May 2005 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


May 2005— Vol. XI, no. 5

Dear Friends,

I feel sure that all of us have felt great sorrow at the passing of Pope John Paul II, and that we will want to express our best wishes to his successor, Benedict XVI. Fr Jay Hughes, a priest of the Catholic Archdiocese of St Louis, Missouri, has kindly agreed to give us a short appreciation of the new pope’s character and career.


1) Pope Bendict XVI Fr John Jay Hughes

2) Book review

a) ed D.Lewis, Christianity Reborn

3) Journal articles:

a) Lee, Watchman Nee
b) Grams. Sankt Raphaels Verein and Canada

1) The lectures on the Church by Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, at the University of Münster in the summer semester of 1965 were the most beautiful I have ever heard on any subject anywhere. Lecturing at 8:15 in the morning, he attracted people from the town, who came to hear him before they went to work in their offices. “He speaks print-ripe,” was a frequent comment. His words could have been printed without alteration. After each lecture one wanted to go into a church to pray. The German students predicted the imminent conversion of a Protestant theology student from South Africa who was a regular hearer: “Bei Ratzinger fällt der stärkste Mann um” (“Faced with Ratzinger, the strongest man capitulates.”) The prediction was not so wide of the mark. Decades later Ratzinger’s tape recorded conversations with the German journalist, Peter Seewald, published as Salt of the Earth and God and the World, resulted in Seewald’s return to the Church. As lecturer Ratzinger spoke softly, though always audibly, reflecting his gentle personality and personal modesty. He was often seen riding around town on a bicycle, wearing a beret.

In his 1997 memoir, Milestones 1927-1977, Ratzinger writes that his appointment as archbishop of Munich in 1977 was an unwelcome interruption of his first love, theological study and teaching, and a complete surprise. Ratzinger’s four years in Munich were not especially happy. Amid the post-conciliar turmoil, he lacked the common touch. His appointment as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by Pope John Paul II in 1981 marked the first choice of a major academic theologian for that position that anyone could remember.

The choice of a papal name not used for almost a century is a declaration of independence. He does not seek to be a Pius, a John, a Paul, or a John Paul. He shares their faith. But the name Benedict says that he will be his own man. Papal conclaves choose a man, not a program. And Popes, like American Supreme Court justices, often confound the expectations of those who select them. The British historian, Paul Johnson, wrote recently: “I have covered all the conclaves held since World War II. In each case, the outcome, in terms of the pontificate which followed, has been quite different from all the predictions made at the time. I have no doubt that the same thing will happen this time, too.”

The last Pope Benedict (1914-22) was a peacemaker. Had the European powers been willing to end World War I on his terms, we would not have had the punitive Versailles treaty. And without the bitter resentments enkindled at Versailles, Hitler would have had scant appeal to his countrymen. Benedict XV was also a peacemaker within the Church, ending the hysterical reaction to modernism by saying that we needed no other label than that of “Catholic.”

The new Pope’s affinity with St. Benedict of Nursia, the founder of western monasticism, may be even more significant. Educated in aristocratic circles at Rome at the end of the fifth century, Benedict reacted against the social disorder and licentiousness of his day by retiring to a life of prayer. In so doing he launched a spiritual movement which would shape the life of western Europe for centuries. As the civilization of the ancient Roman world collapsed, it was the monks who kept alive the flames of culture and Christian faith. They did so by their cultivation of learning, but above all by their dedication to what Benedict called “the work of God”: the public prayer of the Church’s liturgy.

The liturgy has been central for Joseph Ratzinger since his birth on Good Friday 1927. He was baptized the next day in waters newly blessed at the Easter Vigil, then celebrated on Holy Saturday morning. To have been initiated into the Easter mystery at birth he has always considered a special blessing. “The more I think about it,” he writes in his memoir, “the more fitting it seems that I was baptized on Easter Eve, not Easter. We live in this world not in the full light of Easter, but journeying toward that light, full of hope. … The inexhaustible reality of Catholic liturgy has been my companion through all the stages of my life.” Despite Paul Johnson’s warning, it seems safe to expect that Pope Benedict XVI will show special interest in the enrichment and deepening of liturgical prayer desired by the Council, but not always achieved.

