September 2005 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


September 2005— Vol. XI, no. 9

Dear Friends,


1) Book reviews:

a) Spicer, Resisting the Third Reich: Berlin clergy
b) ed..Bottum and Dalin, The Pius War
c) ed Bergen, The Sword of the Lord

2) Journal articles

a) Porter, Australian chaplains
b) Wolf, Pius XI and Nazi ideologies
c) Lee, Watchman Nee in China
d) Kirby, Freemasonry and the Church of England

1a) b) Kevin Spicer, Resisting the Third Reich. The Catholic Clergy in Hitler’s Berlin. By Kevin P. Spicer. (De Kalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press. 2004. Pp.xi, 254. $36.00 US.) ISBN 0-87580-330-X

(This review first appeared in Catholic Historical Review, Vol.91, no.1 January 2005)
In 1933 the majority of German Catholics greeted the Nazis’ rise to power with enthusiasm. Hitler promised a new beginning, the restoration of Germany’s place in world affairs, a bulwark against Communism, and strong leadership. All served to outweigh the reservations expressed by some of the bishops. The groundswell was enough to bring almost universal approval when Hitler offered to sign a Concordat with the Vatican in July 1933. These warm expressionsof support for the new regime by bishops and clergy, however, became a liability when Nazi policy increasingly launched anti-Catholic and anti-clerical campaigns designed to undermine the Concordat’s intentions. At the local level, the priests were often confronted with an undeclared war. How they dealt with the situation is the subject of Kevin Spicer’s well-researched investigation.

Forty years ago Guenter Lewy published the first English-language survey of the Catholic Church and the Third Reich, which was highly critical in tone. More recently, other American church historians have chastised the German Catholic leaders for not acting more forcefully to protest or resist the Nazi persecution of the Jews. Spicer, however, avoids any kind of wishful thinking about what might have happened if only, but rather examines the actual conduct of the Catholic milieu and explores the dilemmas confronting its clergy as the political situation became ever more confrontational.

He has chosen for his case study the diocese of Berlin. This can hardly be considered representative, since Catholics were a small minority in the nation’s capital where the spirit of Bismarck still reigned. Nevertheless, Spicer shows that the range of responses by the Berlin clergy to the Nazi onslaught was matched in other parts of the country. A very few priests gave openly fervent support to the Nazi regime, eagerly demonstrating their loyalty to the Führer, down to the very end. Spicer’s chapter on these “brown priests” breaks new ground. On the other side, only a few were clear-sighted enough to recognize the pernicious character of the Nazis’ ideology and practices. The most notable example was that of Monsignor Bernhard Lichtenberg, whose combative willingness to challenge the Nazi state far outstripped that of the rest of the clergy in his diocese. Spicer devotes a whole chapter to his unique witness. The majority of the clergy, however, adopted a stance of passive withdrawal from politics, and a concentration on their pastoral duties in their parishes. Spicer makes use of the term Resistenz, as outlined by the noted German historian Martin Broszat, to describe this attempt by the clergy to protect the local Catholic milieu and their prized ministerial freedom.

Spicer sees the outrageous murder of a leading Catholic layman in Berlin, Erich Klausener, on the occasion of the so-called Röhm putsch in June 1934 as the turning point which cured most clergy of their illusions about the Nazi regime. The bishops became more circumspect. But, as others have already shown, their divided counsels prevented any more cohesive or open opposition. However, from 1935 onwards, Berlin had as its bishop, Konrad Preysing, who had no doubts about the incompatibility of National Socialism and Catholicism. Nevertheless he too shared his colleagues’ inherent nationalism and hesitancy to question governmental authority. He too sought to avoid any direct clash with the state.

Only when the Nazis’ encroachments on Catholic sacramental duties and doctrines became so constant and threatening were the bishops and clergy ready to take up more active forms of resistance. But the circle of obligation was limited to their own supporters. As Spicer shows in his chapter on Jews and the diocese of Berlin, the majority of Catholics did not feel obliged to make forceful protests on behalf of Jews or other victims of Nazi repression. Provost Lichtenberg was the exception, and paid the price of imprisonment by the Gestapo for his outspoken witness for the Jews. As a result, the Church’s leaders were even less ready to provide encouragement to act on behalf of this persecuted minority.

