Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

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Newsletter- January 1998- Vol. IV, no. 1

Dear Friends,
With this issue, our Newsletter begins its fourth year of publication- with
gratitude for your continuing interest and support. Your letters of
encouragement for this endeavour have been much appreciated, and would seem
to indicate that trying out this new form of technology has been useful in
transmitting information and opinions around the world. My hope that this
service would extender horizons, and deepen our awareness of the
significance of contemporary Church History, has only been confirmed by
the generous way in which so many of you have sent in contributions. At the
same time, I believe this shows that our discipline is a vibrant one, as is
surely demonstrated by the wide range of new publications and conferences in
this field. In an attempt to summarize my impressions over the past years, I
am, for the first time, taking the liberty of submitting to you an Editorial
on the present state of Contemporary Church History.
Contents: 1) Editorial 2) Query to the list - Rob Levy 3) Note on Religious
Education in Germany 4) Book Reviews: a) Silomon, Synode und SED Staat b)
Laechele, Ein Volk,ein Reich, ein Glaube 5) Coming to terms with the past in
1) Editorial:In one of his sprightly addresses to the British Ecclesiastical
History Society, Professor Reg Ward provocatively remarked: "Nineteenth
century critics were entirely mistaken in supposing that political economy
was the dismal science; it is in fact ecclesiastical history. Goethe had a
word for it: 'Es ist die ganze Kirchengeschichte Mischmasch von Irrtum und
Gewalt.' "Not too many of the readers of this Newsletter will be likely
to agree with Reg Ward or Goethe. But perhaps it is time to consider some
features of our occupation sine ira et studio.In the past, contemporary
church history, like most of church history, has been affected by two rather
obvious but often overlooked factors. The first of these is the tendency
to hagiography. All institutions, of course, with a long and rich heritage
have a continuing desire to celebrate and to hand on to the next generation
the stories of their illustrious predecessors. The Church, as one of Europe's
most enduring institutions, knew very well, from the earliest times, that the
lives of the saints of yester-year were a highly effective form of
inspirational literature. But in modern times, the growth of a more
scientific and sceptical treatment of the past has shown the defects of such
a hagiographical approach. Today we are well enough aware that the claims of
the church to be heard can no longer be based on spectacular miracles or
divine intervention. This legacy is one of the reasons why church history,
including its contemporary dimension, is so often dismissed by secular
historians. Church historians have to work hard to show that their commitment
to scholarly objectivity is not being distorted by the strength or the biases
of their faith.The second observable factor about contemporary church
history is that of narrowness of horizons. Too often, its practitioners
have demonstrated a regrettable tendency to limit their researches solely to
the affairs of their own denomination. This can be seen, for example, in the
treatment of the churches' experience during the Nazi period. When both
Catholic and Protestants were being persecuted by the Nazis, many forms of
resistance involved joint co-operation amongst churchmen. But one would
hardly know this from the histories of the Church Struggle written in the
aftermath,which have almost exclusively been composed along denominational
lines..This feature, while prevalent in every country, is
particularly notable in Germany, which has seen such a high level
of achievement in the field of theological literature. Very few countries are
so well endowed as Germany with professional theologians and church
historians, largely due to the generous state support of the numerous
theological faculties. By comparison, in the United States, Canada, Britain,
to say nothing of France,theological studies are poor relations on the
academic scene, and this is reflected in the volume and quality of their
research. But the criticism is not unjustified that, in Germany, the
existence of separated, sometimes rival, Catholic and Protestant
theological faculties and their institutional pressures to maintain the
blinkers of the past, has not always been in the interests of
contemporary German church historiography.Fortunately there are now signs
that this separation is breaking down, not least because church historians
are recognising the need to overcome the barriers between Kirchengeschichte
