October 2002 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

Newsletter- October 2002- Vol. VIII, no . 10

Dear Friends,
This month’s Newsletter is rather a mixed bag of reviews, but I trust it
will indicate the range of our endeavours, and will therefore prove to be of interest.

1) Book reviews:

a) Hill, Lord Acton
b) Fell, Christianity in Iceland
c) Thorne, Congregational Missions and Imperialism
d) Putney, Muscular Christianity
e) Raum, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

2) American Lutherans and the Jews
1a) Roland Hill, Lord Acton. New Haven and London: Yale University Press
1999 xxiv + 548 pp. £25 (ISBN 0-300-07956-7)
What a pleasure it is to review once in a while a biography which is
honest historically and elegantly written. Hill, the first biographer to
use the entire Acton family correspondence housed since 1973 with Acton’s
library and card index in Cambridge University Library, gives us at last a
comprehensive look into Acton’s life and times. Amongst previous attempts,
only Gertrude Himmelfarb, Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and Politics,
published as long ago as 1952, comes anywhere near. Hill’s biography can
be recommended, therefore, also without hesitation to historians who write
about the church of their own times: as refreshment on how to practice
their controversial craft, and as food for thought about the relationship
of the Church with the modern nation-state, and the Church with modern
science and scholarship. Both Actonian issues came nowhere near to any
reasonable solution in our troubled European century which followed his
death (in 1902). Only the briefest comments here. Hill reminds us that it
is Acton, the teacher who continues to influence historians. Acton’s
Cambridge colleague, the great English legal historian, Maitland, put ‘le
pourquoi du pourquoi’, Acton’s favourite saying, in this context with
remarkable insight when he wrote on Acton’s death – generously given
Acton’s lack of publications – in the introduction Acton was supposed to
write for a 1901 collection of Essays on the Writing of History: ‘When all
men get their due, a large share of credit will be given to those whose
patient and self-denying labours as tutors and lecturers have left them
little time for the acquisition of such fame as may be won by great books’.
But Maitland added in his official obituary the following year, that Acton
would continue to influence the young because he was as a teacher, ‘at
home, no doubt, upon the frontstairs, but supreme upon the backstairs, and
(as he once said) getting his meals in the kitchen: acquainted with the use
of cupboards and with the skeletons that lie therein; especially familiar
with the laundry where the dirty linen is washed; an analyst of all the
various soaps that have been employed for that purpose in all ages and all
climes’. One of the joys of this book is Hill’s skill in bringing back to
life this backstairs in the cosmopolitan world of high society and high
politics in which Acton moved, part of the Europe we lost in 1914. To
learn to ‘suspect power more than vice’, was an Actonianism coined
backstairs. There are wonderful passages and chapters in this book, not
just the frontstairs like ‘Papal Infallibility and Beyond’, and the
touching portraits of Döllinger, Newman and Gladstone (each aware of their
sharing lost causes), but the private sorrows and boredoms of Acton and his
wife (in particular the death of their seventeen year-old daughter
Elisabeth from scarlet fever in Tegernsee in 1881; the gravestone
inscription devised a little later with Döllinger’s help, ‘Divinitus data,
brevi revocata, ad coelestam patriam, aviam praecedens, evolavit’ giving a
Latin form to a loss which Acton recorded in an undated note, ‘what can
religion be worth, if there is not more in God to comfort us than there can
be in the loss of any, even the dearest and most cherished of his
creatures, to distress us’)
Humility united Döllinger and Acton, teacher and pupil, in the Christian
faith. It is what made both look behind the facade of institutional
religion. The three sets of illustrations are needless to say well-chosen
and very revealing. Döllinger rather typically placed Lenbach’s fine
portrait of the mature Acton, given to him by the painter as a present in
1883, above his desk in his study at a time when his pupil had criticized
his own integrity as a historian – how, Acton had asked in a letter written
in the middle of 1882, could Döllinger treat Luther as a German hero if the
evidence showed that Luther could preach freedom but in fact establish the
doctrine of passive obedience to princes he allowed to be absolute, or had
conceded the royal privilege of bigamy to Henry VIII and Philip of Hesse,
or had wanted ‘the peasants to be treated even worse than Marat wanted to
treat the rich’?

