February 2007 Newsletter
Association of Contemporary Church Historians
(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)
John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia
I am pleased to send you this month two complementary reviews dealing with the attitudes of institutional Christianity, in this case the Church of Rome and the Church of England, towards Judaism and the Jewish people, especially during the traumatic years of the Second World War. I believe the comparisons are instructive. Any comments you may have will be passed on to the authors, if you so desire. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Book reviews
a) Brechenmacher, The Vatican and the Jews
b) Lawson The Church of England and the Holocaust
2. Journal articles:
a) Was Nazism an ersatz political religion, or were Christianity and Nazism incompatible?
b) Moses, Bonhoeffer and War theology.
c) Rein, Orthodox Church in Byelorussia
3. Book notes:
a) Cambridge History of Christianity
b) Nottmeier, Adolf von Harnack
1a) Thomas Brechenmacher, Der Vatikan und die Juden, Munich: Verlag C.H.Beck, 2005. 326 pp. ISBN 3-406-52903-8
Thomas Brechenmacher’s account of the history of the relationship between the Roman Catholic authorities and the Jews puts into a longer perspective the controversies about Catholic attitudes in the recent past, as well as the more optimistic prospects for the future. Like Gerhard Besier in his book on the Vatican and the Third Reich (reviewed here in December 2005), Brechenmacher has taken advantage of the recent opening of the Vatican archives for the pontificate of Pope Pius XI, i.e. up to 1939. But he first goes back far into the past to point out the centuries-old ambivalence which has marked Catholic attitudes towards Judaism, since at least 600 A.D. The consolidation of the Papacy’s political and territorial power in Italy led to the codification of the church’s stance on the Jews. They were to be subject to a dual Papal protection, the one sheltering them from outbursts of Christian fanaticism, the other protecting Christians from the dangers of possible conversion. Individual popes placed their emphasis on one or other aspect, which meant in fact that the Jews were long kept in humiliating subjection, but were never expelled from the Papal lands. These policies were justified by an elaborate theology based on the Pauline epistles, seeing the Jews as the witness-people to God’s magnanimous creation, modified only by practical needs in local circumstances.
The Vatican is the world’s oldest continuous ruling entity. Its teaching authority has remained unchanged for centuries. The weight of tradition and the unwillingness to admit past mistakes has rigidified doctrinal positions. So the ambivalent policies towards Judaism remained for long unchanged and unchallenged. Not until the end of the Vatican’s temporal power in 1870 was there any sign of new thinking. But even here the fervour of theological antipathy was only replaced by a widespread feeling of disdain for this minority group, still largely confined to a ghetto-like existence. The process of Jewish emancipation, as the product of French radicalism, was predictably resisted by the Catholic authorities, but its success at least in western Europe brought about improved conditions. But the liberals’ hopes for assimilation were to prove no more successful than the Catholic hopes for conversion. Popular prejudice still remained, as could be seen in the repeated accusations by Catholic zealots that Jews were guilty of ritual murder of Christian children. The last such trial of Jews suspected of this crime took place as late as the early 20th century.
Despite repeated Papal admonitions that the Jews were to be protected as witnesses to God’s love, traditional Catholic antijudaism still flourished. To be sure, in the 19th century, a more tolerant attitude of laissez-faire prevailed. Pressure on the Jews to convert was more or less abandoned, except in the scandalous case in the 1850s when the boy Edgardo Mortara, baptized by his nurse as an infant, was removed from his intimidated parents and forcibly taken to Rome to be brought up as a Catholic. Pius IX’s obstinacy in this case cost him the support of liberals world-wide. The subsequent downfall of the Vatican’s territorial powers in 1870 was hence not regretted.
