March 2000 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

Newsletter- March 2000- Vol.VI, no.3

Dear Friends,

I am very happy to let you know that for next month’s Newsletter we shall have a Guest Editor, Dr Doris Bergen. Doris is well known to some of us for her fine account of the pro-Nazi German Protestants, The Twisted Cross. She now teaches at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, but returns to her homeland Canada for the summers.

I am most grateful to her for accepting this assignment in the midst of her teaching duties, and very much hope that you will all welcome this change of viewpoints which is designed to enlarge our horizons.


1) Forthcoming conference, Oslo, Norway, August 2000

2) Book reviews:

a) A.Wilkinson, Christian Socialism

b) ed. G.Kelly, C.J.Weborg, Reflections on Bonhoeffer

c)L.Terray, Bishop Lajos Ordass

d) A.H.Ion, Canadian Missionaries in Japan

3) Book notes, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer”, F.Thimme’s Church Struggle Mitteilungen d. Evang Arbeitsgemeinschaft f. kirchl.Zeitgeschichte 1) Forthcoming conference: CIHEC, Oslo, Norway, 11 August 2000



As part of the 19th International Historical Congress, to be held at the University of Oslo from August 6th -13th, the affiliated Commission Internationale d’Histoire Ecclesiastique Comparee is arranging two sessions, organized by Prof Hartmut Lehmann, Director of the Max Planck Institute for History,Gottingen. These will be held on

a) Friday morning, 11 Aug, On the Road to a History of 20th Century. Christianity: Problems, Questions, Methods, with papers by W.Brandmuller (Rome). Jeffrey Cox (Iowa), Fr.W.Graf (Munich), M.Lagree (Rennes), H.McLeod (Birmingham), Jens H.Schjorring (Aarhus), chaired by H.Lehmann.

b) Friday afternoon, 11 Aug.: Writing the history of religion under Stalinism and Marxism. 1945-1989 with papers by G.Besier (Heidelberg), A Hryckiewicz (Minsk), V.Rajsp (Ljubliiana), F.Sanjek (Zagreb), F.Smahel (Prague), chaired by B.Vogel (Strassburg). For more information, contact Prof Lehmann =

2) Book reviews:

a) Alan Wilkinson, Christian Socialism: Scott Holland to Tony Blair. London: SCM Press 1998. 302 pp. GBP 14.95

Alan Wlkinson is one of the Church of England’s senior historians, and these insightful lectures bring us up to date with one of the significant trends in this Church’s life over the past hundred years.The opening chapters nicely recapitulate the story already told, from the early influence in Britain of F.D.Maurice, Coleridge and J.W.Ludlow with their protests against the harsh rigidities of evangelical dogmatism and laissez-faire economics, to the impact of novelists like Dickens, Mrs Gaskell and Charles Kingsley, passionately denouncing the selfishness of the rich and successful. These writers all sought to evoke a kinder, more compassionate society in Britain, arising out of a sense of Christian love, where the needs of all would be fostered rather than the profits of the few. The second stage of Christian socialism developed in the 1880s following revelations of the ghastly conditions in London’s slums. Young men and women from Oxford and Cambridge were recruited to serve in newly-founded settlements in the East End, such as Toynbee Hall, which did much to create a socially sensitive leadership for the twentieth century. At the same time the first leaders of the trade unions were almost all recruited from the nonconformist chapels, which had a strongly Christian ethical commitment, and provided their lay preachers with the skills they needed to address public gatherings. Their socialism was reformist, immanentist and optimistic, and as such outweighed the much harsher creed of the secular revolutionaries. As we all know, the Labour Party owed more to Methodism than to Marx.

For its part, the Church of England demonstrated its commitment to social justice through the work of numerous Anglo-Catholic parishes in the slum areas. The sacrificial witness of such priests as Fr Robert Dolling or John Groser created a tradition which still endures. Their liturgical services brought a richness of drama and colour to their often sordid surroundings, even if many such parishes indulged in a nostalgia for the good old mediaeval days.

