Association of Contemporary Church Historians (Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)
Newsletter - December 1997 - Vol. III no 12
A very happy and joyous Christmas to you all!
"Theologically Christmas Day is the greatest occasion for rejoicing offered to sinful mankind; but this aspect of it is so august and so great that the human mind refuses to contemplate it steadily, perhaps because of its own littleness, for which of course it is in no way to blame. It prefers to concentrate its attention on ceremonial observances,expressive generally of good will and festivity, such as, for instance, giving presents andeating plum-puddings". Joseph Conrad, Last Essays
1) Conference Reports:
a) Darmstadt Declaration b) G.S.A.,Washington D.C. c) Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, Wittenberg, Germany
2) Journal Articles: D.Bergen, "Wehrmacht Chaplaincy", C.Strohm, "Faith and Resistance", L. Siegele-Wenschkewitz, "Evangelical Academies", M.P.Berg, "Austrian Socialists and Church after 1945"
3) Book reviews: a) Fleischner and Phayer, Cries in the Night, b) Sittser, Cautious Patriotism
4) Work in progress: a) Mark Lindsay, b) John Abbott
1a) A recent conference in Arnoldsheim, Taunus, considered the significance of the Darmstadt Declaration of 1947, and its role in the thinking of the German Evangelical Church in the post-war period. Its origins came from the dissatisfaction with the lack of concreteness of the previous Stuttgart Declaration of 1945. Its authors, principally Barth, Niemoller and H-J Iwand, centred on the "erroneous paths" which the German people and Church had previously followed, particularly their nationalist and anti-Marxist sentiments, and sought to prepare the way for a better future. The controversy this aroused about the correct political course of the Church caused much dissension for many years. Papers were read by Dr. Hartmut Ludwig (Berlin), Joachim Perels (Hannover), Martin Kramer (Magdeburg) and Kurt Nowak (Leipzig), which also considered the longer term impact of this Declaration in both the FRG and the GDR. (from a report submitted by Brian Huck (Mainz and Pennsylvania).
1b) The 21st annual meeting of the German Studies Association was held in Washington. D.C. at the end of September. Of the 138 sessions, approximately a dozen had some relevance to contemporary church history, two of which, though they precede our time period, may be of interest. Chris Clark (Cambridge), known for his fine book on the Prussian Mission to the Jews, compared Napoleon's Concordat with Friedrich Wilhelm's Prussian Union. Although Napoleon was noted for his cynicism (I became a Muslim to win Egypt, etc.) and Friedrich Wilhelm for his piety, Clark saw a similar raison d'etat in each case. Both leaders saw a renewal of religion and the church as useful to the stability of the state; both expected to gain prayers for the head of state, etc,; and the clergy expected to gain greater stability in their organization and a more solid base for financial support. The second topic from this earlier period explored "Judaism as constructed by German Protestant Theology". One ironic theme showed that the Protestant advocates of careful historical analysis paid no attention the history of first century Judaism, accepting instead the view of Phariseeism in the New Testament. Two students of Gerhard Besier (Heidelberg) presented their research, Gerhard Lindemann from his completed dissertation on "The fate of Christian pastors of Jewish descent in Hanover, 1925- 1955", and Christian Binder from his ongoing work on "Christians of Jewish descent in the Baden State Church". Each paper involved fine research into a difficult and important chapter of German church history, with regional evidence on questions overlapping religious and racial categories, especially regarding the so-called "Mischlinge". In neither situation did Christians of Jewish descent fare well, although individual acts of bravery could be found. These papers may appear in a future issue of Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, with Robert Erickson's commentary. Gerhard Besier presented a useful review of the present controversy over the Scientology movement in Germany, and Doris Bergen updated her work on German military chaplains in World War II. If this GSA meeting is any indication, it does seem as if the significance of religious issues in modern history might be making some headway. (Robert Ericksen, Olympic College, Bremerton.)