For the next ninety years, however, Catholic theological positions towards the Jews remained unchanged, even while the former Roman ghetto was demolished and Jews entered the new Italian kingdom to be citizens with equal rights. But the ending of the previous balancing act of church protection left the Vatican unprepared to counter the new and much more dangerous force of secular antisemitism. Brechenmacher rightly sees that the church’s antijudaism had nothing in common with this virulent racist ideology of the late 19th and 20th centuries. But equally, the long tradition of Catholic discrimination against the Jews prevented any more positive steps to counter this new antisemitism. Too often Catholics gave credence to the secular conspiracy theories about Jews, as could be seen in the notorious Dreyfus affairs of the 1890s. Too often the Vatican abstained from adopting any pro-Jewish position, or for example supporting the Zionist ideas for moving the Jews back to Palestine.
After 1918, with the overthrow of the monarchies, and the rise of popular dictatorships in Italy, Germany and Russia, the Vatican’s chief preoccupation was to obtain legal guarantees of protection for the Catholic populations. Inevitably this gave these regimes some international recognition, though the attempt failed in the case of the Soviet Union. In the case of both Italy and Germany, the Vatican’s strategy was successful in obtaining a Concordat which seemingly gave assurances for the future. The Vatican’s hope that this arrangement would prevent or at least mitigate the growth of more radical ideologies and policies was soon proved illusory. The Nazis’ antisemitic outbursts in particular, and subsequent military aggressions, led to considerable heart-searching. Pope Pius XII’s resolute search for ways to preserve peace before September 1939 was a failure. After war broke out, he continued to believe that the Papacy could play a mediating role. This compelled an avoidance of any open criticism or condemnation of the warring parties, lest the Vatican’s impartiality be compromised. Any such Papal declarations might possibly prompt either side to take drastic reprisals against those being victimized and hence make matters worse. The Vatican consequently adopted a policy of almost total silence about the Nazi attacks on the Jews, which was subsequently much misunderstood or interpreted as due to engrained antisemitism.
Brechenmacher has no difficulty in refuting this latter calumny by citing the numerous Vatican documents attesting to the concern expressed about the Nazi policies of racial hatred and discrimination. After Hitler’s rise to power, the Vatican was urged to speak out against the persecution of the Jews, and responded in general terms through such documents as the Papal Encyclical of 1937, Mit brennender Sorge. Practically, the Vatican encouraged the efforts by the Catholic authorities in Germany for the emigration of Jews, though mainly this assisted only Catholic Jews.
As the Nazis’ true hostility towards the Church became clearer, so the Vatican’s antipathy towards Nazism and all its works increased. The papal authorities were thus, with some discomfort, on the same side as the ill-fated Jews. But there is no evidence that the Vatican was prepared to launch any large-scale offensive against the Nazi state, lest this endanger the 1933 Concordat itself. And it is equally obvious that, like every other leading political authority in Europe, the Vatican could not envisage the possibility of the kind of radicalized ideological campaign which led to the Nazis’ mass murder of six million Jews. After 1939, there was a natural reluctance to believe the rumours of violent persecutions and executions, which were often regarded as exaggerated war-time atrocity propaganda. The Vatican had no ability to ascertain the true facts about unverifiable crimes in unreachable parts of the continent. Furthermore the Vatican was totally unprepared for practical steps to assist the victims. Its officials were to be flooded with appeals, but could do little but issue calls to its supporters in other parts of the world. The responses were almost always disappointing.
More significantly the ferocity of the Nazi attacks against the Jews was seen as part of the wider moral disaster caused by the war. The singularity of the Holocaust remained unrecognized. Still less was the mass destruction of European Jewry seen as a cause for Catholic reflection, let alone repentance. Not for many more years did the church leaders begin to realize that the Jewish tragedy affected them too and demanded a revision of their traditional ambivalent attitudes.
Brechenmacher rightly regrets that the Vatican’s central documents from 1939 onwards remain closed to researchers. But enough has already appeared, and sufficient analysis has already taken place, that he believes a full opening of the archives will reveal little new. At the same time, he deplores the fact that the Vatican’s policies and personalities have been attacked for various self-interested reasons, which have little to do with the actual historical record. He therefore regrets that, for example, the pejorative view of Pope Pius XII, first propagated by the Swiss playwright Rolf Hochhuth in the 1960s, still continues to have widespread influence in the public mind.
