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Theologians Under Hitler
Notes for an article

Discuss the book by Robert P. Ericksen, author of "Theologians Under Hitler (1985 Yale University Press). The book explores the paradox of three great theologians- whose work still stands today- who supported Hitler during the Nazi era.

A proposed documentary film "will examine difficult questions about the Church's ability to recognize evil, both yesterday and today, and will contrast these issues with Christian figures, such as Bonhoeffer and Niemoller, who did indeed stand against evil."

"The figure of Adolf Hitler stands alone in modern history as a symbol of evil. In hindsight, the evils of Nazi Germany are obvious. But what led many good, intelligent people to follow National Socialism and serve as its apologists? And how could three of Germany's greatest Protestant theologians: Paul Althaus, Gerhard Kittel, and Emanuel Hirsch, support Hitler?"

Book Review: http://theologytoday.ptsem.edu/apr1986/v43-1-bookreview18.htm

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Correspondence

Copyright (c) 1996 First Things 67 (November 1996): 2-7.

Debating the Shoah In his review essay on Hitler's Willing Executioners ("Daniel Goldhagen's Holocaust," August/September), Richard John Neuhaus harshly challenges Professor Goldhagen's criticism of the role played by the Christian churches under the Nazi regime, suggesting, rather, that the churches found themselves in a position where they failed, for the most part, "to muster courage to be martyrs" under a "ruthless and totalitarian regime." Father Neuhaus, however, neglects to acknowledge the enthusiasm with which so many Christians, outside the pro-Hitler German Christian movement but within the Evangelical Church, greeted the rise of National Socialism.

For some, it was as much because of the Fuehrer's policy vis-a-vis Jews and Judaism as it was his promise of being a force against communism and the perceived decadence of the Weimar Republic. Indeed, the Protestant Church's most respected segment, its renowned university theological faculty, time and again embraced and promulgated Hitler's beliefs about Jews. As Robert Ericksen has noted in his book, Theologians Under Hitler, not only were the brightest lights of German Protestant scholarship, Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus, and Emanuel Hirsch, "monstrously anti-Semitic, but they were products of Christian mainstream theology." These were scholars of exemplary credentials, yet their positions regarding the Jewish people and their faith were right in line with that of Hitler's German Christian movement.

It wasn't some aberrant or fringe movement that began the Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life. It was University Professor Walter Grundmann and his colleagues, with funds from the Evangelical Church headquarters. Its goal was to eliminate once and for all everything Jewish in Christianity. Even before its first publication was off the press, tens of thousands of Christians in Germany became subscribers.

Would it have meant martyrdom for Emanuel Hirsch if he had not published his well-received and, in his words, "more acceptable" New Testament with its relentless anti-Jewish bias? Would it have meant martyrdom for Bishop Heinrich Oberheid had he not been a major mover behind the notorious 1939 Godesberg Declaration of the National Church Union of German Christians that called for full expurgation of Jewry from the Church? Would it have been martyrdom for a seminary such as Erlangen had it resisted the Aryan clause, a law that effectively banned clergy of Jewish ancestry from church pulpits? I think not. . . .

Contrary to what Fr. Neuhaus charges, Goldhagen never says Martin Luther was responsible for the Holocaust. He states, in his scant references to Luther, that church leaders exploited Luther's anti-Semitic vitriol. Neuhaus himself concedes that Luther's views were exploited by the Nazis. Small wonder, given that Luther had referred to Jews as "our plague, our pestilence, our misfortune." . . . But then Fr. Neuhaus proceeds to posit that Luther was not, after all, a "passionate anti- Semitic hero." What more does it take to be described as such when one has written, with respect to the Jews, "We are at fault in not slaying them." . . .

Some historians of the period have equated Christian support for Jews who had converted to Christianity with opposition to the anti-Semitic politics of Nazism. But it is important to recognize that with a few exceptions (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for example), Protestants uttered barely a word of protest against what was happening to their fellow citizens who were Jewish. The Roman Catholics, with their own few notable exceptions, did no better. . . .