1c) Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte 1997 conference, Wittenberg, 6 - 9 November. "Religion and Denomination - Foundation of Current and Future societies in Europe?" Inevitably a meeting in the refectory of the Augustinian monastery was forced to face the legacy of the Reformation, though in a singularly Germano-centric manner. M.Treu, Director of Wittenberg's Lutherhalle, began with a pithy introduction to the Confessio Augustana as a document of unity or separation, and was followed by two papers on "Political religion" and "Denominational elements in the totalitarian systems of the 20th century". The former concentrated on such contemporary issues as the challenge of Islamic fundamentalism, but did not discuss the question of a pluralistic education or the need for a common European foreign policy. The latter discussed "Widerstand" in its German context, but at the expense of comparisons with other resistance movements elsewhere in Europe - what made Germany different begged for an answer. Nicholas Hope raised the question of why cradle-to-grave welfare secularism had succeeded after 1945 beyond all reasonable religious hope, but could have said more about the Scandinavian initiatives to pursue peace and ecumenism, especially in the inter- war period. All of us might do well to take a rain check on 1) the gains and losses of the mainline churches, and the plurality of smaller denominations in this century, and 2) the fateful 'Anpassung' of the churches to political ideologies (a Volkskirche could be racialist or socialist), and the fact that the agencies of human destruction - poison gas or the mass murder of the Jews - were not stopped by Christians. National power-politics corrupted the churches at the expense of Christian and Judeo-Christian fellowship. Emeritus Bishop Rogge, bless him, left us with the text for Sunday, November 9th: Luke 17: 20-24. (Nicholas Hope, c/o Wiss-Theol.Seminar, Heidelberg University).
2) Journal Article: Doris Bergen, "'Germany is our Mission - Christ is our Strength' The Wehrmacht Chaplaincy and the 'German Christian' Movement," CHURCH HISTORY, 66/3 (September 1997), 522-36. This is an excellent essay by one of our Newsletter colleagues on a topic that has not had much coverage in the English-language literature. The amount of material on the U.S. army chaplaincy during World War II is fairly sizeable, and the Chaplains' Corps even had its own official historian. A good study of the German chaplaincy would be a useful contribution, so it is valuable to have Doris Bergen's exploration of the role of the 'Deutsche Christen" in the Wehrmacht. Many of them won appointments as chaplains, and the movement actively propagated its pro-Nazi Christianity through religious literature distributed to the troops. But there was also a confluence with the "mainline" Protestants, since almost all chaplains echoed the German Christian view that Germany's religious traditions reinforced National Socialism and that Christianity and Judaism were naturally opposed. Although the regular military chaplaincy (including the military bishop, Franz Dohrmann) was cool to the pesky German Christians, their success in infiltrating the corps was considerable. Bergen estimates that approximately thirty percent of the Protestant chaplains had German Christian connections of one kind or another. Their impact was amplified by the fact that virtually no clergy associated with the Confessing Church gained admittance to the chaplaincy. They also had a voice in pastoral care to the armed forces through the officially sanctioned religious literature, much of which was produced by German Christian presses and writers, and religious propaganda which they sent directly to the front. The decision of the authorities to issue only New Testaments (i.e. omitting the Old Testament altogether) and the production of a "de- judaized" military songbook reflected the impact of their views, if not direct personal influence. The commonality of their mission with that of the Wehrmacht chaplaincy could be seen in the message of "manly Christianity", one that emphasised soldierly virtues: hardness, self-sacrifice and heroism. Since their movement was radically antitheological, they rejected considerations of doctrine as bookish, Jewish and effeminate. Instead they propagated a simple, vague notion of Christianity which allowed easy incorporation of Nazi ideology. Their image of God had "no contours"; the message had nothing to do with the basic teachings about Jesus, sin or judgement, but they still offered the promise of God. They defined the church in racial terms as a community of "pure Germans" devoted to the exclusion of Jews, Jewish influence, and "non-Aryans", that is, converts from Judaism and their descendants. They even hoped to meld Protestant and Catholic Germans into a "National Church". In short, Christianity and the church were means to this end of national unity. Ironically the ideology of the dominant Nazis, such as Bormann, Himmler, Goebbels and Hitler himself, was militantly anti- Christian. A number of measures were taken to curtail the size of the chaplaincy and to reduce its numbers. Even the German Christians were not spared as their distorted Nazi Christianity was rejected, on the grounds that their claim to synthesize National Socialism and Christianity implied that the Nazi worldview by itself was inadequate. Still they tried to prove their worth by encouraging the fighting spirit of the troops, and the more they did so, the more they were caught in the trap of helping to legitimise German brutality and strengthening their ideological opponents in the Nazi Party. In their struggle for survival, the German Christian chaplains displayed loyal commitment to the goals of Hitler's war, thereby giving assent to its atrocities, murder and genocide. In so doing, they undermined their moral authority as independent agents of the Christian message and betrayed the God they professed to serve. Richard Pierard, Indiana State University, Terre Haute.
