Father Janssen’s magnum opus was Geschichte des deutschen Volkes seit dem Ausgang des Mittelalters 1878 (History of the German People Since the Middle Ages)—an 8-volume work that included a comprehensive refutation of the errors of Martin Luther. Janssen destroyed Luther’s arguments and exposed the personal weaknesses, errors, heresies and misguided conclusions of all the Protestant reformers along the way. He also argued that the Protestant 'reformers' were responsible for wars and unrest in Europe, especially in Germany during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Hugo Klapproth was born in Zellerfield, Germany in 1848. He emigrated to Wisconsin, where he became an editor of the Milwaukee Germania, a Lutheran daily. He was a practicing Lutheran and a respected member of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church.
Fr. Janssen’s anti-Luther blockbuster was being felt in many quarters, and the Lutheran establishment was anxious to refute it. Mr. Klapproth was charged with the task of refuting Janssen. But the ways of God are mysterious indeed and, during the course of his study, Klapproth began to realize that Father Janssen was absolutely correct in his findings against Luther.
Soon thereafter, he announced to his editors that they would have to find another man for the job since he found himself in total agreement with Janssen and would be converting to the Catholic Faith, along with his entire family. Klapproth was received into the Church by Monsignor Batz on July 13, 1883. The following December, he accepted a position to help establish another newspaper, Der Wanderer, which he quickly developed into one of the leading Catholic weeklies in America.
Hugo Klapproth was my great-grandfather, and Der Wanderer would eventually become The Wanderer, the oldest weekly Catholic newspaper in America.
My grandfather, Joseph Matt, KSG (made a Knight of Saint Gregory by Pius XI) was also born in Germany. He emigrated to America when he was 17 years old and became editor and publisher of Der Wanderer in 1899. He married Hugo Klapproth’s daughter, Marie (my grandmother), and in 1915 they welcomed my father, Walter Matt, into the world.
Walter would go on to become editor of The Wanderer and founder of The Remnant.
My father left The Wanderer in 1967 after a dispute with his brother over the newspaper’s editorial position on Vatican II.
I’m delighted to announce an exciting new project here at The Remnant, involving the legacy of Great-Grandfather Hugo.
Hugo Klapproth wrote many books, one of which recounts the story of his own conversion to the Catholic Faith. Entitled Briefe an einen protestantischen Freund 1894 (Letters to a Protestant Friend), this is a powerful polemic in defense of the Catholic Faith against the errors of Protestantism. We have the original German text and we’re in the process of trying to find a translator who can help us make this important work available in English.
Hugo Klapproth’s story is important for several reasons, not the least of which is the prophetic nature of his public warnings against the errors of the Americanists, starting with the granddaddy of them all—Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul, Minnesota.
When considering the influence the Americanists ultimately had on Vatican II—especially via the conciliar document Dignitatis Humanae on Religious Liberty— it is riveting to re-read what these Catholic newspapermen were saying—75 years earlier—against the very errors the Church would eventually embrace, especially those of Americanism, Modernism’s first born child.
Everything becomes clear. Did the Revolution begin at Vatican II? Not at all, and we have the 150-year-old written and published testimony of my own grandfathers to prove it!
The reality is this: These men were already traditionalists, and they were outspokenly opposed to much of the American hierarchy at that time, liberals such as Archbishop John Ireland, who very much believed in the religious liberty of the American system—the bedrock of the false ecumenism that would come to dominate the post-conciliar Church and lead to the liturgical and doctrinal revolution of today.
The core of the Americanist heresy, according to Pope Leo XIII in his 1899 encyclical Testem Benevolentiae, consisted in this: “The Church should shape her teachings more in accord with the spirit of the age and relax some of her ancient severity and make some concessions to new opinions. Many think that these concessions should be made not only in regard to ways of living, but even in regard to doctrines which belong to the deposit of the faith. They contend that it would be opportune, in order to gain those who differ from us, to omit certain points of her teaching which are of lesser importance, and to tone down the meaning which the Church has always attached to them.”
Sound familiar? It should. This is vintage Vatican II.
In his excellent work “A History of the Wanderer, 1867-1931”, the late Paul Likoudis had translated (from the original German) some useful passages which provide insight into how these early German traditionalists had reacted to what we might call the Vatican II Pre-Game Show. Likoudis writes:
At least eight years before Leo issued his encyclical [Testem Benevolentiae], the editor of Der Wanderer, Hugo Klapproth, a convert from Lutheranism and future father-in-law of his successor as editor, the recent immigrant Joseph Matt, was warning his Catholic audience of the danger of “Americanism.”