Nicholas Hope, University of Glasgow
b) Michael Fell, And some fell into good soil. A History of Christianity
in Iceland (American University Studies, Series VII, vol. 201).
New York/Berne: Peter Lang 1997 405pp
It tells us something about the state of the writing of church history
when a scholarly account appears for even such a remote and little-known
country as Iceland., written by Michael Fell, an American professor. His
survey of Christianity in Iceland from the earliest days is an
authoritative and well researched account, based on his familiarity with
the sources and the Icelandic language. A full bibliography and twenty
pages of illustrations add to the book’s value. Particularly interesting
are the parallels and contrasts to the history of the Church in other
Scandinavian lands, especially since the Reformation. The last third of
the book is devoted to the twentieth century.
Following the new constitution of 1874, decreeing religious freedom, the
autocratic hold of orthodox Lutheranism waned. Liberal theology was
imported from Germany. One reaction was a remarkable if short-lived
spiritualist revival; but orthodoxy was revitalized through the work of
the YMCA and the charismatic movement. The ensuing tensions within the
National Church are still apparent. Nevertheless Lutheranism remains the
established church, and has followed the pattern of other Scandinavian
churches in democratizing its governing structures, opening the way for
women priests and modernizing its liturgies. But the growth of religious
indifference is worrisome. Professor Fell clearly hopes that his tribute
to the great Icelandic traditions and leadership of the past will help to
ensure their continuity in the future.
c) Susan Thorne, Congregational Missions and the making of an imperial
culture in 19th century England. (Stanford University Press, 1999), 247 pp.
Over the past generation, the writing of missionary history has undergone
revolutionary changes. With the overthrow or disappearance of the European
colonial empires, the kind of triumphalist histories depicting missionary
advances, written from the top downwards, can no longer be found. Instead,
new depictions of these encounters, composed by the recipients, and
relating the story from the bottom upwards, are now in vogue. But this is
a long-term project. In the meantime, Susan Thorne seeks a new angle by
investigating the impact the campaigns for foreign missions had on their
home base, and the possible effect they had in stimulating social reform in
England. She bases her enquiry on the Congregational Church, which by the
mid-19th century was the largest non-conformist body, having been
rejuvenated through the evangelical revival started by the Wesleys.
Her account begins with paradoxes. Throughout their history,
Congregationalists were suspicious of the established Church’s pretensions
and its links to the ruling classes. But in pursuit of new missionary
fields overseas, or in such activities as the anti-slavery campaign, they
needed the British state. Equally, the Congregationalists’ belief in the
equality of all believers led them to attack the privileged elite, which
they regarded as morally corrupt and effete. But without aristocratic
leadership, Britain’s imperial expansion would not have happened. After the
Napoleonic war, Britain controlled nearly a quarter of the world’s
population, from Greenland’s icy mountains to India’s coral strands. Most
of these newly acquired populations were unsaved heathens. The task was
enormous. The resources were few. But the missionary belief was that even
such vast numbers could be rescued by the Christian church’s civilizing
mission. Saving China’s millions, for example, was always seen as an
urgent obligation.
The Congregational Church was highly successful in mobilizing its
constituency, drawing mainly from self-made men of the commercial classes,
whose enterprise and vitality gave a remarkable cohesion to their religious
interests, especially foreign missions. This involvement, in turn, defined
Congregationalists, and other non-conformists, setting them apart from the
governing establishment above them and the labouring poor below. Their
hallmark was moralizing earnestness; their greatest success the abolition
of slavery. By mid-nineteenth century, organized Nonconformity had proved
its respectability and was a power to be taken seriously.
In the second half of the century, Susan Thorne contends, the missionary
movement was profoundly altered, principally due to its increasing
feminization. Women were no longer prepared to be merely auxiliaries to
their menfolk, but established their own missionary societies and sent out
their own women missionaries. By 1900 they had almost reached parity with
the men. The women’s contributions totaled 70% of the income of the major
missionary organizations. The mission cause was probably the largest mass
movement of women in 19th century Britain, and provided an institutional
space in which to rival men.
