May 2004 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


Newsletter — May 2004— Vol. X, no. 5

Dear Friends,

A thought for the month:
“In the eyes of some commentators. the only correct view is
the view from Auschwitz. But it is in no sense to do injustice to the
millions who were murdered, and the survivors who continue to
suffer, if we describe this methodology as utterly unhistorical.
History is not a series of events laid down in advance: the fact that
they happened as they did does not mean they could not have
happened otherwise. If history is inevitable, or governed by laws – if
there are no partings of the ways and no mistaken decisions – then
what is the point of studying it?”
Irmtrud Wojak, reviewing Nicholas Berg
German History, Vol 22, no.1,2004, p.101ff

Next month’s issue is being compiled and edited by Dr Matthew
Hockenos, Skidmore College, New York. I am once again most
grateful for his help while I am on holiday in Europe. The
subsequent issue for July/August will be sent out in mid-July


1) Book reviews

a) Williams, Holy Spy
b) Hein, Churches in Saxony 1945-49
c) Fennell, The Russians on Athos
d) Nehring, Orientalismus und Mission

2) Journal articles

a) Morris, Death of Christian Britain
b) Welinski-Kiehl, Reformation History in the GDR
c) Kenez. Hungarian Communists and Catholics.

1a) Alex Williams, Holy Spy. Student Ministry in Eastern Europe. 

Budapest: Harmat Publishing/Tain,Scotland:Christian Focus
Publication 2003. 207 pp.ISBN 963 9148 92 X / 1 85792 906 3

Twenty years before the collapse of the communist empire in
1989, a young Englishman began to tour the universities of Eastern
Europe as a member of the field staff of the International Federation
of Evangelical Students. Alex Williams’ mandate was to contact
Christian students, counsel and encourage them in their witness,
arrange camps, seminars and conferences, and act as liaison with
similar groups in other countries. Ostensibly touring Poland,
Hungary and Czechoslovakia as visitors, Alex and his Hungarian
wife exercised a peripatetic ministry with great enthusiasm and
dedication. Since none of the communist governments was in favour
of such activities, it is hardly surprising that Williams was suspected
of being engaged in espionage on behalf of some western power.
Even some of his friends thought the same. Hence the title of this
engaging book. In fact, he conducted a rather traditional itinerant
ministry along the lines of John Wesley, using a battered old English
car instead of a horse. But like Wesley, his object was to build up
the faithful in their devotion and service to Jesus Christ.

This ministry was much helped by the foresight of the then
General Secretary of I.F.E.S. who purchased a delapidated
mediaeval castle in the middle of Austria from an impoverished
nobleman. High up on the hillside above the town of Mittersill, the
Schloss has a grand panoramic view of the Alpine peaks to the
south, and fine vistas of the Pinzgau valley flowing below. It was
intended to be a meeting place where individual students from the
beleagured communist countries could come for short refresher
courses and retreats, and mix with other students, both East and
West. The Schloss still provides these same opportunities, even
though the political situation has now radically changed. Possibly
today such a centre would be more appropriately situated in the
Carpathian mountains, but the supporting churches and communities
in Eastern Europe are still too poor to launch such endeavours.
Instead, Schloss Mittersill continues, with the help of Alex Williams
and his wife amongst others, to educate younger Christians in the
paths of discipleship so that they may return to the East European
lands as church builders and planters. The emphasis continues to be
on good Bible teaching, the techniques of evangelism, and how to
write and lead Bible studies.

Williams describes the physical, political and spiritual
difficulties which so many Christians from Eastern Europe
experienced, but he also records their later testimonies to these
encounters with other Christians as being highly significant in their
subsequent careers. He was frequently thrilled by the vision and
enthusiasm of these young Christian leaders struggling against the
official doctrines of atheistic materialism. These were the rewards
of student ministry in Eastern Europe in those days.
There is of course a certain nostalgia in Williams’ memoir,
with his descriptions of the excitements and risks taken in
organizing semi-clandestine meetings under the noses of the secret
police. And there are also some characteristic Evangelical attitudes,
such as his surprise on finding that members of the Orthodox
Church were keen on studying the Bible and had a deep love of the
Lord. But throughout, his recollections reflect his warm sympathy,
his capacity for friendship, and his energetic undertakings in the
service of Jesus Christ through the establishment and
encouragement of student ministries in Eastern Europe. JSC

b) Markus Hein. _Die saechsische Landeskirche nach dem Ende des
Zweiten Weltkrieges (1945-1948).
 Jahrbuch fuer deutsche
Kirchengeschichte Sonderband. Leipzig: Evangelische
Verlagsanstalt, 2002. 327 pp. Documents,index. EUR 11.50 (cloth),
ISBN 3-374-01918-8.

