January 2000 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

Newsletter- January 2000- Vol.VI, no. 1

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the New Year!


1) Book reviews,

a) ed. G.Baum, The twentieth Century

b) J.Cornwell, Hitler’s Pope

2) G.Baum, Catholics in the Weimar Republic

3) Journal articles: O.Heilbronner, Catholic Resistance

B.Stambolis, German Catholics
M. Greschat, Churches in the GDR
M.Elliott/S.Corrado, Religion in Russia

4) Website: Karl Barth archive


1) Book reviews:


a) ed. Gregory Baum, The Twentieth Century. A Theological Overview, Orbis Books Maryknoll, New York – G.Chapman, London 1999. 263pp

What better way to start a new century off in this Newsletter than by reviewing a stimulating book of essays, edited by one of our list-members, about the theologians’ responses to the principal political and social trends of the last hundred years? It was a splendid idea for Gregory Baum to invite some of his ecumenical colleagues to contribute to this valuable and sometimes provocative survey, which seeks to show that the story of twentieth century theology has been one of both fidelity and anguish – fidelity to God’s revealed word under changing historical conditions, and anguish over the unanswered questions and the powerlessness of truth in a sinful world.

His team comprises both Protestants and Catholics from leading North American universities, as well as some distinguished European scholars. Predictably they cover such major topics as the two World Wars, the Great Depression, the rise of Fascism, the Holocaust, as well as more far-reaching developments as the impact of the women’s movement or the ecological crisis in today’s world.

Douglas J.Hall leads off by pointing out that the catastrophes of the First World War were made more acute because the dominant liberal Christian theology of the day had so completely fostered the optimistic climate of “the religion of progress”, and had largely abandoned the vocabulary of earlier Christian (and Jewish) attempts to come to terms with disaster. It was no less fateful that the more conservative theologians so readily endorsed their nation’s war-time cause, and claimed divine approval for their side. The spectacle of such mutually exclusive pronouncements, and the incompatibility of the war’s conduct with Christian doctrines of love and peace. destroyed Christianity’s credibility for many of the survivors, and discredited much of theology as hypocrisy.

The post-1918 theological scene was marked by extreme confusion and uncertainty. Striking political events, such as the Communist Revolution in Russia or the rise of National Socialism in Germany, took their toll. Bernard Dupuis describes sympathetically the response of the Russian exiles seeking to defend Orthodoxy, while James Reimer outlines the scandalous divisions amongst the German theologians of the 1930s, when neither Paul Tillich’s religious socialism, nor Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s defence of confessing church neo-orthodoxy prevented the widespread support of Nazism by the theologians of the so-called “German Christian” movement, who indeed betrayed their craft. More notable was the renaissance of Catholic intellectual life in France where Jacques Maritain, Emmanuel Mounier, Henri de Lubac and others in conjunction with literary and philosophical scholars represented what Joseph Komonchuck calls a return from exile after the bleak crisis over “modernism”. Both he and Victor Consemius see these men’s ideas as formative in the restoration of a publicly significant Catholic theology which not only held the church together during the Second World War, but provided the seed-bed for the Second Vatican Council.

Not surprisingly the recurrent crises of the capitalist order prompted North American theologians in particular to formulate their protest against the resulting injustices. Donald Schweitzer gives a splendidly succinct description of Reinhold Niebuhr’s trenchant and influential critique of the existing political circumstances, and also of the parallel movement in Canada, the Fellowship for a Christian Order. In fact, the latter, though largely unknown today, was seminal in setting the moral agenda for much of Canadian politics, both at home and abroad, and can be said to be still having an impact decades later. Certainly the Canadian political scene allowed these advocates more direct influence than was possible in the United States. The Fellowship’s champions were, and often still are, possibly too eager to see God’s Kingdom in terms of an achievable political utopia. But their debate with Niebuhr was valuable in delineating what can be hoped for in history.

In the 1950s Protestant theology lived off the massive achievements of Niebuhr and Karl Barth. But in the following decades, as described by Gary Dorrien, the challenge to all authority, and especially to Christian authority, spawned a host of liberationist, feminist and other politically radical movements which repudiated the past.