Spicer’s narrative necessarily blends events in Berlin with the national picture of swelling Nazi propaganda and intimidation, and the increasing smell of fear among the clergy. In 1943 four of the Berlin diocese’s priests in Stettin were arrested and executed. Bishop Preysing, despite his adversarial stance, was deterred from open defiance. Spicer gives details of the Gestapo’s harassment of nearly one-third of the parochial clergy of the diocese, many of whom had been denounced by parishioners. His description of their dilemmas in seeking to protect the church’s sacramental witness, especially in war-time, is well done. Some comparisons with the similar predicament of Berlin’s Protestant clergy would have been helpful at this point, drawing perhaps on the new study edited by Erich Schuppan, Bekenntnis in Not.

In conclusion, Spicer claims that, at a time of political extremism and ideological radicalism, the clergy’s acts of Resistenz provided an alternative space for Catholics to challenge Nazism’s all-pervasive momentum. Only a few priests were called to face martyrdom, when they died heroically. But, for the majority, their faithful pastoral ministry, he suggests, was an effective, if unspectacular, witness against Nazi heresies and totalitarian ambitions. Given the paucity of English-language studies of German Catholicism, Spicer’s balanced account of this regional church at this particularly traumatic time is much to be welcomed.

1b) Joseph Bottum and David Dalin eds., The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2004), 282pp. With an Annotated Bibliography of Works on Pius XII, the Second World War, and the Holocaust.

The Pius War is a selection of reviews, previously published, of recent books critical of Pope Pius XII’s stance on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. The remainder of the book, fully 183 pages, is an annotated bibliography of primary and secondary sources on Pius XII, by William Doino Jr. An introductory essay by Joseph Bottum, a journalist and published poet, sums up the view of the editors.

Bottum insists the reviews show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the books critical of Pius XII misread documents and are brimming with factual errors. The defenders of Pius XII have won all the battles, he asserts, but they have lost the war, for against all reason the prevailing view is still highly critical of the pope.(1) He explains this state of affairs with an ad hominem argument: the scholarship of those critical of Pius is singularly unpersuasive, but prevails because of bigotry, specifically “overblown hatred” of Pius, and anti-Catholicism.(8-9)

The reviews that follow are exceptionally uneven: some do not measure up to conventional standards of scholarship, while others have merit. The lapses in scholarship are frequent, not incidental: documents are misread; statements are quoted with no source provided; words and action are cited, divorced from historical context.

Let us take up misread documents first. Ronald Rychlak tells us that Pius XII personally helped “1,000 German Jews” emigrate to Brazil.(36) But one has only to consult an editor of the Vatican’s own diplomatic papers, to learn that the “German Jews” were in reality “non-Aryan Catholics.” (Pierre Blet S.J., Pius XII and the Second World War: According to the Archives of the Vatican, pp. 141-49. From Blet’s account, the number was far fewer than 1,000) We also learn from Rychlak that in the 1933 Concordat with the Vatican, “German officials agreed to regard baptized Jews as Christians,” and that this saved thousands of Jewish lives. (230. In: Rychlak, Hitler,the War, and the Pope, p. 60) No provision of the Concordat is cited for this unique and bizarre claim.

Another example: Russell Hittinger reviewing Kertzer’s, The Popes Against the Jews, insists Kertzer is wrong is stating that the 1937 papal encyclical Mit brennender Sorge, contains “no direct attack on anti-Semitism.” Hillinger claims the encyclical discusses why Scripture and the Incarnation “forbid any racial derogation of the Œchosen people’.”(49) I went back to the encyclical to check this claim, and found that the only place Scripture is cited in connection with “the people of the old covenant,” is to remind us of their “materialism and worldliness.” As for the Incarnation, the encyclical tells us that Jesus “took His human nature from the people which was afterwards to nail Him to a Cross.” (“Mit brennender Sorge,” The Persecution of the Catholic Church in the Third Reich. New York: Longmans, Green, 1942. pp. 526-27.)

A final example: we learn from William Doino, that “Cardinal Pacelli sent explicit instructions to the papal nuncio in Germany, on April 4, 1933, to oppose Nazi anti-Semitism.” As evidence, Doino cites a letter discovered in the newly opened archives of Pope Pius XI. (126. It can be found on the internet, Zenit News Agency, 17 February 2003.) The letter from Cardinal Pacelli states that the pope had been asked to intervene regarding “anti-Semitic excesses in Germany,” and asks the nuncio “to see if and how it is possible to be involved in the desired way.” This is not the same as explicit instructions to oppose Nazi antisemitism. Doino also omits the nuncio’s response, which was to recommend against an intervention, which would be interpreted as a protest against government policies. The matter was then dropped. (Peter Godman, Hitler and the Vatican, p. 33.)

