Return to index. Newsletter April 1997 - Vol III, no 4
I trust you are enjoying a blessed and relaxed Easter season.
1. Conference Reports - Tampa, Bensheim
2. Precis of paper - M.Lindsay: Barthian Dogmatics
3. New journal articles
4. Book review: J.Hutchinson: Champions of Charity by John S. Conway
Bensheim, Rhein. The 41st annual conference of theological professors met on Feb 27th-Mar 1st to consider "Angenommene Geschichte. Kirchenkampf in Deutschland 1933-1990". Prof. J.Mehlhausen, Tuebingen, led off with a splendid account of the Protestant historiography of the Church Struggles of this century. He made the valid point that after 1945, church historians took a very positive view of the church's stance during the Nazi years, stressing their steadfastness in resisting the Nazi ideology, their sufferings at the hands of Nazi oppressors, and their resolute defence of the Gospel. But by the 1960s a more critical revisionist approach appeared, based not least on a fuller access to the documentation, so that the church's failings in the Nazi period, hitherto passed over in silence, now became clearer. By contrast, after 1989, many accounts of the church's role in the unlamented GDR were negative in tone. Mehlhausen hoped that a similar revisionist process will eventually lead to a more balanced and fairer assessment of the years under Communist rule. Heinrich Missalla gave an equally valuable account of Catholic historiography, and critically pointed the numerous "white pages" still untackled by Catholic historians, so that such subjects as the Catholic reactions to the Nazis' persecution of the Jews are still unexplored. Similarly he was critical of the received version of the Catholic experience in the GDR, suggesting that the notion of Catholic abstention and insulation from the Communist rule doesn't tell all the story. I presented a paper comparing the historiography of both churches from an outsider's point of view. Luckily this meeting was organized in the best possible way. Only three papers were given in two whole days, so that there was ample time for a full discussion, which was much enhanced by the long memories of those present, including one gentleman who had been a student in Tuebingen in 1934-5! A very rewarding experience. JSC
It has been widely acknowledged that Karl Barth, as the principal author of the Barmen Declaration of 1934, and as a leader of the Bekennende Kirche, was a resolute opponent of the Nazi regime, particularly in regard to its policy of Gleichschaltung and its impingement on the Church. What is less freely acknowledged is Barth's opposition to the Nazi persecution of the Jews. Indeed, some scholars such as Wolfgang Gerlach, Dick Gutteridge, and Daniel Goldhagen, have accused Barth of, at best, a passivity in the face of the Holocaust and, at worst, a theology that was sympathetic to it. That this was manifestly not the case is shown by a consideration of his dogmatic theology as it was formulated and taught during the Nazi years. As early as 1931-2, Barth was positioning himself against the predominant voelkisch politics and theology of the day. In Church Dogmatics I/1, which was written before the Machtergreifung, he consciously rejected any and every racial misappropriation of the Word of God, thus distancing himself from the presuppositions of the antisemitic Deutsche Christen. He was dismayed at the contemporary "intoxication of Nordic blood and . . . the political Fuehrer. . " and insisted that Church proclamation must not be aligned with the features or interests of any one race, people, nation or state. This opposition to the racial-voelkisch (and therefore antisemitic) perversion of Christian doctrine was later expanded. For example, in CD I/1 -II/1, Barth located the revelation of God solely in the incarnation of Christ, which he viewed through the lenses of the orthodox an-/enhypostatic Christological formula. In contrast to his 1922 commentary on Romans, he was thus able - indeed compelled - to focus on the historicity and, therefore, the Jewishness of Jesus. As early as 1934, Barth was saying that "anyone who believes in Christ, who was himself a Jew, simply cannot be involved in the contempt and ill-treatment of Jews which is the order of the day". Later, in December 1938, just after Kristallnacht, he declared that the decisive reason why the Church must reject Nazism lay in the latter's antisemitism. Barth's view of the Bible also tied him to solidarity between Christians and Jews. In contrast to Krause and the Deutsche Christen, Barth insisted that the biblical witness to revelation came to us in the inseparable form of both Old and New Testaments. The God of the Jews is the same as the God of the Christians - Yahweh-Kyrios - and his one covenant of grace permeates the entire Bible (in contrast to the Marcionite severing of the two testaments, and therefore of Christian-Jewish unity). The second major theme running through Church Dogmatics is that of election. In 1942 (CD II/2) Barth affirmed that both Israel and the Church "together in their unity" constitute the One People of God. The Church cannot be spoken of as elected, while Israel is spoken of as rejected. Rather, both together are elected, with the election of Israel being confirmed "to the present day". Moreover, Barth insisted, if and when the Church forgets its union with the Jews, it ceases to be the Church. In this he was reaffirming Bonhoeffer's comment of 1933 that the Church's response to the Aryan Paragraph was the 'articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae'. It is true that Barth did not ignore the sins of Israel which he saw to be evident in the Old Testament, and he even accused Israel of having rejected the revelation of God. It is crucial to note, however, that Barth passed exactly the same judgment on the Church - so that even this solidarity of sin binds the two together. Even when he spoke 'negatively' of Israel, Barth always circumscribed this with a similar statement to the Church of his own day. Finally, it is worth noting that, once in Switzerland, Barth became actively involved in relief agencies engaged in aiding and rescuing Jews. From 1936, he was financially supporting those in the Confessing Church who were helping the persecuted Jews. In late June 1944, after receiving a terrifying account of the conditions in Auschwitz, he petitioned the Swiss authorities to rescue the Hungarian Jews. Both theologically and practically Barth was a keen defender of the Jews and an advocate of the need for a practical hic et nunc solidarity between Christians and Jews. Mark Lindsay