For Catholics, the sense of renewal launched by the Second Vatican Council did something to preempt many of these feelings. The Council, and equally the 1968 Medellin Conference, as analyzed by the Mexican scholar Virgilio Elizondo, expanded horizons, challenged the Roman Catholic Church’s European predominance and established the preferential option for the poor, especially of the third world. The pastoral and theological significance of these developments are still being worked out. But the impact is undeniable. For the future, claims Lee Cormie, the great themes at the heart of Jewish and Christian theologies – creation, fall, liberation/redemption, salvation – will have renewed relevance in meeting the challenges of social, political and technological globalization. The sceptic must however ask whether this is not just wishful thinking at a time when faith and ethics are so often treated as irrelevant, or reduced to the private sphere. However, Harvey Cox, in his essay, joins others in disputing the view that growing secularization would and will lead to the disappearance of religion. The evidence is just not there. Rather, even where institutional and intellectual Christianity of a traditional type has been weakened, there are many other plural forms of religion which seek a re-ordering of worldviews, with or without the Enlightenment’s blessing. This transformation allows Cox to see a continuity with his earlier book of thirty years ago.

Gregory Baum, in his own chapter, examines the impact of Marxist ideas on Christian theology, suggesting that these have strengthened the sense of outrage against structural injustices and lent impetus to the theological praxis supporting the healing and redemption of the world. In a world now dominated by neo-liberal ideologies, such ideas are still necessary. At the same time, in his concluding remarks, Baum suggests that one of the most significant shifts in the last forty years has been that “the emancipatory dimension of divine redemption has assumed, for the first time, a central place in the construction of Christian theology”.

These essays portray the intellectual creativity, the rich imagination and the passion displayed by theologians in recent decades. Baum is confident that future theologians will demonstrate similar qualities. If they do, then indeed “the Spirit will continue to speak to the churches in the coming century”


b) John Cornwell, Hitler’s Pope. The Secret Story of Pius XII, New York: Viking Press, 1999

In 1963 Rolf Hochhuth’s play Der Stellvertreter (The Deputy) led to a bitter controversy over the stand of the Pope and the Catholic Church under the Nazi regime. Debates over the role of Eugenio Pacelli (1876-1958), who was the papal nuncio in Germany between 1917 and 1929, have never been resolved. As Cardinal Secretary of State, in other words as ‘Foreign Secretary’ of the Vatican (1930-1939), and then in his role as Pope (1939-1958), Pacelli is basically accused of not having gone far enough to prevent the persecution and genocide of the European Jews. John Cornwell, a Catholic and Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge, now presents this volume to support the above accusation. Cornwell is not unknown to the Vatican. In 1991, he wrote a book ‘As a thief in the night’ which showed there was no proof that Pope John Paul I, who had always suffered from poor health, experienced an unnatural death on September 28, 1978, after only 33 days in office. Even at the start of his research on Pius XII, Cornwell affirmed that he was ‘convinced’ that the latter’s pontificate and the Catholic Church would “finally be vindicated above all reproach”.

The expectations aired in Rome, and the research on John Paul I gave Cornwell access to secret material that had accumulated in connection with Pacelli’s’ beatification. The only striking revelation of this book is that he was allowed access to these documents. And yet, his findings were disappointing for both sides. The author admits that at the end of his research he found himself ‘morally shocked’. Not only Pius XII but also ‘recent papal history’ is generally accused of greed for power and of ‘dislike of Jews’.