and Profangeschichte, and because secular historians are posing the kind of
questions about the churches' life and social effectiveness which require a
more ecumenical and eirenic approach.It is therefore all the more welcome
that a new generation of church historians recognise the need to adopt a
fresh approach which will attempt to rethink the complex relationship between
the church and society, especially on the much discussed.questions
of modernization and secularisation I think here of those who are now
producing the series "Konfession und Gesellschaft", edited
by A..Doering-Manteuffel, Martin Greschat, Kurt Nowak and J-C.Kaiser, or
those, inspired by Natalie Davis and Stephen Ozmentin the USA, concerned
with 16th century church history.1) The stress now is on the need to widen
the horizons of church historians by adopting the techniques of social
historians, so that a more collaborative relationship with secular historians
can be found. While it is still too early to predict the results, and while
some church historians continue to believe that the principal purpose
of church history is to provide ethical guidance for the laity, these
new developments may be able to do something to overcome the limitations and
restrictive thinking of the past. 1) see the insightful introduction by
Michael Weinzierl to Vol 22 of the Wiener Beitraege zur Geschichte der
Neuzeit,"Individualisierung, Rationalisierung, Saekularisierung. Neue
Wege der Religionsgeschichte" 1997, as reported on the list H-SOZ-U-KULT,
Thursday Nov 27 1997.JSC
2) Rob Levy (Washington State University, Pullman, Wash) writes:"Some time
ago I posed a couple of questions to this list group. First, in light of the
French Episcopate's public act of contrition over their "failure" or guilt
towards French Jews during the Nazi occupation of France, I was curious to
find out whether or not the German Roman Catholic Church had done something
comparable.And secondly, I was also interested in the questions raised by
this well-publicized event. Since the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland's
Stuttgart Declaration of 1945 and Karl Jasper's 1946 book, what has happened
since then? And what about the German Catholics?The list members' responses
to my questions proved to be highly interesting and very suggestive of issues
requiring further study.One common point raised by most who responded was:
there has not been a survey done of this topic. I am aware of a
PhD dissertation underway on the topic of collective guilt and
collective responsibility by Suzanne Fleming-Brown (University of
Maryland,College Park); and there are, to be sure, works addressing
various aspects of the so-called "Schuldfrage", but not a comprehensive
or historical review of this question.Interestingly enough, while I was
compiling your responses to my questions, on another list (H-ANTISEMITISM), a
woman, who recently "discovered" that she may be distantly related to
Martin Luther, publicly apologised for her ancestor's antisemitic remarks and
possible connection with the alleged "eliminationist"antisemitism of
National Socialism.This touches on several aspects of the Schuldfrage.
First, it raises the question of responsibility and accountability by
succeeding generations. Elie Wiesel's response to this woman was that
the children of the perpetrators are not and should not be held responsible -
even if a connection with Luther and Nazism could be made. This, of course,
raises another set of questions: is it possible to make a teleological
connection between Luther's antisemitism and Hitler? and what about
Protestant (or more generally Christian,including Catholic) theology and the
Holocaust - both during and after?While I was waiting for answers to my
original query, the Vatican held a gathering of 60 international scholars
("Roots of Anti-Judaism in the Christian world" under the aegis of the
Theological-Historical Commission of the Central Committee for the
Jubilee Year 2000) to discuss strains of antisemitism within the
Church's teachings, which focussed attention on the questions of
the Schuldfrage(n).A New York Times' article, 1 November, attributed this
conference,in part, to the recent declaration of the French bishops and
"a similar apology made several years ago by Germany's bishops".The text
referred to by the NYT was a statement issued on 24 April 1995 by the German
bishops "zum Gedenken an das Ende des Zweiten Weltkrieges vor 50 Jahren".
While this text does approach an "apology", its context, I feel, is somewhat
diluted by attempting to equate all victims of National Socialism, e.g.
"zahllose Soldaten"and "fast 12 Millionen Deutsche die muessten von
der heranrueckenden Front fliehen oder wurden aus ihrer Heimat vertrieben".