Of course Fr. Neuhaus is correct that John Chrysostom and Martin Luther cannot be held responsible for the deaths of Jews in Germany, and that the former was obviously not "writing speeches for Josef Goebbels." Yet writings have many lives. . . . The frequent statements by prominent German Christian theologians resurrecting age-old Christian anti-Jewish canards did indeed have a very powerful effect on the thinking of men and women in a land considered by many to be the "heart of Christendom." As James Parkes wrote in the 1930s, accusations against Jews by Christians of ritual murder, poisoning of the wells, and a host of other time-honored charges are "natural outgrowths from the picture created by Chrysostom or a Cyril."

That is why we remember with gratitude the leadership of Pope John XXIII as he turned the Christian understanding of Jews and Judaism around 180 degrees with the initiation of a process leading to the promulgation of Nostra Aetate. It is why we give thanks for Protestant denominations such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the National Alliance of Baptists as each has reformulated, within the last several years, its understanding of its relationship with Judaism. And it is why we give thanks for the pres-ent pope, John Paul II, as he labors to build bridges across what many have thought, down through the years, was an impassable divide.

Fr. Neuhaus, like most critics of this book, has demonstrated the weakness of Goldhagen's premise that "what can be said about the Germans cannot be said about any other nationality." And it is correct that in his treatment of the churches in Germany as a whole, Goldhagen has taken the facts out of their historical context.

But is equally true that attempting to explain away or in any way ignore the churches' response cannot erase the reality that the documents, statements, and actions Goldhagen cites are a stain on their history. They are ones which we as Christians should not ever attempt to excuse. As Father Edward Flannery has written, it is the "ultimate scandal that in carrying the burden of God in history the Jewish people did not find in the Christian churches an ally and defender but one of their most zealous detractors and oppressors."

Peggy Obrecht Director of Church Relations U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Washington, D.C.

RJN replies:

I emphatically agree that we must not "attempt to excuse" the generally lamentable response of Christians in Germany, Protestant and Catholic, to Hitler's anti-Semitism, and my essay made that clear beyond doubt. Ms. Obrecht, however, greatly understates the "weakness" of Goldhagen's book. It is, as I said, "an incoherent, hate-filled, dishonest tract" that smears all Germans, including heroes such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, with the charge of anti-Semitism, which he says is "axiomatic" in being German. She is right that the choice was not between martyrdom and being an enthusiastic proponent of Hitler's policies, but, as a careful reading of Robert Ericksen's book demonstrates, she greatly overstates the degree to which figures such as Emanuel Hirsch represented the mainstream Protestant position. While no doubt many people shared their views, Ericksen studies Althaus, Kittel, and, most particularly, Hirsch precisely because they were not representative.

As I noted, Luther said abhorrently vicious things about Jews, but we grant Hitler a "posthumous victory" (Emil Fackenheim) if we agree with the Nazis that Luther, and Christianity more generally, support their anti-Semitism. Of great importance, among other things, is that Luther's attacks were based on religion and not on race. That does not make his words more defensible, but it underscores the gross misrepresentation of Luther by the Hitler regime. On this score, I again recommend Uwe Siemon-Netto's recent book, The Fabricated Luther. This touches on the question of who is responsible for the illegitimate exploitation of what others have said. My answer is that those who misrepresent others are responsible for that misrepresentation. It is true that "writings have many lives," but John Chrysostom in fourth-century Constantinople should not be held responsible for the misrepresentation of his writings by Nazis in twentieth-century Germany. Those who argue otherwise, including Daniel Goldhagen, are guilty of making a muddle of moral accountability, thus obscuring good and evil alike. The Holocaust is so important as to require the clearest and most careful moral reasoning, and I am not sure that Ms. Obrecht or the Holocaust Museum contributes to that end by offering a defense, however qualified, of Mr. Goldhagen's scurrilous polemic.

