Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

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Newsletter- March 1999- Vol.V, no. 3

 

Dear Friends,

 

Contents: 1) Editorial 2) Book reviews: a) L.Xi, Conversion of missionaries in China b) P. Blet, Pie XII c) L.Arrington, Adventures of a Church Historian 3) Journal articles a) M.Greschat, Widerstand 4) Another martyr commemorated

 

1) Regular readers of this Newsletter will have noticed that a lot of attention has been given to the affairs of the German churches.In part this is due to the fact that my own research interests, for the past thirty-five years, have been engaged by the complex and often tragic developments in these churches throughout this century. At the same time, it is also due to the really remarkable and continuing plethora of publications by German church historians. Few countries have been so well served by their church historians as Germany, due to the well established position this field has in university circles, as well as to the generous support from a number of highly reputable publishers. The number of impressive volumes which appear every year is quite outstanding, and as such sets a good example to all of us in other countries, where alas the external circumstances are not so favourable. But of course we must also add that the appetite among readers must also be responsible, which is an excellent sign. Paradoxically, this interest in church history seems to be growing at a time when the effects of a secularised retreat from church allegiance, especially in the"new" provinces in Germany, is notable. As Andreas Holzem pointed out in the recent issue of the journal KirchlicheZeitgeschichte (p.70), "the immense research publications since the beginning of the 1960s undertaken by the Catholic Kommission fur Zeitgeschichte have explored the development,organisation and activity of Catholicism as a social force from the background of its social change and the political events and catastrophes of the 19th and 20th centuries. Such works have contributed significantly to a true evaluation of the Church's stance, even though so far the undoubted fact of the erosion of its position in society has not been tackled as a subject for research"The same could largely be said of the Protestant community in Germany too. Yet, at the same time, the vitality of all these scholarly endeavours does much to contradict the assumptions of many secular historians, in both Europe and North America. As the distinguished Harvard church historian, William Hutchison noted in the same issue of Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte (p. 139), "European historians have been sure that religion in the modern era simply cannot be important. [They] have not merely ignored religion; until quite recently they thought that, in most of Europe, religion had done the decent thing and died out. A correlative idea was that the Americans, being more innocent and foolish, had not yet extirpated the infamous thing but would do so in time". So in fact, these German efforts, as for instance in such series as Konfession und Gesellschaft, have helped to put the subject of religious history back into the historiographical picture, for which we should all be grateful. My object, in editing this Newsletter, has been to try and maintain an international and interdenominational balance, while at the same time keeping abreast of the new publications. Since Germany has produced, and still produces, so many new works, I expect we shall still have a preponderance from this one country, but trust you find the reviews of these impressive achievements to be of help. However, this month, I am very glad to have contributions about other churches for you, and want to express my thanks to Cyril Powles and Jay Hughes for their valuable assessments. Editor

 

