Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

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Newsletter- June 1998- Vol. IV, no. 6

 

Newsletter - Vol IV, no 6 - June 1998

 

Dear Friends,

Please forgive the delay in sending you this Newsletter, due to my absencein Europe forthe past month.

 

Contents: 1) Historisches Kolleg Colloquium, Munich,May 17-20th (Report submitted by Greg Munro) 2) Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte 1997/2 3) Book reviews a) G.Beck, Bistumspresse in Hesse b) V.Synan, Pentecostalism 4) Journal articles: Ustorf, German Missions Greschat, Euopean Unity

1)A Colloquium held in Munich last month, organised byProfessor Gerhard Besier, was designed to widen the scope ofinvestigations on the theme of "Nationaler Revolution andmilitarischer Aggression. Transformationen in Kirche und Gesellschaft unter der konsolidierten NS-Gewaltherrschaft 1934-39". We began with a provocative paper by Hans Mommsen, outlining the significance to the Nazi leaders, especially Hitler, of the ideological/religious struggle. This was followed by a sound examination by Gerhard Ringshausien of the various resistance movements, and the differing interpretations of their activities and motives in the writings of both their contemporaries and of subsequent generations of historians. If the early analyses were dominated by the accounts of the National Conservative resistance members, especially the German officer corps, (Fabian Schlabrendorff, Offiziere gegen Hitler, 1946), and by the eschatological interpretation of Nazism (J.Neuhausler, Kreuz und Hakenkreuz, 1946), these were followed in the 1950s by the more differentiated picture drawn by Gerhard Ritter in his biography of Carl Goerdeler, who was certainly motivated by the need to defend an ethical system derived from the Christian faith, but also by his loathing of tyranny. In the 1970s and 1980s, with the ascendancy of the social sciences, there was a far greater stress on a sociological analysis of the resistance movement. But this in turn attracted considerable criticism from such historians as Klemens v.Klemperer and Peter Hoffmann, who insist of the importance of the religious and moral motivations of those individuals who took up arms against the Nazi regime. Klaus Mallmann (Universitat Essen) delivered an interesting paper on the Gestapo and the Churches. The evidence contained in the regularly compiled Berichte uber die weltanschauliche Lage im Reich, shows that already from 1934, the Gestapo regarded the churches as one of the most serious opponents of the Nazi state. Their powers were thus used to undertake an escalating persecution of all the churches, restrained only by various tactical considerations, as during the war-time period. But as Robert Gellately has shown, they skilfully made use of the information relayed by informants or through denunciations, and successfully infiltrated a substantial number of church assemblies, including the Fulda Bishops' Conference, as well as exploiting numerousVertrauensmanner, quite often retired priests.Julius Schoeps' paper on "Nationalsozialismus als politische Religion" traced the arguments in his book with this title (PhiloVerlag), and caused a lively discussion. He argued that Nazism could only really be properly understood if one acknowledged its religious dimensions, derived from the volkisch roots of Nazism combined with the exaltation of the nation. Hans Mommsen was critical of the application of the word "religion" to describe Nazism and suggested that the movement was better understood as an ideological cult. But what constitutes "religion"? One key aspect not addressed here were the various schools of German theology which certainly played a significant role in the churches'understanding and response to Nazism. The conference gained from the broader perspective provided by analyses of church responses outside Germany. Karl Schwarz (U of Vienna) described the tensions between the highly articulate Protestant minority in Austria and the Roman Catholic