Catholic Theologians in Nazi Germany

By Dietrich, Donald J. | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2004 | Go to article overview

Catholic Theologians in Nazi Germany


Dietrich, Donald J., The Catholic Historical Review


Catholic Theologians in Nazi Germany. By Robert Krieg. (New York: Continuum. 2004. Pp. x, 234. $24.95.)

Krieg's study of Catholic theologians during the Hitlerzeit complements Robert Ericksen's study of Protestants, Theologians under Hitler: Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus, Emanuel Hirsch (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985). After focusing on the accommodation of the bishops in 1933, Krieg has analyzed the theological reflections and systems of Karl Eschweiler, Joseph Lortz, Karl Adam, Romano Guardini, and Engelbert Krebs. In the final chapter, he has evaluated the overall contribution of these theologians to their discipline and, in particular, to the subfield of ecclesiology.

In his earlier studies of Adam, Guardini, and Krebs, Krieg established the groundwork for this very lucid synthesis that helps clarify the directions later taken by the German theological tradition as it was crafted during this dark era that culminated in the Shoah. His scholarly project is particularly welcome, because it offers a lens that helps in comparing and contrasting the Protestant and Catholic traditions during the Nazi era and aids in revealing explicitly how Catholic theological insights matured and ultimately impacted on the postwar Catholic Church. Krieg's portraits are contextualized by his own sensitivity to the neoscholastic, reform, and romantic movements of this era. In his hands even the most abstract anthropological and Christological concepts can be seen as responses to the challenges posed by Nazism.

For centuries, theologians began their analyses by acknowledging the dominant "societas perfecta" ecclesiological model. From this model logically would follow the need for a hierarchical church that was structured to ensure maximum control to the ecclesial officials. This church was viewed as a society independent of and separated from secular societies as well as considered "sinless as such." Such an ecclesiology was not designed to engage the culture, but rather had its primary obligation in the administration of the sacraments. …

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