Article Note: Ionuṭ Biliuṭă, “Fascism, Race, and Religion in Interwar Transylvania: The Case of Father Liviu Stan (1910–1973)”

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 26, Number 3 (September 2020)

Article Note: Ionuṭ Biliuṭă, “Fascism, Race, and Religion in Interwar Transylvania: The Case of Father Liviu Stan (1910–1973),” Church History 89:1 (March 2020): 101-124.

By Heath A. Spencer, Seattle University

Ionuṭ Biliuṭă uses the case of Father Liviu Stan to confront the “collective ecclesiastical forgetting” in works that celebrate the scholarship of Romania’s interwar theologians while ignoring their collaboration with fascist and communist regimes (102). Reverence for Stan is particularly noteworthy given his virulent racism, membership in the Iron Guard, and service in government during the National Legionary State and the communist era. There is an inverse relationship between appreciation for Stan’s theology and interest in his biography.

As a university student in the early 1930s, Stan actively and at times violently supported nationalist and antisemitic agendas. By 1935, he had “converted” to fascism and equated “radical nationalist politics” with “religious salvation” (110). He officially joined the Iron Guard in 1937, the same year in which he was ordained and appointed to the faculty of the Academy of Orthodox Theology in Sibiu. Although he left the Iron Guard in 1938, his commitment to fascist ideals continued. In articles he wrote for the Legionary press, he promoted antisemitism and the exclusion of Roma from the national community. His book Race and Religion “advocated for the religious necessity of a racist outlook in accordance with the divine plan initiated by God’s creation of man” (122), and its publication in 1942 coincided with the war against the Soviet Union and Romania’s participation in the murder of European Jews.

As head of the Department of Religious Denominations in 1940, Stan was part of a failed attempt to reform the church’s institutional structure and relationship to the National Legionary State. In the early communist era, he held the same office and played a key role in the development of state religious policy, the canonization process, and ecumenical initiatives. Stan’s postwar reputation and position in government were predicated on his willingness to collaborate with the Securitate (secret police), and his new patrons discarded him once his usefulness was exhausted.

Some of Biliuṭă’s most intriguing claims remain undeveloped or at odds with one another. Were Stan and his fellow theologians conformists who cared only about their physical and professional survival, pragmatists who compromised with fascists and communists in order to pursue an independent agenda, or “true believers” who embraced fascism for a time and then abandoned it (at least outwardly) in the postwar era? Biliuṭă’s conclusion points toward the first two options, whereas the bulk of the article supports the third. The abstract refers to “interactions with various ideologies … ideological and professional reconversions, and … ability to survive when confronted with various totalitarian challenges” (101). Unfortunately, Biliuṭă’s close analysis does not continue beyond 1945, and we are left wondering about the nature of Stan’s own reconversion as well as the “agendas” that made Orthodox clergy “eager to collaborate with any political regime” (123).

Despite these unanswered questions, Biliuṭă’s article makes an important contribution to contemporary Romanian church history. Although it was the Securitate that initially “imposed a conspiracy of silence on the Fascist history of the Orthodox Church,” ecclesiastical historians of the post-communist era have perpetuated the cover-up (124). Biliuṭă intends to set the record straight, and in that respect he is successful.