majority. While Austrian Catholics generally supported the Standesstaat ideology of the Austrian Republic, Austrian Protestants were frequently enthusiastic proponents of the Nazi regime after 1933.Clearly both groups supported the Anschluss in 1938. However,the idea of a Grossdeutschland under Nazi leadership appeared to elicit more enthusiasm from the Protestants. Referring to HansMommsen's thesis of a radicalization of the Nazi movement from1938, Schwarz noted that Austria was an important laboratory, where the deconfessionalization of public life was carried out with even greater rigour when compared to the anti-clerical measures enacted before 1938 in Germany. And this pattern was to be continued in occupied Poland in 1939. Andrew Chandler (George Bell Institute, Birmingham, UK) read a fine paper on "The Attitude of the British Churches towards the political and church situation in Germany", making clear that theBritish churches became ever more critical of the Nazi regime from 1933 onwards. They quickly identified the dangers of totalitarianism and atheism, and totally rejected the ethos of violence and racism. On the other hand, the British church leaders were reluctant to interfere in another church's affairs, and were also subject to the mood of appeasement widespread at the time. During the Sudeten crisis of September 1938, most churches held special services with prayers for divine guidance. Neville Chamberlain's apparent success in securing an agreement with Hitler seemed to justify such hopes. However, the pogrom of November 1938 and the German occupation of Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939 led to a complete disillusionment with the Nazi state.A similar response was to be seen in the North American churches, as reported by John Conway. Here too the churches were strongly inclined to a pacifist stance which went hand in hand with American isolationism. In the initial years of the Nazi dictatorship the Lutheran church press in America was sympathetic towards the Nazi regime, and there was even a tendency to accept the apologies of the Nazi propagandists who presented the Nazi regime as a bastion of Christian anti-Communist morality. But from 1934, opposition to the Nazi regime grew considerably,especially notably over the imprisonment of Martin Niemoller in1937. Prominent journals such as the Christian Century rightly noted that the Nazi attacks on Christians and Jews were companion evils. The church was therefore called to a simultaneous (and unprecedented) support of the persecuted Jews, as well as of their own members. However the call for a militant stand against Nazism was weakened by a tendency to believe that Nazi actions were not due to Hitler but to the radical wing of the party. Many North Americans also supported the appeasement policies of the British and French governments until the pogrom of November 1938. Thereafter their moral outrage at such events outweighed the lingering desire to uphold a pacifist stance, and hence these churches were ready to take up arms again in 1939-41in defence of both democracy and God. In his introductory remarks, Gerhard Besier had stressed the needt o take more seriously the theological aspects of the Church Struggle. However, it was disappointing that more of these did not emerge during the proceedings. I would have liked to see more attention given to the Roman Catholic Church's part in the Church Struggle. As the devil's advocate, Doris Bergen raised the questionas to why the Church Struggle is studied with such care when the Church seemed to be relatively powerless to affect the course of events. This occasioned considerable discussion about the role of the historian in making moral judgements. It was argued that,s ince the Church had played such a formative role in European history, the reasons for its eclipse and decline in power were especially worthy of study. Moreover, as a central component of the European intellectual tradition, the fate of the Christian faithmust remain a central concern of historians.

