July 1997 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor.

University of British Columbia

Newsletter July 1997 – Vol III, no 7


1. Conference announcement

2. Book reviews

Hope, German and Scandinavian Protestantism
Chandler, Brethren in Adversity
Davidson, Selwyn’s Legacy

Dear Friends,

I have been in UK for most of June, and had the pleasure of meeting some of you there. It is always nice to be in visual as well as electronic contact. I hope your summer of researches goes well, and look forward to hearing about your progress. Doris Bergen was last heard of deep in a Moscow archive, while John Moses is moving to Armidale, NSW. My thanks to those who have supplied contributions. Do keep sending them, if you have read anything which you would like to share with our members.

1. Conference announcement

The 1998 meeting of the Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte group, under the leadership of Gerhard Besier (Heidelberg) will be held near Lund, Sweden from 27th August to Sept.1st 1998. Conference arrangements are being made by Prof Ingmar Brohed (no address yet given). If you want more information, I can supply some.

2. Book reviews

a) Nicholas Hope. German and Scandinavian Protestantism 1700- 1918. (Oxford History of the Christian Church). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995. Pp.xiii, 685. $120.00

(This review appeared in German Studies Review, Vol XX, N.1, February 1997, p.143-4)

Nicholas Hope’s extensive longitudinal survey of Protestantism in the lands around the Baltic presents a graphic picture of a mainly- rural churchscape, far from the seats of power, and set in its old, poor, customary, contemplative and unhurried ways. He is concerned not so much with theology and politics, although the latter intrudes frequently, given the anomalous religious situation left over from the Thirty Years War. Essentially he seeks to describe the situation of the local parishes, from the end of the disastrous seventeenth century until the equally disastrous collapse into a politically-dominated war culture from 1914-1918.

In 1700, war, disease and famine still stalked these lands. Life was undoubtedly nasty, brutish and short; and the people turned either to pagan rituals or to the church for consolation. Two major issues preoccupied the rural clergy for most of the eighteenth century: how to win their parishioners over from the powers of darkness and how to comfort the suffering multitude overcome with grief. But, even after two centuries, the Lutheran inheritance was everywhere in danger. Pastors were repeatedly urged to pray not only for deliverance from Papist aggression and the infidel Turk, but also to guard against the heretical influences of Calvinists and other sectarians, seeking to distort, falsify or suppress the true Gospel.

In the eighteenth century, the situation improved, largely due to the seminal work of the “Pietists” – a term Hope dislikes. The influence of Spener and Francke stressed the need for warm pastoral care, drawing extensively from models in Holland and England. Despite conflicts with the establishment clergy, this new enthusiasm spread rapidly and was soon popular especially in the smaller courts and amongst the lesser nobility. Vernacular preaching and the spread of devotional literature became significant vehicles for disseminating these ideas. Count Zinzendorf’s Moravians laid great stress on lay leadership. And as W.R.Ward in his Protestant Evangelical Awakening (1992) has already pointed out, the growth of trade and travel enabled the widespread propagation of well-edited and cheap devotional literature, so that Puritan classics like Pilgrim’s Progress in numerous editions and translations became staple influences for generations in many humble homes. They were also the principal armament of the missionary movement which spread the word from Greenland’s icy mountains to India’s coral strands.

Nevertheless, despite attempts to centralise and rationalise the anomalous variety of church orders or to improve the training of the parish clergy, resistance to change from historic ways remained strong. Even with the abolition of serfdom in the eastern areas, and the spread of enclosures, parish habits seemed immune to reform. The wretchedly paid rural clergy remained dependent on the local gentry’s favour, and often dictation, as to how services were to be conducted. Edicts from above, most notably the Prussian King’s attempts to impose religious uniformity on Lutheran and Reformed congregations by the formation of a United Church, ran into overwhelming resistance.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the state’s desire to use the clergy as minor civil servants prompted, as in England, a countervailing movement to restore the Church’s more ancient patterns of authority, ritual and values. The universities too continued to value their traditions and ceremonies rather than concentrate on practical training. The impact of Protestant revivals led to an increasingly conservative clerical and lay tone. At the same time, both Protestant and Catholic romantics sought to revive older traditions in church music and architecture. Here lay the roots of opposition to a more liberal or national Protestantism seeking a new relationship to the nation-state after German political unification took place. It was strong enough to prevent the emergence of any national Protestant church, and to cling on to the local autonomy of the past in the individual Landeskirchen. Vigorous debate about the character of the Volkskirche continued for years, up to and including 1933.