While this review of the Schuldfrage(n) has proved interesting, I still
remain unsatisfied. I do not claim to be a theologian, nor do I understand
the inner workings of the Church, but it seems to me that the Church(es)
could be a little more forthcoming with a public reconciling of its apparent
"silence" (for lack of a better word)during the Holocaust. While I
sympathize with all the victims of Nazism and of the Second World War, and I
dislike a hierarchy of victimization, it seems to me that the persecution and
attempted mass murder of the European Jews constitute a unique category
of victims. And while I remain undecided as to the concept of"collective
guilt", a complex social and moral dilemma, perhaps rephrasing it as
"collective responsibility to the past", may be more appropriate. Isn't that
the heart of the term"Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung"? I would welcome any and
all in-put.I would like to thank Rev John Hughes for providing me with
a wealth of material on this subject, and his willingness actively to discuss
these issues."Rob Levy(Ed: Rob Levy will be glad to supply bibliographical
references to the above. General replies can be addressed to the whole List, or to Rob Levy =
3) Note on religious education in Germany:"Denominational religious
instruction is not an outmoded privilege of the churches, but rather a
necessary responsibility of the secular state". Underscoring the leading role
of the churches in "Germany's democratic order", Chancellor Helmut Kohl
strongly endorsed the tradition of making religious education available in
Germany's public schools in his speech at the opening of the
Evangelical Church's General Synod on Sunday 2 November. Except
in Brandenburg, German parents have the option of having their children
receive church-supervised religious education as part of their school
studies. Brandenburg's replacement of confessional instruction with courses
in ethics and philosophy is a "scandal"according to the Chancellor, who
added that he could not understand why the arguments against religious
instruction in the schools are not being challenged more vigorously.(From
This Week in Germany - November 7,1997)
4) Book reviews:a) Anke Silomon, Synode und SED-Staat. Die Synode des
Bundes der Evangelischen Kirchen in der DDR in Goerlitz vom 18. bis
22.September 1987. (Arbeiten zur kirchlichen Zeitgeschichte. Reihe B:
Darstellungen Bd. 24). Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1997. 458 pp.This
volume was produced under the auspices of the Evangelische Kirche in
Deutschland as one response to the sensational and wounding allegations of
complicity between the churches in the former East Germany and the SED's
notorious agency, the Stasi.Coming to terms with the record of the forty
years endured by the churches under Communist rule is a mammoth task, for
which these churches, apparently, had neither the resources, nor the will,
to undertake in a systematic and objectively scholarly fashion. So instead,
the EKD's council agreed to publish a "Stichprobe" which would clearly
illustrate the complexity of the relationship between church officials and
the SED regime, and would indicate the extent to which the former had
succumbed to, or resisted, the intrusive machinations of the latter.For this
purpose, the deliberations of the 1987 Synod of the Federation of East German
Churches were chosen for close scrutiny and analysis. Two young researchers
were given the task of assessing all the available documentation, so as to
avoid a one-sided reliance on the Stasi records alone, as had been the case
in the much criticized book by Professor G.Besier and Stephan
Wolf,"Pfarrer,Christen und Katholiken. Das Ministerium fur Staatssicherheit
und die Kirchen", (1991). The records of this Synod seemed to offer the
opportunity to present a microcosm of the whole eventful period by clearly
indicating the kind of forces and pressures which were expressed both openly
and behind the scenes. The objective was to clarify the extent to which
the behaviour of the churches on this particular occasion could lend support
to the charges of subservience and collaboration with the regime, or
alternatively justify the claim that the churches' activities were an
integral part of the resistance movement which, two years later, successfully
toppled the regime in what has been called the"Protestant Revolution".The
result is now published in the prestigious series of Darstellungen put out by
the EKD's Arbeitsgemeinschaft für kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, which arose out
of the earlier desire to provide scholarly studies of the Protestant churches
under National Socialism, and is now extending its work beyond 1945.In 1987
the SED appeared to be fully in command. No one foresaw its future collapse
only two years later. Its foreign policy seemed successful, and its control
over internal dissidents was highly developed through the vast network of
informers deployed by the Stasi. Nevertheless the churches remained objects
of suspicion,being allegedly manipulated or at least influenced by West
German or other foreign opponents of the G.D.R. state. For their part,
the churches were conscious of their increasingly problematic situation with
markedly declining support, internal dissension, and differences in the ranks
between their expectations and the reality they had to face. All these
factors were to be reflected in the speeches and manoeuvring at this meeting
in the small town of Goerlitz.One of the central, but controversial themes of
the Synod was the question of "Witnessing for Peace". Earlier the churches
had declared their vocal opposition to the concepts of mutual deterrence, the
deployment of nuclear weapons and the militarisation of the education system.