Greg Munro, Catholic University, Brisbane, Australia

2) The latest issue of Kirchliche Zeitgechichte 1997/2 has anumber of articles relating to our field of interest, which will repay close scrutiny. It also contains the texts of papers given in English by two of Gerhard Besier's younger colleagues, Gerhard Lindemann and Christian Binder at last year's meeting of the German Studies Association on Christians of Jewish Descent in the Nazi Period, and their regrettable treatment by the local church authorities. Bob Ericksen contributes a thoughtful commentary.

3a) Gottfried Beck, Die Bistumspresse in Hessen und der Nationalsozialismus 1930-1941,(Vervffentlichungen der Kommission für Zeitgeschichte, Reihe B:Forschungen, Bd 72)Paderborn: Ferdinand Schvningh 1996. 478 pp DM (This review appeared in the Catholic Historical Review, Vol LXXXIV, no1, January 1998, 139-41.) The German Catholic Commission for Contemporary History is continuing its well-established custom of publishing dissertations by young Catholic scholars, whose work is thereby given the extra prestige of appearing in this excellently-edited and finely-produced series of research studies. But, as before, readers should be aware that the overall theme is to provide an apologetic defence of Catholic policies during the Nazi era. Gottfried Beck has examined in depth the weekly Catholic press published in the region of Hesse, covering the three dioceses of Limburg, Fulda and Mainz. He thereby supplements the various studies of a similar character for other areas of Germany, and provides another mosaic stone to the picture already built up. His stance is basically to reject both the hagiographical approach adopted in the immediate post-war years, and the highly critical attacks of foreigners who saw the Catholic press as no more than a willing instrument for the propagation of pro-Nazi ideas. Instead he begins his account in 1930 in order to show the ambivalence ofthe Catholic editors during the downfall of the Weimar Republic. Despite a clear repudiation of Nazi ideological and political radicalism - most firmly expressed by the Bishop of Mainz, Ludwig Hugo - nevertheless there was an awareness that democratic republicanism was unable to provide strong government, and hence a certain sympathy for the Nazi goal of authoritarian leadership. In 1933 these editors shared most of the illusions about the nature of the new regime, and about the Concordat signed in July. The bishops' reversal in late March on the question of Catholics joining the Nazi Party only added to the confusion. Previous reservations about the Nazis' extreme nationalism and totalitarian ambitions were abandoned in view of the general euphoria, The shock and dismay at the rapidly implemented regulations issued by Goebbels' new Ministry of Propaganda were therefore all the more devastating. The Catholic press now found itself "gleichgeschaltet" and subject to arbitrary interventions or prohibitions. Beck rightly notes that the Catholic reaction was one of bewilderment and lack of purposeful planning. The editors' determination to combat Rosenberg's campaign for the "new heathendom" was matched by their desire not to be branded as traitors to the new vision of national renewal. Unwilling to admit that the wishful thinking of the Concordat had been a mistake, the church leaders were unable torally their followers to the kind of outright opposition expressed towards the governments of the Soviet Union, Spain or Mexico. On the other hand, a conformist approach seemed to offer the best hope of preventing increased regulation or interference. Beck provides a plethora of examples of how these editors steered a careful line, and increasingly how they (and their readers) were obliged to "read between the lines". But such compromises availed them little, and on fact only revealed the Catholics 'dilemma more clearly. Reticence and abstention became the tone for their utterances on the Nazis' most radical measures, such as the discrimination against and persecution of the Jews. The bishops' hesitant lead, even in defending Catholic rights, such as in the field of education, was faithfully followed by the church press. The whole sad story is meticulously laid out from the examples here provided. To be sure, some editors sought to adopt a defensive position, rather than give away hostages to fortune, But their influence was progressively diminished, and their continued readiness to uphold their belief in the state and its powers, including their support of the war effort after 1939, only furtherc ompromised their stance. Beck does not claim that his study of Hesse breaks new ground. This regional press in fact differed little from that of other areas. But his thorough analysis of the editorial utterances is a useful addition to our general knowledge. His conclusion, with hindsight, that the failure to confront the evils of Nazism more forcibly owed much to the continuity of Catholic attitudes from the1920s with its disapproval of democratic liberalism is certainly correct but only reinforces the view that German Catholics were caught up in an ambivalent and ultimately morally disastrous conflict of loyalties. His claim that the church press should be recognised as having played a significant role in resisting Naziideological pretensions is in line with the view adopted by other authors in this series of volumes. But even so, the general failure of German Catholics to take a stand against this nefarious government and its atrocities cannot be denied. The record is a sobering example of the weakness of religious convictions when confronted by the criminal acts of a totalitarian regime. JSC

 