Addressing the cardinals the day after his election, he confessed his “sense of inadequacy and human turmoil for the responsibility entrusted to me yesterday,” but said that an “intimate recognition of a gift of divine mercy prevails in my heart in spite of everything. I consider this a grace obtained for me by my venerated predecessor, John Paul II. It seems I can feel his strong hand squeezing mine; I seem to see his smiling eyes and listen to his words, addressed to me especially at this moment: ‘Do not be afraid!'” He pledged to make reunion with other Christians, and dialogue with those of other faiths, a priority. This certainly includes the dialogue with Judaism. Media reports about Ratzinger’s “Nazi past” are absurd. The record shows a strongly anti-Nazi past, reflected in the biting satire with which he writes in his memoir of his wartime experiences as a teenager of Hitler’s “campaign of lies obvious even to the half blind.”

The memoir concludes with a reflection on his coat of arms as archbishop of Munich which is vintage Ratzinger. It contained two symbols: a scallop shell and a bear. The first is the pilgrim’s emblem, still given to pilgrims at the shrine of Compostela in northwestern Spain: a reminder, Ratzinger writes, “that we have here no lasting city” (Heb. 13:14). The shell reminds him also of St. Augustine, about whom Ratzinger wrote his doctoral dissertation. Walking along the seashore as he reflected on the mystery of the Trinity, Augustine came on a child who had dug a hole in the sand and was trying to pour the sea into it with a shell. Augustine realized that his efforts to understand the mystery of God were as futile as the child’s attempt to get the sea into the hole. “The shell reminds me of my great master Augustine, of my theological work, and of the vastness of the mystery which surpasses all our learning.” The words place Benedict XVI squarely in the classical tradition of great theologians like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. What we can know of God remains always less than what, in this world, we can never know.

The bear comes from a legend about Munich’s first bishop, St. Korbinian. Traveling to Rome, the saint encountered a bear which attacked the horse which was carrying Korbinian’s luggage. As punishment Korbinian made the bear carry his pack to Rome. “Isn’t Korbinian’s bear, compelled against his will to carry the saint’s pack, a picture of my own life? The legend says that Korbinian set the bear free once he reached Rome. It doesn’t tell us whether the animal went to the Abruzzi mountains or returned to the Alps. Meanwhile I have carried my pack to Rome and wander for some time now through the streets of the Eternal City. When release will come I cannot know. What I do know is that I am God’s pack animal, and as such close to him.”

The passage takes on special poignancy when we know that Ratzinger several times asked Pope John Paul II to release him from his position in Rome to return to Germany and to his first love, theology. The Pope asked him to stay on. We’re both getting old, Joseph, the Pope said. But we’ll work together. Now his fellow cardinals have asked Joseph Ratzinger to continue carrying his pack, until the end.

2a) Christianity Reborn. The global expansion of Evangelicalism in the twentieth century. ed. Donald M.Lewis. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2004. 324 pp. Pbk. ISBN 0-8028-2483-8

Although six years have elapsed since the conference was held at which these papers were presented, their appearance in print is much to be welcomed. The contributors include several of the most distinguished historians of Evangelicalism in its British/North American form, and are joined by younger colleagues who provide valuable insights into its impact in different parts of the globe during the last hundred years. Don Lewis, Dean of Regent College, Vancouver, has ably edited this study, and ensured that it contains a valuable bibliography and an index, both rarities in such volumes of collected essays.

The leit-motif of these authors is first to contest the alleged decline of all religion, especially traditional Christianity, due to the forces of secularism, modernism and the dismantling of Europe’s empires. This work seeks to show, to the contrary , that Evangelical Protestantism is thriving in many parts of the world in unexpected and unprecedented ways. The opening essays by Professor Reg Ward for the eighteenth century, and Mark Noll for the nineteenth, develop the thesis that the special characteristics of the movement at that time are still effectively working today. With the impulses from German Pietism, as Prof. Ward has previously shown, Evangelicals were always deeply conscious – as John Wesley witnessed – of the world-wide dimensions of their missionary engagement.
The great burst of nineteenth century evangelical activity, with its plethora of European and American missionary societies and expatriate missionaries, was nevertheless all along committed to planting indigenous churches capable of reproducing themselves. And this, these authors claim, is just what is happening, whether in China since 1949, or in South America or Oceania today.