The next lapse is that sources are not cited, as if we are to take evidence on faith. Rabbi David Dalin mentions an account by the Italian princess Enza Pignatelli Aragona Cortés, of Pius’ surprised response to the roundup of Jews in Rome. (“But the Germans had promised not to touch the Jews.”)(15) We have no way of assessing the reliability of this account, as no source is provided.

Another example: Ronald Rychlak faults Susan Zuccotti for not consulting certain transcripts attesting to the aid Pius XII gave to the Jewish people. Nothing is said about where these transcripts are available.

The final lapse in scholarship is the inattention to historical context. Peremptory claims are made, short bursts of ammunition, meant to refute an extended argument. Thus Dalin, again without citing sources, states in vindication of Pius, that in August 1942, the nuncio in France protested against the deportation of Jews.(18) How much does this tell us? Was the protest emphatic or lame? Why did the pope himself not say something in support of the protest of French bishops, since the Vichy regime sought the goodwill of the Vatican? Why was the Vatican interest in the anti-Jewish decrees of 1940 and 1941, limited to concern over baptized Jews? Why was the Jewish issue forgotten by the Fall of 1942 when Vichy offered concessions to the Church, including subsidies for religious schools? On that occasion the nuncio proclaimed that the “new France” was being built on a foundation of “spiritual values.” (See Marrus/Paxton, Vichy France and the Jews, pp.200-03, 272-79) The short burst, with dramatic flourish, is not an argument.

There are contributions of merit in this book as well. Kevin Doyle on The Hidden Encyclical of Pius XI, is right to point to the tendency to second-guess actors of long ago, while neglecting to steep ourselves in the values and circumstances of the time. Training our moral gaze on the past rather than on ourselves in the present breeds its own hypocrisy. But Doyle is no hagiographer and he considers the record of the Church “uneven.” (56) I took issue with John Jay Hughes’ negative assessment of Michael Phayer’s, The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965, but he is rightfully indignant at the picture on the dust cover of the book, which depicts the Vatican and the Nazis as partners in genocide. Rainer Decker’s review of John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope, is thoughtful and judicious, as is John Conway’s piece on the ill-fated joint Catholic-Jewish Commission which reviewed the eleven volumes, Actes et Documents du Saint Siége relatifs á la Seconde Guerre mondiale. Michael Novak makes some valid criticisms of Daniel Goldhagen’s A Moral Reckoning, as does Robert Wilkin of James Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword.

Doino’s meticulous and thorough annotated bibliography is a valuable source for those interested in the controversy over Pius XII. It includes primary sources, biographies, accounts of diplomats, books and articles by defenders and critics of the pope, works on the Concordat, the anti-Nazi resistance, national Churches, and much else besides. Nothing seems to have escaped his notice, and the bibliography is worth the book. A point well-documented in his bibliography, which includes wartime newspapers and diaries, is that Pius was perceived during the war as an anti-Nazi, and sympathetic to the Jewish plight.

It would be a mistake, though, to be guided by Doino’s notes. He tells us that he takes a positive view of Pius XII; it can also be said that he takes a negative view of critics of the pope. Works critical of the pope are uniformly “uneven” (9. Eamon Duffy), “less reliable,” (112. Frank Coppa), and demonstrate “superficial knowledge.” (182. John Pawlikowski, Donald Dietrich, István Deák, and Robert Wistrich.) On the other hand, Doino insists that David Dalin’s eight-page defense of the pope in the neo-conservative Weekly Standard (26 February 2001, pp. 31-39) “became one of the most talked-about statements ever published on Pius XII.” (190) I tell my students that what I look for in their essays are cogent arguments, not set conclusions. For Doino, what seems to count in evaluating a book is the right conclusion, not the cogency of the argument, or thoroughness of research.

Regrettably, one has to wade through flights of fantasy to get to some of the telling points in the book. For a defense of the Pius XII, the reader would do well to turn to the works of such scholars as Robert Graham S.J., Pierre Blet S.J., Owen Chadwick, Victor Conzemius, Ludwig Volk, and Konrad Repgen, for reasoned arguments and telling evidence, but most of all for their respectful appeal to our intelligence. This book, however, is driven by a self-righteous indignation at those who would dare criticize Pius XII; it speaks to those already convinced rather than to those with an open mind.
Jacques Kornberg, University of Toronto

1c) ed. Doris Bergen, The Sword of the Lord. Military Chaplains from the first to the twenty-first century. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press 2004. ISBN 0-268-02176-7, 298 pp.