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From ELCA website: http://www.elca.org/dcs/studieslet.html Books on the Reformation and the Tradition as a Whole:

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Troeltsch, Ernst. The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, II, 465-576. Trans. from the German by Olive Wyon. New York: Harper & Row, 1960. On Luther and the Lutheran tradition.

Wagner, Walter H. “Luther and the Positive Use of the Law.” Journal of Religious History 11, 1 (1980): 45-63.

Waring, Luther H. The Political Theories of Martin Luther. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1910.

Watson, Philip S. “Luther’s Doctrine of Vocation.” Scottish Journal of Theology II, 4 (December 1949): 364-77.

Williams, George Huntston. “German Mysticism in the Polarization of Ethical Behavior in Luther and the Anabaptists.” The Mennonite Quarterly Review XLVIII, 3 (July 1974): 275-304.

Wingren, Gustaf. Luther on Vocation. Trans. from the Swedish by Carl C. Rasmussen. Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957. Thorough study of Luther’s concept.

Wolin, Sheldon S. Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought, 141-64. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1960. On Luther.

Ziemke, Donald C. Love for the Neighbor in Luther’s Theology: The Development of His Thought 1512-1529. Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1963.

On Later Persons and Developments

Addison, Duane LeRoy. “The Changing Understanding of the Role of the Church in Ecumenical Social Thought, 1925-1937.” Unpublished Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1966.

Bakken, Peter W. “The Ecology of Grace: Ultimacy and Environmental Ethics in Aldo Leopold and Joseph Sittler.” Unpublished Ph.D. diss, University of Chicago, 1991.

_______, compiler. Joseph A. Sittler: A Bibliography. Madison, Wis.: [The author], 1994.

Barker, H. Gaylon. “Bonhoeffer, Luther, and Theologia Crucis.” Dialog 34, 1 (Winter 1995): 10-7.

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Burgess, John P. The East German Church and the End of Communism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Burtness, James H. Shaping the Future: The Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985. Bibliographical essay.

Childs, James M. “The Significance of Wolfhart Pannenberg for Contemporary Theology.” Trinity Seminary Review 13, 2 (Fall 1991):61-8.

Christianson, Gerald. “J.H. Wichern and the Rise of the Lutheran Social Institution.” Lutheran Quarterly XIX, 4 (November 1967): 357-70.

Ericksen, Robert P. Theologians Under Hitler: Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus and Emanuel Hirsch. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985. A critical study of three Lutheran theologians.

Evjen, John O. The Life of J. H. W. Stuckenberg. Minneapolis: Lutheran Free Church Publishing, 1938.

Fischer, Robert H. “Passavant: Pioneer in the Church’s Ministry of Mercy.” Lutheran Forum 28, 2 (May 1994): 42-4.

Forde, Gerhard O. The Law-Gospel Debate: An Interpretation of Its Historical Development. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1969. On nineteenth and twentieth century developments.

Forstman, Jack. Christian Faith in Dark Times: Theological Conflicts in the Shadow of Hitler. Louisville, Ky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992. Studies controversies among six theologians (five Lutheran), three of whom opposed Hitler and three of whom welcomed him in 1933.

Gerberding, G. H. Life and Letters of W. A. Passavant, D. D. Greenville, Pa.: Young Lutheran, 1906.

Gluchman, Vasil. Slovak Lutheran Social Ethics. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen, 1997. Focuses on writings from the twentieth century, particularly since 1948.

Graebner, Alan. “Immigrant Acculturation in the Missouri Synod, 1917-1929.” Unpublished Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1964. Bibliography.

Grenholm, Carl-Henric. Christian Social Ethics in a Revolutionary Age: An Analysis of the Social Ethics of John C. Bennett, Heinz-Dietrich Wendland and Richard Shaull. Uppsala: Verbum, 1973.

