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The Catholic Historical Review 88.4 (2002) 795-796

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Kirchenreform mit Hilfe des Nationalsozialismus: Karl Adam als kontextueller Theologe. By Lucia Scherzberg. (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft. 2001. Pp. 352. DM 58.48; €29.90 paperback.)

The Tübingen theologian Karl Adam (1876-1966) won international respect in the 1920's with the publication of The Spirit of Catholicism (German text, 1924), which appeared in English in 1929 and eventually in ten other languages, including Chinese and Japanese. This book on the Church as the mystical body of Christ influenced Yves Congar, Dorothy Day, Flannery O'Connor, Karl Rahner, and Pope Paul VI, who implicitly drew on the work in his first encyclical, Ecclesiam suam (1964). Adam wrote other widely read books as well: Christ Our Brother (1926) and The Son of God (1933), in which he stressed the humanity of Jesus Christ, and The Christ of Faith (1954), which illumines the Church's teachings about Jesus Christ against the demythologizing of Rudolf Bultmann and the reductionism of the liberal quest for the historical Jesus. Adam was surely one of the most creative Catholic theologians of the early twentieth century. However, he was also one of the most prominent German Catholic proponents of an accommodation between the Catholic Church and Adolf Hitler. How could he have perceived common ground between Catholicism and National Socialism? What was it about his theology that fed into his political naiveté?

Lucia Scherzberg answers these questions in Kirchenreform mit Hilfe des Nationalsozialismus, "church reform with the help of National Socialism." Along with most Germans, Adam's patriotism swelled in August, 19l4, when the nation went to war, and it was deeply offended by the war's end and the Treaty of Versailles. Beginning in 1919, Adam set out to present the Catholic Church's primary teachings in categories that were faithful to the Bible and Christian tradition and simultaneously intelligible to his contemporaries. Intent upon finding an alternative to Neo-Scholasticism, he made use of Max Scheler's phenomenology and the neo-romantic existentialism or Lebensphilosophie of Rainer Maria Rilke and Friedrich Nietzsche. Crucial was the notion of community, of the "organic" interconnectedness of people who share a common history and similar religious beliefs and moral values. Residing in idyllic Tübingen, Adam judged in 1933 that Hitler could restore Germans' unity and pride. If the new chancellor and his circle could be influenced to uphold the legal and moral order, then the Church could flourish in Germany, for it could build its spiritual community on the foundation of a vibrant national community. Moreover, the Church itself could undergo its much-needed renewal by means of its participation in the new German society; that is, it could replace its medieval and baroque forms with ones more appropriate to the contemporary world, for example, by switching from Latin at Mass to the vernacular and by dropping the requirement of clerical celibacy.

Scherzberg has shed new light on Adam's theological and political reasoningand also on his professional relationships, thereby highlighting aspects of Catholicism in the Third Reich. She goes beyond the books on Karl Adam by [End Page 795] Hans Kreidler (1988), Robert Krieg (1992), and Karl-Heinz Wiesemann (2000) in her review of the theologian's correspondence and in her discussion of his work from the perspective of recent studies in theological inculturation, for example, by Michael Bongardt, Robert Schreiter, Roland Spliesgart, Hans Kessler, and Otmar Fuchs. She appropriately cites Kevin Spicer's valuable doctoral dissertation "Choosing Between God and Satan" (Boston College, 2000) concerning Berlin's Catholic clergy under Hitler. However, she does not refer to the two-volume Der Rheinische Reformkreis (2001), edited by Hubert Wolf and Klaus Arnold, which includes Adam's correspondence with German Catholics who looked for ways in which they could use the national movement to bring about changes in the Church. This correspondence shows that Adam's primary loyalty was to the Church; although he tried to find points of contact between the Church and some of Hitler's ideas, he was not a National Socialist...


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