2a) Lian Xi, The Conversion of Missionaries: Liberalism in American Protestant Missions in China, 1907-1932.University Park,PA: Penn.State U.Press, 1997 xiv +247 pp This is an interesting book for several reasons. It is written by a scholar from mainland China who was attracted to the subject through contact with an American professor at his university (Fujian Normal). The author does not seem to have any connection with the present Christian movement in China, but writes from the stand-point of someone looking at the missionary movement from the non-Christian Chinese side. At the same time, he takes exception to the conventional wisdom in his country that Christian missions represented a "disguised cultural imperialist thrust across the Pacific". Such a position, he feels, "detracts from the richness of the story of the missionary movement." (xi) His thesis that contact with Chinese culture changed certain missionaries from an initially aggressive fundamentalism to a more open ("liberal") attitude toward non-Christian religion is interesting, particularly for the early dating of this change, though there are certain problems with his analysis. The book is divided into two parts. An Introduction sets out the author's plan and states his thesis, that "the self-sufficiency and vitality of the Oriental traditions challenged the nineteenth-century view of heathen wretchedness . . .[and] undermined the confidence and sense of purpose, or 'cut the nerve' (as conservative missionaries repeatedly warned), of American Protestant missions." (10) The first three chapters give case studies of three early missionaries - Edward H.Hume, a medical missionary, Frank J.Rawlinson, an evangelist, and Pearl Buck, in education - who began their careers in the early part of this century as conventional evangelicals but later became so 'liberal' (the author's term) that they could no longer remain within their denominational mission. The second part, also consisting of three chapters,generalizes from the three cases to argue that the trend toward liberalism spread among other missionaries, many of whom returned to the US to propagate a new gospel of the "union of Religions" (the title of Chapter 6). This process coincided with the emergence of biblical criticism and the social gospel in America and led to tensions, not only within denominational missionary headquarters, but within the denominations as a whole. Fundamentalism as a theological position arose as a reaction tot his process, resulting in a polarization between conservatives and liberals. The latter saw Christianity as one religion among many and, in the Chinese situation, sought to produce a union between American Christianity and Confucianism-Taoism-Buddhism which the author (borrowing a term from the conservatives) labels as 'syncretism'. The majority, however, both in the mission-field and at home, probably stood somewhere in between the two extremes. This middle-of-the-road position resulted in a new theology of mission which included a push toward ecumenism, as missionaries in the field established organs of cooperation like the National Christian Council and the Church of Christ in China. A strong motive for accommodation cam from the rise of nationalism following the overthrow of the Manchu Dynasty. This nationalism, strongly anti-religious in nature, focussed on the missionary institutions as representative of foreign domination and the hated unequal treaties. The liberal missionaries reacted by pushing for more Chinese leadership in the institutions and with sympathy for China's ancient religious traditions. In the light of later experience, it is ironic that this resulted in the "liberals"identifying with the very elites (represented by leaders like ChiangKai-shek) who would form the resistance to liberation following the end of the Pacific War. Only a few of them (in this book Henry Luce represents the supporters of the Chiang regime, while Sherwood Eddy - though not so identified in this study - came to support the Communists) were able to move with Mao Zedong and Chou En-lai toward a vision of a New China. It is also interesting that the Canadian 'liberals', most of whom were grouped around West China Union University in Chengdu, tended to go with Mao. This reviewer has some difficulties with the use of the term 'liberal', and its associated expression 'syncretism', in this study.They have obviously been accepted from their critical use by conservatives, and are not exactly defined. Moreover they do not take account of the range of theological positions that would lay so-called liberals open to being so labelled. At the extreme left would be those like Pearl Buck, whose theological position one might call humanist-universalist, but from there one could go on to describe as liberals anyone who did not subscribe to biblical literalism or who could say, as most theologians of mission today would say, that God's revelation has not been confined to Christianity. As far as the term 'syncretism' is concerned, this is properly used of the amalgamation of Christianity with incompatible elements from other religions. In this study,however, it is used for what we would today call religious pluralism or relativism. Another problem, this time of emphasis, occurs in the weighing of liberalism vis-s-vis conservatism in this study. In a footnote (fn.60,p.148) the author quotes a colleague (Gu Chang-sheng) as saying that "Fundamentalists . . .continued to dominate the missionary enterprise after the 1920s". The experience of the Christian movement in China today would seem to bear this judgement out, as conservative evangelicalism predominates,especially in the rural regions. But because this is a study of liberalism, an unwary reader might conclude, as did another writer whom our author quotes, that "taken as a whole, conservatives were far 'outweighted' by liberals." [148] Some striking differences emerge when one comes to compare the history of Christianity in China with Japan. Because Christianity in Japan appealed mainly to the elites who were dispossessed at the time of the Meiji Restoration of 1867,missionaries were forced to recognise Japanese leadership at a much earlier date in the eighties and nineties of the last century.The Meiji government, which had established its own religious authority in a divine emperor, kept tight control of organs like education, prohibiting religious education in mission schools in 1899, a full generation before similar legislation in China. At a popular level, there is a curious way in which missionaries in China identified more closely with their country of adoption than did those in Japan. The continental culture seems to have been able to accept foreigners, making them feel at home more easily than did the tightly knit society of Japan. Or perhaps, as this book argues,Chinese culture was self-confident enough to accept foreign elements if they were willing to go half way.

 

Cyril Powles. Vancouver

 

