This article on Franz Wilhelm von Wartenberg, which cites this Catholic Encyclopedia article describes von Wartenberg as having been made a bishop of two different places before even being ordained a priest.

Was this common at all? How was it that a man not in Holy Orders could have been made bishop, and was this practice defended?

This would make more sense to me if it were pre Trent, and plurality of benefices had not been condemned. But this was in the mid-17th Century, and the wiki even cites von Wartenberg enforcing Trent. Was this even a plurality of benefices thing, if they still appeared from time to time, or something else?

  • 4
    It helps if you view the church as a different kind of nobility.
    – Steve Bird
    Aug 1, 2022 at 20:15
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    Interesting question, because the way I understand current canon law, one cannot now become a bishop without having been a priest for some time: " Can. 378 §1. In regard to the suitability of a candidate for the episcopacy, it is required that he is: [...] 4/ ordained to the presbyterate for at least Five years; [...]". Rules may well have been different in the 17th century.
    – njuffa
    Aug 1, 2022 at 23:26
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    @njuffa That has been in practice for a long time. One of the points of contention in the Photian Schism was that Photius was pushed through Holy Orders too quickly when appointed by the emperor, legally rendering the appointment invalid iirc.
    – user58632
    Aug 1, 2022 at 23:28
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    This was near the center of a major point of contention between the Papacy and the secular rulers. Bishops were important and necessarily were political as well as religious figures, and the secular authorities wanted to control who they were. Local election of bishops goes back to the very earliest days of Christianity so local powers claimed the right to select bishops -- little details like their ordination can be dealt with later. The Popes disagreed, and therein resides more than a millenium of politics.
    – Mark Olson
    Aug 2, 2022 at 0:24
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    Even a baby could be a bishop. Have a look at the answers to this related question: Has there ever been an archbishop or bishop younger than the 16-year-old James of Nicosia? Aug 2, 2022 at 0:56

1 Answer 1


The whole scoop is covered well in JSTOR's The Catholic Revival in Osnabruck and Minden, 1591-16511.

Long story short:

  • It was the Prince Bishopric of Osnabruck, which while including the spiritual responsibility of the (larger) See of Osnabruck, was a secular post elected by the 24 members of the cathedral chapter (canons and deacons, etc.) of Osnabruck. Seeking to convert northern Westphalia back to Roman Catholicism, Popes in the final decade of the 16th century began more aggressively to exercise their right to unilaterally fill any vacancies occurring in odd-numbered months.

In the mid 1610's this swung the Osnabruck cathedral chapter to a Catholic majority, which then sought out, in succession, two energetic Counter Reformation leaders meeting the requirement of being "feudal nobility". Recall that Von Wartenberg met the latter as the son, by a morganatic marriage so ineligible to be heir, of Elector Maximillian of Bavaria.

Note that the theological (as opposed to liturgical) qualifications of von Wartenberg were impeccable: He had completed his education at Collegium Germanicum in Rome, seen to be training German Counter Reformation leaders; served as Chancellor for the Prince Elector (Archbishop) of Cologne; and assisted the Archbishop at the Diet of Ratisbon that stripped the lands and Electoral dignity from Frederick V, erstwhile Elector Palatine of the Rhine, to Maximillian of Bavaria.

See also Diocese of Osnabruck in New Advent.


  1. William C. Schrader, "The Catholic revival in Osnabrück and Minden, 1591-1651", The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 78, No. 1, Jan. 1992, pp. 35-50.
  • 2
    Had to be a weird experience for those new Catholic appointees to have to be on full guard against assassination attempts only in even-numbered months.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 2, 2022 at 13:33
  • @njuffa: Done. Thank you. Aug 3, 2022 at 16:58

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