Yet this was also the period when the habit of racial characterization
became widely popular amongst the Anglo-Saxon intelligentsia, offering an
undoubted ideological boost to imperial autocracy. Secular critics of the
missions were therefore scornful of the sentimentality and superficiality
of their belief in egalitarian salvation, which could be dismissed as
absurd wishful thinking, contradicting the hard facts of social Darwinism.
The women’s missionary impact was however both persistent and painstaking.
They recognized that preaching alone – a man’s task – was not enough.
Rather the whole social fabric needed to be redeemed by Christian love,
starting in the areas of health, education and family maintenance., in
which feminine skills excelled. But of course such an extension of the
missionary’s efforts meant that the task became limitless. The gap between
expectations and achievements grew ever wider.
But as the empire expanded, the arrival of more English officials,
settlers, business men and adventurers marginalized the missionaries, who
now found their aspirations for rural self-supporting village units were
increasingly challenged by the capitalist exploitation of the native races
as favoured by the European imperialists. David Livingstone’s belief that
Christianity and commerce could assist each other seemed simplistic, and
foreign missionary strategists were driven on the defensive. At the same
time, home missions began to rebound. Congregationalists began to join with
others in recognizing their more local opportunities and obligations. In
the slums of Britain’s cities, Congregational missions sought to bring the
advantages of moral uplift and Christian teaching, and the techniques
formerly concentrated overseas were now seen to also be applicable to
domestic problems. By 1915 “the fight against social heathenism at home and
against the degradations of non-Christian lands abroad are simply one war”.
Susan Thorne’s description of how the working classes responded to these
missionary enterprises is interesting. She points out how much the missions
were dependent for their funding on the pennies of the Sunday schools,
which drew in a substantial proportion of working class children. But in
the chapels, the ideal of Christian democracy was less apparent. Leading
positions in the Congregational Church were almost always held by those
with wealth and influence, who took care not to be too closely associated
with those considered to be their social inferiors. To be sure some
chapels embraced a more radical political stance. They produced future
political leaders of stature, like Ernest Bevin. But it was soon clear to
the workers’ leaders that agitation with the ballot box rather than moral
uplift in chapel was the route to go.
Already by the beginning of the 20th century, the image of the Empire no
longer reflected the missionaries’ humanitarian impulses. The benefactor
who saved was replaced by the nationalist who conquered. But the disasters
of the First World War paradoxically outweighed the territorial additions
to the British Empire. European imperial domination no longer had moral
validity. Its civilizing mission to lesser breeds without the law no longer
had credibility. The resulting decline in church attendance as well as in
foreign missions in the 1920s was obvious. Congregationalism, like most
nonconformist churches, lost heavily in numbers and hence in financial
support. So too did its main political expression, the Liberal Party. In
addition, theological liberalism led many to abandon the old protestant and
biblical certainties which had been the missionaries’ standby. These rifts
were to produce enormous and ambiguous tensions. Nonetheless Dr.Thorne
claims that the subsequent British espousal of notions of trusteeship and
development for the former Empire can be seen as the legacy of missionary

d) Clifford Putney, Muscular Christianity. Manhood and sports in
Protestant America, 1880-1920. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
2001. 300 pp. ISBN 0-674-00634-8
In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, there arose in the
white middle-class Protestant communities in the United States a cult of
muscular Christianity, which sought to link religious and physical health
amongst young men. A whole range of institutions, most prominently the
YMCA, were developed to propagate this cause. Putney’s well-researched but
somewhat ambivalent account places this movement in its secular context, as
part of the optimistic mood of the so-called Progressive Era, which looked
for American cultural and imperialist expansion to be undertaken by
resolute, robust men. At the same time, Putney sees a narrower motive,
namely a reaction against the feminization of the church. This was to be
the Protestant churches’ equivalent of all-male societies, such as the
Elks, the Moose and other such fraternities, seeking to counteract the
danger of effeminacy in religion.
But, more positively, muscular Christianity was held to be a vital
prerequisite for the success of the missionary movement overseas. Hence
the deliberate cultivation of well-known athletes as a means of arousing
evangelistic fervour – a development which continued well into the
twentieth century.