In assessing Pius XII’s war-time role, Brechenmacher is critical of the Pope’s highly contrived and convoluted speech-making, which successfully avoided calling a spade a spade. But he draws attention to the considerable impact of Papal interventions on behalf of the Nazis’ victims in such countries as Hungary, Roumania and Turkey. He avoids any discussion of the controversial issue of what successes, or alternately disasters, other policies taken by the Papal authorities might have had. Overall his verdict is much the same as that propounded forty years ago by the Jesuit editors of the Vatican’s Actes et documents for the war years: it is true that not enough was done; it is not true that nothing was done.
For the period after 1945, Brechenmacher is obliged, due to the lack of adequate documentation, to abandon his historian’s approach, and instead adopts a more journalistic and impressionistic stance. His account of Pope Paul VI’s visit to the Holy Land in 1964 is well done. He sees this as an important stepping-stone in the improvement of Catholic-Jewish relations. At the same time, his analysis of the pre-history of the Second Vatican Council’s declaration about Judaism, Nostra Aetate,
includes conjectures which will require later verification. For this reason, he leaves unexplored the exact reasons why Popes John XXIII and Paul VI should have so readily abandoned the traditional policies of the Vatican towards the Jews. It is clear however that he warmly greets the new stance so forcibly advocated by Pope John Paul II, which for the first time expresses a wholly positive and creative tone for the relationship between the Church and the Jewish people. He finds it ironic that this striking change should have been prompted by the crimes of the Nazis. But the real reason, Brechenmacher believes, was due to the disappearance of the Vatican’s temporal power and hence the appropriateness of the long-held protective stance towards Judaism. Even though overtones of this traditional attitude lingered on, the shocks of the mid-20th century swept it all away. It was the merit of Pope John XXIII that he recognized the time had come for an entirely new beginning, to give official approval to the condemnation of antisemitism, and to pave the way for new approaches between the elder and younger brothers in faith. In Brechenmacher’s view, despite all the theological and political problems that still remain, the present readiness to deal with the troubled history of this relationship shows that the future can be regarded with optimism.
The book comes with helpful footnotes, a full bibliography and an index.
1b) Tom Lawson, The Church of England and the Holocaust. Christianity, Memory and Nazism. (Studies in Modern British Religious History, Volume 13) Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: The Boydell Press. 2006. 207 Pp.. ISBN 1 84383 219 4
For the first fifteen years after the end of the Second World War, the Nazi persecution and mass murder of the Jews of Europe was rarely the subject of public debate or historical analysis. Only after the Eichmann trial did the term ãholocaustä gain widespread acceptance. Even then this tragedy was largely considered as a matter for the Jewish people alone. Not until after an increasing volume of criticism arose in the 1960s and 1970s did the Christian churches begin to acknowledge that their role as bystanders needed to be re-examined. In more recent years, a large number of books, usually written with a moralistic tone, have focused attention on the specific role of individual churches and church authorities. Tom Lawson’s examination of the Church of England’s attitudes is an expansion of an earlier article in Twentieth Century British History, Volume 14, no. 2, (2003) and an addition both to the history and the historiography of Holocaust studies.
Lawson rightly challenges the view that the avoidance of any discussion in the immediate post-war years of the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews was the result of the preoccupation with Cold War crises and polemics. Instead he suggests that we need to understand the responses of the Church of England, throughout the whole period from 1933 onwards, from within its own earlier mentalities and preconceptions. He shows clearly that, in the 1930s, the Anglican perception of Nazism as an evil ideology, and the support given to the persecuted German churches, were primary factors in interpreting the fate of the Jews. It was perhaps understandable that churchmen should come to regard Nazi totalitarianism as an anti-Christian relic of Teutonic barbarism. Such views were useful after 1939 to strengthen the moral justification for war. Secular British propaganda did the same. But leading members of the Church of England, especially Bishop George Bell of Chichester, made a distinction. They did not condemn all Germans as warmongers or racial murderers, but sought to preserve the image of the German churches, especially the Protestants, as being the victims of Nazi anti-Christian violence and oppression.