Military chaplaincies have not often been the subject of academic surveys, especially over long periods, or on a comparative basis. These papers from a conference held at Notre Dame University and skillfully edited by Doris Bergen are therefore welcome in giving a far-ranging coverage to this topic. The unifying theme is however clear: how have or do military chaplains solve the dilemmas posed by the tensions between their loyalties to their God of love and peace, and those to their temporal employers in national armies, pursuing victory through war and violence. The book is inclusive by not limiting its purview solely to Christian chaplains. A valuable chapter by an American Jewish chaplain in the second world war adds an additional perspective.
Necessarily the early chapters on chaplains in antiquity are academic in approach. At least from the fifth century Christian military chaplains are recorded as seeking to minister with word and sacrament to soldiers in their highly precarious profession. In his contribution, Michael McCormick has even dug up a morale-boosting homily for warriors at the Carolingian court in the ninth century. And David Bachrach shows how the armies of the mediaeval centuries could depend on priests to see them through the terrors and moral dilemmas inherent in the great crusades.

Little changed with the Reformation, except that by the seventeenth century, as Anne Laurence outlines, a large number of written pamphlets survive, which report the arguments used by chaplains attempting to prove that God was on their side. The evidence would seem to suggest that religious propaganda of this sort only encouraged violence against sectarian opponents, and that the chaplains’ pens as well as their swords could inflict fatal wounds.
By the eighteenth century, the creation of professional armies by the Prussian kings led to a similar development among military chaplains, drawing on the reservoir of Pietist preachers trained in Halle. The emphasis in their ministry was already based on Romans 13:1, and on their function to bring religious support to the monarch’s cause. Inevitably this gave an obrigkeitshörig character to this service. And subsequent waves of nationalist feelings only reinforced this belief in the sacredness of each country’s national destiny.

By the time of the first world war, chaplains were expected to be officers and gentlemen, who frequently saw their duty as upholding idealistic, even chauvinistic notions as to how God would bless their armies. Very often their prayers for national victory were complemented by efforts to demonize the enemy as non-Christian, or alternatively to claim the virtues of a sacrificial death in battle. In the tragic and traumatic circumstances of trench warfare, these were features which led to a rapid decline in the credibility of the chaplains’ proclamations, and in the long run to a major crisis for the future of the whole church.

The post-1918 revulsion against this kind of religious-political propaganda, and the rise of various pacifist movements, led to further challenges to the whole institution of military chaplaincies. By the second world war, virtually all prophetic utterances were low-keyed, and the chaplains came to see their duty primarily in pastoral terms. The distance between the world of politics and war, on the one side, and the world of spiritual care and consolation, on the other, remained awesome.

In the aftermath of this war, even for the victors, there was great disillusionment and ambivalence about the chaplains’ ministry. Army regulations and compulsory worship services were greatly resented, and were rarely offset by the personal witness and compassion of the individual chaplain. Their common recourse to a concentration on welfare work only revealed the failure of their religious vocation. For far too many of the ordinary soldiers, the chaplain’s stance seemed to be hypocritical with its moralistic censoriousness and lack of sympathy, and incommensurate with the appalling casualties both military and civilian. The contempt for conventional religion only grew, and, in some cases, as in Nazi Germany, was prompted by the political authorities. A negative view of military chaplains prevailed. But in part this was unjust, and more a reflection of the abiding resentment against war in general and its failure to make a brave new, if not Christian, world.

In retrospect, the second world war raised in many minds the acute moral dilemma of participating in an immoral war of annihilation and wholesale destruction. The chaplains’ failure to protest against mass murders of civilians came to be source of anguish, as was also their virtual inability to assist the victims. Particularly poignant is here the report of Rabbi Max Wall’s service in Germany in 1945. And Fr. Joseph O’Donnell’s heartfelt reflections on his service in Vietnam demonstrates the paradoxes and challenges of present-day chaplaincies.