It was mainly the latter reproach which electrified the offspring of victims and offenders alike. Pro-Vatican historians called Cornwell’s book a pejorative pamphlet and undertook refutations. Cornwell sought to defend his position by claiming that other researchers had concentrated mainly on the period of the Second World War, and/or that the documents already published are only a limited sample. (See ‘Die Welt’, November 2nd). He is here referring to the twelve volume edition, ‘Actes et documents du Saint Siege, pendant la seconde guerre mondiale’, edited by four Jesuits, Pierre Blet, Angelo Martini, Robert A.Graham and Burkhart Schneider, and published in Vatican City from 1965 to 1981. Two years ago, in 1997, the last surviving editor, Pierre Blet, wrote his own history of Pius XII during the second world war, based on the introductions to these twelve volumes as well as other documents. He repeated the claim that no significant amount of material had been omitted, although he admitted that some few of the unpublished documents would have been worth including, even though they had been mentioned and their contents summarized..

Cornwell bases his case more on the earlier period of 1933 when he suggests that Pacelli entered into fateful negotiations with Hitler in pursuit of a Reich Concordat, which seriously compromised his attitude thereafter. This aspect he believes has not been treated thoroughly enough by other historians.

Fr Peter Gumpel, SJ, has also been working on the Pacelli files since 1965, in connection with the possible beatification. But on the basis of his heated attacks on Pius’ critics, Cornwell excludes him from the circle of “historians who can be taken seriously” and puts him among “mere apologists”. So too, Cornwell takes issue with the Israeli author, Pinchas Lapide, who judged Pius XII positively in his book ‘The last three Popes and the Jews’,(1967) because, according to his findings, Pius XII had saved the lives of some 800,000 Jews. Cornwell accuses him of not having acknowledged Carlo Falconi’s workThe Silence of the Pope: a documentary report. (1970). But such a criticism reflects badly on Cornwell himself, since he is also guilty of omitting consideration of numerous German works relevant to the subject, such as the readily available biography by K-A Recker Bischof Berning im Dritten Reich (1998), even though Berning collaborated closely with Pacelli in 1933. So too Hansjakob Stehle’s valuable study The Eastern Policies of the Vatican (1981) remained unused

There are of course some prominent historians who support Cornwell’s views, for example the distinguished German Protestant church historian, Klaus Scholder, who died in 1985. It is to his “masterful scholarship” that Cornwell shows a “deep reverence”. In fact, almost all that Cornwell reports about Pacelli’s policies from 1930 to 1934 is derived from Scholder’s two volumes, The Churches and the Third Reich (Eng.trans. 1987). Cornwell’s evaluation of this period revolves around the thesis, first advanced by Scholder, that Pacelli and the loyal leader of the German Centre Party, Ludwig Kaas, had sacrificed this party and its future existence for the sake of obtaining a long-desired Concordat. Such a debate is not new, since Scholder’s advocacy of this opinion had already aroused much controversy during his life-time in the late 1970s, and was again reviewed by Scholder’s friend, Professor Karl Otmar von Aretin, in a commentary in 1988. Even though this text was translated into English a year later, Cornwell left Aretin’s opposing arguments nmentioned.

This is not the only place where Cornwell dismisses objections and contrary views to his own, and in effect suggests there can be no alternative interpretations. Even though the book is marvelously well written, this drawing of dogmatically firm conclusions, and the exclusion of all ambiguities, is certain to lead to continuing disputes. Apart from this there is not much that is really new.

The second-to-last chapter reveals that Cornwell is concerned not only about an appropriate assessment of Pius XII but also about ‘recent papal history’ in general. The chapter is entitled ‘Pius XII Redivivus’ and takes issue with the present Pope John Paul II. Cornwell does not accuse the Pole Karol Wojtyla of antisemitism but rather of seeking to restore an authoritarian, power-minded and centralist papacy. By establishing a direct continuity between Pius XII and John Paul II and their alleged propagation of these trends, Cornwell assesses current church policy matters. And in subjecting such features to striking criticism, he wants history to give a boost to the reformers in the Catholic Church.

In his opinion, “The beatification of Pius XII would be a major victory for the traditionalists over the progressives with regard to the interpretation of Vatican II. If the Papacy becomes too strong to the detriment of the people of God, the Catholic Church will suffer a loss of moral and spiritual influence to the detriment of us all”.

Gerhard Besier, Heidelberg University- first published in Die Welt, November 2,1999, and subsequently translated by the author for this Newsletter.