Bishop Bell led the way in claiming that there were other Germans who were resisting Nazi totalitarian ambitions, and onwhom the task of rebuilding Germany would fall once Nazism was overthrown. The persecution of the Jews was thus first seen as part of the Nazis’ demonic destructiveness. There was every sympathy for these victims of the Nazi system, especially after Kristallnacht. And whereas the British government played down the Jewish persecution out of fear that they would be obliged to do something to assist them, such as opening Palestine as a haven of refuge, the Church of England led a vigorous and continuous campaign, especially in 1942 and 1943, against its own government’s narrow-mindedness.
But Lawson’s point is well taken. The Church of England was persuaded of Nazism’s evil character because Hitler had first persecuted the churches. When the most prominent Protestant pastor, Martin Niemöller, was imprisoned in 1937, he was seen by all the British churches as the symbol of Nazi oppression, and was prayed for and remembered in Anglican and other parishes across the land. The Church of England’s leaders, especially Archbishop William Temple, backed by Bell, were convinced that their vocal and repeated protests against the Nazi excesses, and their support for the Confessing Church’s stand against totalitarian control, were their contribution to rescuing Christian civilization from disaster. They were encouraged when they found at least one German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, agreeing with them.
From their perspective, the fate of the Jews was not sui generis, but only a culmination of Nazi iniquity. The Church of England had a moral duty to support all these victims and did so to the best of its ability. Before 1939 the Church had led the way in seeking support for refugees from Nazi tyranny. After the outbreak of war, the focus became more on the need to provide asylum in Britain or its empire for those few who could escape, despite the severe restrictions placed on all aliens. But by 1942 the Church’s remarkable flood of indictments and protests got nowhere, and only revealed its impotence in the face of the British government’s obduracy. Even in 1945, the revelations of the horrors of the concentration camps only reinforced this interpretation of Nazi barbarity, but did not lead to a realization that the genocide of the Jews had been something special. Instead the church leaders were determined to lead a crusade to re-Christianize Europe and thus purge their civilization of Nazism’s demonic forces. This campaign, however, had no place for Jews, except as potential converts.
The overthrow of Nazi totalitarianism aroused optimistic hopes, not only in the Church of England, but also in other churches, for a renewal of Christian civilization. The longed-for peace, disarmament, and prosperity would surely follow. But very soon the dark clouds of a new totalitarian and anti-Christian threat. coming from the Soviet Union, became apparent. The Churches were once again called to mobilize themselves for an armed defence of their heritage. And in such circumstances, the need was obvious to enlist in this new cause those Germans, especially in the Wehrmacht, who were presumed to have been anti-Nazi all along. So a continuity between the interpretations of the 1930s and those of the 1950s could easily be established and maintained. Nazi tyranny was seen as a temporary sickness which had afflicted only a section of the German population. But this understanding of Nazism gave no priority to its antisemitic imperative, and certainly would not have agreed that all Germans were “antisemitic eliminationists”. The end of the war in 1945 and the onset of the Cold War’s antagonisms only confirmed this view, and led to the downplaying of Jewish suffering and its full implications.
Lawson corrects those interpretations which minimize the importance of church opinion, or suggest that a pessimistic and self-doubting community existed in those years. To the contrary, he praises the confidence of the Church of England leaders, but does suggest that their concern for German Protestantism as a bastion of anti-Nazi resistance left no room for a closer regard for Jewish concerns. And Bishop Bell, like his colleagues throughout the Anglican hierarchy, was far removed from even considering the consequences of Christian antisemitism itself, or the extent to which the majority of German churchmen had willingly enough supported it. Such a self-critical examination, though promoted at the time by a maverick Church of England clergyman, James Parkes, got nowhere. Parkes’ pleas for a recasting of Christian-Jewish relations had to wait for another forty years.
