Blessed Karl: A Holy Emperor

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On October 21st, remembering one of the few unequivocal heroes of the Great War

However noble the effort, the attempt failed disastrously, as the Germans still held hopes of victory, and saw no need to grant the slightest concessions. Worse, Karl’s correspondence went public in 1918, causing a massive breach with his empire’s much more powerful ally, and even raising the prospect that the Germans would occupy Austria-Hungary.

Karl had failed, and by the end of 1918 his empire was in dissolution. He died in 1922, never failing in his legendary piety. He was beatified in 2003, and he may well be canonized.

The Great War produced few unequivocal heroes, but Karl certainly has claims to such a status. Of the people with the power to bring peace, how many dared to venture such an attempt, even at the possible cost of their thrones? French novelist Anatole France famously proclaimed that "Emperor Karl is the only decent man to come out of the war in a leadership position, yet he was a saint and no one listened to him. He sincerely wanted peace, and therefore was despised by the whole world. It was a wonderful chance that was lost." It is difficult to challenge that statement.

Karl always kept his word – but to God first, and the German Empire second.

Karl’s son Otto von Habsburg died in 2011 at the venerable age of 99. He attracted many stories during his lifetime, not least his famous response to an interviewer’s question in the 1990s whether he had watched the recent Austria-Hungary soccer match. No, he reportedly replied, who were we playing?

More seriously, he spent his life championing the best causes of his day, from a fierce anti-Nazi resistance that put his life at risk, to asserting the virtues of a democratic European Union that fully respected national and religious traditions. He was truly his father’s son.

Philip Jenkins is a Distinguished Professor of History atBaylor Universityand author ofThe Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade.

A Solemn High Mass will be held in honor of the Blessed Karl of Austriaon October 21st at 7pm at St. Mary, Mother of God parish in Washington, DC. Veneration of the relic of Blessed Karl will follow.


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