November 1996 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

Newsletter no 23 (Vol II, no 11) – November 1996


Journal Articles

Jay P.Corrin, “H.A.Reinhold: Liturgical Pioneer and Anti-Fascist,” Catholic Historical Review, Vol. LXXXII no 3, July 1996.

Francis Latour, [the Vatican in WWII], Guerres Mondiales, April 1996, no. 182.

Book Reviews

Heinz Wilhelmy, Aus meinem Leben, Evangelischer Presseverlag Pfalz, Speyer 1996, 310 pp.

Trutz Rendtorff, ed., Protestantische Revolution? Kirche und Theologie in der DDR: Ekklesiologische Voraussetzungen, politische Kontext, theologische und historische Kriterien, Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1993, 357 pp., reviewed by John Burgess

Dear Friends,

German Studies Association Conference, Seattle Oct. 10-13th It was good to see a number of our members at this conference, and to have the opportunity of exchanging news and views.

Unfortunately, the sessions, as usual, were too short to have any really productive academic discourse, and the setting in one of Seattle’s unmemorable airport hotels was decidedly unacademic! But good to know that the scholarly enterprise continues in full flood.


Journal articles:


Jay P.Corrin of Boston University contributes an interesting article to the Catholic Historical Review, Vol. LXXXII no 3, July 1996, describing the career of “H.A.Reinhold: Liturgical Pioneer and Anti-Fascist”. Fr Reinhold was one of the few German Catholic priests who early on recognised the incompatibility of Christianity and Nazism, while his superiors were still beguiled by Hitler’s charisma, or saw Nazism as an effective bulwark against the greater danger of Bolshevism. Reinhold’s attempts to rally those Catholics who shared his views, and his resolute warnings made to churchmen abroad, led to his being persecuted by the Gestapo. Abandoned by the Catholic hierarchy, he was driven into exile, finally landing up in Minnesota, where he found a welcome audience for his stimulating ideas about liturgical reform. But even in the USA, notably in New York, his efforts to spread the truth about the Nazi plans to attack the churches were disbelieved, and like Waldemar Gurian, Luigi Sturzo and others, he was forced to eke out a meagre and isolated existence. No apologies were ever received when events proved him right. And even his last bishop advised him not to publish his autobiography as this would only cause public contention over long-dead issues and damage the reputation of distinguished Catholics. So his brave struggle against intolerance, illiberalism and clerical fascism were all too often ignored by Anglo-American Catholics in their obsession with the battle against international Communism. Prof. Corrin’s article is an excellent, if belated, act of reparation. JSC

Prof. F.W.Graf, Munich, gives an interesting description of the career and Nachlass of the Jena liberal theologian,Heinrich Weinels (1874-1936) in Zeitschrift fur Kirchengeschichte, Vol 107, no 2, 1996, pp 201-31.

In the same issue, Christopher Spehr prints and comments on the Gestapo’s report on the Confessing Church’s Bad Oeynhausen Synod 1936, pp 232-247.


Francis Latour contributes a provocative article to the April 1996 issue, no 182, of Guerres Mondiales, p.105-21, which outlines the efforts of the Holy See to defend its interests during the First World War. The rivalries of the warring powers endangered the Vatican’s position not only in Europe but also in the mission field and the Holy Land. Despite its discreet diplomacy, the Vatican was unsuccessful in its efforts to obtain a peace settlement, and managed only to hold the line in defending its own ecclesiastical policies. The contrast between the Holy See’s universal spiritual claims and its actual political leverage had only grown greater.The war, and the subsequent peace negotiations of 1919, from which the Vatican was deliberately barred, brought home to the Pope and his advisors the sobering and unwelcome fact that that the Holy See’s temporal influence had been severely reduced. Who could suspect that the Vicar of Christ, and the world’s oldest diplomatic entity had political ambitions? But such suspicions existed then, and still do.


Book Reviews:


Heinz Wilhelmy, Aus meinem Leben, Evangelischer Presseverlag Pfalz, Speyer 1996, 310 pp.

Pastor Heinz Wilhelmy’s account of the Church Struggle in his small rural parish in the Palatinate was written not long before he died in 1980. But the impulse to write came from the most traumatic experience of his life, when he witnessed the brutal mass murder of the Jews of the Ukrainian town of Berditschew, shortly after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. This ghastly event profoundly shattered his loyalties as a German, a Christian and a pastor. It subsequently led to a far-reaching metanoia and dominated his post-war career in his parish – a tribute to which is appended by Klaus Enders.

This spiritual conversion was all the more remarkable since Wilhelmy, as he readily admits, had welcomed the new Nazi regime with open arms only a few years earlier. In 1933, like many of the younger clergy, he had thrown his support behind the efforts of the so-called “German Christians” to bring about a revolution in the church, patterned on that imposed by Hitler in the state, which sought to overcome the encrusted parochialism of the local churches, such as the Palatinate, and warmly embrace the new task of national renewal. This kind of hot-headed radicalism, based on the kind of volkisch theology so prevalent at the time, led to the success of the “German Christians” in capturing the majority of the provincial church structures and the installation of “German Christian” bishops, such as Ludwig Diehl in Speyer.