The Red Cross has for so long been a symbol of devoted humanitarianism that its record has rarely been subject to critical evaluation by secular historians. Everyone knows that the inspiration came from the young Swiss evangelical philanthropist, Henry Dunant, after witnessing the carnage on the battlefield of Solferino in 1859. But few know what happened next. John Hutchinson, of Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, has now remedied this gap with an account of the Red Cross' first sixty years up to 1921, which is well-argued, original and iconoclastic. His skilful handling of multinational sources is exemplary, and his account carries conviction just because he avoids the usual hagiographical approach. Indeed, supporters of the Red Cross may find it hard to accept his major thesis, which is that the original idealistic humanitarian impulse of the 1860s only too easily got subordinated to the military and political rivalries of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The champions of organised international charity, instead of making war more civilized, became advocates of a different and more ominous sense of war-mindedness. How and why this happened is the core of Hutchinson's finely-crafted "political economy" of the Red Cross.
Dunant's original idealistic appeal was taken up by Gustave Moynier, whose management skills gave institutional shape to the organization which he guided for more than forty years. Moynier called the first multinational conference to consider how aid could best be provided to the wounded in war. He proposed a corps of devoted civilians whose safety and neutrality was to be guarantied by all governments and symbolized by a white armband embroidered with a red cross. Together with four colleagues he set up an International Committee of the Red Cross and skilfully lobbied all the European states and the USA, for support for his aims. The wars of 1864-70 confirmed the desirability of such an idea, bringing together both the idealism of philanthropists and the more calculated interest of military leaders. As Hutchinson shows, there was always a continuing tension between those who regarded the Red Cross' mission as a civilizing force leading eventually to the abolition of war, and those who more narrowly aimed to mobilize these volunteers behind their militaristic and nationalist ambitions. Since it had no divisions of its own, the Red Cross could only hope to exercise moral influence on states by appealing to the nobility of its ideals. Hutchinson shows very clearly how this situation was exploited. But at the same time, the price was an increasing closeness between armies, states and their Red Cross societies, which less and less challenged the dominant trend towards the militarisation of charity. Moynier's original belief in the Red Cross' universal moral mission paving the way for peace was progressively abandoned. Instead by 1914 the Red Cross was regarded by peoples and governments as a valuable auxiliary for war. This trend became more pronounced as the national Red Cross societies became more respectable, enjoyed the support of aristocrats and royalty, and readily saw themselves as mobilizing support for nationalistic aims. The paradox became blatant in 1901, when one of the first Nobel Peace Prizes was awarded to Henry Dunant, who had been dismissed from the ICRC in 1867 after a financial scandal, had played no part in Red Cross activities for more than thirty years, but had finally been rescued from poverty by the sentimental wing of the highly unrespectable pacifist movement, led by such mavericks as Baroness von Suttner. This was a bitter blow to the largely-unknown Moynier, who had devoted his life to the cause. Coincidentally both men died within a few months of each other in 1910. The outbreak of war in 1914 doomed the pacifist cause. By contrast it evoked in the supporters of the Red Cross enormous, if mutually antagonistic, waves of patriotic fervour. All social classes united in wanting to serve the war wounded, as millions of men and women saw Red Cross work as an opportunity to make their personal contribution to their nation's victory. The clash this fervent patriotism and the older ideal of impartial medical service was often glaring. Like so many of the churches, the Red advocates fell into regarding war as an ennobling adventure, believed that military action would have beneficial moral results for the whole race, demonized the enemy and even justified death in battle as a heroic and glorious sacrifice. Inevitably in the aftermath disillusionment and cynicism set in. Hutchinson skips over the details of the military events of 1914-8, but instead looks at the later attempts to rescue the cause of humanitarian charity from such distortions. Readers who want to study subsequent developments will find many of the same themes recurring in the second world war, as described in the books by Jean-Claude Favez and Dieter Riesenberger, in French and German respectively. Hutchinson's conclusion is that the development of the Red Cross was fashioned as much by the self-interest of military and political hierarchies as by the noble ideals of its founders. The abolition of war is no nearer now than in 1863. Disease and disaster still stalk the globe. The Red Cross has played only a mitigating role, however much such a sombre finding may distress its numerous well-wishers. But the historian has no mandate to encourage wishful thinking. In this respect, Hutchinson has written a first-rate and persuasive contribution. JSC
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