Three further new journal articles are of interest: Christoph Strohm, "Die Bedeutung von Kirche, Religion und christlichen Glauben im Umkreis der Attentaeter des 20 Juli 1944", in Zeitschrift fur Kirchengeschichte, 1997/2, pp 213 ff. L Siegele-Wenschkewitz, " 'Hofprediger der Demokratie', Evangelische Akademien und politische Bildung in den Anfangsjahren der Bundesrepublik Deutschland", in Zeitschrift fur Kirchengeschichte 1997/2, pp 236 ff. Matthew P.Berg, "Between Kulturkampf and Vergangenheitsbewaltigung. The SPO. the Roman Catholic Church and the problem of reconciliation", in Zeitgeschichte (Innsbruck), 1997 no 5/6
3) Book reviews: a) Michael Phayer and Eva Fleischner, Cries in the Night. Women who challenged the Holocaust. With a foreword by Nechama Tec. Kansas City: Sheed and Ward 1997. xxi + 143 pp. US $15.95.
This short but vivid memoir of seven Catholic women who assisted Jews to escape from Nazi persecution and annihilation is both a heartfelt tribute and an attempt to record, for an English-speaking audience, their bravery and courage at a time of utmost peril. It is not the authors' intention in any sense to provide an alibi for the Catholic Church. Rather they seek to add to the fullness of the record of the Holocaust by rescuing from obscurity or forgetfulness the actions of a few courageous women whose deeds provide a ray of sunshine in this otherwise dreadfully dark chapter of history. As such the authors' aim is similar to David Gushee's fine book The Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust (Fortress Press 1994). Nor are they forgetful that Protestant women, such as Marga Trocme, played a similar role. The seven examples they have chosen come from France, Poland, Germany and Hungary but all were united in their abhorrence of the effects of the Nazis' racial inhumanity. As care-givers, some by profession and others by conviction, they also had a bountiful compassion which refused to be limited by any sense of cautious prudence. As Catholic women, their efforts were not always applauded by their male superiors. Margarete Sommer, for instance, working in Berlin for the Catholic charity organisation, was frequently rebuffed by the presiding Cardinal Bertram, and Gertrud Luckner did not fare much better in Freiburg. But both were determined to do what they could to provide practical assistance and comfort, warning their Jewish friends of the Gestapo's imminent moves, and organising relief packages and even cash where possible. In 1943 the Gestapo caught up with Luckner and sent her off to the bestial Ravensbruck concentration camp, where she barely survived. But from 1945 onwards she carried on in the same spirit, and was finally able to raise enough funds to build a new home for victims of the Holocaust in Israel. Mother Matylda Getter in Poland and Germaine Robiere in France were alike in resolving to take swift and necessary action to rescue Jews even if their church leaders were silent. Part of their motivation was undoubtedly the frustration they felt at such ambivalence and prevarication. For them, the suffering individual came first. They shared a conviction, a passion, a willingness to fight, and so humanitarian, nationalist and Christian sympathies could be fused. As Germaine said, rescuing Jews was "the Christian life of the moment". She was impulsive, impetuous but nonetheless extraordinarily determined not to allow herself to become a bystander or to share the shame of her countrymen in not doing enough to help. In Vichy France, Marie-Rose Gineste was more fortunate in having the open support of her bishop, for whom she smuggled dangerous literature to the parishes on her bicycle, and found homes for refuge in remote farmhouses, while Germaine Bouquet was deeply influenced by the famous Jewish educator Jules Isaac, for whom she provided a safe haven in 1943-4, enabling him to undertake his seminal work "Jesus and Israel". Equally notable were the actions of Margrit Slachta in Hungary whose sense of patriotic devotion went hand in hand with the principle of brotherly love and an obligation to Christ. As the head of a noted Social Sisterhood, she used her aristocratic connections to call on the Hungarian bishops to protest and to oppose the bureaucrats' inhuman treatment of the Jewish minority. But when rebuffed she refused to give in, and in 1943 actually travelled to Rome to see the Pope himself. His apparent sympathy, even if not matched by any prophetic protest, sustained her efforts to challenge both the state and the church hierarchy in order successfully to rescue many of the Jews of Budapest after the Nazi take-over of power in March 1944. These were women who cared. But in the post-war world their valiant witness was a standing reproach to the church, most of whose members had collaborated with the enemy or remained passive while the Jews were being murdered. Their stories were ignored, and they themselves even felt guilty that they had not been able to do more, and perplexed by the moral ambiguity of the Catholic Church. Yet they played their role, especially Gertrud Luckner, in preparing the ground for the eventual abandonment of Catholic anti-Judaism in 1965. As powerless women, their contributions to a new era of Christian-Jewish reconciliation fully merit the tributes given in this book. It deserves a wide readership. J.S.C.