(This review was first distributed for H-German, March 31st 2004,
H-GERMAN@H-NET.MSU.EDU and is reproduced with the
author’s permission).

This study, originally a dissertation submitted at the
University of Leipzig, takes Saxony as an example of the
organizational problems facing the Protestant Church at a regional
level in the immediate post-war period and analyzes the steps taken
there to build up a new Church structure in a situation where there
were no existing structures in May 1945. The sixteenth “brown”
Synod in Saxony had dissolved itself in 1934 and the first post-war
synod was not constituted until April 1948.

Saxony was an example of one of the provincial regions of
the Protestant Church in which _Deutsche Christen_ were in control
of the Church hierarchy from 1933. Although various challenges to
this control came from the _Bekennende Kirche_ and also from a
substantial group in the middle, by 1937 they had established their
dominance over the whole hierarchy. This meant that in 1945 the
established figures in the Church had lost all credibility or were still
in exile. Saxony was, however, in a unique position initially, since
it was the only Church area to set up three organizational structures
in 1945, in Leipzig, Zwickau and Dresden. It was also, like
Brandenburg and Thuringia, split between two occupying
powers, the Soviet Union and the United States. The Americans did
not withdraw from Zwickau and Leipzig until the last week of June
1945, thereby fulfilling the previous agreement on zone frontiers,
and allowing Soviet troops to occupy western Saxony. These
problems, combined with the logistical hurdles provided by a
transport system which had collapsed, meant that attempts to
establish any unified policy across the whole of the Saxon Church
region in this early period were impossible to realize, even leaving
aside the ideological differences between different factions
within the Church.

Hein has used a wide range of archival sources, including
some not previously available or insufficiently analyzed. He is
particularly concerned to put right the false impression given by the
edited edition by Georg Prater of the memoirs of the third Bishop of
Saxony, Hugo Hahn, on the period of the _Kirchenkampf_. The
deficiencies of this edition had first been highlighted by Wilhelm
Niemoeller’s review in 1969. Prater had, for example, completely
excluded any references to Franz Lau, who had been responsible for
the leadership of the Church in the first two years after 1945, before
Hahn returned as Bishop from exile in 1947. It is clear from
this book that the essential work to de-nazify the Church hierarchy
was done by Lau before Hahn’s return. Hein refuses to speculate
about Prater’s motivation for ignoring Lau’s role, but he uses the
unreliability of primary sources on this period to highlight the
problem of coming to an objective assessment of the measures taken
by a regional Church to overcome the mistakes of the Church
hierarchy during the Nazi period. Hein also underlines the
importance of Erich Kotte, who had belonged to
the Consistorium before 1933 and had then been a member of the
Bekennende Kirche. Hein shows that Kotte was the most important
figure in the personnel decisions made after 1945, but Lau, who was
not identified strongly with either side between 1933 and 1945,
enabled Kotte to reconcile the different factions and allow some
pastors who had supported the Church hierarchy before 1945 to be
integrated into the post-war structures. However, only one
Superintendent, Willy Gerber in Chemnitz, remained in office. Hein
leaves open the question of how many opportunists were able to stay
in post in this context, thereby inviting parallels with the post-1990
period. As a result of Lau’s role it was therefore not the Bekennende
Kirche which played the leading role in Saxony immediately after
1945, as it did in other Church regions. This was only the case after
Hahn’s return in 1947.

One area missing from the book, which I would have
expected to have been at least mentioned, concerns the fate of the
Sorbian pastors transferred from the bilingual parishes in eastern
Saxony during the Third Reich and the role played by the Church
hierarchy in those transfers. Sorbian pastors who survived the war
often had difficulties in returning immediately to their original
parishes, as they had been replaced by German pastors who were
sometimes reluctant to give up their parishes. They also faced
opposition and prejudice within the Church hierarchy to the creation
of special structures for the bilingual parishes, although after much
argument they did force the Saxon Church to set up a separate
Sorbian _Superintendentur_ in Bautzen in the late 1940s.