The Christian Socialist movement’s theology was incarnational, seeing the material world as an object for sanctification. Its advocates placed a new emphasis on sharing the gifts of the Church, especially the Eucharist, in a democratic fellowship. Yet they remained ambivalent about the exercise of power. Frequently its supporters were idealistically utopian, suspicious of political compromise and happiest in opposition, where moral absolutes and righteous indignation were, and are, always easier to maintain.

Intellectually the movement gained much from the Church Social Union, founded in 1889 under Canon Scott Holland, which sought to apply Christian principles to social and economic life. It functioned as both an educational and a research group, undertaking down-to-earth investigations of social problems and propagating its findings through the parishes. It encouraged collective action and called for governmental intervention, no longer believing that poverty and destitution were the result of individual moral failures. It came to enjoy considerable support from both the bishops and the Liberal Party, and from its ranks came such distinguished figures as R.H.Tawney, author of the highly influential book, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, and the later Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple.

But, as Wilkinson, rightly notes, the movement was elitist, working from the top down. It never really succeeded in recruiting the working classes to whom it ministered and for whom it campaigned. Its leaders were drawn from the clergy, academics, writers and politicians whose Christian convictions led them to seek the practical realization of their social justice ideals, but who had rarely experienced unemployment, homelessness or poverty. Yet their success made England virtually the only country where Christianity and socialism were not seen as incompatible.

Wilkinson depicts the leaders, such as Holland, Gore, Tawney and Temple, as well as lesser-known figures, with sympathy, but no uncritically. By the light of later years, these were indeed giants in the land. All were moralists at heart, and were convinced that the struggle against capitalism was fundamentally ethical in character. But their Christian faith saved them from both utopianism and the worship of the all-powerful state or party. At the same time, their tradition separated them from the continental socialists. English, and especially Anglican, Christian Socialism was, and is, very much a local phenomenon. As a result, even in other English-speaking countries, such as Canada or Australia, it has had only limited success. But in Britain too, its Christian ethical basis came to be rejected by many socialists whose philosophy was entirely secular or opportunistically materialist.

In the inter-war period, William Temple lent his prestige and public relations skills to fostering the cause by advocating the principles of freedom, fellowship, service and sacrifice. But these proved too fragile to withstand the international challenge of Nazism, Fascism or Communism, or, at home, to offset the class warfare experienced on the road to Wigan Pier.

While the sponsors of the post-1945 British Welfare state, such as William Beveridge, were influenced by these views, the actual practice of the 1950’s recovery was prompted by less exalted motives, being egged on by the pursuit of materialist consumerism.

The cause of Christian socialism was not helped by the activities of such mavericks as the ‘Red’ Dean of Canterbury, Hewlett Johnson, who for years lent a religious gloss to his praise for Stalin and the Soviet system, totally ignoring even in the late 1950s the totalitarian and oppressive character of that regime. Instead, as he naively claimed, Communism was putting the New Testament into practice in the twentieth century. Just as Jesus proclaimed universal brotherhood, so did Communism. But as Adrian Hastings justly remarked: “there is a certain inherent silliness in the preaching of political revolution by a gaitered cleric from the comfort of a cathedral close”.

Far more constructive has been the influence of such men as Kenneth Leech who has ministered all his life in London’s East End. He has for years sought to make the Catholic movement an effective counter-society with cells of holy discontent, so that it can witness to the age to come amidst the structures of this fallen world. His 1997 book, The Sky is Red reasserts the need for a prophetic rather than just a reformist role for Christian Socialism. So there is a place for utopian dreams after all, as a counterbalance to the deadening effects of bureaucratic do-goodism by the state.

In 1989, the collapse of the East European political systems forced all the left to rethink their ideas about the role of the state. Christian socialists now found their suspicion of the omnipotent and omniscient state reinforced. The emphasis should revert to the earlier insight of socialism >from below, by encouraging participation in democratic structures at the local level, backed by moral commitment from engaged volunteers. At the same time, in Britain, another factor for the revival of Christian socialism , as can be seen in the stance of the present Prime Minister Tony Blair, was the revulsion against the selfish and harsh individualism of the Thatcher years.

