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Reviewed by:
  • Catholic Theologians in Nazi Germany
  • Donald J. Dietrich
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 erathat 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 [End Page 565] rather had its primary obligation in the administration of the sacraments. This strictly spiritual model was examined and critiqued in the 1930's. Significantly, such theologians as Adam and Lortz also articulated a communio theology that stressed that individuals could find fulfillment only when they were embedded in their community, a concept that unfortunately appealed to the racist Nazis as well. It would seem that theology can have both benign and dangerous effects.

Krieg shows no hesitation in sorting out the complexities, contradictions, and paradoxes that seem to be the lifeblood of the German theological tradition. Some theologians respected the notion that men and women live in organic communities, a concept that opposed liberal individualism, but others had an affinity for "personalism," a philosophical movement, for example supported by John Paul II. Adam and Guardini were on opposite sides when it came to dealing with Hitler, but both also had profoundly important influences that helped structure theological conversations during the last half-century. Guardini and Krebs stressed the universal dignity of all humans and in a real sense opened the ecclesial dialogue around ideas of the "common good" and the need for universal human rights.

This very erudite study illustrates the importance of uncovering the nexus where theology and history intersect. These theologians all engaged their culture with a hope of fulfilling the universal human aspiration for freedom. These theologians sought to relate their work to concrete events. They made "mistakes," but also helped open the way for the more expansive dialogue that would carry the Catholic Church into the twenty-first century. Their careers illustrate the fact that doing theology can be a risky business, but one that seems necessary to help the faithful clarify their understanding of God, of their church, and of themselves.

Donald J. Dietrich
Boston College


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