In one such editorial, headlined, “Amerikanischer Katholicismus,” (American Catholicism), published May 21, 1891 on the front page, Klapproth endorsed and commented upon an article written for the American Catholic Quarterly Review by the vicar general for the Archdiocese of New York, a Monsignor Preston, who warned: “It has been asserted that a unique form of Catholicism has taken shape in this country, a Catholicism which has outpaced the peoples of the old world and has taken on the trappings of progress, a Catholicism which is more congenial to the spirit of the time and has adopted a more tolerant ecumenical stance…” The editor of Der Wanderer then summarized the position of the true Catholic: “First, we want to be true Catholics and then, in second place, a necessary corollary of the first, faithful Americans.”
From this we can see the very heart of what would become the Traditional Catholic counterrevolution some 75 years later, spearheaded by men such as Michael Davies and Walter L. Matt. At that time, it was Modernist bishops (John Ireland) and priests (Isaac Hecker) who were standing against popes such as Leo and Pius X.
After the Council, the popes themselves would acquiesce to the same zeitgeist, and it was left to a very few bishops (Marcel Lefebvre) and a handful of laymen to stand for the traditional Catholic teaching against the Vatican itself. One of them was the founding editor of this newspaper.
But men such as Hugo Klapproth saw what was coming very early on.
On the religious indifferentism that dominates the world today, Klapproth wrote: “No rational person and none of our brothers who hold erroneous beliefs can take umbrage at this teaching [that the Catholic faith is the true path to salvation] if they take into account the clarification that the Church does not question the possibility that anyone who is invincibly ignorant can achieve salvation. God alone can judge these cases. The only teaching which the Syllabus [of Errors, published by Pope Pius IX in 1864] condemns and which every Catholic must reject is the equality of all religions with respect to their intrinsic value and their efficacy in attaining eternal salvation. Thus, a relaxation of the Catholic teaching on the unique character of the Church as the sole sanctifying institution is not possible. God after all has established only one path to salvation and this for all practical purposes is realized in the Catholic Church.
On Modernism, Klapproth writes: “[The error of modernism... It suffices to say: Every educated Catholic knows there can be absolutely no contradiction between revealed truth and scientific progress: truth cannot stand in contradiction to truth. And in point of fact, no scholar has as of yet verified that any specific conclusion of so called ‘science’ is contradictory to our faith.”
On speaking out in defense of tradition (even against princes of the Church), Klapproth writes: “… As true sons of the Church we claim for our mother, which is our dearest possession on earth, that freedom which is guaranteed to everyone in America, the freedom to engage in political movements and public action, the right to air, light and sunshine, which no one in the world has the right to infringe upon or to withhold from her….We Catholics who feel ourselves first in line to be attacked, can certainly not be expected to be content with a curtailment of our freedom and a diminution of our rights. Non sumus filii ancillae, sed liberae. ‘We are not sons of the slave girl but sons of the free born daughter, our holy Roman Catholic Church’.”
On Americanism. In an editorial, “Glossen zu dem Breve Leo XIII,” Klapproth writes: “Archbishop Ireland — according to the American daily press — had an audience with the Pope on the 2nd of this month.… Several Catholic newspapers are reporting the opinion that the Archbishop undertook this sudden trip to Rome in the dead of winter, in order to prevent, if possible, the condemnation of the so-called ‘Americanism’ or at least the publication of the letter which Leo XIII sent to Cardinal Gibbons on this topic. Der Wanderer has for months been uttering its conviction that the Holy See will condemn theological ‘Americanism.’ The reason for this is that the teachings, principles, and practices which have been spread abroad under this name are novelties which cannot be sustained by Catholic theology.” Indeed, “novelties which cannot be sustained by Catholic theology”— after Vatican II a veritable regime of novelty would come to dominate the Church. No, the Revolution certainly did not start at Vatican II. That ill-fated Council—whose spirit is summed up rather nicely in the word ‘conciliarism,’ in which, ironically enough, the word ‘liar’ manifests itself rather boldly (conciLIARism) —was the ‘coming out’ party for Modernists, Liberals and Americanists who'd already been laboring to undermine the Traditional Catholic Church a hundred years earlier.
We here at The Remnant are proud to stand with the men who stood with Tradition a century before Vatican II. If any of our readers would care to help us share the story of one them—Hugo Klapproth—with the many new recruits to Tradition today that must come to understand the whole history of this movement and what is at stake, please consider making a donation HERE.
It is our hope to have the conversion story of Hugo Klapproth available by Christmas. May he rest in peace.