Hall, Thor. “Nygren’s Ethics.” In The Philosophy and Theology of Anders Nygren, ed. Charles W. Kegley, 263-81. Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970.

Heinecken, Martin J. “Pietism, Ethics of.” In The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics, eds. James F. Childress and John Macquarrie, 475-6. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986.

Hoehn, Richard A. “J. H. W. Stuckenberg: American Lutheranism’s First Social Ethicist.” Dialog 22, 1 (Winter 1983): 15-20.

Hoffman, Bengt R. Christian Social Thought in India, 1947-1962: An Evaluation. Bangalore: Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society, 1967.

Jackson, Gregory Lee. Prophetic Voice for the Kingdom: The Impact of Alvin Daniel Mattson upon the Social Consciousness of the Augustana Synod. Rock Island, Ill.: Augustana Historical Society, 1986.

Johnson, Jeff G. Black Christians: The Untold Lutheran Story. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1991.

Johnson, Karl E., Jr., and Joseph A Romeo. “Jehu Jones (1786-1852), The First African American Lutheran Minister.” Lutheran Quarterly X, 4 (Winter 1996): 425-44.

Kegel, James David. “A Church Come of Age: American Lutheranism and National Socialism, The German Church Conflict, and the Reconstitution of the Church: 1933- 1948.” Unpublished Th.D. diss., Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, 1988.

Klemperer, Klemens von. “Beyond Luther? Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Resistance Against National Socialism.” Pro Ecclesia VI, 2 (Spring 1994): 184-98.

Kohlhoff, Dean. “Lutherans and the New Deal: The Missouri Synod as a Case Study.” Essays and Reports, X, 1982, 99-115. St. Louis: The Lutheran Historical Conference, 1984.

Kruger, Günter. “Johann Christoph Blumhardt (1805-1880): A Man for the Kingdom.” Currents in Theology and Mission 23, 6 (December 1996): 427-41.

Krusche, Günter. “The Church Between Accommodation and Refusal: The Significance of the Lutheran Doctrine of the ‘Two Kingdoms’ for the Churches of the German Democratic Republic.” Religion, State, and Society 22, 2 (1994): 323-32.

Kuenning, Paul P. The Rise and Fall of American Lutheran Pietism: The Rejection of an Activist Heritage. Macon, Ga.: Mercer, 1988. Bibliography.

Lambert, Lake. “Ethics and Ecclesiology in Pittsburgh.” Lutheran Quarterly VI, 2 (Summer 1992): 153-74.

Lebacqz, Karen. “Alien Dignity: The Legacy of Helmut Thielicke.” In Religion and Medical Ethics: Looking Back, Looking Forward, ed. Allen Verhey, 44-60. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1996.

Lehmann, Hartmut. Martin Luther in the American Imagination. Munchen: W. Fink, 1988.

Lotz, David W. Ritschl & Luther: A Fresh Perspective on Albrecht Ritschl’s Theology in the Light of His Luther Study, 127-38. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1974. The relation of faith to ethics in Ritschl and Luther.

Lovin, Robin W. Christian Faith and Public Choices: The Social Ethics of Barth, Brunner and Bonhoeffer. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984.

Macquarrie, John. “Ritschlian Ethics.” In The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics, eds. James F. Childress and Macquarrie, 559-60. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986.

Nielsen, Paul. “Vocation, Responsibility, and the Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” Unpublished Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1998.

Noll, Mark A. “The Lutheran Difference.” First Things 20 (February 1992): 31-40.

Outka, Gene. “Equality and Individuality: Thoughts on Two Themes in Kierkegaard.” Journal of Religious Ethics 10, 2 (Fall 1982): 171-203.

_______. “Kierkegaardian Ethics.” In The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics, eds. James F. Childress and John Macquarrie, 337-9. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986.

