Table of Contributors   Table of Contents   Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

Anton Günther

Anton Günther (1783-1863) was a Catholic theologian in Vienna during the 1848 revolution. Born the eldest son of a blacksmith in the village of Lindenau, Bohemia, the in tellectually-gifted boy attended Gymnasium in the town of Leitmeritz and then studied philosophy and law at the University of Prague. Günther first came to Vienna in 1810, working as a private tutor for a noble family. In Vienna, Günther joined a circle of friends around Clemens Maria Hofbauer, a Redemptorist priest revered as a saint in life and as the city's patron after his death in 1820. Under Hofbauer's influence, Günther developed a spirituality rooted in the romanticized Catholicism of the time. He studied theology, and after Hofbauer's death, was ordained a priest, but not in the Redemptorist order. For two years he attended a Jesuit novitiate in Poland. Because of poor health and irreconcilable differences with the Jesuits, Günther left the novitiate, returning to Vienna in 1824. He dedicated his life to the pursuit of philosophy and theology, intent on overcoming the pantheism of his era. He wrote extensively, tutored, and served as a chaplain at the court church. He spent most of his life in the city as a reclusive scholar, supported primarily by an annual stipend from a noble patron. His writings made him a leader among the generation of German Catholic theologians who emerged from the Romantic movement to devote themselves to the spiritual and intellectual conquest of Hegelianism through positive Christianity.

Günther's influence on Vienna and the 1848 revolution came through his disciples, known as the Güntherians. The followers of Anton Günther distanced themselves from the Redemptorist priests in Vienna, who became avid supporters of the ultramontane movement in Catholicism by the late 1840's. As revolutionary violence broke out, and Archbishop Milde withdrew from the city, the Redemptorists came under attack and withdrew as well. Günther's followers stayed, and organized the clergy and laity--against the archbishop's wishes. The leading figure among Vienna's clergy in 1848 was Gnther's closest friend, Johann Emanuel Veith. A Jewish convert, Veith was a gifted preacher who embodied the Güntherians' desire to make the truths of the faith understandable to human reason and to re-Christianize the educated bourgeoisie, to which Günther's followers belonged. Veith's Lenten sermons in 1848 made him the voice of a revolution in Catholicism, and the Güntherians became advocates of constitutional monarchy.

Like the ultramontane movement within Catholicism, the Güntherians saw potential in 1848 to free the church from the state, but the Güntherians wanted greater freedom in the church as well. They called for diocesan synods and helped organize the laity. Their "grass roots" approach would allow lower clergy and university-educated laymen to participate in church decision making and reform efforts. This openness to the university educated put them directly at odds with the ultramontane movement, which emphasized the authority of the clergy. The Güntherians were faithful Catholics, nonetheless, and focussed their energies on combatting the heretical German-Catholic movement in Vienna. The German-Catholics (Deutschkatholiken) willfully broke with church teachings and practices, and their leaders were excommunicated. To counter this dissident group, the Güntherians offered a Roman Catholicism that remained true to church teachings, while appealing to the intellect and the tastes of the Viennese bourgeoisie.

The Güntherians were instrumental in creating a politically active Catholic Union and in publishing two journals, the Wiener Kirchenzeitung and Aufwärts!. By October, 1848, the Catholic Union could claim only two thousand members, while the German-Catholics numbered nearly five thousand. Yet the Catholic Union, in its advocacy of monarchic liberalism, had managed to elect four Güntherians to the city council. The head of the Catholic Union, Ignaz Bondi Schwarz was made chairman of the Vienna city council, and served in that post until the siege ended Vienna's revolt in December 1848.

With the reactionary backlash starting in 1849, the Güntherians suffered the fate of other revolutionaries. The archbishop's return to the city, along with the Redemptorists, led to the eventual suppression of the Güntherian clergy. The lay-controlled Catholic Union disappeared, only to reemerge a few years later as a pious, apolitical organization led by the Redemptorists. Günther's demise and the persecution of his "school" came during the 1850s, as the ultramontane movement gained firm control of the church. The ultramontane hierarchy oversaw a conservative shift in Catholic theology, which supplanted the "German" tradition with a revival of the theology of Thomas Aquinas. Bishops insisted on the right to educate and appoint clergy, erect schools, and supervise all aspects of church life and property. As a result, Günther's advocates in various German universities were isolated or driven from their posts, and Günther's teachings were officially condemned by 1857.
Eric Yonke


Adam Bunnell, Before Infallibility: Liberal Catholicism in Biedermeier Vienna (Associated University Presses, 1990).

Donald Dietrich, "Priests and Political Thought: Theology and Reform in Central Europe, 1845-1855," Catholic Historical Review LXXI(4) (Oct. 1985), 519-46.

Thomas W. Simons, Jr., "Vienna's First Catholic Political Movement: The Güntherians, 1848-1857," Catholic Historical Review 55(2) (July, 1969), 173-94; 55(3) (Oct., 1969), 377-93; 55(4) (Jan., 1970), 610-626.

Table of Contributors   Table of Contents   Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

JGC revised this file ( /gunther.htm) on October 20, 2004

Please E-mail comments or suggestions to

© 1999, 2004 James Chastain.