Rorate Caeli

In memoriam: Wolfgang Waldstein (1928-2023) - by Roberto de Mattei

Roberto de Mattei
November 2, 2023

The funeral of Wolfgang Waldstein, an eminent legal philosopher and exemplary Catholic, who passed away on Oct. 17, 2023, at the age of 95, was held at St. Sebastian Church in Salzburg on Oct. 31, 2023. 

Count Wolfganf Waldstein was born on August 27, 1928, in Hangö, Finland to a historic Bohemian family, whose members include Albrecht von Waldstein or Wallenstein, (1583-1634) the imperial army general assassinated during the Thirty Years' War, to whom Friedrich Schiller dedicated a famous tragedy. A branch of the family had moved to Russia, but at the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution, Wolfgang's father, Ludwig Waldstein von Halben, a composer of piano works and chamber music, fled to Finland, where he met his wife, who was of Swedish origin. When the Soviet attack on Finland began in the fall of 1939, the Waldstein family emigrated to Salzburg, where young Wolfgang completed his law studies in Innsbruck under Prof. Arnold Herdlitczka (1896-1984).  In 1964 he became professor of Roman Law at the University of Innsbruck and then, from 1965 until his retirement in 1992, taught Roman Law and philosophy of law at the University of Salzburg, of which he was also rector from 1968 to 1969. From 1996 to 1998 he was also professor of Ius Commune at the Faculty of Law of the Pontifical Lateran University.  

Wolfgang Waldstein is the author of important legal studies, including General Theory of the Law (Pontifical Lateran University, Rome 2001), in which he contrasts the modern theories of Kelsen and critical rationalism with the classical theories of Cicero and the Roman jurists. In Essays on Unwritten Law (Cedam, Padua 2002) he explains the meaning of Roman-classical law, which is not based on definitive linguistic propositions, but which is concretely adherent to reality in its becoming. Equally important is the volume Written in the Heart. Natural law as the foundation of a human society (Giapichelli, Turin 2014), with a preface by Maria Pia Baccari Vari. The first German edition, from 2010, was cited several times by Benedict XVI on the occasion of his Address to the German Parliament on September 22, 2011. 

A topic that was dear to his heart was that of so-called "brain death." In 2007, when I was Vice-President of the CNR (National Research Council), I published a book dedicated to Finis Vitae - Is Brain Death Still Life? (CNR-Rubbettino, 2007), in which along with the texts of other physicians and jurists, I collected the speeches of three distinguished members of the Academy for Life: Robert Spaemann, Josef Seifert and Wolfgang Waldstein himself, who in his essay demonstrates how every human being, until the final cessation of cardiorespiratory signs occurs, must be considered a living person for all intents and purposes.   

Count Waldstein was a member of the spiritual community Herz Jesu Gemeinschaft, founded by the philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand and later merged with the Institute of Christ the King High Priest. Immediately after unification with the Institute he was appointed Governor General of this association for life. Msgr. Michael Schmitz. of the Institute of Christ the King, well remembered, "his deep love for the truth, his great jurisprudential, philosophical and theological knowledge, as well as through his example of absolute human integrity, kind love of neighbor, great strength of will and deep innocent faith. He and his dear wife Maria Theresa, 'Esi' Waldstein (1930-2017), who grew so close to all our hearts, are unforgettable to us as a married couple who always preserved the splendor of first love and marital affection and generously shared this splendor with others, including those in spiritual and material need" (

Since the 1970s Waldstein advocated for the maintenance of the Traditional Roman Mass with a book in the form of an open letter to the Austrian Bishops' Conference, Hirtensorge und Liturgiereform. Eine Dokumentation (Schaan/Liechtenstein, Stiftung 1977). He was among the first 790,000 signatories of the Filial Supplication to Pope Francis on the Future of the Family delivered to the Secretariat of State on Sept. 29, 2015, and of the Declaration of Fidelity to the Church's unchanging teaching on marriage and its unbroken discipline disseminated on Sept. 27, 2016, by a group of 80 Catholic personalities, including cardinals, bishops, priests, scholars, association leaders and civil society representatives. (

I met Wolfgang Waldstein in the early 1990s and was always connected to him by a dear friendship. We shared a love for the mountains of Val Badia, where he went every year in the summer with his wife to the beautiful house they had in the small village of La Valle. I still remember climbing with him to the Sasso di Santa Croce, at 2900 meters above sea level, starting at night and reaching the summit at dawn. It was August 1994, he was 20 years older than me, but his pace as a mountaineer was faster and more confident than mine. The intellectual exchanges with him were numerous and always fruitful. In 2010 he participated in a Lepanto Foundation pilgrimage to the Holy Shroud, to which he dedicated a valuable study (Neueste Erkenntnisse über das Turiner Grabtuch, Christiana Verlag, 2010).

Wolfgang Waldstein was for me an example of love for the truth, intense Catholic faith, and profound moral rectitude. His passing occurred on the feast day of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, the apostle of the Sacred Heart, What more significant sign of predilection for the Governor of the spiritual community of the Sacred Heart of Jesus?