In the past few decades, the exponential growth of evangelical Christianity, especially in Pentecostal assemblies and other independent churches in the non-western world, has been remarkable. But it has largely escaped the notice of western scholars, partly due to the rapidity and fluidity of such growth, and partly because these new congregations are not much interested in their own history. The future, not the past, is their engrossing passion. But there also features of this expansion which must arouse concern. As Mark Noll observes, these new churches have only a slight awareness of their Reformation origins, or their theological debt to Luther, Calvin and even Wesley. For the most part, today’s evangelicals concentrate on private holiness, and leave aside wider social and political causes. So too, their relationships with secular education and its institutions are strained. Their leaders are often self-taught, relying more on the impulses of inner supernaturalism than on university-derived learning. Very often their understanding of evangelical authority is self-created. There is certainly a risk, observable in certain parts of the world, when such leaders see themselves as extraordinary channels of divine revelations, special instruments of divine healing, or uniquely inspired interpreters of God’s word.

In 1910, the pioneering Edinburgh world missionary conference expressed great hopes that the advance of Protestant Christianity, as promoted by Europeans and North Americans, would accompany the beneficial spread of education, Œprogress’ and the rise of incipient nationalisms. In the subsequent years, as Brian Stanley shows, international history took a very different turn and led to great ambivalences about each of these factors. In many cases the new churches became genuinely indigenous, but also strongly anti-colonial and anti-traditionalist. As a European-trained Kenyan church leader remarked in the 1960s, Africa was “a church without a theology, without theologians and without a theological concern”.

