Church History

By Spencer, Heath A. | Church History, September 2013 | Go to article overview

Church History


Spencer, Heath A., Church History


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Book Reviews and Notes

Rebecca Ayako Bennette makes an important contribution to scholarship on the German Kulturkampf through careful analysis of Catholic constructions of German identity during the 1870s. In the process, she offers a spirited defense of two claims, both of which challenge conventional wisdom. First, she argues that the most important development for German Catholics in the Kaiserreich was their integration into the national community rather than their marginalization and formation of a distinct subculture. Second, she maintains that integration began during--not after--the Kulturkampf . She supports these claims with a range of sources that include popular novels, private correspondence, reports from annual Katholikentage and, above all, Catholic newspapers and periodicals like Germania and the Kölnische Volkszeitung .

Bennette notes that initial Catholic responses to German unification included not only expressions of concern over Prussian leadership and the minority status of Catholics, but also expressions of enthusiasm for the new nation (24). Given their disdain for Bismarck and his disdain for them, they found the emperor to be more suitable as a trans-confessional symbol of the Reich (34). However, anti-Catholic policies between 1873 and 1875 tested the limits of Catholic loyalty, as expressions of affection for the emperor dropped off and Catholics drew parallels between their own situation and the "Babylonian captivity" or the persecution of Christians in ancient Rome (46-51). As the conflict intensified, German Catholics looked for ways to reframe the struggle as one between Christians of both confessions and various others such as liberals, Jews, and socialists, imagined by many Catholics to be the "true" enemies of the Reich . This led to a brief but intense wave of antisemitic rhetoric in the Catholic press, soon to be replaced by anti-socialist rhetoric that relied on essentially the same tropes (53-63).

Much of the rest of the book explores Catholic constructions of German identity based on alternative geographies and histories, feminine imagery, a defense of Catholic Bildung , and emphasis on Germany's mission in the world. Bennette explains that Berlin was too secular and too closely associated with Protestant Prussia to serve as a center for the Germany Catholics imagined (77). Instead, they presented regional diversity as a core element of German national identity rather than a challenge to it. Seen in that light, aggressive moves toward centralization were "un-German" (92). Among the regions where Catholics were a majority, the Catholic press chose to focus most often on the Rhineland and Westphalia because levels of urbanization, industrialization, prosperity, and literacy in those regions served as an effective challenge to Protestant stereotyping of Catholics. Alsace-Lorraine and Silesia, on the other hand, were more problematic due to uncertain loyalties or ethnic diversity. Downgrading the importance of Berlin, emphasizing regionalism, and highlighting the most "modern" and "authentically German" of Catholic regions were strategies with which the Catholic press "countered constructions of the nation that marginalized or actively excluded Catholics" (95). …

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