b) Gerald R. Sittser, A Cautious Patriotism: The American Churches and the Second World War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997. 317 pp. $39.95.
Sittser, a professor of religion and philosophy at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington, has produced the first full-length study of the role which the U.S. churches played in World War II. To be sure, this reviewer had contributed a chapter on World War II to Ronald A. Wells, America's Wars: Christian Perspective (Mercer University Press, 1992) and a long entry on the topic to the Dictionary of Christianity in America (InterVarsity Press, 1990), but Sittser's volume goes into much greater depth and detail. His thesis is that the churches practiced a "cautious patriotism" with regard to the conflict, unlike World War I where American Christians plunged unreservedly into the war effort or Vietnam where the Christian community was deeply divided about it. The churches were loyal to the endeavour but not blindly or fanatically patriotic. Churchmen believed that America had a divine destiny and the Allied cause was righteous, but they refused to see the war as a holy crusade and repeatedly called for the spiritual revitalisation of the church. They tried to strike a balance between nationalism and internationalism, political realism and religious idealism, and priestly concern and prophetic criticism. They sought to minister to the needs of the nation, but not at the expense of their commitment to justice and peace. They saw the war as a spiritual conflict that called for a resurgence of religious influence in world affairs.
Sittser maintains that the manner in which the churches expressed their cautious patriotism varied from issue to issue and event to event, and often they were deeply divided over matters of strategy and how they religiously interpreted the war. Still, they were united in their basic beliefs about American democracy, freedom, and religion, and they were convinced that the transcendent God calls all nations to repent, even America. Also, the victory would be of little value if the peace did not strengthen the church and advance the cause of Christianity in America.
Besides just making statements and pronouncements, the churches involved themselves in the war abroad through the chaplaincies and denominational programs for servicemen and civilians. Some churchmen even took part in the fight at home for civil liberties and racial justice. In a great many ways they sought to mitigate the moral costs of war, alleviate human suffering, and apply Christian principles to the postwar peace.
The book's methodology is a content analysis of thirty-nine religious periodicals (both denominational and nondenominational) published in the years 1939-1945, and the year-books or annual meeting reports of eleven different denominations during this time. The author also looked at many of the books written by theologians and church leaders. His industry in collecting and analysing data on what churches and their officials were saying and doing is admirable.
Sittser's most interesting chapters have to do with the crisis facing church leaders in the pre-war era and the debate over entering the war. Also noteworthy are his treatment of the issue of theodicy - how to reconcile the goodness of God with the badness of war - and the efforts to link democracy with the Christian faith. Other topics include the churches' influence on wartime society, actions in the mobilization for war, involvements with the military hierarchy, their less than impressive record in the civil rights struggle, relief efforts, and planning for life in the postwar world.
We are indebted to Sittser for marshalling so much information and providing many helpful insights. At the same time he calls attention to the ambiguities in their positions and deep divisions in their ranks, even as they were doing their utmost to support the war with a cautious patriotism. On the other hand, his apparent lack of understanding of European history limits his perceptions, and he neglects some topics which I feel belong in the discussion, above all, President Roosevelt's use of civil religion to rally the American people behind the war effort. In short, the book is a useful study but more work remains to be done on the religious aspects of the American involvement in World War II. Richard Pierard, Indiana State University, Terre Haute.