By 1934, however, these illusion collapsed like soap bubbles. After Wilhelmy had read the Barmen Declaration and heard about the murders of Roehm and his clique, he began to change his tune. Luckily he preserved several of his sermons which are here reproduced in full and which give an excellent flavour of the heated debates of those days. His outspoken comments on the errors of the Nazi ideologues soon got him into trouble with the local Nazi officials. His resolute support for the Confessing Church after 1935 further alienated him from both the political and religious leadership in the Palatinate. But this combative determination to uphold the integrity of the church did not extend to any open criticism of the purely political actions of the state – and in this regard Wilhelmy shared the same limitations as most of the Confessing Church. Their attempts to harmonize these divergent loyalties became more difficult, especially after Martin Niemoller’s arrest in July 1937, and under the incessant pressure of the Nazi authorities to keep silent. Wilhemy’s practice of praying by name for all the Confessing Church members imprisoned or disciplined by the Gestapo was a particular cause for friction. Never one to speak diplomatically, Wilhelmy modelled himself on Luther’s steadfastness in defence of the Gospel.

But in November 1938, the Palatinate church authorities, obviously desiring to rid themselves of this tiresome trouble- maker, ordered his immediate suspension from office and the complete cessation of his pay. Neither his parishioners’ strong support, nor his lengthy defence of his actions, disclaiming any intention of attacking the regime’s policies (and this immediately after the notorious November pogrom!) availed him anything. Luckily in May 1939 he was inducted into the army shortly before the Gestapo ordered his arrest. Since the army did not acknowledge the Gestapo’s jurisdiction over its members, Wilhelmy escaped their clutches for six long years. In May 1945 he returned to his parish and resumed his pastoral duties.

This autobiography was written nearly twenty years ago as an act of expiation. The decision of the Palatinate Church’s publishing house to print it now can be regarded as a form of overdue rehabilitation for one who was left in the lurch by his church superiors and who never received any subsequent retraction or apology. The publication of this memoir is therefore a belated but welcome gesture.


ed. Trutz Rendtorff, Protestantische Revolution? Kirche und Theologie in der DDR: Ekklesiologische Voraussetzungen, politische Kontext, theologische und historische Kriterien, Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1993, 357 pp (Despite this book appearing in 1993, I thought this excellent review by John Burgess, Associate for Theology, Presbyterian Church,USA, would be helpful to complement other reviews about the DDR churches in recent issues of this Newsletter. JSC)


In the 1980s, the East German church provided a free space in which alternative groups met to discuss issues of peace, justice, and the environment. Their critical rhetoric seemed to express the discontent of much of the population. By 1989, hundred of people were regularly gathering in churches prior to demonstrating publicly against state policies. Particular congregations such as the Gethsemane Kirche in East Berlin and the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig became synonymous with the “peaceful revolution”. Within a couple of years, public attitudes towards the church had shifted. The “midwife” – even “mother” – of the revolution had become more akin to a prostitute. Journalists, former dissidents, even some historians accused the church of having stabilized the East German state for too many years. Reports of Stasi infiltration of the church, including the recruitment of key church leaders as “unofficial collaborators”, further undermined its reputation.

This collection of essays first presented at a colloquium in 1992 critically assesses these issues, seeking to determine just what role the church and theology played during the 40 years of communist rule. The list of authors reads like a “Who’s Who” of observers of the East German church. West German authors include Reinhard Henkys, journalist, author of numerous articles on this topic, and editor of “Kirche im Sozialismus” for many years the premier western journal on the East German church; Uwe-Peter Heideingsfeld, who worked in the offices of the E. K D. as liaison for the eastern church; Gerhard Besier, church historian whose co- publication of secret Stasi files on the East German church created much controversy; and F.W.Graf, professor of theology in Hamburg. East German authors include Dietlef Pollack, sociologist of religion at the University of Leipzig, who has a special interest in the church’s alternative groups; Guenter Krusche, General Superintendent in East Berlin; Kurt Nowak, professor of church history, and Wolf Kroetke, professor of theology in East Berlin.

In general, the essays dispute the contention that the peaceful revolution was either “Protestant” or a “revolution”. While the church supplied important impulses for reform, offered a space in which protest could crystallize, and channelled it into constructive dialogue, Pollack emphasises the contingency of events and disputes that any group consciously directed them.. Graf gives the church even less credit, and sees it as having stabilized the regime.

As well, the essays agree that the East German church went wrong in assuming that Marxist-Leninist socialism was reformable. By locating itself as a “church within socialism”, the East German church took seriously the need to respond to the realities of its own society but failed to see that the entire system was bankrupt. Nor did it have the theological resources to critique the foundations or the ideologically-based practices of the regime. Graf takes this argument to an extreme, arguing that the East German church adopted Romantic ideas of community. Because the church viewed capitalism as resting on an individualism and egotism that were counter to the gospel, its theology resulted in implicit support for “socialism” however vaguely defined. As a result it failed to develop an adequate understanding of the need for democracy and pluralism.

While other authors qualify this “affinity of Protestantism for socialism”, none of the essays argues persuasively that the church’s theology made any major contribution to the rise of a protest movement within the church and society. Even Kroetke, who argues that Bonhoeffer’s ideas were of value to the alternative groups, uses most of his essay to portray how various parts of the East German church (especially in the theology faculties) misused or instrumentalized Bonhoeffer’s theology for their own purposes.

Nonetheless the book is rich in information, bibliographical suggestions, and reflections on the challenge of writing kirchlicher Zeitgeschichte (see especially the essays by Besier and Nowak). The inclusion of some of the discussion which followed each paper adds to the value of the volume; one gets a sense of the give-and-take and critical questions that arose. As can be seen from the spate of subsequent publications, the situation of the East German church will continue to be of interest to a wide group of scholars and church leaders for years to come.

John Burgess.

With every best wish to you all,
John Conway