Philip Yuen-sung Leung’s sprightly essay paints a more optimistic picture of the church in China since 1949. He suggests a parallel to the story of Lazarus, in that Christianity in China, after a near death, has now revived and is increasingly vigorous. The early years of Communist repression were severe. Nevertheless the Christians who sympathized with Mao’s social goals ensured that Christianity was not completely rejected as the tool of Œforeign devils’. They could point out that the Three Self Patriotic Movement, which stressed self-government, self-support, and self-propagation, was not imposed by the Communist rulers, but was in fact just the kind of stance the leaders of the Church Missionary Society had promoted in the early nineteenth century.
To be sure the nationalization of all church property in China, including that so generously donated by mission supporters abroad, effectively severed all previous denominational links. The result was isolation from other Christian bodies, who frequently reacted with suspicion that the churches, especially those of the Three Self Movement, had allowed themselves to be politically subordinated to the official Religious Affairs Bureau of the Communist Party.
In turn, the reaction of the more “spiritual” pastors was to go underground with “house churches’ with a distinctly more conservative tone than that adopted by the Three Self leaders. A bitter struggle within the church ensued.
The terrible decade of the Maoist Cultural Revolution after 1966 very nearly killed off all sections of the church. The religious persecution and reality of Christian sufferings, Leung believes, was the darkest period of the Christian church’s history in China since the seventh century. However, after 1978, major political changes, even if not so acknowledged, enabled the churches to undertake a striking recuperation and rapid expansion. No reliable statistics exist for the numbers of Christians in China today, but all agree there has been record growth. Interpretations differ widely about the reasons for this spectacular development. The author calls for a cohesive, co-operative approach amongst both the urban and rural Christians to understand the complexities of the Chinese situation, and to relate the now self-governing church to its counterparts in the wider Christian world.
The veteran American missionary historian, Robert Frykenberg, surveys the troubled state of Christianity in India. Recently, foreign missionaries have been murdered, conversions prohibited, and violence practised against Christians, especially of the lower classes. This campaign has been led by the extremists of the Hindutva group, who combine nationalist fervour with a ruthless determination to protect their own social position, whenever this comes under threat from “upstart” Christians from previously subjected castes. From this perspective, the temptation to convert to any of Christianity’s many forms is a malignant polluting virus from abroad, which endangers India’s great and ancient civilization. For many Christians, however, conversion is a means of escape from social and economic bondage, especially among the dalits or untouchables. There is a centuries-old tradition of Christianity offering such a refuge. But just because of this background the Christian minority remains marginalized.
Nevertheless, due in part to globalization, Pentecostal associations are experiencing rapid growth in India. The emphasis on holiness and healing would appear to draw adherents, while demanding less sacrifice of indigenous identity than other branches of the church. Unfortunately there are instances where American-led impulses are importing alien perspectives and practices, which at times overwhelm local varieties and offer a watered-down gospel of little value but great advertising panache.
On the other hand, Frykenberg finds that there are also large numbers of believers and converts outside formal Christian structures. In short, the complexity of the Indian scene makes it unwise to engage in sweeping generalizations.
If India has demonstrated that the Christian evangelical input, even after centuries, remains marginal, and was successful only among former “outcasts”, the opposite was true in Oceania. In the South Seas, the Protestant missionaries, at the end of the eighteenth century, adopted the model tried out by the Anglo-Saxon church a thousand years earlier. They sought first to convert the chiefs of the various island groups. Their success in persuading these leaders of the virtues of a universal faith suitable for their post-contact needs, meant that whole island clusters converted en masse. Much of Polynesia adopted Methodism; in Melanesia, the Anglicans were predominant; while in the French colonies so were the Roman Catholics. But these were communal churches, still tied to the traditional social patterns. Only the South Seas Evangelical Mission concentrated on individual conversions, and was often spurned. Only in recent years, as Allan Davidson describes, has the monopoly of these older missions been challenged by smaller splinter groups with strong outside backing, a more global approach and up-to-date technology. Here too the rapid diversification of social patterns has disrupted the traditional Christian Œestablishment’ even if it is only a hundred or so years old. The conservative village traditions are giving way to new and radical individual experiences.
Completing this global survey, the third and fourth sections of the book include an analysis of the missionary situation in West Africa by Jehu Hanciles, of the indigenous churches in south Africa by Marinus Daneel, and a thought-provoking exploration of Pentecostalism in Latin America by Paul Freston. He points out the highly complex, fluid, schismatic and disparate nature of the various forms of Pentecostalism, and therefore asks is Latin American Pentecostalism really Protestant? Part of the problem arises from the lack of thorough encounter between scholars and the adherents of most of these highly sectarian communities. Most are not susceptible to study along western academic lines, but Freston attempts to grasp some of the nuances through a social-anthropological approach. There are, for example, enormous difficulties in trying to establish reliable figures for the growth of Pentecostalism in Latin America in recent years, though all observers agree that it has been phenomenal.
Most of its adherents would explain this factor as being the result of God’s guidance, as a movement of the Holy Spirit, which is immune to, and does not need, explanations drawn from other eras or communities. So too, the various suggested theories for this apparent and often amazing growth, such as Pentecostalism’s appeal to the dispossessed, are often reductionist in origin, or even Marxist.
True, in such societies as Brazil, Pentecostalism is clearly the religion of the poor, and even more so of the less educated. But in other areas, the political value of a mobilized religious community has been recognized, so that a deliberate opposition has sprung up, both to traditional Catholicism and to socialist-influenced parties. Often the debate over the reasons for Pentecostalism’s success go beyond an academic discussion and become a weapon for religious, political or even commercial polemics. In the eyes of Catholic antagonists, this success can only be attributed to external interference, prompted by politically motivated American money. But the evidence on the ground suggests indigenous factors were more important.
Equally controversial is the question of Pentecostalism’s development over the past decades. Obviously Protestantism as a whole, and Pentecostalism in particular, was imported. But it has succeeded in adapting itself rapidly and in a wide variety of forms to local conditions. Indeed Freston quotes one source as saying “Judging from where the churches were growing rapidly, it seemed as though the recipe for success was for missionaries to leave”. This verdict only confirms the lesson learnt from China. Overall, however, Freston agrees with David Martin, a senior British observer and scholar, in suggesting that: “The optimum chances for Protestantism exist where the church has been drastically weakened, and yet the culture has remained pervasively religious, as in Brazil, Chile and Guatemala”.
But what kind of church emerges? Here too the theories differ widely. In one view, Pentecostalism in Latin America now owes little to its European origins, of which the practitioners have no consciousness. Rather it is now a redeployment of rural Catholicism without priests, syncretic, corporatist and politically passive. But certainly all would agree that Pentecostalism is the first totally autonomous mass popular religion in this continent. Its free range of theological and liturgical possibilities offers great scope for all sections of the community, and does not seek to impose either a unified structure or a dogmatically fixed belief system. And although its leaders make bad collaborators with each other, but good entrepreneurs, their reliance on divine inspiration and intervention has clearly led to successive and successful waves of institution building regardless of the different political and social structures in the various parts of Latin America.
In conclusion, David Martin points out how much Evangelicalism has benefited from the expansion of modern communications. Yet, local cultures and attachments still affect the process of globalization, resulting in a plethora of Protestantisms, some more, some less recognizable and aware of their European roots. The world scene is therefore highly complex, but overall, Martin notes, evangelicalism is undergoing a particular form of global transition, characterized by a fusion of popular and populist religion, which rejects the sponsorship of outside missionary bodies from a now discredited European Christendom. Instead it promotes a vibrant self-conscious faith, framed in a Christian format and brought to life by indigenous carriers. This is a future of faith, hope and promise – the key characteristics of true Evangelicalism.