For its part, the state sought to maintain the Protestant clergy as minor officials, even when bureaucrats took over many of the their secular duties; the clergy sought to maintain their historic privileges, even when population changes eroded their authority in providing social cohesion and moral education. Neither side before 1918 wanted disestablishment, or recognition of Germany’s plural denominational character. The resulting compromise was profoundly unsatisfactory; in David Diephouse’s phrase, the clergy found themselves in a state to which they could only partially relate, and a society they could only partially control. The pastoral problems caused by rapid urban and industrial growth proved too much for the essentially rural-based church structures in all of northern Europe. A deepening sense of crisis over the churches’ role as moral guardians of society was one of the reasons why the German clergy tried to recapture lost ground by embracing militaristic patriotism so enthusiastically in 1914. But the patriarchal patterns of the past no longer sufficed, and in Germany they were abolished for ever in 1918.

Hope’s multilingual erudition is formidably impressive. So too is his judicious impartiality on topics which have aroused fiercely sectarian strife. Such comparative surveys necessarily leave gaps, but this work can be highly commended as an informative work of reference, and as a thoughtful analysis of the Protestant place in modern European history.


b) Andrew Chandler, ed., Brethren in Adversity.

Bishop George Bell, The Church of England and the Crisis of German Protestantism, 1933-1939, Church of England Record Society U.K 1996 L35/$63 (Dr Chandler is director of the George Bell Institute at Queen’s College, Birmingham)

Scholars intensely interested in the church-state struggle in the Nazi era will welcome enthusiastically this collection of documents taken mainly from the papers of Bishop George Bell of Chichester and Archbishop Cosmo Lang, which treat this dark period in the history of the Christian Church and its relations with the evil powers of Nazism. It is also of considerable interest to know that there now exists a ‘George Bell Institute’ hopefully established to mine the voluminous collection of his and other papers at Lambeth Palace.

Dr Chandler indicates (p.14) that “This book is essentially about information and interpretation”, and it is ideally organised to fulfil this purpose, for from Chandler’s long introduction the reader gets a firm grasp of the issues highlighted by the documents, and a solid, reliable interpretation to guide one through the original sources. On the German church crisis he also analyses closely the differences between several main British protagonists, especially Bishop Bell and Bishop A.C.Headlam of Gloucester.

Notable is the extent of the contacts these British churchmen entertained with “official” Germans, from Hitler to Hess, Ribbentrop and even Alfred Rosenberg. One is also impressed by the degree to which British churchmen attempted to see the Nazi and German leaders in as positive a light as possible. For example, illustrative of this is Bell’s rather sympathetic portrayal of Ribbentrop’s attempts to have his youngest child baptised (pp 89- 92), as is the Bishop’s description of the controversial bishop of Hanover, August Marahrens, whom he called a “fine, godly old man” (pp.100-101).

Appeasement is a predictable leitmotiv in these documents with Dr. A.J.Macdonald, ‘librarian’ of the Church of England’s Council; on Foreign Relations and its head, Bishop Headlam, as outstanding examples of this tendency. It is perhaps somewhat curious that, in the light of Headlam’s rather wrongheaded views amply attested to in this documentation, Chandler feels his “experience as an ecumenical thinker and politician incontestable” (p.11). Another valuable contribution is to illustrate the good deal of British confusion about the German situation. For example, Headlam, Macdonald and Bell all seem to have thought that German girls belonged to the Hitler Youth (p.151, Headlam; p.110 Macdonald; p. 138 Bell). Even more remarkable were Headlam’s allegations that the theology of the extreme German Christians was closer to the Church of England than that of the oppositional and persecuted Confessing Church (p.152). These documents also underscore the well-known fact that neither Bell nor the bulk of British observers had any real mastery of the German language, which certainly harmed their ability to get a first-hand impression of the situation even though they took great pains to visit Germany at the time.