Ethical corporatism in the Tawney tradition is presently favoured by both bishops and politicians in pursuit of the common good. In 1996, for instance, Tony Blair claimed that the Labour Party was in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets and Wilberforce, presumably stressing their concern for social justice. “the good of all depends on the good of each, but also confirms duties and responsibilities”. Libertarian individualism when “you did your own thing” is an inadequate creed for a whole society. Instead partnership, co-operation and consensus are the prime virtues, even though severely tested in the circumstances of Northern Ireland. Yet, as Wilkinson believes, by acknowledging his debt to his Christian faith, Tony Blair can draw support from the tradition derived from F.D.Maurice a century and a half ago.

Wilkinson concludes this stimulating survey by asking pertinent questions about the future. How should Christians react to the often disintegrating force of technological globalization? How should churches, long the upholders of the traditional past, react to the rapidity of seemingly unstoppable change? And particularly but not only in Britain, how should Christians react to the evolving pluralist society in which they are no longer a majority and which is sooner or later likely to renounce its Christian heritage? And where shall we find an ethical framework for a plural society in a plural world? Wilkinson clearly hopes that the Christian Socialist tradition which he has so ably described will be able to contribute to this on-going task. We can certainly be grateful for his invigorating insights.


b) ed. G.Kelly and C.J.Weborg, Reflections on Bonhoeffer. Essys in honor of F.Burton Nelson, Chicago: Covenant Publications 1999, 357 pp

This Festschrift is in honour of our well-beloved colleague, F.Burton Nelson, who has served for many years at North Park Seminary of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Chicago. It is entirely appropriate that these essays open with a well-deserved tribute to Burton, and follow with reflections on the impact of Bonhoeffer, since Burton has done so much to teach, preach and research about this German theologian and make his findings known to so many North American students.

This collection may be seen as the parallel publication to the Cambridge Companion to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, reviewed here last December. In fact, many of the same authors contribute to both books, though on different aspects of Bonhoeffer’s significance. Even though this field is extremely well tilled, there are still nuggets to be found, and those not yet familiar with Bonhoeffer will be assisted to see his importance in the whole range of theology.

The essay by Geffrey Kelly, one of the editors, on Bonhoeffer and the Jews advances the discussion of what has been a thorny issue: when and how did Bonhoefffer leave behind the typical anti-Judaism of his Lutheran Church? Were his protests of 1933 primarily on behalf of the converted or on behalf of all Jews? And was his priority the defence of the Church’s autonomy against political interference, or the championing of human rights per se? In Kelly’s view Bonhoeffer should be given the benefit of the doubt, but only to note how exceptional his attitude was, compared to that of his colleagues. He also makes clear how embarrassing it was for the Confessing Church to be provoked into taking a stand against the State on this very issue. Even Niemoller only came to recognize the significance of standing up for the Jews after he was incarcerated in Dachau. “When they came for the Jews. . etc. . .” But Bonhoeffer’s part in the rescue of fourteen Jews who escaped to Switzerland was an integral part of his resistance to Nazi tyranny, and the immediate cause for his arrest in 1943. For that reason, Kelly argues, he deserves to be recognized as a “Righteous Gentile”, an honour so far denied by Israel’s Yad Washem Centre. In any case he cannot be denied the credit of leading the way, followed by others after his death in 1945, calling for the abandonment of Christian triumphalism and for the recognition of the need for reconciliation with our elder brothers, the Jewish people.

The later contributions cover Bonhoeffer’s legacy in ecumenical and contemporary issues. I particularly liked Keith Clemens’ autobiographical account of how Bonhoeffer’s words helped him to come to terms with his family’s and the western church’s missionary imperialism in China. In conclusion Charles Sensel warns of the danger that Bonhoeffer’s creativity may be forgotten in the pragmatic mixture of psychology and religion in the reactionary 1990s experienced in the United States. But in fact, in Germany and elsewhere, Bonhoeffer remains an icon to be revered but also learnt from. Expounding his theological witness has been Burton Nelson’s life work.

