Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism: Religious Identity and National Socialism

By Dietrich, Donald J. | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism: Religious Identity and National Socialism


Dietrich, Donald J., The Catholic Historical Review


Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism: Religious Identity and National Socialism. By Derek Hastings. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2010. Pp. xviii, 290. $29.95. ISBN 978-0-195-39024-7.)

Derek Hastings carefully analyzes how the totalistic, secularizing messianism that was portrayed during the Third Reich had a fascinating prehistory in Catholic Munich, which the Nazis tried to obliterate as they achieved control of Germany from 1933 to 1945. Between 1919 and 1923 Catholics in Munich played a decisive role in the development of antisemitic Nazism. Following the Beerhall Putsch (1923), the nature and composition of the Nazi movement abruptly changed into an anti-Catholic phase. In its Catholic phase, however, the party was able to develop political momentum and to transcend its marginalization as merely a rightist, radical, propagandistic association. This book also delineates how the Nazi movement developed a different trajectory after the Putsch that led to a political religion- one that left little room for the more doctrinaire Catholic orientation present at the party's inception and early years.

The historical gap filled by Hastings is to provide a monographic study of the local roots of Nazism rather than a focus on its ideological roots and lateWeimar voting patterns. Revealing the Nazi party's early Munich years is a significant accomplishment, since it can help explain some of the adaptation dynamics used by Catholics after 1933. This authoritative monograph has incorporated archival and printed sources to show how the Nazi movement and Catholic identity were intertwined in Bavaria. The documents illustrate the roles of individual Catholics and do not concentrate on the Church as an institution. Hastings's study provides the background that can help scholars analyze the pro-Nazi priests who countered the somewhat ambivalent antiNazi ethos of the institutional Church.

His book also reveals the negative connection between the Nazis and Reform Catholicism that eventually helped nourish the renewal launched in the Second Vatican Council, since Hitler disconnected the party from the Church and so made space for a communio ecclesiology to emerge after 1945. …

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