2b) Pierre Blet S.J, Pie XII et la Seconde Guerre mondiale d'apresles archives du Vatican. Paris: Perrin 1997 343pp n.p The death of Pius XII on October 9, 1958, brought unanimous praise of his work for peace and relief of suffering during the Second World War. Jewish leaders repeated their thanks, which had been expressed during the war and climaxed at its conclusion,for his unremitting efforts to save their people from extermination. However, publication of Rolf Hochhuth's play "Der Stellvertreter" in 1963 reversed this positive image. Overnight the Pope became the hero of a black legend. He was here depicted as standing mute and inactive during the war, motivated either by political calculation or cowardice, in the face of bureaucratically planned mass murder which he could have prevented with a single flaming protest. In 1964, Pius' successor, Paul VI, confronted with what he knew from his own close collaboration with Pius XII throughout the war to be a grave falsification of history, ordered the publication of everything in the Vatican archives which could shed light on his predecessor's actions. An international team of four Jesuits,including the author of this book, produced twelve volumes of documents between the years 1965 and 1981. As Blet writes in his Foreword, however: "Fifteen years after the publication of the final volume many of those who speak or write about the Holy See during the war remain unaware of the contents of these volumes, or even of their existence." Blet's book is an attempt to make the record more widely known. Drawing on these volumes of Vatican documents, but also on published collections of documents from other government archives,as well as on memoirs, articles, and monographs, Blet has produced a narrative history of the Holy See's wartime role. The account is largely devoid of commentary. Blet limits his interpretation to the minimum necessary for intelligibility. A footnote at the beginning of each chapter lists the sources for the material which follows. The Pope's wartime policy was not neutrality (which could imply indifference) but impartiality, which enabled him to judge events and nations according to truth and justice. At times, however,he stretched impartiality to the limit: informing the British government in January 1940 that a group of German generals was prepared to replace Hitler if they could be assured of an honorable peace; warning Britain, France, and the Low Countries of Hitler's impending attack in May 1940. Those communications were secret. Not so the Pope's telegrams of sympathy to the Belgian and Dutch sovereigns following Hitler's attack. When Mussolini threatened the Pope with "the gravest consequences" for this supposed breach of neutrality, Pius said that he was not afraid to go to a concentration camp and had had revolvers pointed at him before (as nuncio in Munich in 1919). In the same interview the Pope said that he wanted to speak words of "flaming protest" against the well known Nazi atrocities in Poland. He had refrained only to spare the victims further suffering. Following Hitler's attack on his erstwhile ally, Stalin, in June 1941, the Pope refused repeated demands that he endorse a crusade against Bolshevism. And he assured American Catholics that while the previous papal condemnations of communist ideology remained in force, these need not limit support for the Soviet Union now invaded by a power whose leader, like Stalin, was the declared enemy of Christianity. The desire to save as many victims as possible explains the Pope's public reserve. But he was not silent. His clearest protest came in his 1942 Christmas broadcast pleading for "those hundreds of thousands who, through no fault of their own but simply by reason of their nationality or race are marked for death or progressive destruction." Well understood at the time (the speech earned the fulsome praise of the New York Times and angry condemnation by the Nazis as "one long attack on everything we stand for"), these words are either unknown today, or simply ignored. Pius repeated this protest in his speech to the Cardinals on June 2, 1943, protesting against acts deleterious for "those destined for extermination simply because of their race or nationality". For those who wanted him to speak louder or more often, he added in the same speech that everyone of his public utterances had "to be considered and weighed for its possible effect on those who are suffering". Much of this book recounts the feverish and unremitting efforts of the Holy See, through its nuncios in various countries, to save as many victims as possible. The archives report the attempts,seldom their results. Flaming protests would have been counter-productive - as the Dutch bishops learned, to their sorrow, when their public protest against Nazi persecution of the Jews in July 1942 brought immediate acceleration of the deportations to Auschwitz. In a rare comment, Blet quotes the judgment of the Israeli historian Pinchas Lapide (in his 1967 book The Last Three Popes and the Jews) that Vatican diplomacy, pursued necessarily in secrecy and directed by Pius XII, saved 860,000 Jews from death. At the 1975 Holocaust conference in Hamburg, Lapide told this reviewer that this figure was based on six months' research in the Yad Vashem Holocaust archive in Jerusalem and added: "If the leaders of other churches had done only what Pius XII did, several hundred thousand more Jews might have survived the war." Despite the dispassionate tone, the book has many dramatic high points. An English translation would be welcome. It is unlikely, however, to change many minds. Confident that they occupy the moral high ground, the critics of Pius XII have long since concluded that he is guilty as charged. They insist that his defenders prove a negative. How much of the unremitting clamour to "open the Vatican archives" is motivated by the desire to pursue scientific history? How much comes from people unwilling to be moved by evidence or facts who wish to rummage at will until they find some document which, taken out of context or read without knowledge of the conditions under which it was written, supports the verdict rendered in advance: that Pius XII is co-responsible for the death of six million Jews? Until these questions are resolved the Holy See's caution seems fully justified.

 

John Jay Hughes, Archdiocese of St Louis, Missouri, USA

 

