They are the stuff of legends, the princely families of Europe. To most people nowadays they are just names that occasionally turn up in society columns.
But in reality, many of Europe's Catholic aristocrats live quiet lives, raising their families in the Faith, conscious of their hereditary responsibility for what was once ‘Christendom.' And ‘quiet' is the operative word here, as over the centuries of revolution and war, these families have been repeatedly targeted by regimes and ideologues of various stripes. Hence, they have learned the value of discretion.
Therefore it is highly unusual for a European aristocrat to step into the limelight in order to go on record about controversial questions.
But that is what Count Peter zu Stolberg does, in this interview with REGINA Magazine.
What is of such vital importance that a high aristocrat needs to go on record, speaking not just for himself but for many of these legendary names?
The Synod on the family, in Rome this week.
REGINA: What is your full title?
PETER: (Imperial) Count Peter zu Stolberg-Stolberg (Reichsgraf)
REGINA: How long has your family held this title?
PETER: Over 800 years. As such, the Stolberg family is part of German ancient nobility.
REGINA: Tell us about your family’s tradition of service.
PETER: The (princely) Counts zu Stolberg have always been a self-governing house (ruling over Counties Stolberg, Wernigerode and nine others) with a seat and voting rights in the Imperial Assembly of the Holy Roman Empire (of the German Nation). Besides serving as commanding officers in all major battles from the Thirty Years War in the 1600’s onwards, they were conscientious governors and employers.
REGINA: Your family has also been involved with the development of middle Europe financially as well.
PETER: They also made fortunes out of their gold-, silver-, copper- and iron-mines in the Harz Mountains. Having had the minting privilege, their silver coins (Stolberg-Thalers with different purchasing powers) today are highly sought-after collectors' items.
REGINA: Over the centuries, your family and other aristocrats have played key diplomatic and historical roles, as well. Can you tell us about them?
PETER: As members of the German high aristocracy, my family is widely related to most royal and other ruling houses in Europe. To name just a few members of the Stolberg family who have been prominent in the affairs of Europe through the ages:
- Count Botho (1467-1578) was personal adviser to the Habsburg-Emperors Maximilian I (1459-1519) and Charles V (1500-1558), as well as to Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg (1490-1545), for whom he served as a balancing envoy in the difficult religio-political times of Luther´s Reformation.
- Botho´s daughter Countess Juliana (1506-1580), mother of Prince William of Orange, is ancestress of the entire Royal House of Orange-Nassau (the Netherlands).
- Count Friedrich Leopold zu Stolberg (1750-1819), who grew up in the royal court in Copenhagen, studied law, translated the ancient Greek dramas of Homer and Sophocles, became a poet and revered writer, and travelled through Italy where he met Pope Pius VI, served as statesman and diplomat in Berlin and St. Petersburg and later managed as President of the Chamber in Eutin the lands of the Dukes of Oldenburg. After his conversion to Catholicism (1800), he wrote in a populistic way the 16-volume “History of the Religion of Jesus Christ”, which reached high circulations in all German-speaking lands.
- Count (later Duke) Otto zu Stolberg-Wernigerode (1837-1896) served as diplomat, politician and became vice-chancellor under his friend Imperial Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.
REGINA: At this critical juncture in Christian history, you and several hundred other European aristocrats in the Ancient Order of Saint George gathered in late August of this year to discuss the disturbing developments in our society. If there is an overall message to the Synod Fathers that you would like to be heard, what would it be?
PETER: First, there should be no tampering whatsoever with the marriage sacrament, as guideline to successful family life. Then, despite mercy to sinners living in adultery, no Eucharist without sincere confession and repentance. And despite their inclusion in active church life, no ecclesial recognition, let alone public blessings of couples living in same-sex liaisons.
REGINA: The Ancient Order of Saint George also has some strong recommendations regarding the need for improved education and catechism. What are they?
PETER: We would also like to see the stepping up of traditional religious education in schools, seminaries and theological studies. Also, longer and more amplified pre-marital education for engaged couples. We see the need for more catechetical preaching from the pulpit regarding sacramental theology.
REGINA: Finally, are there any general exhortations you would like to pass on to the Synod Fathers?
PETER: There should be no political correctness in the Church, which prohibits mentioning what is good and evil and sinful conduct, regarding marriage and family. The whitewashing of marital failure is evil in itself. May the bishops in their concern for pastoral care not lose the sentiments of guilt, which Catholic divorcees feel the world over. Bishops and priests owe this to the generations approaching their own wedlock and family foundation.