2) Catholics in the Weimar Republic and Walter Dirks The Weimar Republic was neither anticipated nor wanted. German Catholics, as a whole, remained attached to the monarchical principle and found it difficult to adjust to the new democratic regime. Conservative Catholic thought, in reaction to 19th century liberalism, repudiated the idea of popular sovereignty and defended monarchical authority, held to be ultimately derived from God. Even the Catholic Party, the Zentrum, strongly represented in the German parliament, was internally divided. On the other hand, German Catholics profited from the collapse of the Protestant Monarchy, in which they had been treated as second-class citizens. The door was now open for their full participation in the cultural and political life of the nation.

One of those who sought to do so was the young Walter Dirks, whose Catholic spirituality of faith and political responsibility had been fashioned by membership in a lively youth group, Quickborn. From 1922 on, he worked at the Rhein-Mainische Volkszeitung, published in Frankfurt, a progressive Catholic daily that offered strong support for the new republic and defended social democratic values. With his colleagues on this newspaper, he became the great defender of democracy with much hope for the future of Germany. (His articles and editorials from this time were published in his Gesammelte Schriften, Zurich: Ammann Verlag 1989-90). Only after the September election of 1930, when National Socialism made a sudden leap forward, did Dirks and his friends become more pessimistic.

Dirks’ writings then turned to an analysis of German fascism and, in particular, ‘the German fascist coalition’, by which he meant the classes, groups and communities that were likely to be attracted by Hitler’s National Socialism. He passionately advocated the creation of an anti-fascist coalition, the sustaining core of which was to be collaboration between Catholics and the working class. His efforts failed. After Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, the Rhein-Mainische Volkszeitung was closed down. Dirks’ writings for this newspaper and several other publications in the twenties and early thirties offered detailed analyses of current events which allowed him to make predictions about the likelihood of certain developments. In the twenties he observed the growing integration of Germany into European society, Germany’s gradual economic recovery, its outstanding cultural creativity, and the spread of critical socialist ideas among many thoughtful people. But after the 1930 elections, his tone became less optimistic. He was shrewd enough to realize that Hitler’s decision to seek dictatorial powers in Germany by legal means, rather than by revolution, meant that the Nazi Party had to appeal to wider sections of the population. Hence his appeal to unsuspecting Catholics. The only way to stop the Nazis, Dirks argued, was to build a strong coalition between the Zentrum and the Social Democratic Party, both renewed. But this aim was to prove to be
wishful thinking.

In a seminal essay published in 1931, “Katholizismus und Nationalsozialismus” Dirks shows that, from a philosophical perspective, Catholicism and National Socialism were irreconcilable. The bishops too, for more pragmatic reasons, supported this stance, several of them published pastoral letters to this effect. The Bishop of Mainz even decreed that in his diocese members of the Nazi Party were to be excluded from receiving Holy Communion. Catholics were ill at ease with the revolutionary tone adopted by the leaders of the Nazi Party, with the atmosphere of hatred created by Nazi ideology, and with the lack of respect for traditional values and authorities.

Yet a more careful analysis persuaded Dirks that, under certain circumstances, the Catholic population could easily become supporters of Nazism. His fears were indeed justified after 1933. In the first place, Hitler used his first months in power skillfully to adjust the Nazis’public image. In order to consolidate his position, he needed to live at peace with the Christian churches, at least for the time being. Hence he frequently mentioned God and divine Providence in his speeches, supported the so-called German Christians in the Protestant Church, and more importantly, agreed to enter into a Concordat with the Vatican – a step the Weimar Republic had refused to take.