Such policies would contradict Christian doctrine, would be disastrous for
the populations of central Europe as the first victims of any such escalation
of military hostilities, and would further frustrate the long-held desire of
the churches to seek reconciliation between the peoples of the two Germanies.
The SED regime was particularly concerned lest the Synod should be used as a
focal point for rallying resistance to its so-called "Peace Policies". A
whole team of officials was therefore mobilized to interview Synod delegates
in order to persuade them to adopt the "correct" ideas needed for the"defence
of Socialism", as the SED Party saw it. The leaders of the churches were also
to be left in no doubt about the Party's wishes,with the clear warning that
the church meeting should not be"misused" for political purposes, lest the
earlier "fruitful relationship" between the state and the churches be
endangered."Negative forces" were to be kept under close surveillance by
the Stasi's informers, including several high-ranking churchmen (here listed
in the book's index), who were expected to send in extensive reports,
including the proposed texts to be brought forward by the alleged
"reformers'. So too the officials of the regime's fellow-travelling
Christian Democratic Party were told off to seek to influence Synod delegates
along the right lines, and to report back. The extensive paper trail left by
all these carefully-planned measures is here documented in the book's
appendices. But there is no evidence at all that any delegate's mind was
changed. The whole massive effort was a failure.The actual debates of the
Synod, as the regime feared, soon took on a highly explosive character,
centring around the "Witness for Peace" theme. Silomon gives a day-to-day,
blow-by-blow account with extracts from many of the speeches, so that a
comprehensive picture emerges. On the one hand, the frustrations
and resentments of the more idealist delegates were expressed in moral and
theological terms. On the other side, prudent caution and expediency
characterized the church leaders' responses, even when they sympathized with
the intent. Because of the diversity of views expressed, the conclusion can
hardly be sustained, either that the Synod delegates were all intimidated by
the SED's pressure to be mere accomplices of the regime, nor that the Church
stood up resolutely for revolutionary change. Rather the debates show
a remarkably open climate of high-minded consideration for a church caught up
in a repressive system and anxious to present a faithful and thoughtful
witness which would be true to the Gospel and responsive to perceived needs
of their society. In other words, the delegates refused to be cow-towed into
a pietistic self-centred concern with personal salvation, as the regime would
have wished. On the other hand, they were also cognisant that the pastoral
needs of their followers should not be endangered by flamboyant challenges to
the existing political structures.Silomon's detailed account of the Synod
itself is followed by two interesting chapters on the reactions, first within
the churches, and then by the regime's officials. The Synod's organisers
hoped that its moderate tone would lend strength to their moral appeals. But
the fact that, for the first time, the Synod had publicly discussed
issues critical of the government afforded a platform around which
new opposition groups were able to mobilize. The dilemma of the church
hierarchy in trying to play a reconciling role was therefore only made more
acute.For its part, the regime reacted with increased irritation
and suspicion against the "provocative" statements of such churchmen as
Provost Falcke. The Politburo itself resolved on steps to counteract the
Synod's "negative campaign". The hardliners in the Party stuck to their rigid
position that no concessions to the churches should be made, regardless of
the consequences. The subsequent escalation of measures to quash popular
dissatisfaction,both in or outside the churches, only served to discredit
the more conciliatory approach of the SED's State Secretary for
Church Affairs, Gysi. Not long afterwards, Gysi was summarily
dismissed.Silomon's conclusion is evenly balanced. The Synod delegates
gave expression to the popular and widespread concern about the regime's
policies, but for moral not political reasons. On the other hand, the church
leaders' caution was prompted, not by complicity, but by awareness that the
SED could, and did, implement even harsher measures against the churches.