What is perhaps mildly disappointing about this collection is that it tends to repeat in places information which is already readily available. For example, the collection reproduces almost verbatim from Canon Jasper’s biography of Bell the famous memorandum on the German situation at the end of 1938 (p144-49). Moreover, my impression is that occasionally rather too much appears here that is well known, and too little is included of fresh insights, especially from Bell’s most extensive and valuable papers. Here I was particularly struck by the gaps surrounding some of the major German crises of those years, especially those connected with the persecution of the Jews in Germany. While the German Protestant struggles of 1933-34, and again 1937, are rightly given extensive coverage, no documents are included which would more immediately reflect the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, and especially the aftermath of the 1938 Sudeten crisis and Kristallnacht. Indeed this crucial year receives attention in only two, albeit longer, documents, while the 1939 entries are unfortunately confined to a brief wartime (!) exchange of two letters between Bell and Karl Barth. Yet for Bell 1938-9 was the critical and dramatic period of his activity, especially his eleventh hour rescue of ‘nonaryan’ German pastors before the Nazi invasion of Poland.

It is encouraging to see that this collection makes an attempt to provide useful biographical information. At the same time it is to be regretted that the dates of the persons mentioned are sometimes incomplete, even though these could easily have been ascertained. It is also mildly regrettable that some important international church figures, such as the president of the United Lutheran Church in America, Dr Frederick Knubel (in Chandler’s defence he is called ‘Nubel’ in the document – p 147) are not identified, that Dr Franz Hildebrandt is relegated to a brief footnote (p.156), and that the ‘nonaryan’ refugee pastor ‘Gordon’ mentioned on p 128 is not identified as Ernst Gordon, with whom Bell had an extensive correspondence.

In conclusion, this is nonetheless an encouraging beginning, and one can be confident that in his new directorial function Chandler will continue to provide insightful interpretations and primary material for both the scholarly and generally interested public. Indeed given the fragmentary and dated nature of the several studies extant on Bishop Bell, it is to be hoped that Chandler will consider tackling an up-to-date comprehensive biography of this fine man and Christian.

Ronald Webster, York University, Toronto, Ontario.

c) Allan K.Davidson, Selwyn’s Legacy. The College of St John the Evangelist 1843-1992, Auckland, N.Z. 1993, 412 pp.

Antipodean church history is little known, because little of it has yet been written. It is therefore most welcome to have Allan Davidson’s well-researched, insightful and splendidly illustrated history of St John’s College, Auckland, the premier institution for the Anglican Church in New Zealand. It is all the more welcome because the problems and issues he so deftly describes were and are very similar to those experienced by parallel institutions in other parts of the British Empire, as the Church of England sought to replicate its institutional life and ideas around the globe. So too his survey of the main features involved in training the clergy over the past 150 years will be easily recognisable by many members of our Association.

