Tuesday, May 30, 2006

German pope at Nazi death camp

Reading about Pope Benedict’s trip to Poland and the Nazis' Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp here, we were put in mind of the Barmen Declaration, issued 72 years ago tomorrow. And just what is the Barmen Declaration, you ask? It was an effort by several churches in Germany to stand against the Nazi Party.
Most of the churches in Germany were Lutheran, organized into provinces. A movement took fire to nationalize the church under a single Reichs-bishop. This was actually a trick to bring the church under Nazi control. In May, 1933, the constitution for the unified national church was produced. The so-called "German Christians" elected Ludwig Müller, a fervent Nazi, to head the church. In July, two restrictions were placed on the clergy. A clergyman (1) must be politically reliable and (2) must accept the superiority of the Aryan race. Hundreds of clergy accepted these demands.

A small group of church leaders did not. They openly opposed those German Christians who did accept the government's terms. The dissidents insisted that the church must obey Christ apart from political influence. In September, 1933, Martin Niemoeller sent a letter to all German pastors, inviting them to join a Pastor's Emergency League to oppose the unified church. Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were among those who joined him. In October, Niemoeller asked pastors to take a pledge to be bound by the scripture and the old confessions of faith. They pledged themselves to protest certain violations of the faith, to stand with the persecuted, and to acknowledge that Aryanism (with its claim of racial superiority) was a violation of Reformation and Christian teaching.
. . .
pastors who opposed Hitler formed the Confessing Church, which they called the "legal Protestant church of Germany." It included Lutheran, Reformed, and United churches.

The Confessing Church took its name because it clung to the Church's great historical Confessions of faith. In May 1934, the Confessing Church issued the Barmen Declaration, rejecting errors of the Nazi-controlled Unified Church. The Confessing Church stood almost alone in Germany against Nazi lies during the terrible years of the third Reich. Because of their boldness, the leaders paid a steep price. Niemoller went to prison. Bonhoeffer was hanged.

You can read more here.

Let us not forget that in 1937, Pope Pius XI had his encyclical Mit brennender Sorge smuggled into Germany and read from all Catholic pulpits on Palm Sunday. According to Thomas Bokenkotter’s “A Concise History of the Catholic Church,” it denounced the Nazi myth of blood and soil and even denounced the Fuhrer himself as a “mad prophet possessed of repulsive arrogance.”

Then there was Cardinal Clemens August von Galen, the Bishop of Munster during the Nazi regime who used his pulpit to criticize Hitler and the cruelty of the Nazis. And you should read about Father Bernhard Lichtenberg here.