Anyone wanting to see this Synod in a broader and more theological
perspective would do well to turn to the new book by Gregory Baum, The Church
for Others.Protestant Theology in Communist East Germany, Eerdmann Publishing
Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan 1996.J.S.C
b) R.Laechele, Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Glaube: die 'Deutsche Christen' in
Wuerttemberg 1925-1960. (Quellen und Forschungen zur wuerttembergischen
Kirchengeschichte, Bd 12), Stuttgart:Calwer Verlag 1994. PP xi + 319.One
facet of the German Church Struggle receiving more attention lately is the
attempt to fuse Christianity and Nazism, spearheaded by the 'German
Christian' movement. North American members of this Association will be
familiar with Doris Bergen's Twisted Cross (Newsletter April 1996), but may
not be acquainted with another new contribution by Rainer Laechele. He has
produced a comprehensive survey of the 'German Christian' movement
in Wuerttemberg, the first such study of its kind since Helmut Baier's1968
survey of the movement in Bavaria and Reijo Heinonen's 1978 analysis of the
'German Christians' in Bremen._Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Glaube_ is broad in
scope. In a series of chronological chapters, Laechele traces the origins of
the 'German Christans' in the volkisch-religious groups of late Weimar
Germany and follows them right through their heyday in the Third Reich and on
into the West German era, where he explores an array of successor
movements.Laechele contends that the 'German Christians' attracted clergy
and laity who held a nationalist, anti-Jewish, anti-bolshevist,
anti-liberal and anti-pacifist mindset. However, their attempt to take over
the Wuerttemberg Land Church failed largely because the Land Bishop,Theophil
Wurm, launched his own pre-emptive "seizure of power".According to Laechele,
the set-backs of 1933 and 1934 led to the ascendancy of ideological radicals
and provoked the movement to consider an outright rejection of the state
church. Interestingly, he adds that the 'German Christians' were virtually
unaffected by the most important initiative of their Confessing Church
rivals, namely the Barmen Declaration of May 1934. He supports this view with
a quotation from a non-'German Christian' pastor, who depicted Barmen as a
"church-political concoction" which came partly from the ivory tower and
partly from the negotiating table.Between 1934 and 1936, 'German Christians'
were increasingly marginalised and their members maligned as pietist,
marxist, freethinkers or Catholic in orientation. Laechele illustrates
the deepening division within the Land Church prior to the war, using the case
of Pastor Georg Schneider of Stuttgart. Schneider's racialist vision of a
modern, supra-confessional church devoid of any preaching of the miraculous
was enthusiastically supported by many urban parishioners. For its part, the
Land Church government was torn between granting concessions to Schneider and
exercising church discipline against him. In the end, Schneider's
on-going presence opened the door to all manner of ceremonial innovations as
well as an intensive campaign for 'German Christians' to withdraw from the
Land Church. All this at a time when the Nazi Party was growing more
antagonistic towards any form of Christianity. After the outbreak of war,
'German Christians' readily volunteered for military service, thus adding to
the universal shortage of clergy.The church-political conflict cooled as
Germany's fortunes waned and all ecclesiastical activity dwindled under the
Allied invasion.Ultimately their fate was that of falling between two
stools, for both the Nazi leadership and the Wuerttemberg Land
Church establishment rejected the 'German Christian' attempt to
synthesize Nazism and Christianity. Following the conclusion of the war,
the Wuerttemberg Supreme Church Council dismissed around 50 clergy with
'German Christian' orientations, though some later returned to the ministry.