4a) Work in progress: Mark Lindsay, Western Australia: "Covenanted Solidarity: The theological bases for Karl Barth's opposition to Nazi antisemitism and the Holocaust"
In the historiography of Holocaust and Church Struggle studies, Karl Barth occupies a strangely marginalised position. Historians have acknowledged his seminal role in the founding of the Confessing Church, his pivotal involvement in the composition of the Barmen Declaration, and his leadership of the ecclesiastical resistance to the Nazi regime. By contrast, his vehement rejection of Nazi antisemitism and the resultant Holocaust, as well as his forceful advocacy of the need to assist the persecuted Jews, have received scant attention. Historians have displayed an unwillingness to encounter the theological issues involved in Barth's position with any penetrating depth, and have likewise shied away from Barth's massive "Church Dogmatics", in which his most profound defence of the Jews is located. Most historical monographs of Nazi antisemitism and the Holocaust, if they mention Barth at all, do so in a critically negative fashion, usually assuming that Barth was either anti-Judaic himself or simply uninterested in the question. My thesis seeks to counteract this received wisdom by focussing, not only on Barth's explicitly political pamphlets, but also on his dogmatic theology from the early 1920s through the "Church Dogmatics" period. I look at how Barth treats the motif of 'Israel' and, more importantly, how his own conceptions of revelation, Christology and election stand in deliberate antithesis to the Nazified versions of the same. The Nazis adopted and then perverted these theological motifs in an effort both to deify the regime and Hitler, and to demonise the Jews and thus to justify their mass murder. I seek to show that Barth's usage of these concepts was at once a recapturing of theological orthodoxy and, more significantly, a basis from which his defence of the Jews could be, and was, launched. Barth was no mere armchair theologian, but was socially and politically active throughout his career. Barth's pro-Israel hermeneutic was no aberration but rather the extension of his social(ist) praxis from his earlier pastoral work in rural Switzerland, and hence found practical expression during the Nazi years. The conclusion of this dissertation is that the overwhelming weight of evidence, in contrast to previous historical assessments, shows that Barth was both actively involved in resisting the Nazis' antisemitic violence, and that this praxis was grounded securely in his profound Christocentric theology.
4b) John Abbott, Chicago. My dissertation -in-progress is an extended study of Bavarian rural politics from the 1980s to 1933. My narrative focus is the Bayerischer Bauernbund, the surprisingly durable protest party in rural Altbayern from 1893 to the Machtergreifung. Thematically, I am most interested in the intersections between rural social and cultural development, on the one hand, and political behaviour, on the other. I have found myself drawn to consider the evolution of the Catholic political establishment, and the process by which the Church, as the self-designated guardian of tradition, in reality became the chief instrument of rural modernization. In my view, the main impetus came from the network of Catholic lay associations, co-operatives and schools, providing a series of new accommodations and syntheses. Nineteenth-century rural Bavaria had a large, rising class of independent peasant proprietors, whose social ascent had found no equivalent in Catholic culture, dominated as it was by local priests and Catholic nobility. The rise of organisations such as the Bauernbund created new spaces in public life; in this respect they allowed for a "re-masculinization" of Catholic lay culture, and helped to contain and domesticate the conspicuous anti-clerical impulses of many peasants These associations helped to introduce and popularize a new role model, a new type of Catholic "public man" who combined religious piety with educational achievement, and technical expertise with a popular touch. Their emphasis was on technocratic virtues, representing the advantages of modern, efficient organization. These peasant co-operatives, despite their origins in a vaguely anti-capitalist rhetoric, became important schools of peasant capitalism in the first decades of this century. The results were to change substantially the face of popular Catholicism in the countryside. The rise of a new Catholic meritocracy in rural affairs marked an important change in church attitudes towards education, giving new scope for upward social mobility. In tandem with the Centre/BVP parties, these associations became important transmission links between peasant youth and the wider world of opportunity, opening careers to rural talent, as reflected in government service or office. These developments also point to a shift of power within the Church milieu. Where priests had once enjoyed a virtual monopoly over village affairs, the long-term impact of peasant literacy, of an associational life increasingly independent of clerical (and aristocratic) tutelage, and of the rise of an essentially 'bourgeois" Catholic lay leadership, was to force a redefinition of clerical authority and competence., though more glacial than episodically linear, and frequently influenced by events from outside. But the differences in Catholic culture between 1900 and 1933 are striking. I try to suggest that this "silent" cultural revolution occurring within Catholicism prior to 1933 produced developments roughly similar to the socio-cultural transformations broadly identified with the original Protestant Reformation. As such, they paved the way for the emergence of the kind of political alignments seen in the CDU/CSU since 1945.
A complete list of the books reviewed in 1997 can be found by consulting our Website.
All the best for a happy Christmas and the New Year.