The main value of this book is its presentation of a large
amount of detailed information and primary documents about
different parishes and districts. In particular, Hein highlights the
differences between Zwickau, Leipzig and Dresden and the balance
that was struck between continuity and renewal in different areas.
Hein does not come to any final conclusions concerning a
judgement of this balance, but the material he presents provides the
reader with useful aids to make a judgment. Above all, he uses the
example of the Saxon Church to demonstrate the complicated nature
of the Protestant Church’s development after 1945.
P.J.Barker, University of Reading, U.K.

c) Nicholas Fennell, The Russians on Athos
, Oxford, Berne etc:
Peter Lang, 2001, ISBN 3-906766-93-4, 348 pp.

For a thousand years, Mount Athos on its rocky peninsular in
the northern Aegean Sea has been the spiritual centre for the
Orthodox branches of the Christian Church. The influence of the
Holy Mountain is unquestioned; its remoteness, isolation and the
alleged saintliness of its inhabitants, where no female creature is
allowed, have been built up over the centuries. But in the nineteenth
century, the advances of travel technology made it more accessible,
and from the 1840s huge numbers of pilgrims came to call, and
some to stay. Many arrived from Russia, where the cult of the
Athonite monasteries proved very popular. The result was a vast
increase in the Russian presence. Before 1839 there had never been
significantly more than 200 Russians there. In the next seventy years
these numbers rose to about 5,000. Many were wealthy, and the
buildings they erected reflected their munificance. The inevitable
result was envy and resentment from the native Greeks, who now
began to suspect a deep imperial plot behind all this new-found
interest. The resulting controversies are the subject of this lively
study of the Holy Mountain’s affairs. They deserve notice because
of the intriguing interplay of politics, religion and nationalism on
what was supposed to be the very model of peace and sanctity
Nicholas Fennell is an English schoolmaster. But he has the
linguistic and theological qualifications to examine these matters
and does so with exemplary objectivity. He recognizes that the
potential for ethnic discord has always existed on Mount Athos. The
language and liturgical barriers did not help. The grandiose Russian
architecture with its brightly-coloured cupolas was a strong contrast
to the Greek traditional austerity. But in the late 19th century, the
wealth of the Russians was clearly used to enhance their position
which led to increasing friction with the Greek monks

These local quarrels were heightened by outside conflicts
promoted by an expanding Russian pan-Slavism and its attempts to
reverse the defeats of the Crimean War. These ambitions also led
to friction with the Greek Orthodox Church and the Patriarch in
Constantinople, as over the demand for a separate Slavic Exarchate
in Bulgaria. The Turkish rulers only encouraged this split in the
Orthodox ranks, which was soon enough reflected on Mount Athos.
In 1875 the large monastery of St. Panteleimon came under Russian
control, and subsequently large amounts of Russian money were
spent to expand it.

Thanks to skillful publicity and fund-raising, St. Panteleimon
became a source of spiritual renewal for Russia itself. Large
numbers of pilgrims, poor as well as rich, flocked to visit, especially
after the defeat of the Turks in 1877 and the visit of the Russian
Emperor himself a decade later. Many Greeks now began to fear
that Russian expansion would squeeze them out. Retaliation was
gained by freezing the status quo by which the 20 monasteries, in a
strict hierarchy, the majority of whom were Greek, were able to
prevent any major alterations.

In 1912, Mount Athos was forcibly liberated by the Greeks
from Turkish control, which led to further tensions with the Russian
monks, despite their wealth and backing from the Czarist
government. The outbreak of the first world war and the overthrow
of the Czarist regime in 1917 only made matters far worse. Contact
with Russia was cut off. No more visitors, no more novices, no
more funds. God, it was believed, was punishing the Russians for
their pride.On Mount Athos the monks suffered with dignity.
Spiritual amends had to be sought, but the remaining monks only
grew older and died off. In their new-found poverty, they were
exploited by the Greeks, and finally in 1992 the last few remaining
monks of one Russian priory were expelled.