In her summary, Anne Loveland points out that the U.S. military authorities still impose on chaplains their secular requirements for morale-boosting, the inculcation of sexual morality and ideological conformity. The consequent alienation of many soldiers, given their secular upbringing, becomes a serious factor which hinders, if not contradicts, any strong Christian proclamation. The increased emphasis on pastoral concerns is partly because chaplains are well aware that they are clearly inhibited from any prophetic utterances critical of the policies of their government or president. It is only a pity that she makes no reference to chaplaincy work in Iraq.

Fr. Baxter, in his afterword, turns back to the central issue of whether a Christian can in good conscience participate in military chaplaincy, or indeed military service at all, or whether this does not demand a narrowing of allegiances, which promote only a national or political agenda for secular reasons. The debate continues.

The comprehensive bibliography dealing with all aspects of military chaplaincies is commendable and helpful.


2a) Patrick Porter, The Sacred Service. Australian chaplains in the Great War, in War and Society, Vol. 20, no.2, 2002, 23ff
Australian military chaplains shared with their British imperial colleagues in the Great War the experiences of intimate contact with the realities of modern warfare, which compelled moral and theological responses The majority of them had quickly taken the same line as their Englsh counterparts and sanctioned the war as God’s will. But not all were enthusiastic about legitimising killing of the enemy. There is little evidence that Australian chaplains, or indeed any others, enjoyed participation in trench warfare as a kind of masculine masochism. On the contrary most abhorred the slaughter, eve while supporting the war. They grew out of venerating youthful sacrifice or regarding the war as spiritually uplifting. Their revulsion against the bloodiness of battle was authentic. But the war changed the content of their faith. The emphasis necessarily came to be placed on suffering, and on whether God’s good purposes were overruled by human sin. The path of suffering and death was not infrequently balanced by mystical visions of the crucified Christ, offering protection and redemption to the dying soldiers. Such experiences only increased the sense of distance from the Australian home front, and made for traumatic readjustments after 1919. Nor was it easy somehow to uphold the idea that the war’s suffering and deaths had been meaningful. Pardres in Australia and elsewhere were enlisted in the civic religious ceremonies of the post-war years and had to steer a fine line between nsational glorification and their awareness of the need for repentance and mourning. As war sanctifiers as well as disturbed witnesses, these chaplains played an ambivalent role. Drawing from the extensive records of the Australian Chaplaincy Service, Porter shows that these men reached the same conclusions as their colleagiues elsewhere, as they struggled between the two worlds of meaning and futility, redemption and despair.

2b) Hubert Wolf, Pius XI und die “Zeitirrtümer” in Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, Vol.53, no.1, January 2005, pp.1 ff
The papers in the Vatican archives dealing with Germany during the reign of Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) were opened two years ago. One of the first results to be published is the report by Professor Hubert Wolf of Münster. He describes the steps taken from 1934 onwards by various branches of the Curia to examine the writings of leading Nazis to see whether they should be publicly condemned. A syllabus against racism was in the course of preparation, but in fact was never published before Pius XI died. However many of the ideas were expressed in the notable Encyclical of March 1937 “Mit brennender Sorge”. In Wolf’s view, the Curia was always torn between its desire to condemn dangerous heresy, and the need to prevent any recurrence of another Kulturkampf in Germany.

2c) 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
Watchman 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.

2d) Dianne Kirby, Christianity and Freemasonry: The compatibility debate within the Church of England in Journal of Religious History, Vol 29, no. 1, February 2005, pp 43 ff.

Dianne Kirby gives a sprightly account of the continuing debate in the Church of England as to whether membership in a Masonic lodge is compatible with the Church of England’s beliefs. During the early 1950s, both the monarch, George VI, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Fisher, were Masons. But there were some Anglicans, particularly Anglo-Catholics, who noted that the Vatican had always banned membership and wondered whether in fact the two loyalties could be combined. Demands for enquiry by various synods were successfully headed off, when Archbishop Fisher argued that he and 16 other bishops were men of true faith, whose judgement should not be questioned. But the theological issues were never truly aired, as Masons are forbidden to discuss their beliefs and practices with non-Masons. Outsiders were fobbed off with the view that the actions of these well-meaning and charitable men were all part of the traditional establishment, or perhaps “a fairly harmless eccentricity”. In all, the conclusion was that “it would be a sad day when there was no room for eccentricity in the Church of England”. But even today the current Archbishop, Rowan Williams, has acknowledged his own concern about the secrecy of Masonic rites and the implications of the oaths involved.

Best wishes to you all, especially for those still enjoying a summer holiday,
John Conway