Lawson’s point of view is, of course, drawn from the perspective of the twenty-first century. Like others, he engages in wishful thinking in writing history as it should have happened. Hence his verdict that Bishop Bell was myopic about the Jewish fate is itself a distortion. He appears to be promoting a more pluralistic viewpoint than was prevailing in the 1930s and 1940s. Perhaps he would have been wiser to have avoided such post-hoc moralisms. Instead he might well have shown how similar the
Anglican attitudes on the Jewish question were to those of the British Catholics, or indeed to the very similar views held by Pope Pius XII. He nowhere discusses the attitudes of the British Jewish community. Nor does he make any mention of the extent to which Anglican attitudes towards the Holocaust were affected by what was happening in Palestine/Israel. This could perhaps be the subject of a sequel, and thus make use of his commendable skill at research and analysis.
2) Journal articles. a) “Was Nazism an ersatz political religion, or were Christianity and Nazism incompatible?”
These questions have recently received revived attention through back-to-back appearances in two prestigious journals, The Journal of Modern History and The Journal of Contemporary History. In the former’s Volume 78, no. 3, September 2006, Neil Gregor, of the University of Southampton, devotes the first ten pages of a large survey of “Politics, Culture, Political Culture: recent work on the Third Reich and its Aftermath” to a discussion of the opposing views on this topic. He starts with what he calls the traditional view from the 1960s that the Church Struggle had been between a tyrannical dictatorship and the martyr-like defenders of the true faith, as exemplified in John Conway’s study of The Nazi Persecution of the Churches 1933-1945. By contrast, more recent literature has shown a more nuanced relationship. On the one side, we now recognize that many churchmen, both Catholic and Protestant, readily enough supported the regime’s political goals, including its antisemitic policies. On the other side, many leading Nazis continued to regard themselves as ãpositiveä Christians, without necessarily subscribing to any denominational loyalties or doctrines. Gšring was married in church, Wilhelm Frick retained a strong commitment to Protestantism, and Hanns Kerrl, the Minister for Church Affairs, could quote the Bible by heart and was convinced that the churches and the Nazi Party were inseparable because both opposed Judasim.
These latter sentiments led Richard Steigmann-Gall, in his book The Holy Reich, to challenge the traditional view. Neil Gregor clearly has some sympathy for this assessment, and agrees with the contention that National Socialism overlapped with much in the Protestant tradition, and drew support from many engaged churchmen who continued to believe they could be good Christians and good Nazis at the same time. Gregor does acknowledge, as have other critics, that Steigmann-Gall’s conclusions are largely drawn from Nazism’s early years, and rightly points out that Steigmann-Gall accepts at face value any Nazi positive references to Christianity, however vaguely defined. Yet he also applauds Steigmann-Gall’s view that certain elements of Protestant nationalist theology and social activism fed into some strands of Nazi ideology and propaganda. This may indeed cause us to question the outright depiction of the Nazi regime as a fundamentally godless, atheistic phenomenon. Rather it prompts us to look more closely at the complex intersections, elisions and clashes of religious and secular forces in this critical period of German history.
The editors of The Journal of Contemporary History decided to devote the entire issue of Volume 42, no. 1, January 2007, to an even broader valuation of these questions. In his introduction, Professor Richard Evans of Cambridge asserts that “the relationship of German National Socialism to religion in general, and Christianity in particular, has recently moved to the forefront of historical enquiry”. He too suggests that the traditional view needs revision. Younger scholars have been far more critical of the churches and their readiness to collaborate with Nazi agencies than was the case earlier. It is now generally acknowledged that there was a wide variety of attitudes towards the regime rather than any united spirit of resistance.