In the second place, many German Catholics seemed to place their material interests ahead of their spiritual concerns. Nazism appealed to the middle classes whose well-being had been shattered by the inflation and depression. The working classes were attracted by the promise of ending unemployment. The peasants believed they were unappreciated by government and public culture, while students and intellectuals were fearful of being permanently out of a meaningful job. For the great majority, Dirks believed, the turn to fascism was taken in the hope of solving their material problems. They seemed unable to recognize that democratic socialism was the only force which could create a more just society. While Dirks made these predictions on the basis of a class analysis, he was right to see that this failure to recognize the dangers was to have terrible political consequences. In the early months of 1933, Dirks was heart-broken that his dark premonitions had turned out to be correct. He kept on writing critical articles in Catholic newspapers as long as he could, including a highly interesting piece in April 1933, courageously deploring Nazi antisemitism and the persecution of the Jews, and defending the continuing vocation of God’s first-chosen people – a theological argument almost unknown in the Christian literature of that time.

Dirks was not alone in fighting for these ideals. The Catholic intellectuals of the Rhineland were more open and pluralistic in their views than was the case in other parts of Catholic Germany, such as Bavaria. And his vibrant faith, drawn from his Quickborn associations, kept him going even though he was criticized from time to time by Catholic bishops and attacked in the Catholic press. It was these qualities which enabled him to maintain his faith, and to play a significant part in the rebuilding of Germany in the post-Nazi era.

Gregory Baum, McGill University, Montreal (extracted from an article to be published shortly in a collection of essays: Why Weimar: Questioning the Legacy of Weimar from Goethe to 1999, McGill European Studies, New York: Lang)

3) Journal articles

a) Oded Heilbronner, Catholic Resistance during the Third Reich? in Contemporary European History, Vol 7 no 3 (1998) pp 409-414.

Oded Heilbronner, an Israeli scholar, has recently published a valuable study of ‘Catholicism, Political Culture, and the Countryside. A social history of the Nazi Party in South Germany’ – to be reviewed here shortly. So he is well equipped to take a very sharp look at the notion of Catholic resistance during the Third Reich. This article is in fact a review of three recent books, and takes issue with the authors for being part of the Catholic research establishment which failed to take a more critical view of their fellow Catholics under Hitler’s rule. For years this Catholic establishment has insisted that the Catholics formed the chief focus of resistance to Nazi claims, and much of its scholarship has this apologetic tone. The reason, Heilbronner, suggests is that many German Catholics have an interest in preserving the myth of the ‘Kirchenkampf’. This boosted the Catholics’ fortunes after 1945, and still needs to be maintained after the changes of 1989, when Catholics became a minority once again. But by stressing the Catholic opposition to Nazi attacks on the church as the source of their resistance, these authors evade the question Heilbronner poses: ‘If the Nazis had not taken action against the Catholic Church, would the latter have joined the war waged by the Nazis against the Jews, the Bolsheviks and the European peoples as a whole?’ His suspicion is: yes.

This raises the very touchy point of Catholic antisemitism. Up to now, Catholic apologists have emphasised the fact that their clergy were not nearly so infected as were the Protestants. But such a view, as expressed for example by Thomas Fandel in his book on the Palatinate – reviewed here, October 1998 – covers over the extent to which Catholics did in fact serve Hitler loyally throughout the war, and even if opposed to certain Nazi practices, nevertheless still wanted to uphold the Nazi state. They were possibly even more subject to the Nazis’ social control than other sections of the community. By trying to claim they were united in anti-Nazi resistance, these Catholic historians distort the record, and must be found guilty of white-washing whole areas of Catholic life especially for the war-time period. Of course, in 1945, their leaders immediately claimed they had been the first victims of Nazi persecution – and this has remained their refrain from then on. But Heilbronner knows better, and, more importantly, is prepared to say so.


b) Barbara Stambolis, (Hagen), Nationalisierung trotz Ultramontanisierung oder: “Alles fur Deutschland. Deutschland aber für Christus”. Mentalitätsleitende Wertorientierung deutscher Katholiken im 19 und 20 Jahrhundert in Historische Zeitschrift, Vol 269, no.1, August 1999, pp 57-97.