2c) Leonard J.Arrington, Adventures of a Church Historian,Urbana: U.of Illinois Press, 1998, 249 pp Leonard Arrington's incisively-written, and obviously sincere,memoir describes his service to the Church of Latter Day Saints, i.e.Mormons in Utah. His career took him from a professorship in economic history at Utah State Agricultural College to becoming the Church's Official Historian in Salt Lake City. His account not only gives snatches of Mormon history in their heartland, but also provides an interesting commentary on those qualities - intense personal piety, a puritanical morality, enormous energy and a strong social commitment to their fellow Mormons - which enabled this once persecuted and exiled sect to become a highly successful and wealthy community with a world-wide outreach. It is not his purpose to analyse the rigid orthodox doctrine practised by Mormons, nor essentially to raise questions about the authoritarian pattern of leadership in the Church, which, since many Mormon leaders live to a great age, on some occasions turns into a form of theological gerontocracy. Rather he seeks to elucidate the dilemmas he faced as an official denominationally-employed historian. As a professional scholar Arrington sought to break out of the encapsulated and inward-looking Mormon community to present a picture of their rich history which would be acceptable to the outside scholarly world. He was therefore disconcerted to discover that some of the Mormon hierarchy believed his more professional works to be too "humanist" or "liberal" and lacking in sufficient spiritual experiences or faith-promoting stories. Behind this lay their conviction that all Mormon history should first and foremost have an edifying purpose, preferably indicating that supernatural rather than natural causes were responsible for Mormon successes. No hint of unsavoury behaviour, even if a century old, should be published lest the Mormon religion be brought into disrepute. Such forceful criticism from elderly "integristes" "watching over the Church, defending the Lord's anointed, and protecting a sacred stewardship", who really wanted narratives saturated with scriptural allusions and a total abstinence from controversial episodes, naturally placed Arrington in an invidious position. After his years of faithful and devoted service to the cause, and trying to do his job under conflicting pressures, he says he felt like a mouse crossing the floor where elephants are dancing. In some ways, it seems, this memoir was written to justify his own point of view. This account raises very clearly the difficulties of writing church history with its competing impulses to satisfy scientific objectivity and denominational loyalty. Perhaps Arrington was naive in believing he could reconcile the two, or underestimated the strength of the ingrown defensiveness of the guardians of the Mormon community, some of whom imposed rigid restrictions on what could be written as well as who had access to the church archives, even though they were not particularly well trained or aware of the historian's goals and purposes. The evidence here presented of distrust and suspicion of historical scholars amongst a few of the Mormon hierarchy can hardly enhance this sect's reputation in the wider world. But it also raises the wider question of when and to what extent church historians can or should be influenced by the desire to protect the faith of their readers. For this reviewer, Klaus Scholder's maxim is persuasive:"Truth may be painful for the church, but untruth is even more so."In this sense, Arrington's Adventures may have a lesson for us all.Sadly Leonard Arrington died early last month in Salt Lake City.JSC

 

3a) Martin Greschat, "Kirche und Widerstand gegen der Nationalsozialismus" in Zeitschrift fur Geschichtswissenschaft,Vol 46, no 10, Oct 1998 A useful summary of the debate about the extent of resistance activities against Nazism within the German Churches.Greschat rightly points out that the resolute defence of the church's autonomy by both Catholics and the Confessing Protestant Church cannot be taken to mean an equally resolute rejection of Nazi policies in general, including their antisemitism. Indeed, there is evidence enough that many staunch Confessing Church, as well as Catholic, supporters approved Hitler's secular aims. Greschat examines how these matters were reflected in the text books for religious education produced after the war, and shows a development away from the pietistic church-centred view of the 1950s to a wider perspective in later years, when the question really changes from: how much did the church protect its own institutional way of life, to : how much did it join and promote a wider opposition to Nazi racism and terrorism?By such a standard, the answer is: not much. JSC

 

4) Another martyr commemorated.(The following report comes from the Catholic Historical Review,Oct.1998). During Pope John Paul II's pastoral visit to Austria last Junehe declared blessed three more servants of God in Vienna. One of them was Sister Maria Restituta Kafka, who was born in Brno on May 10, 1894, and grew up with her family in Vienna. As a nurse she came into contact with the Franciscan Sisters of Charity (the Hartmannschwestern) and entered their congregation in 1914. From 1919 she worked as a surgical nurse and gained a reputation not only for professional skill but also for care of the poor and oppressed. She even protected a Nazi doctor from arrest which she thought was unjustified. After the Anschluss she made her total rejection of Nazism clear and public. She called Adolf Hitler a "madman". When she hung a crucifix in every room of a new wing of a hospital,the Nazis threatened to have her dismissed unless the crosses were removed. After her community argued that she could not be replaced, she remained as also did the crucifixes. Sister Restituta was soon arrested, however, and accused not only of hanging the crosses but also of having written a poem mocking Hitler. On October 28, 1942, she was sentenced to death for "aiding and abetting the enemy in the betrayal of the fatherland and for plotting high treason". Later she was offered her freedom if she would leave her religious congregation, but she refused. When Martin Bormann was asked to commute her sentence, he rejected the request, saying,"I think the execution of the death penalty is necessary for effective intimidation." While awaiting death, she cared for the other prisoners, as even communists later attested. After various requests for clemency were rejected by the authorities, Sister Restituta was decapitated on March 30, 1943.

 

With sincere regards, and best wishes for a blessed Lent,

 

John S.Conwayjconway@interchange.ubc.ca