Fr. Messner studied with the theological faculty of Bressanone and upon his ordination served in Tyrol as parish priest for six years, followed by a four year course of study of political economy and sociology at Munich. His studies led him to degrees in law and public economy. Along with German Jesuits Gustav Gundlach and Oswald von Nell-Breuning, Messner became the principle representative of the “realist” school of Christian social doctrine in Austria.
Fr. Messner studied with the theological faculty of Bressanone (1910–1914), and upon his ordination served in Tyrol as parish priest for six years, following which he embarked on a four year (1920–1924) course of study of political economy and sociology at Munich, during which he was also studying law at Innsbruck. His studies led him to degrees in law (1922) and public economy (1924).
Alongside the German Jesuits Gustav Gundlach and Oswald von Nell-Breuning, Messner became the principle representative of the “realist” school of Christian social doctrine in Austria (though he was not, strictly speaking, a Solidarist). From 1925 to 1933 Messner was editor-in-chief of a weekly on culture, politics, and political economy, Das Neue Reich (The New Reign), and from 1936 to 1938 he published Monatsschrift für Kultur und Politik (Monthly of Culture and Politics). In 1927 Messner obtained teaching faculties at the University of Salzburg. His first work, Die soziale Frage (The Social Question), which had run to four editions by 1934, exercised an influence on the Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, who wanted to transform state and society according to the spirit of Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno of 1931, and Messner became one of the counselors for the corporative reconstruction of the Austrian state. In 1935 he was made Extraordinary Professor of Ethics And Social Science at the University of Vienna. After a period abroad, during the Nazi rule over Austria, Messner served again at his post in Vienna, becoming an ordinary Professor in 1956 and remaining so until 1962. He also occupied a chair of Christian social doctrine at Münster (founded by Franz Hitze in 1893) from 1947 to 1949.
His other published works include berufständische Ordnung (The Corporative Order) and Das Naturrecht (The Natural Law). He contributed thirteen articles to the famous Staatslexikon (Political Dictionary) in 1931. By 1980 he had published 27 monographs and roughly 400 essays or reviews. He was honored with collections of commemorative writings on his 70th, 80th, 85th, and 90th birthdays, and was awarded five honorary degrees, from the Universities of Vienna, Fribourg, Salzburg, Innsbruck, and the Louvain. He became a member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in 1962.