This article describes how German Catholics adopted their own version of national identity after 1870 with increasing enthusiasm until the Nazi period. Only after 1945 was this nationalist fervour replaced by a return to the ideals of the “Christian West”. Stambolis shows how easily elements in the German Catholic tradition could be manipulated for nationalist or even Nazi purposes, but also how the German Catholic mediaeval heritage could be used in the post-war attempt to re-Christianise Europe.

c) Martin Greschat, Politische Macht, Kirchen und Gesellschaft in der DDR. Ein Ueberblick in Neue Politische Literatur, Vol. 44, no 1,1999, pp 59-80

Writing for a primarily secular audience, Martin Greschat here gives a masterly survey of the major works produced over the last ten years on the churches in the former East Germany. The main problem is to know the criteria to be used in any overall assessment. Despite the fact that the initial spate of revelations, recriminations,and accusations has now died down, most of the works discussing both the churches’ life and witness, as well as those dealing with the special theologies expressed during the forty years of communist rule, still carry on the atmosphere of support or criticism of the stance taken by the churches. This is just as true of the Catholics as the Protestants. Greschat himself has sound comments to make on the shortcomings of these approaches, but nicely includes the books by two of our list members, Gregory Baum and Bob Goeckel. His general point is well taken: it is still too early to say whether this special situation should be seen as an errant episode, or as a prophetic witness, in the history of the German Church.

d) M.Elliott and S.Corrado, The 1997 Russian Law on Religion: the impact on Protestants. in Religion, State and Society, Vol 27, no 1, March 1999, 109-34

This describes the spotty impact of the new restrictive law in Russia, reversing the more tolerant ruling of 1990, and gives a partial list of incidents where Protestant churches have been subjected to discrimination.

4) The website for the Karl Barth archive and Newsletter is http://www.unibas.ch/theologie/Barth

With every best wish for the forthcoming century!
John S.Conway


Alphabetical list of books reviewed in 1999:

Arrington, Leonard: Adventures of a Church Historian March

Baginski, Christophe: La politique religieuse de la France en Allemagne occupee February

Blet, Pierre: Pie XII et la seconde guerre mondiale March

Booty, John: An American apostle. The life of Bishop Bayne November

Brewer, John D: Anti-Catholicism in Northern Ireland April

Buchanan, T. and Conway, M.: Political Catholicism in Europe 1918-65 November

Buttner, Ursula and Greschat, M.: Die verlassenen Kinder der Kirche May

Chadwick, Owen: A History of the Popes 1830-1914 Aug/Sept

Chandler, Andrew: The terrible alternative. Christian Martyrdom April

” ” ed.: The moral imperative February

Collins, Donald E: When the church bells ran racist June

Conway, Martin: Catholic politics in Europe 1918-1945 November

Coppa, Frank J.ed.: Controversial Concordats November

Deselaers, Manfred: Die biographie von Rudolf Hoess January

Drapac, Vesan: War and Relgion in occupied Paris May

Finke, Anne-Kattrin: Karl Barth in Grossbritannien October

Fritz, Hartmut: Otto Dibelius July

de Gruchy, John ed.: The Cambridge Companion to Dietrich Bonhoeffer December

Haynes, Stephen: Holocaust Education February

Hesse, Hans ed.: Am mutigsten waren immer die Zeugen Jehovahs April

Kirby, Dianne: Church, State and Propaganda. Archbishop Garbett July

Luxmoore, J. and Babiuch, J.: The Vatican and the Red Flag Aug/Sept

Melady,Tom: The Ambassador’s story January

Mueller-Rolli, Sebastian: Evangelische Schulpolitik in Deutschland 1918-58 Aug/Sept

Nagel, Anne: Martin Rade June

O’Brien, Darcy: The Hidden Pope Aug/Sept

Oldstone-Moore, Christopher: Hugh Price Hughes.Founder of a new Methodism October

Phillips, Paul: A Kingdom on earth. Social Christianity 1880-1940 January

Ramet, Sabrina: Nihil Obstat.Religion,Politics and Change in eastern Europe January

Recker, Klemens-A.: Wem wollt ihr glauben?. Bischof Berning April

Reich, Peter: Mexico’s hidden revolution May

Xi, Lian: The Conversion of missionaries in China March nis weiter. Oberkirchenrat Udo