These essays help to show why it was so important and rich a legacy.


b) Laszlo G.Terray, He Could Not Do Otherwise. Bishop Lajos Ordass 1901-1978. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans 1997. 171 pp.

Bishop Lajos Ordass was one of the leaders of the Lutheran Church in Hungary during the troubled years immediately after the Second World War. This tribute, originally published in Norway some years ago, has now appeared in an attractive English translation. It gives a valuable appreciation of the church-political struggles which this community endured. Ordass was born in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, where several communities of Lutherans had migrated southwards over the centuries. But that Empire’s downfall in 1918 created new rival nationalisms, and Ordass found himself separated from his wider family for years as a result. Educated in Hungary, he was fortunate to spend a year in Sweden where he found a different form of Lutheranism, more ecumenical and pietistic, and less subservient to the German tradition. It was this which saved him from being seduced, after 1933, by the allurements of the “German Christians” who sought to rally all Lutherans to the Nazi cause. He was also influenced by these contacts to play a small role in assisting the Jews of Budapest in the darkest days of 1944.

Following the end of the war, new leadership was called for, and Ordass was elected bishop for western Hungary, including Budapest, The pastoral tasks involved in restoring church life were enormous, and were only made more difficult because Lutherans were frequently regarded as agents of the now hated Germans. But luckily with the aid of the World Council of Churches and the international Lutheran community, assistance was provided from Scandinavia, Switzerland and the United States. In 1947 Ordass was able to spend several months abroad to express his gratitude and to attend the constituent assembly for the newly-formed Lutheran World Federation.

In 1948, however, the Soviet-imposed Communist party tightened its grip. Its leaders made no secret of their hostility to the churches, especially those with connections to the West. Having watched closely the church struggles, especially in Norway, during the Nazi years, Ordass was resolved not to compromise the church’s integrity. Predictably the church schools were the regime’s first target. Ordass’ declared opposition to their being taken over led to the refusal of a passport to attend the 1st Assembly of the World Council of Churches, and subsequently to his arrest in September 1948. The following mock trial sentenced him to two years imprisonment and the loss of office. The similar arrest of the Catholic Primate, Cardinal Mindszenty, clearly showed the regime’s intentions. The surviving Lutheran authorities counseled submission, and when Ordass refused to resign, he had to be deposed. Even after his release from prison in 1950, he was not allowed to return to his ministry.

The revolution in October 1956, however, led to his rehabilitation and restoration to his episcopal office. For a brief period, the church seemed to enjoy more freedom of action, and Ordass threw himself into the pastoral tasks of rebuilding congregational life. In the following summer he was allowed to attend the Lutheran World Federation meeting in Minneapolis, a most welcome recompense after years of isolation.

But subsequently relations with the Communist Party again deteriorated, and in November 1958 Ordass was again deposed. For his remaining twenty years, he lived as a pensioner, but subject to constant reproach for not identifying himself or his church with the atheistic government. For his fellow Lutherans abroad, however, he symbolized, along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Bishop Berggrav of Oslo, the unflinching steadfastness of Christian and Lutheran resistance to state tyranny, as is reflected in this biography. Not until 1995, and only then under pressure, was his own church in Hungary prepared to acknowledge the injustice done to this valiant upholder of Luther’s tradition.

As in the other Communist countries, the role of the church leadership in Hungary during these repressive years remains hotly disputed. The author of this memoir is highly critical of the compromises which other leaders made, seeking to conform their congregations to the prevailing political climate. His praise for Bishop Ordass serves to remind us of the high price paid for such staunch witness.


c) A. Hamish Ion, The Cross in the Dark Valley: The Canadian Protestant Missionary Movement in the Japanese Empire, 1931-1945. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1999. xvi.428 pages (B & W photos).