3a) J.T-H.Lee, Watchman Nee and the Little Flock Movement in Maoist China in Church History, Vol. 74, no 1, March 2005, pp.68-96

Wachman Nee (1903-72) was an independent Protestant evangelist who built up a conservative following, known as the Little Flock, which refused to accept the imposed leadership of the Communist dictatorship after 1949, and suffered the consequences.

Lee’s insightful article explains the tribulations experienced by this sect in trying to avoid Maoist political control, and to keep its distance from the more collaborationist Three Self Patriotic Movement, which still continues today. The latter accepted the need to obey the government’s edicts in order to pursue its main goal, which was to strike free from control by foreign missionaries, and to propagate a self-governing, self-financing and self-propagating Chinese model church. Nee’s Little Flock was no less dedicated to Chinese autonomy, but with his firm belief in the empowerment of the laity, refused any “guidance” from outside authority. Consequently Nee’s attempts to recruit those congregations whose foreign leadership has been expelled soon ran into difficulties. In 1956 Nee was denounced as a reactionary and died in a labour camp in 1972. Nevertheless the Little Flock survived, and demonstrated the failure of the Maoist state to exercise absolute control in the religious sphere.

b) Grant W.Grams, Sankt Raphaels Verein and German Catholic Emigration to Canada in Catholic Historical Review, Vol 91, no. 1, January 2005, pp. 83 -104.

Grams teaches in Alberta and has here searched the records both in Germany and Canada for the inter-war period in order to evaluate the successes or otherwise of this German Catholic emigration agency. Actually, the Canadian government only allowed ex-enemy Germans to immigrate in 1924, but thereafter, aided and abetted by the Canadian Pacific Railway, a considerable number of Germans interested in resettling in Canada used the services of this agency. The motivation was purely humanitarian, but at times met with pressures, both political and commercial, to promote or hinder this movement of people. After the Nazis came to power, this “loss” of valuable members of the Volksgemeinschaft was vocally opposed, and Canada increasingly tightened its regulations against any newcomers except farmers. It is a pity that the records do not allow us to see how many “non-Aryan” Catholics were helped to come to Canada, but in any case the Verein was eventually forcibly dissolved, and after 1939 emigration to Canada was impossible.

(Next month’s issue is being edited for us by Matthew Hockenos, of Skidmore College, New York. Once again I am most grateful for his help).

With best wishes
John Conway