George Augustus Selwyn was appointed to be the first bishop of New Zealand in 1840, at the early age of 32. He had all the right credentials and connections, and had already developed comprehensive and visionary ideals of how a missionary bishop should carry out his responsibilities. His was the task of bringing episcopal authority to the scattered efforts of the Church Missionary Society which had already initiated a series of mission stations for the Maori inhabitants, but also to provide for the welfare of the increasing number of British settlers eager to establish themselves in the remote but promising fertile lands of the new colony. Selwyn’s view of training for the priesthood was in part shaped by his vision of the mediaeval period, and in part by his conviction that the bishop and his cathedral should play a central role in the life of the new church. He believed that the bishop should have a small group of young men associated with him, living in his house and under his spiritual direction, benefiting from his library and learning, and then ready to be sent out to undertake whatever pastoral duties he saw as a priority. Just as Augustine and his monks had come from Rome to Christianize England so long ago, so his successors should emulate his example in the far-flung Southern Ocean. The vastness of his diocese, the multiplicity of the tasks he resolved to embark on, and his somewhat imperious, if likeable, personality all combined to fashion the early Church of England ministry in New Zealand and Melanesia. To his credit, Selwyn was eager to build a partnership between the Maori and the settlers, and resolved to have both sets of young men integrated in his newly-founded College. But difficulties soon arose over the different visions of the future entertained by each group, which were not helped by Selwyn’s own clear preference for the high- minded Oxford style of learning he knew best. Unfortunately too, while he was able to attract some wealthy donors to provide funds for a few initial buildings, and successfully obtained a tract of land at some distance from the centre of white settlement in Auckland, immediate funds for the day-to-day running of this training college were lacking and remained so for decades. Placing the College under a succession of Wardens, all of whom were brought out from England, put an almost intolerable burden of inadequate resources on these men, whose term was often regrettably short. In addition the clashes between high-church and evangelical emphases were soon enough repeated in New Zealand, and the College was often regarded with suspicion by one side or the other. Selwyn’s attempt to build a monastic-like centre with frequent daily services was hardly suited to the pioneering style of rural ministry desired by the growing number of sheep ranchers. Furthermore the still scattered communities in both the North and South Islands resented attempts to centralize all ministerial training in or near Auckland in the far north. Successive bishops elsewhere wanted their own local seminaries. So the grand attempt to build one structure for the whole province never really succeeded.

As settlement grew, so did the complications of having rival churches and rival theories of ministry. Attempts to affiliate St John’s to the new university in Auckland, in order to raise the level of academic training, met with strong opposition from the advocates of secular education (as in western Canada), as well as from bishops still adhering to Selwyn’s ideas of personal instruction and example. Assimilationists argued in favour of brining Maori candidates to St John’s as a means of unifying the country on the British model, with the result that specific training in the Maori language virtually disappeared for decades. Personality difficulties led to frequent clashes between the Wardens’ interpretation of their responsibilities and those of the Board of Governors, which itself was divided over regional or churchmanship alignments, Above all, it is notable and hardly surprising that Anglicanism in New Zealand was totally derivative, since most of its leaders continued to be imported from England, or more latterly trained there.

For its first hundred years St John’s had a very chequered existence. Geography, the lack of financial resources, and strong diocesan identity fostered parochialism, and prevented the emergence of one viable national theological college. As late as the 1950s the ethos was still that of a sedate cathedral institution, a male, celibate enclave, complete with mortar boards, and gowns, Sung Eucharist and Compline.

But over the past thirty years, new winds of change have been felt. In the 1960s a plan of union with the Methodists was proposed, which later, as in other places, proved abortive. But their training institutions found a near-merger on St John’s campus, which opened some new horizons. In 1976 women were admitted to ordination, leading to a striking change in the composition of the college community. New sympathies arose for the Maori heritage and new approaches for Maori ministries and liturgies were tried out. The author, Davidson, an ordained Presbyterian, became the first non- Anglican to be appointed to the teaching staff in 1972, and has since written extensively on the church in New Zealand. At the same time, the rapid spread of Auckland’s suburbia led to a dramatic rise in the value of Selwyn’s trust lands, and hence at last to much increased resources for the Trust’s educational activities. But, as elsewhere, the lively debates about priorities in the training of ordinands were felt in New Zealand too. The need for contextual relevance, cross-cultural sensitivity, regard for gender issues and partnership between Maori and Paheka all added and still add to the complexity of theological education. It was impossible to get the balance right to satisfy all the contending voices in the churches. Davidson’s comments on developments in the most recent years are understandably restrained. His service is really to have brought to life the variety and vigour of those high-minded English clerics who inherited Selwyn’s legacy and sought to transplant his ideas and practices into the exotic lands of the southern seas. This is a splendid record of the part St John’s has played in fostering Anglicanism, and now ecumenism, in all its various forms, throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, Melanesia, the Pacific and beyond.


All the best to you all,
John Conway