Though first propagated in England by such Christian liberals as Charles
Kingsley and Thomas Hughes, the author of “Tom Brown’s School Days”, the
movement soon caught on in the United States, particularly among the
Protestants of the northern states. The belief that manly athletes,
suitably trained in Protestant rhetoric, could take up the task of
overcoming society’s ills, was part of the reformist movement following the
victory of the Civil War, and of the resurgence of Protestant evangelical
fervour, sponsored by such men as Moody and Sankey. Their aim was worldly
power, divinely blessed – a task felt for men only, and their prototype was
to be Theodore Roosevelt, later President.
In England, muscular Christianity became institutionalized in the famous,
but elitist, public schools, such as Rugby, or was known through the
publicity accorded to the “Cambridge Seven”, a group of athletes who in
1885 went out to convert China’s “heathen masses” through the China Inland
Mission. But it was in America that this combination of vibrant Christian
faith and athletic ability found its greatest success. Muscular piety
became highly popular as an antidote to earlier puritan asceticism, and,
once freed from its English class-ridden associations, could be embraced by
forward-looking American Protestants with enthusiasm. Character building
for the individual matched national building for a rapidly expanding
society. Moreover, the growth of American cities and the evident dangers of
ill-health, physical and spiritual, arising from such conditions, called
for effective practical steps to combat moral decline. George Williams’
successful development of gymnasia in the YMCA’s city-based facilities
exactly met the perceived needs. Moreover, such Protestant endeavours could
be seen as an effective remedy against the degenerative effect of having
too many non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants, and the consequent danger to the
health of the American race. The spread of the summer camping movement
across all of North America, largely undertaken under church auspices, as
it still remains, can be seen as one of muscular Christianity’s most
lasting successes.
Criticism of this movement was not absent. From the beginning, many
churches, particularly those derived from the stricter forms of Calvinism,
were suspicious of promoting the glories of the flesh. Others challenged
the anti-intellectualism, the athletic snobbery, the implicit anti-feminism
and the sometime explicit racism of the cause. In the long run, however,
as Putney makes clear, the weakest point in muscular Christianity was the
link between religion and physical activity. As the opportunities for the
latter grew rapidly, the motivation became increasingly secularized, and
the connection between physical and spiritual health evaporated. The
YMCA’s noted red triangle of “body, mind, spirit” no longer met its
founder’s ideal of bringing men to Glory.
The same thing happened with the link between religion and political
engagement. Whereas the activities of muscular Christians made them
natural allies of the Social Gospel cause at the turn of the century, such
engagement increasingly came to be regarded as valid for its own,
humanitarian sake, and the explicit Christian motivation died away.
Indeed, Putney rightly sees that the inherently Pelagian character of
muscular Christianity, which attempted to attain salvation through the
building of body and character, was inherently flawed. Its progressive
rejection of outside divine intervention watered down the essential
Protestant insights of earlier centuries, and substituted a humanistic, if
strenuous, heartiness for Christ’s sacrificial salvation. When Jesus was
upheld, it was always as a manly, heroic figure, a Nietzschean superman,
combatting the evils of the day, but in effect de-mythologized. Putney
could have, perhaps, pointed out the similarities of this stance with that
of those Nazi Protestants who in the 1930s also upheld a heroic “aryan”
Jesus, and enthusiastically endorsed Hitler’s crusade to restore German
nationalism by manly example.
Another problematic instance of muscular Christianity’s impact was the
involvment with overseas missions. By the end of the nineteenth century, a
remarkable confidence in America’s destiny led to the Student Volunteer
Movement’s setting itself the goal of: “The Evangelization of the World in
this Generation”. It appealed to the heroic side of Christian commitment,
and was often sacrificial. It called for men ready to venture forth into
inhospitable lands with torrid climes, deprived them of the civilizing
resources of their upbringing, banished them for long,often life-long,
periods of exile, was ill-paid and increasingly was disdained not only by
those they sought to convert, but even by the general public at home. Yet
the remarkable fact is that thousands of well-educated young men, who could
certainly have looked forward to good careers at home, dedicated themselves
to this task, inspired by far-sighted and ambitious missionary strategists.