3b) Vinson Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition. Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans 1997 340pp $25. US Dean Vinson Synan has recently issued an updated revision of his scholarly treatment of the Pentecostalist movement, which first appeared in 1971. In view of the enormous and rapid spread of this form of Christian witness during the last three decades, this new account is most welcome. In Synan's view, Pentecostalism has now grown out of its impulsive beginnings to become a firmly established tradition, which deserves to be taken more seriously as it moves along the spectrum discerned by Troeltsch from an irrelevant sect to a major church. Synan seeks to anchor the Pentecostalists firmly in the earlier experience of the "baptism in the Holy Spirit" which indeed was part of the public liturgy for at least eight centuries after the Day of Pentecost. It also owes much to both Catholic and Anglican mystical traditions. But, above all, Synan shows that its formative influence derives from John Wesley and the kind of holiness spirituality practised by his Methodist followers, including the famous Keswick Connection. He describes the developments in the United States during the 19th century, where an increasing populist discontent with the dominant eastern political establishment, along with a backlash among the lower classes against the liberal intellectual leadership of the churches, led to numerous attempts to return to a spontaneity of religious fervour. This historical emphasis is a useful correction for those who have regarded Pentecostalism with disdain, or as the product of an over-enthusiastic Californian extravaganza. To be sure, the scenes in the run-down shack on Azuza Street, Los Angeles in April 1906 were extraordinary enough to shock both respectable church-goers and non-believers alike. Theaccent on the "gift of tongues" and the accompanying frenzy of religious devotion were extreme even for Los Angeles, with its numberless varieties of creeds and sects. Leadership at Azuza Street was taken by a coloured preacher, W.J. Seymour, whose gifts to arouse religious enthusiasm with a stress on "speaking in tongues"would today rightly be called charismatic. By the summer's end people of all races and nationalities were caught up in the revival, which notably ignored the colour-bar prevalent in so many other United States churches. The power and attractiveness of its enthusiasms quickly spread abroad, and led to literally thousands of similar "Spirit-filled" sects springing up around the globe. It clearly filled a need not catered to by more structured churches. The reason, Synan suggests, was that Pentecostalism was truly the child of the holiness movement which itself was the child of Methodism, all of them stressing the Wesleyan view of sanctification and Christian perfection. Synan ably traces the stages by which the Pentecostal movement managed, despite intense divisions, to become a coherent and attractive denomination. The early hostility against the "holy rollers" eventually subsided when it became apparent that Pentecostalism constituted no threat to either the political or ecclesiastical hierarchies. And within the sect, fears that any structured authority would quench the spontaneous outpouring of the Spirit gave way to a recognition of the advantages of national and even international organization. Despite the histrionics of such figures as Aimee Semple MacPherson, more moderate pastors steered the worshippers' fervent ecstasy into worthier channels of devotion. At the same time, the warmth and sincerity of their worship services continued to attract large followings even when the first wave of preachers passed from the scene. In his final section, describing the new developments within Pentecostalism since his first edition came out, Synan outlines the various factors evident in the most recent years: first, Pentecostalism's impact on the more established churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, through the charismatic movement, clearly resulting in a deepening of loyalty and faithfulness; second, its acceptance into middle-class educated circles, as seen in the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship, where testimonies to the rewardsfor spirit-filled persons could be combined with upholding the American capitalist ethos; third, the widening of horizons to include fellowship with such liberal bodies as the World Council of Churches, with leadership given by David Du Plessis. In the last two decades, the astonishing and rapid spread of Pentecostal communities, first in Latin America and more latterly in the former Communist eastern Europe, produced a "third wave" of remarkable vitality. Trying to hold all these differing and sometimes divergent congregations has so far proved difficult, all the more since no clear doctrine of church discipline or authority has been agreed to. A key factor in the expansion of Pentecostalism was the appearance of unexpected waves of revival, constituting sources of both tension and growth. A recent example can be seen in the astounding phenomenon of Toronto Airport's Vineyard Church with its "Toronto blessing". How to maintain the revolutionary fervour of the "latter rain" movement, while at the same time making its adherents more aware of their social and political obligations, is now the prime task of Pentecostalist leaders. Even though he is certainly well aware of the dangers of fissiparous and individualistic trends within the Pentecostalist tradition, Synan optimistically concludes with the belief that "Christian affairs of the twenty-first century may be largely in the hands of surging Pentecostalist churches in the Third World and a Roman Catholicism inspired and revivified by the charismatic renewal". JSC.

 

4a) Werner Ustorf, in the Journal of Religion in Africa, XXVIII, 1(1998), describes the regrettable stance taken by the leading German missiologists during the Nazi period towards the planned reversion of former German colonies and the impact on the missions there. He analyses the overlapping areas of contiguity between the missions and the Nazi racial attitudes, giving examples of the behaviour of Walter Freytag and other leading figures.

 

4b) Martin Greschat, in Pastoraltheologie Vol 87 (1998) outlines the contribution of Protestantism to the development of European Unity after 1945, concentrating on the German, Dutch, French and Scandinavian churches, as well as the ecumenical bodies such as the Conference of European Churches and the World Council. He describes the dilemma for the churches as to how to be both relevant and credible in these new pan-European structures without being captivated by any of the prevailing political ideological campaigns.

 

With every best wish

 

John S.Conway