The contributors to this issue include both supporters and critics of Steigmann-Gall’s theses, as outlined above, and he himself will be responding in the next issue in April. The majority of the five essays here printed, however, are sceptical of his conclusions, believing that he has failed to present a convincing case. Manfred Gailus of Berlin’s Technical University suggests that Steigmann-Gall has been captivated by a strange obsession to depict National Socialism as emphatically as Christian as possible. This seduces the author into systematic blind spots about Nazism as a whole. He.underestimated, for example, the influence of Goebbels even in, or especially in, the early years. Irving Hexham of the University of Calgary backs this up by examining both Goebbels’ early novel Michael, which strikingly adopted the German neo-pagan thought of the day, and the work of Alfred Rosenberg, whose anti-Christian tirades were more significant that Steigmann-Gall allows. Doris Bergen, author of a noted work on the so-called “German Christians”, the small minority of Protestants who enthusiastically endorsed Hitler’s rule, suggests that Steigmann-Gall has made a significant contribution by focussing on those Nazis who claimed to be Christians, but chides him for ignoring the attitudes of the Catholic Church. Above all, Steigman-Gall fails to carry his researches into the later Nazi years. After 1937, he admits, the regime took an anti-church turn, even though he sought to downplay the influence of the notorious anti-clerical, Martin Bormann. But he signally fails to take note of the striking findings of Wolfgang Dierker, whose study Himmlers Glaubenskrieger (Paderborn: Schöningh 2003) documented the systematic and deliberately anti-Christian policies of the SD and SS under Himmler’s control. There can be no doubt that, had the war ended otherwise, these men would have dominated Nazi strategies for the future of Christianity in the (un)Holy Reich. Theirs was a political religion of a very different sort.
b) John A. Moses, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s repudiation of Geman War theology” in Journal of Religious History, Volume 30, no. 3, October 2006, p.354ff
Bonhoeffer’s theological evolution still evokes debate and discussion. Was he ever a convinced pacifist, who later abandoned such views in order to paricipate in the plot to overthrow Hitler by violence? Was he ever a true nationalist, like so many of his contemporaries? How did he regard the nation state, and its historic destiny? Moses seeks to show that in his book Ethics Bonhoeffer examined in a truly radical fashion the whole doctrine of state power and the glorification of sacred violence which the Lutheran church had for so long upheld. Karl Barth of course led the way in pilloring the German theologians for imagining they could enlist God on their side. But Bonhoeffer goes further in uncompromisingly demanding that Christians love their enemies without any reservations. He sought to convince his fellow churchmen that war was the product of a fallen creation and could never be theologically endorsed. In the end his own sense of what was a responsible action for a Christian led him to support the assassination attempt to get rid of a tyrant, but it also included an acceptance of guilt for such an action. Had he lived Bonhoeffer would doubtless have devised a new form of Christian political obedience. But Moses shows how his thought was developing in those final critical years before his execution by the Nazis as a traitor to his nation but to later eyes as a Christian martyr for his faith.
c) Leonid Rein, “The Orthodox Church in Byelorussia under Nazi occupation (1941-1944)” in East European Quarterly, 29 no. 1, Spring 2005
White Russia, or Byelorus, as it is now called, suffered enormous and devastating slaughter and destruction during the last century, particularly during the period of the German-Soviet war when many of its inhabitants were ruthelessly murdered, its economy exploited, and its resources plundered by both sides. This article seeks to clarify how the existing Orthodox Church members and institutions survived these onslaughts. Little has been written on this subject before, and most of it was either condemnatory or apologetic. In such circumstances Rein has a hard task in assessing the policies of these persecuted Christians. In fact he shows that the misfortunes of the Orthodox followers began even before the war when Byelorussia was territorially split between Poland and the Soviet Union, both of which attempted to erase any independence, or to integrate the population under either Catholic or Russian Orthodox auspices respectively.
After the Geman invasion of 1941, some Orthodox members hoped to find relief from their Communist oppressors. They were soon disillusioned. The Nazi occupiers had no interest in recreating the Orthodox or any other church structures, unless completely subordinated to their control. The bishops and priests who sought to provide pastoral care for their followers were soon embroiled in the internecine political disputes. The local clergy had a highly ambiguous position trying to make the best of their enforced co-operation with the Germans in order to prevent worse disasters. Like some of the Judenräte they hoped they could somehow sate the Nazi Moloch. The German policy was also ambiguous, at least when compared to the Soviets’ outright hostility. When in 1944 the Red Army reconquered the whole territory, the Orthodox Church paid a terrrible price for its alleged collaboration with the fascist enemy.