The most interesting aspect of the fate of the 'German Christian' movement,
however, was its continuation after the war, both within and outside the Land
Church. 'German Christians' survived by couching their ideas in theological
debates and, ironically, by arguing that they had preserved Christianity
in the hostile atmosphere of the National Socialist regime.One of the
strengths of Laechele's account in his ability to write the history of the
'German Christians' at different levels, effectively employing biography and
local history in the service of his analysis. For instance, Immanuel
Schairer is presented as an example of a 'German Christian' theologian, just
as Georg Schneider is used to demonstrate the increasing radicalization of
the movement, the mixed reaction of the Land Church, and ultimately the fate
of leading 'German Christians' after the fall of Nazism. The town of Aalen
serves Laechele as an example of the difficulties of establishing a local
'German Christian' chapter (though he never really explains what the 'German
Christians' there undertook to do). Finally, the career of Dekan Riedler of
Schorndorf is depicted in order to illustrate the price paid by 'German
Christians' for opposing Land Bishop Wurm, and the extent to which the
church-political conflict was carried right down into the parishes.Laechele
falls short, however, in his attempt to connect the history of the 'German
Christians' to their political, social and ideological context. He does well
to explain the volkisch-nationalist background of the leaders of the movement
(many were World War I veterans) and suggests that their lack of advancement
within the Land Church hierarchy might have contributed to their antipathy
for the official church. However Doris Bergen's subsequent attention to the
ideological aspects of the 'German Christian' movement throughout Germany -
its anti-Jewish, anti-theological, anti-feminist, and anti-Catholic
tendencies - suggests that Laechele could have addressed these issues more
fully in Wuerttemberg.Nonetheless, as a history of the movement in one
German Land Church, Laechele's work is most stimulating. It describes
the 'German Christians' not simply as theological strawmen for the Confessing
Church, but as participants in a concerted attempt to unite Christianity and
German culture. It was the attraction of that Christian-nationalist hybrid
that ensured the 'German Christians'would find continued support even after
the fall of Nazism.Kyle Jantzen, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon.
5) Coming to terms with the past in JenaIn a recent issue, DAS PARLAMENT
reported on a symposium held in Jena to debate the fate of the peace movement
there in the early 1980s. Herewith an extract: "Ein wichtiger, immer
wiederdiskutierte Punkt was das Verhaltnis von Kirchen undFriedensgruppen.
Zwar bot die evangelische Kirche den Friedensgruppen einen gewissen
Schutzraum, aber schon bald kames zu Konflikten mit der Kirchenleitung, die
um das gute Verhaltnis zum Staat besorgt war. Versuche, in
Kirchenraumen Friedenbekenntnisse zu verlesen oder gar Friedensgottesdienste
zu gestalten, stiessen immer haufiger auf Widerstand, teils mit
der Begrunding, die Konzepte seien politisch und nicht vereinbar
mit religioser Liturgie.Anderseits gab es an der Basis zahlreiche Pfarrer und
kirchliche Mitarbeiter, die das Evangelium wortlich namhen, sich fur
die Friedensarbeit einsetzten und damit automatisch politische
Position bezogen. Viele Jugendliche empfanden dennoch Kirche eher als Kontroll
statt als Schutzraum und zogen sich zuruck. Die in Nachhinein
bekanntgewordene Stasi-Verstickung von Kirchenmitarbeitern and Amtstragern in
Thuringen verhartete das Verhaltnis weiter. Oberkirchenrat Udo Siebert, der
in den 80er Jahren Superintendent in Jena war und der den
oppositionelle Bewegungen seine private Raume zur Verfugung gestellt hatte,
sahsich jetzt in der makabren Situation, das damalige Verhalten
der Kirchenleitung erklaren und verteidigen zu mussen. Pfarrer
Walter Schilling, Nestor der Offenen Arbeit in der DDR, warnte
vor Selbstgerechtigkeit und undifferenzierten, holzschnittartigen Urteilen,
die nicht berucksichtigen, das der Leitungsapparat der Kirche mit diesem
Anspruch uberfordert war."
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With best wishes to you for 1998.
John S.Conway