Possibly the most famous of these was John R. Mott, a leading American
YMCA worker, chairman of the Student Volunteer Movement, and inspirer of
the world-wide Protestant ecumenical movement, whose efforts were rewarded
in 1946 with the Nobel Peace Prize. But the questionable identification of
this Christian missionary endeavour with American cultural imperialism,
including the championship of manly muscular sports, led in the long run to
the movement’s eclipse.
The apotheosis of this development came in the first world war. Muscular
Christians were almost all fervently patriotic. But the Christian soldiers
marched onwards to their deaths in the Flanders trenches. The subsequent
disillusionment of the survivors entirely destroyed the attractiveness of
this, and indeed most other forms of Christianity. The result was a
widespread crisis of credibility from which the churches have never
recovered. No amount of later repentance for their former ultramilitant
muscular Christianity could restore the hold of the Protestant
establishment in the hearts of many Americans. The sceptical undermining
of the churches’ moral and political influence proved irresistible.
Secular institutions sought to take over the propagation of personal
manliness as a civic duty, with very mixed results. Main-stream Protestant
clergy, to their credit, came back to the realization that divinity resided
not in men’s muscles, but with God. It was left to some of the more
peripheral fundamentalist churches to keep the cause of muscular
Christianity alive in America even today. So we can be grateful to
Clifford Putney for charting the rise and fall of this flamboyant, but
overall aberrant, version of American Christian discipleship.
e) Elizabeth Raum, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Called by God.
New York: Continuum Press 2002, 184pp.
Elizabeth Raum’s purpose is clear. She has produced a concise and
readable account of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the noted German
Protestant theologian murdered by the Nazis in 1945. This is no
substitute for the comprehensive biography written by Bonhoeffer’s pupil
and close friend, Eberhard Bethge, which first appeared in 1965. Bethge’s
study, however, now newly revised and retranslated by Victoria J.Barnett,
extends to 1048 pages. It will, according to Ms Raum, “never be surpassed,
but will be read by only the most devoted”. So a much shorter precis is
needed for a new generation, no longer conversant with the events of sixty
to seventy years ago.
Dietrch Bonhoeffer’s appeal, especially to North Americans, is two-fold.
His theological writings, particularly the now well-known, if unfinished,
Letters and Papers from Prison, offered a new reformist and attractive
perspective for the personal discipleship of modern Christians. Second, his
involvement in the Resistance movement against Hitler, and his subsequent
martyrdom in this cause, lent authority and authenticity to his views.
Over the past few decades, interest in Bonhoeffer and his ideas has
continued to grow. Hence the desire for a handy summary of his
achievements, such as Elizabeth Raum delivers.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer belonged to the upper middle professional class, whose
members already before 1914 had contributed enormously to Germany’s
intellectual stature and technological achievements. But their confidence
in their nation’s and the world’s future had been shattered by the
catastrophe of the first world war. So too the religious and moral
securities of earlier days were now overlaid with much darker and more
dangerous forces. Bonhoeffer’s career was in some ways an attempt to find
appropriate answers to this new ominous situation, especially after the
triumph of the Nazi dictatorship in 1933. He was among the first to shed
the illusion, shared by most of his contemporaries in the church, that
Nazism and Christianity were fully compatible in the service of the
nation. Partly because members of his family were affected, his
opposition to the Nazi persecution of the Jews was easily and early
aroused. His sense of moral outrage at the Nazis’ radical crimes, and at
the complicity of so many church members, led him to adopt an isolated
stance. He and a few followers set up a semi-secret seminary where pastors
true to the gospel could be trained. But soon the Gestapo closed it down.
The outbreak of war intensified Bonhoeffer’s dilemma. In 1939 he had been
offered the chance of exile in America, but after a month returned home.
“Christians in Germany”, he wrote, ” will face the terrible alternative of
either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian
civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and
thereby destroying our civilization. . . . . I will have no right to
participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the
war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.”
From the outbreak of war, Bonhoeffer lived a double life. Outwardly he
supported the nation’s war effort, but secretly was increasingly drawn into
the conspiracy, led by army officers and civil servants, to overthrow the
regime, and if necessary to assassinate Hitler. In addition he was
marginally involved in a complicated but successful plan to smuggle
fourteen Jews to safety in Switzerland. When the Gestapo caught up with
this scheme in April 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested and spent the rest of
his life in prison.