_______, “Religious and Moral Duty: Notes on Fear and Trembling.” In Religion and Morality: A Collection of Essays, 204-54, eds. Outka and John P. Reeder, Jr. Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1973.

Rasmussen, Larry L. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Reality and Resistance. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1972.

Reimer, James A. The Emanuel Hirsch and Paul Tillich Debate: A Study in the Political Ramifications of Theology. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen, 1989.

Rohrbough, Faith E. “The Political Maturation of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg.” Lutheran Quarterly X, 4 (Winter 1996): 385-406.

Root, Michael John. “Creation and Redemption: A Study of Their Interrelation, with Special Reference to the Theology of Regin Prenter.” Unpublished Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1979. Includes discussion of Luther.

Scholder, Klaus. The Churches and the Third Reich, One: 1918-1934; Two: 1934 Barmen and Rome. Trans. from the German by John Bowden. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988.

Scott, David. A. “The Trinity and Ethics: The Thought of Helmut Thielicke.” Lutheran Quarterly XXIX, 1 (February 1977): 3-12.

Scott-Thomas, Elaine. “Lutherans and the Social Gospel in Canada in the First Quarter of the Twentieth Century.” Consensus 22, 1 (1995): 9-27.

Sernett, Milton C. “Lutheran Abolitionism in New York State: A Problem in Historical Explication.” In Essays and Reports, X, 1982, 1-15. St. Louis: The Lutheran Historical Conference, 1984.

Shanahan, William O. German Protestants Face the Social Question, 1: The Conservative Phase, 1815-1871. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1954.

Siemon-Netto, Uwe. The Fabricated Luther: The Rise and Fall of the Shriver Myth. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1993.

_______. “Luther and Hitler: Friends or Foes?” Dialog 35, 3 (Summer 1996): 188-92.

_______. “Luther Vilified—Luther Vindicated, 1.” Lutheran Forum 27, 2 (Pentecost 1993): 33-9.

_______. “Luther Vilified—Luther Vindicated, 2.” Lutheran Forum 27, 3 (Reformation 1993): 42-9.

Simpson, Gary. “Reciprocity and Political Theology: Wolfhart Pannenberg and Three Americans—John B. Cobb, Jr., Carl E. Braaten, and Richard John Neuhaus.” Unpublished Ph.D. diss., Christ Seminary-Seminex, 1983.

Sittler, Joseph. “Social Gospel.” In The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church, III, ed. Julius Bodensieck, 2197-8. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1965.

Sockness, Brent W. “Ethics as Fundamental Theology: The Function of Ethics in the Theology of Wilhelm Herrmann.” In Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics, 1992, ed. Harlan Beckley, 75-96. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University, 1992.

_______. “Troeltsch’s ‘Practical Christian Ethics’: the Heidelberg Lectures (1911/12).” In Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics, 1997, 17, eds. John Kelsay and Summer B. Twiss, 71-94. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1997.

Stange, Douglas C. Radicalism for Humanity: A Study of Lutheran Abolitionism. St. Louis: Oliver Slave, 1970.

Strieter, Thomas. “Contemporary Two-Kingdoms and Governances Thinking for Today's World: A Critical Assessment of Types of Interpretation of the Two-Kingdoms and Governances Model, Especially Within American Lutheranism.” Unpublished Th.D. diss., Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, 1986. Studies eight theologians. Bibliography.

Stumme, John R. Socialism in Theological Perspective: A Study of Paul Tillich 1918- 1933. Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press, 1978.

Watt, Alan. “Two Approaches to Social Action in 19th Century Lutheranism.” Trinity Seminary Review 4 (1982):32-43.

Weborg, John. “Pietism: ‘The Fire of God Which…Flames in the Heart of Germany’.” In Protestant Spiritual Traditions, ed. Frank Senn, 9-54. New York: Paulist Press, 1986.








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Date Added: 3/30/2003 Date Revised: 2/1/2004 2:22:07 PM

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