The author, who teaches at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, has written three volumes (of which this is the third) on British and Canadian Protestant missions in Japan, Korea and Taiwan, beginning from their beginning in 1865 . In his first volume he explains his interest in missionaries, not primarily as evangelists but rather as agents of cultural interchange between Japan and the West. So when he writes in this volume, “This book studies the end of the missionary age in the history of Japan’s international relations with the West . . .” he is telling us that with the rise of militarism based on the worship of a god-emperor the missionaries had failed in the end to act as carriers of modern, western democratic values. That process must now be taken up by other groups.

In spite of Ion’s denial that he is concerned with the religious side of the missionary movement, he provides a good deal of interesting information about the final days of missionary activity. In twelve chapters he covers every possible aspect of Anglican, Presbyterian and United Church work in the prewar empire. Of particular interest is his comparison of evangelism and social service in Japan and the colonies (chapters 2 & 3, 6 & 7). In Japan, Christianity appealed mainly to members of the middle class, which tended to identify with the establishment, whereas in the colonies, workers, farmers and indigenous minorities responded. Thus in Japan, Christians – and their missionary friends – tended to affirm their country’s nationalist aspirations. In the colonies, on the other hand, the class consciousness of the underclass converts reinforced opposition to colonial dictates, a stand usually supported by their missionary mentors.

This contrast was most marked in the controversy over Christian attendance at State Shinto shrines (chapter 4). In Japan most Christians, eager to be counted patriotic citizens and members of a ‘mainline’ religion, accepted the government argument that shrine attendance was not an act of worship but an expression of “patriotism and loyalty” [87]. Missionaries like Howard Outerbridge of the United Church agreed with this arrangement and criticized the stance of colleagues in Korea who supported indigenous resistance to shrine attendance. Both sides, though, viewed the question as a “purely religious” one without being much concerned about its political aspect. This limited perspective meant that no missionary – only a diplomat like the Canadian ambassador, Herbert Marler – was equipped to deal holistically with the relations between the religious question and the rise of militarism. Hence the ‘failure’ of the missionary movement to influence events, whether in Japan or in Canada, which Ion notes in his introduction [1].

Ion’s treatment of the closing days of prewar missions (chapters 10-12) combines skillful use of archival material with sensitivity to the emotional elements involved in the missionaries’ leaving Japan. None of the missionaries wanted to leave, and their unwillingness was supported by the ambivalent attitude of the indigenous Christians. On the one hand, old friendships made them feel needed. On the other, the identification of church leaders with their country’s nationalistic goals meant that the Canadians (as ‘British’) represented a source of suspicion on the part of police and other government agents. This reviewer remembers his father’s anguish when his license to officiate as a priest was revoked by his Japanese bishop in 1942. His lifetime of work in Japan seemed to him to have been repudiated by the very people to whom he had dedicated his life.

There are a few flaws. The context of missionary withdrawal would have been enriched by more detailed reference to the changes in theological thinking about mission: by growing insight into the relations between missions and colonialism and the moves toward devolution (the handing over of leadership to indigenous Christians) that were being encouraged by the very nationalism described. The Jerusalem Conference of 1928 and the Layman ‘s Commission (briefly mentioned) are but two examples of what was going on in the understanding of the churches in the West. There are some curious stylistic infelicities that could have been altered by closer editorial supervision. But these are minor points in a work which breaks new ground, not only in our understanding of the earliest stage in Japanese-Canadian relations, but also in the detailed information about Canadian work that has hitherto been buried in British, Canadian, and Japanese archives.

Cyril Powles, Vancouver

Book notes:

a) “Dietrich Bonhoeffer” is the title of an essay by the well-known novelist Marilynne Robinson in a collection entitled The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought (Thomas Allan $19.95). This is a sympathetic analysis drawing particular notice to the tension evidently occurring in Bonhoeffer’s career through the contrasts between his transcendental theology and his immanentist ethics, which was only made more acute by being played out in the struggle against Nazi tyranny The book also contains a fine appreciation of the career of Jean Calvin, as an example of a thinker now too often disregarded, but who still has many worthwhile things to say to us all.

b) Friedrich Thimme, Briefe. Schriften des Bundesarchiv 46, Boppard 1994 Friedrich Thimme, a distinguished political historian, and editor of Germany ‘s diplomatic documents, retired just as the Nazis came to power. For the next five years, until his death in a climbing accident in 1938, he was much involved with church affairs. As a staunchly orthodox and upright Lutheran, he was from the first deeply opposed to Nazism, with its cult of violence and its totalitarian ambitions. His letters from these years, edited by his daughter,who formerly taught at the University of Alberta, show his resolute attempts, as a layman, to mobilize his fellow churchmen to recognize the Nazi danger. One of his aims was to publish an authoritative book of essays by both Catholic and Protestant authors warning of the Nazis’ neo-paganism.