The story of these holy monks, beset by external disasters
and internal ethnic clashes, is instructive. Too often the heat of
nationalist emotions detracted from Mount Athos’ reputation of
being a peaceful haven of Orthodox monasticism. It can only be
hoped that the evident revival of recent years will now enable the
monks to uphold their inheritance in a spirit of ecumenical
fraternity. Fennell’s balanced account will undoubtedly aid this
desirable goal.

d) Andreas Nehring, Orientalismus und Mission. Die Repräsentation
der tamilischen Gesellschaft und Religion durch Leipziger
Missionare 1840-1940
. (Studies in the History of Christianity in the
non-Western world, Vol 7). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag 2003.

The German propensity for producing large tomes of
thorough scholarship on exotic subjects has found a new recruit in
Andreas Nehring. His examination of a hundred years’ worth of
reports from Leipzig Lutheran missionaries based in the
Tamil-speaking areas of south India is a masterly piece of
scholarship, hitherto unresearched and unlikely to be revisited.
Furthermore this is no traditional approach to missionary history,
which was so largely occupied with the self-sacrificing heroism of
European missionaries, with regrettable overtones of cultural
arrogance, colonialist attitudes and theological exclusivism. Nor
does Nehring adopt the more current trend of emphasizing the local
responses to such attempted Christianization. Rather he seeks to
discover how much and how far these foreign sojourners were able
to understand and record the religious and social practices of the
majority populations amongst whom they dwelt

But, first, Nehring gives a lengthy introductory chapter on
the historiographical difficulties confronting Europeans writing
about India, and the so-called perils of “Orientalism”. Ethnographic
studies were often a means of asserting the cultural and political
superiority of India’s British rulers. Yet Nehring argues that the
Leipzig missionaries and their reports constitute a notable
difference. In the first place, as Germans, they were not part of the
Raj; secondly, they reported the views of the people they were most
closely associated with, namely the lowest castes. They were, of
course, convinced of the superiority of Christianity to Hinduism and
also of the need to overcome the caste system. Hence their approach
was fundamentally against the Brahman control of society, and
therefore against the British Raj’s tolerance of India’s injustices.
However, some of the Lutheran parishes still tolerated caste
segregation as an unavoidable survival. Furthermore, those whose
missionary strategy was aimed at the higher castes acknowledged
the need to be flexible on this matter

These differences of opinion led the Lutheran missionaries
to probe as deeply as they could into the background of Tamil
society, seeking to establish the roots of the caste system, either as a
home-grown development, or as an imposed structure forced on
Tamils by northern Hindus over the centuries. Such deliberations,
however, demanded a certain empathy, in contrast to the outright
condemnation which the majority of English-speaking missionaries
brought to their task. These Germans therefore were closer to the
rulers of the East India Company, who supported the caste system as
providing them with a ready-made hierarchical order of government.
Intense discussions ensued throughout the 19th century. Race,
language, culture, economic structures and political aspirations were
all debated as possible roots for the caste system, and hence the
most suitable platforms on which the missionary endeavour should
be built. There was plenty of room for divergent opinions, as
reflected in these Lutheran missionaries’ reports home. Nehring’s
able elucidation of these early debates shows the range of views
expressed. He also points out the relative neglect of these sources
amongst English-speaking scholars, including Indians.

The Lutheran missionaries encountered enormous
difficulties in attempting to comprehend the complexities of the
societies into which they were placed, or the underlying religious
structures of Hinduism and Buddhism they met on a daily basis. For
the most part they adopted a more positive approach than did many
of the British envoys who regarded all non-Christian religions as
“devil-worship”. But nonetheless the Germans also imported their
own presuppositions about the origins, development and character
of the strange doctrines and practices they observed.

Many of these missionaries were in fact engaged in the work
of integrating a vast collection of myths, beliefs, rituals and laws
into a coherent religion, and of shaping an amorphous heritage into
a rational faith. Others adopted the view that Indian religions were
participating in an evolutionary process, similar to that which had
happened in Europe in pre-Christian times. The raw primitive
religion of the lowest tribes, with their bloodthirsty sacrifices and
demon possessions, was being superseded by the higher forms of
Brahmanism with its elitist concepts and search for purity through
such practicres as vegetarianism.