Rein’s analysis of the surviving German documentation and the post-war secondary sources (but not in Russian) gives a balanced and insightful account of this murky and largely obscure chapter of church history.
3) Book notes:
a) The Cambridge History of Christianity: World Christianities c.1914 – c.2000, ed. Hugh McLeod. Cambridge 2006 ISBN 13 978-0-521-81500-0
This encyclopedic 700 page survey written, in the main, by British theologians and academics, will be a valuable reference work for all interested in 20th century developments in the Christian churches. The tone is eirenic and scholarly, with recognition of the pluralistic charcter of the Christian presence in this troubled and often traumatic century. As McLeod states in his Introduction, in this century “Christianity became a worldwide religion, yet at the same time it suffered a series of major crises in what had been for centuries its heartland”. This volume treats only western Christianity and is principally concerned with the political and social life of the churches, while theological developments are treated only when really relevant to the life of the institutions. The major themes covered are the challenges faced by the European churches; the diminishing importance of denominational boundaries, the role of war for the churches, and the contrasting theme of the churches’ support for emancipatory movements worldwide. This is a rich and rewarding read, which can be commended to all.
b) Christian Nottmeier, Adolf von Harnack und die deutsche Politik 1890-1930, Tübingen Mohr Siebeck 2004. Rather belatedly we draw attention to this first-rate political biography of Germany’s leading Protestant theologian in the early years of the last century. Nottmeier, who teaches in Berlin, has taken full advatage of the extensive Harnack Nachlass to give us a first-rate analysis of how this representative figure established his reputation not only as a historian of Christian dogma, but also politically as a major force in Protestant circles. His close acquaintance with the Kaiser was held to be a major advantage in his career, but Harnack was not uncritrical of his sovereign’s faults. And following Germany’s defeat in 1918, he threw his weight on to the side of the new Republic. Such a switch was regarded by many of his conservative supporters as a betrayal, and his public reputation suffered along with the new Republic itself. But equally fateful was the decline in subscription to his liberal theological views in the 1920s. Harnack was too closely associated both with the liberal optimism of the pre-1914 Protestant milieu, and also with the patriotism of the war. The younger generation, such as Bonhoeffer, regarded the old master as passe and outdated. His reliance on the progressive effects of good history was spurned in favour of much more radical theologies, such as those of Karl Barth. Not until the 1990s were attempts made to rehabilitate Harnack in his own setting, and not in the light of the earlier disastrous campaigns for German supremacy. Nottmeier’s scholarly account is full of good interpretations, which will undoubtedly help to bring about a more balanced view of this great scholar.
c) Historisches Jahrbuch, Vol. 126 2006, Verlag Karl Alber Freiburg/Munich
The latest volume in this series includes a number of interesting articles on German and European Catholicism, written from a discursive but basically conservative point of view. Joachim Schmiedl examines the impact of secularization especially on the various Catholic organizations and religious orders. Stefan Gerber looks at the constitutional debates over the position of the Catholic Church in the Weimar Republic, and the refusal of the socialists to accept the Vatican’s much-urged proposals for a new Concordat.
Walther Ziegler defends the policies of the Catholic bishops under the Nazi regime, seeking to meliorate the wishful thinking of some later writers, and pointing out that political revolution or even resistance was never the bishops’ top priority. So too Joseph Pilvousek describes the same dilemma which faced the bishops during the Communist rule in East Germany, which they met mainly by complete abstinence from political engagement. Benjamin Ziemann analyses the use of public opinuon polls by the Catholic authorites in the Bonn Republic after 1968, which were not exactly encouraging as the mileux tried to come to terms with the post-Vatican 2 situation. All good “state-of-the-art” articles.
With best wishes