Although he gained the support of several prominent Catholics, his own community were luke-warm, and even the staunch members of the Confessing Church shied away from any collaboration with Catholics. Suspicions died hard, even when both were on the same side against Nazi presumptions. At the same time, Thimme sought to convince his own immediate circle, including two brothers who were clergymen, not to indulge in wishful thinking about Hitler or to suppose that the Nazi take-over of power was a historic moment of national renewal. But largely he met with opportunistic responses, even from the leaders of the Confessing Church. (Ah, frailty thy name is Marahrens!) As a first-hand source for the early Church Struggle, these letters shed light on lay attitudes, make clear the prevarications and clash of loyalties which affected so many who should have known better, and show why the Church’s resistance to Nazism was so limited in its scope and effectiveness.

The latest Mitteilungen (18) put out by the Evangelische Arbeitsgemeinschaft für kirchliche Zeitgeschichte (Munich) contains the text of a special lecture given by Prof. Martin Greschat, now retired from the University of Giessen, on “Continuity and Crises: German Protestantism in the 1960s”, as well as a description of the publications planned by the Committee for the History of the Protestant Churches in a divided Germany since 1945. The debates over whether such history has to be written in two separate parts, corresponding to the division of the country for forty years, or as one overarching national experience, are still continuing. There are also reports on the various conferences marking the tenth anniversary of the downfall of the unlamented G.D.R.

The recently published Festschrift for Prof Ringshausen (Luneburg) entitled: Widerstehen und Erziehen im christlichen Glauben, edited by Gerhard Besier and Gunter R.Schmidt, and published in Holzgerlingen by Haenssler, 1999, includes the following items of interest to church historians: Joerg Thierfelder: “Aber Hände weg von Bibel und Kirche”. Wahlverweigerer im evangelischen Wuerttemberg bei der Volksabstimmung vom 10. April 1938, Ruediger von Voss: Der 20. Juli 1944. Anmerkungen zum Verstaendnis deutscher Geschichte, Gerhard Besier: “Efforts to strengthen the German Church”. Der Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America und die Repraesentanten der deutschen evangelischen Kirche in der Nachkriegszeit (1945-1948), Peter Steinbach: Die Ludwigsburger Zentrale Stelle und die Zukunft deutscher Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung.


With every best wish to you all,


John S.Conway ity, and a deep strain of anti-utopianism.

Andrii Krawchuk, Christian Social Ethics in Ukraine. The legacy of Andrei


Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press 1997 404 pp.

Krawchuk’s doctoral thesis is a solid piece of historical scholarship

dealing with the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the first half of this

century, when the leading figure was its long-serving Metropolitan

Sheptytsky. The author’s coverage is both political and social, and

describes the attempts of the Metropolitan, up to his death in 1944, to keep

his church afloat in the midst of terrifying political persecution and

oppression. This work complements the 1996 study by B.R.Bociurkiw, The

Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Soviet State, 1939-1950.

For Germans, but not only for them, the forthcoming November 9th is a date

of particular importance. I would be interested to hear from any of you how

in fact you have commemorated the events which took place in this century,

either on or around that date itself, especially if you made any specific

reference to a possible Christian interpretation of its significance. Of

even wider significance are the commemorations of November 11th.

Now that we have abandoned the kind of religiously-flavoured national

patriotic demonstrations, what kind of ceremonies can be said to be fitting,

other than a purely secular wreath-laying. Do let me know what happens in

your area.

With best wishes,

John Conway