773; Glückwünschungs-Rede auf den höchstbeglückten Zeitpunkt da Se. Hochfürstl. Eminenz, der Hochwürdige Fürst Leopold Ernest, Befreyter Bischof, und des Heil. Röm. Reichs Fürst aus dem hochgräflichen Hause von und zu Firmian &c. &c. mit der Cardinalswürde veehret und verherrlichet wurde. Passau : Mangold, 1772. Note: Erscheinungsjahr nach einem Chronogramm. Other title: Glückwunschrede. Responsibility: verfasset von J.Z.G.R. u. A.R.; Katechismus, welcher auf Verordnung Seiner Hochfürstl. Gnaden des hochwürdigsten F|rsten, und Herrn, Herrn Leopold Ernst, exempten Bischoffen des Heil. Röm. Reichs Fürsten zu Passau, Grafen, und Herrn von, und zu Firmian, u. u. Zum allgemeinen Gebrauch dero untergebenen Bisthums verfasset worden : zu finden, in dem Löbl. Priesterhaus in der K. K. und Landesfürstlichen Stadt Enns. Steyr : gedruckt bey Gregori Menhardt, 1769. Edition: 2. Aufl.; Leidl, August. "Firmian, Leopold Ernst Reichsfreiher (sit 1749 Graf) von (1708-1783)." Die Bischöfe des Heiligen Römischen Reiches, 1648 bis 1803 : ein biographisches Lexikon. Herausgegeben von Erwin Gatz, unter Mitwirkung von Stephan M. Janker. Berlin : Duncker & Humblot, 1990, pp. 113-117; Leidl, August. "Leopold Ernst Kardinal Firmian (1708-1783), ein Kirchenfürst an der Wende vom Barock zur Aufklärung", in: Ostbairische Grenzmarken, 13 (1971), 5-26; Leidl, August. "Die Wahl des Grafen Leopold Ernst von Firmian zum letzten Fürstbischof des Großbistums Passau", in: Ecclesia peregrinans : Josef Lenzenweger zum 70. Geburtstag. Wien : Verband der Wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaften Österreichs, 1986, 247-256; Leopold Ernst Passau, Bischof. Das königliche Priesterthum : bey Gelegenheit der erlangten hohen Kardinalswürde Seiner ... Eminenz ... Leopold Ernst, des Heil. Röm. Reichs Fürsten aus den Grafen von, und in Firmian ... Wien : Ghelen, 1773. Responsibility: ... überreicht von Joseph Wührer ...; Leopold Ernst Passau, Bischof. Instructio seu norma universo clero exemtae dioecesis Passaviensis praescripta, ex qua quisque, vitam suam legi dei conformem, aedificationique proximi proficuam instituere sub certa forma cognoscat. Reztii : Hueth, 1775; Leopold Ernst Passau, Bischof. Pastor Bonus, Seu Idea, Officium, Et Praxis Pastorum : Jussu ... Leopoldi Ernesti Exemtae Ecclesiae Passaviensis Episcopi ... Suae Dioecesis Clero Pro Norma Agendi, Docendique Proposita. Bambergae & Wirceburgi : Goebhardt, 1776. Edition: Editio Emendatior; Leopold Ernst Passau, Bischof. Verordnung den Gebrauch des Katechismus und das Schulwesen betreffend : Passau, 30. Januar 1769. [s.l.], 1769; Ritzler, Remigium, and Pirminum Sefrin. Hierarchia Catholica Medii et Recientoris Aevi. Volumen VI (1730-1799). Patavii : Typis et Sumptibus Domus Editorialis "Il Messaggero di S. Antonio" apud Basilicam S. Antonii, 1968, pp. 27, 48, 329 and 371; Umständliche Beschreibung des landesfürstlichen feyerlichen Einzuges, welchen Seine hochfürstliche Gnaden, der hochwürdigste F|rst und Herr Herr Leopold Ernst, exemter Bischof und des heil. röm. Reichs Fürst zu Passau, Graf und Herr von und zu Firmian, [et]c. In Ihre hochfürstliche Residenzstadt Passau den 17ten Junius des laufenden 1764ten Jahrs gehalten haben, ... Passau : Mangold, 1764; Weber, Christoph. Senatus divinus : verborgene Strukturen im Kardinalskollegium der frühen Neuzeit (1500-1800). Frankfurt am Main ; New York : Peter Lang, 1996, p. 520-521, no. 749; Wieninger, Franz Joseph. Applausus Ad Obtentam Dignitatem Cardinalitiam Eminentissimi S. R. I. Principis Et Exempti Episcopi Passaviensis Leopoldi Ernesti E Comitibus De Et In Firmian Etc. Etc. Vienna : Ghelen, 1770. Responsibility: Humillimus Capellanus Tuus Franciscus Josephus Wieninger.

Links. His engraving and biographical data, in German, aeiou, Österreich-Lexikon; his portrait, Oberhausmuseum, Passau, Germany; his engraving and biography, in English, Wikipedia; his portrait, tomb and biography, in German, Wikipedia; his engraving and biography, in Italian, Wikipedia.portraits, engraving, arms, casket and calling card, Wikimedia; his engraving by Antonio Capellan, Biblioteca comunale dell'Archiginnasio, Bologna; his engraving, Bildarchiv Austria. Die Bildplattform der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek; his engraving, Bildarchiv Austria. Die Bildplattform der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek; his engraving, Bildarchiv Austria. Die Bildplattform der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek; his engraving, Bildarchiv Austria. Die Bildplattform der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek; his engraving, Bildarchiv Austria. Die Bildplattform der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek; his engraving, Bildarchiv Austria. Die Bildplattform der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek; his effigy and arms on a coin, Numismatic collection of Olomouc archiepiscopate, Czech Republic; his effigy and arms on a coin, Numismatic collection of Olomouc archiepiscopate, Czech Republic; his effigy and arms on a coin, Numismatic collection of Olomouc archiepiscopate, Czech Republic; his tomb, cathedral of Passau Farbdiaarchiv Bildarchiv Foto Marburg, Herder-Institut Marburg.

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