Here he was able to bribe a friendly guard to take letters out to his
family and friends. His theological reflections, which were to have such
an impact later, were carefully saved by Bethge and buried for safe-keeping
in the family garden. But after the failure of the attempt on Hitler’s life
in July 1944, all those associated became marked men. Bonhoeffer was
transferred to Flossenburg concentration camp and there executed on 9 April
1945, only days before the camp was liberated. His family, fiends and
fiancee had to wait months before they learnt of his fate.
Elizabeth Raum’s vivid account of this tragedy lays emphasis on his life
rather than his thought. She supplements Bethge’s biography with some
newer sources written later. While her data and insights are not
original, nevertheless she provides her intended audience with an excellent
introduction. Those interested in exploring further the world-wide
significance of Bonhoeffer’s theological and ethical ideas will soon be
able to turn to the English translations of his collected works, as well as
to more popular books such as The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer
deserves to be remembered as a challenging thinker, whose Christian witness
led him to pay the ultimate price for his ideals.
2) American Lutherans and the Jews
Readers of this Newsletter will be interested to learn about the resolute
efforts being made by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to
encourage its members to have a deeper understanding and greater
sensitivity towards Judaism and the Jewish people.
American Lutherans have long been embarrassed by the legacy of their
founder, Martin Luther, on this topic, especially by the vitriolic
outbursts of his two notorious pamphlets written against the Jews in 1538
and 1543. The Holocaust, executed by Germans many of whom were at least
nominally Lutherans, made this dilemma even more acute. After 1945, in
Germany, the prevailing mood was one of denial and self-justification. Only
a few voices called for repentance; none advocated a new Christian stance
towards their Jewish neighbours. Not until the end of the 1950s – when the
word Holocaust was first propagated – did a significant change begin. The
impetus of the Second Vatican Council undoubtedly influenced Lutherans in
this direction.
In the United States, a new edition of Luther’s complete works, published
by Fortress Press, appeared in 1971. The Editor, Franklin Sherman, put the
offensive pamphlets in their historic setting as part of the late mediaeval
cultural and theological trends. “The fact that much of the theological
argument is borrowed from earlier Christian polemics against Judaism is a
mitigating factor, though by no means an excuse for Luther’s views.”
Aware of the danger of possible misuse of this material, Sherman was
careful to state that “such publication is by no way intended as an
endorsement of the distorted views of Jewish faith and practice or the
defamation of the Jewish people which this treatise contains.”
In April 1994 a Declaration to the Jewish Community spelled out even more
clearly and publicly the new stance of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
“Grieving the complicity of our own tradition within this history of
hatred, moreover, we express our urgent desire to live out our faith in
Jesus Christ with love and respect for the Jewish people. We recognize in
anti-Semitism a contradiction and an affront to the Gospel, a violation of
our hope and calling, and we pledge this church to oppose the deadly
working of such bigotr

y, both within our own circles and in the society
around us.”
This was followed in 1998 by the adoption of new guidelines, encouraging
congregations throughout the church “to renew and enhance our relationship
with the Jewish people”. Two pamphlets, “Luther, Lutheranism and the
Jews” (1995) and “Towards a new day in Jewish-Lutheran Relations” (1999)
provided material for such desired dialogues. At present a new series of
“talking points” is being created, to cover such topics as Covenant
Theology, Law and Gospel, Jewish Concern for the State of Israel, Tikkun
Olam-mending the world.
These initiatives all have to reckon with the inherent difficulty of Lutheran
Jewish conversations in the shadow of the Holocaust. Lutherans are now
being encouraged to deal honestly with this tragic chapter of their
history. Discussions will undoubtedly be very strained, if not impossible,
at times. But seriously addressing the Holocaust is a necessity in
building trust. It also leads Lutheran congregations to realize the full
dimensions of what it means to be a Jew, loyal to Judaism. In the more
open atmosphere of America, the possibility of a new relationship based on
mutual trust and respect is certainly much to be hoped for. We wish these
Lutheran initiatives every success.
(With thanks to Rev. John Matthews, Afton, Minnesota for his paper on this
Best wishes,
John S.Conway