Between the emergence of Aufklärung philosophies and the official imposition of Neo-Scholastic theology, amidst social and political revolutions creating decentralized national and regional bureaucracies and the rise of ultramontanism advancing Roman bureaucratic centralization, and at the crossroad where the processes of secularization and ongoing confessional polemics took place, Catholic theologians in Germany during the nineteenth century were forced to take a stand. In 1812, one group of five theologians was called together to form a new seminary in the predominantly Lutheran (Evangelical) region of the recently established kingdom of Württemberg under the rule of King Friedrich I. The seminary was situated in the Catholic vicariate of Ellwangen in the diocese of Augsburg and given the imposing name the Katholische Friedrichslandesuniversität. After five years, for a variety of reasons, the most telling being the aspiration to actively engage the larger intellectual currents of the day and reach more students, the Catholic theological faculty at Ellwangen moved in 1817 to the University of Tübingen to establish itself alongside its distinguished Protestant faculty.
The "Catholic Tübingen school" was the name subsequently used by scholars like Karl Adam and Josef Rupert Geiselmann to identify the theologians associated with this enterprise, with pride of place given to the contributions of Johann Sebastian Drey, Johann Adam Möhler, Johann Baptist Hirscher, and Franz Anton Staudenmaier.1 Although these figures and their colleagues over the first few generations on this faculty are properly identified as Catholic theologians teaching and writing at the University of Tübingen, the question has been asked whether the theologians who taught or were trained at this institution constitute a genuine school of thought. If being a school means self-consciously choosing and affirming the same methodological principles or substantive positions, like Augustinians, Thomists, Scotists, or Neo-Scholastics, then there exists no
Catholic Tübingen school. However, if one can speak more loosely about a school as a community of inquiry, as a context for an ongoing conversation, an exchange among Catholic theologians, who taught and studied at Tübingen, about some common topics, most especially about the nature, identity, and mission of the Catholic Christian tradition and Church in the modern world, then we can rightly say there existed a transgenerational scholarly interaction that constituted a virtual research program that actively engaged Catholic Tübingen theologians.
Applying this wider definition of school in the case of the Catholic Tübingen theologians, one should not sacrifice identifying diverse positions in the interest of highlighting convergences of research topics and convictions. Greater clarity may be reached by speaking of two wings of the school. A more reform-minded viewpoint, which combined a robust defense of the Catholic faith with a recognition of the need for ongoing ecclesial reform, doctrinal criticism, and shaping public church opinion on disputed issues, was associated with Johann Sebastian Drey and Johann Baptist Hirscher. A more confessional and conservative orientation, committed to defending the established position in matters theological, ecclesial, and political, was identified with Johann Adam Möhler and Franz Anton Staudenmaier. In this regard, the Catholic Tübingen school embodies and symbolizes the dynamic tension that defines modern Catholic theology during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The reform-minded wing cannot be simply identified with either the Aufklärung and the conciliarist doctrines of Febronianism, Josephism, or Gallicanism, although they shared certain impulses with these positions. The confessional wing cannot be reduced to a conservative Romantic outlook; nor does it represent a Neo-Scholastic approach which only emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century and was subsequently articulated by Joseph Kleutgen, S.J., at Vatican I and by the papal encyclical Aeterni Patris; nor is it to be identified with the fideist doctrines of the French traditionalists associated with Louis-Eugène-Marie Bautain (1796-1867), or a reflection of the ultramontanist position, although they lent credence to a number of these viewpoints. Instead we find a moderately progressive wing and a moderately conservative wing trying to create the conditions for Catholic theology in their own day and age to be responsible and to move forward. Keeping in mind the contributions of the four named figures, Drey, Hirscher, Möhler, and Staudenmaier, we can say that Catholic Tübingen theologians tried to defend the dynamic and active place of the Catholic Church and tradition in the world without succumbing either to the Scylla of rationalism and historical relativism, or the Charybdis of a brand of ecclesial triumphalism wedded to a static view of doctrine.
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