All such endeavours by Europeans were however artificial.
In Tamil Nadu the varieties of folk religion encountered by the
missionaries were often too baffling to be systematized in this way.
Rival speculations and theories were rife as to what the true form of
Indian religion might look like. All too often these Europeans
interpreted Hinduism, both philosophcally or mystically, in their
own image. One of the most wayward interpretations, for example,
sought to prove the connection between the Indian aryan religion
and the new national spirit in Nazi Germany.

For the most part, the missionaries adopted a Protestant
interpretation of their experiences, by portraying the indigenous
faiths as being in a kind of pre-Reformation state, waiting to be
awakened by these earnest Lutherans. In expecting an eventual
fulfillment through Christianity, they were indulging in considerable
wishful thinking. But their recognition that, at least in the Tamil
area, there were other patterns than the supposedly normative form
of Brahman Hinduism, based on sanskrit literature, was an
important insight and advance.

So too their notable efforts at collation of the local
languages and literature, and their translations into comprehensible
German, were prodigious, eben if they have now been totally
forgotten. In all, as Nehring shows, the complexity of these subjects
imposed a heavy burden. Indeed this whole topic, and Nehring’s
account itself, is not for amateur Indologists. It can only be hoped
that this commendable rescue effort of past missionary scholarship,
and its attempt to understand and interpret the local religious and
social cultures of south India, will be appreciated both by
German-speaking mission historians, as well as by all scholars of
19th-century Tamil Nadu.

2) Journal articles: a) Jeremy Morris, The strange death of Christian
Britain. Another look at the secularization debate in The
Historical Journal
, Vol. 46, no 4, December 2003, p.963-76.

Morris takes issue with Callum Brown’s assertion that Christianity
in Britain is dead ( see review of his book in our Newsletter, July
2003), even if this is defined only as the rejection of its traditional
moral and spiritual standpoints. Instead Morris reviews a number of
other accounts, and suggests that displacement might be a better
description “But for the time being, it is a strange sort of death that
leaves chuches still amongst the largest voluntary organizations in
the country, and Christianity still notionally the conviction of a
majority of the population. Secularization has indeed been
underway in Britain – but the final chapter has yet to be written”.

b) Robert Welinski-Kiehl, Reformation History and Political
Mythology in the German Democratic Republic, 1949-89
European History Quarterly, Vol 34. no 1, January 2004

This article examines how the communist rulers of the former GDR
sought to crush the Reformation into the Procrustean bed of Marxist
theory. To begin with they concentrated on such welcome radical
figures as Thomas Müntzer and the Peasants War, basing their views
on those of Engels a century earlier. Subsequently attempts were
made to depict Luther in the same framework of materialist history,
but increasingly during the ’60s and ’70s, his chief value was seen
as a national figure opposing foreign, i.e. papal domination. In 1983
the GDR officially encouraged celebrations of Luther’s 500th
anniversary, and a degree of accommodation with the churches was
reached. By contrast Müntzer was now depicted as a zealous
fanatic. By 1989 East German Marxists were focussing more and
more on the theological aspects of sixteenth-century history. Their
attempts to build such mythological histories necessarily ended in
1989 and in failure.

c) Peter Kenez, The Hungarian Communist Party and the Catholic
Church 1945-1948
 in Journal of Modern History, Vol. 75, no.4
December 2003.

Kenez depicts the development of the stormy relationship between
the Hungarian Communists and the Catholic Church under Cardinal
Mindszenty in the immediate post-war years. He argues that this
confrontation was not planned in advance but grew incrementally.

Of course a highly conservative Catholic Church was bound to clash
with a political party dedicated to the eradication of feudalism.
Land reform was the first contentious issue. But already the Church
was not prepared to make any concessions. And the appointment of
Mindszenty, a junior bishop, as Primate seems to have been made by
Pius XII because of his reputation as an intransigent opponent of
Communism. Indeed he soon proved to be so. “No single
individual was such a thorn in the side of the Communist leaders as
the Cardinal”. Not for a moment was he prepared to collaborate
with Communists. His aim was to restore the monarchy, even
though this was totally unrealistic. Such a stance evoked a similar
intransigence from the Communist rank and file. Both were caught
up in the international rivalry between the Vatican and the Soviet
Union, then at its height. At the end of 1948 Mindszenty was
arrested and subjected to a show trial. Hungary had clearly now
fallen under Communist totalitarian rule. The open clash of 1956
was prefigured.

With very best wishes
John S.Conway


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