- Freie Anerkennung übergeschichtlicher Bindungen. Katholische Geschichtswahrnehmung im deutschsprachigen Raum des 20. Jahrhunderts. Beiträge des Dresdener Kolloquiums vom 10. bis 13. Mai 2007 ed. by Thomas Pittrof and Walter Schmitz
This edited, interdisciplinary, 500+-page volume about how Catholic intellectuals perceived history in the German-speaking world of the twentieth century represents one of those works impossible to summarize. The fruits of a conference in Dresden from 2007, its twenty-five chapters were penned not just by historians but also by theologians, political scientists, and literature experts. Their diverse array of chapters accordingly focuses on not just the narrow world of professional Catholic historians but also how leading intellectuals in the Catholic milieu reflected on history.
Making the editors’ task more difficult was the reality that, as they admit, at the turn of the twentieth century, there had yet to exist a coherent subculture of professional Catholic historians—or even a specific Catholic “culture of history.” Professional Catholic profane historians were few and far between in a Protestant-dominated university system, and even these were forced by necessity to adopt the professional standards and methodologies of their Protestant colleagues. Hence this volume’s focus on Catholic intellectuals who were not trained historians is understandable. For writers such as Reinhold Schneider, Gertrud von le Fort, Stefan Andres, Enrica van Handel-Mazzetti, Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, Karl Ottens, Elisabeth Langgässer, and Theoder Haecker, as well as converts like Ilse von Stach and Alfred Döblin, the past became an inevitable part of their reflections.
To what extent, the book queries, were these intellectuals constructing counter-narratives to dominant Protestant narratives? How did they reconcile their historical understandings with the tropes of salvation history, which argued that God remains active in history? To what extent did they buck tides of ultramontanism and establish discourses that ran contrary to those of ecclesiastical leaders? And more broadly: where were the intellectual roots of their historical interpretations, visions, and narratives? What aesthetic forms did they use in reconstructing the past? To what extent did many of these writers articulate a “resistance against the dissolution of reality into a total immanence of the earthly and the historical?”
Understandably, in light of the tremendous range of subjects and perspectives, neither editors nor authors offer uniform answers to these questions. The responses of some like the poet Schneider evolved. Known for his literary resistance to the Third Reich, Schneider underwent a transformation between the 1930s and 1950s as a result of what he perceived to be restorative tendencies in Konrad Adenauer’s Germany and attacks against him from the Catholic press. His work became melancholic and focused on the suffering Christ, whose kingdom was not of this world.
On occasion, this volume lapses into internal inconsistencies. The editors claim that an “aversion to history” had made itself manifest, particularly by the end of the 1950s. But this observation is belied by the powerful chapter offered at the [End Page 671] close by Olaf Blaschke on the network of Catholic historians assembled beginning in 1962 in the Kommission für Zeitgeschichte, a historical organization based first in Munich and then in Bonn. The dozens of professional historians who became members in this nexus for historical research that Blaschke describes are proof that there was anything but an aversion to history within its ranks. This was true not just in the decade preceding its founding in 1962 as well. Seminal events like the fight before Germany’s Constitutional Court in 1956 over the validity of the Reichskonkordat and historical controversies launched in 1961 by the young jurist and historian, Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde, forced intellectuals to engage with the Catholic past in both its alleged glory and ignominy.
Blaschke’s analysis of the interwoven networks undergirding the Kommission für Zeitgeschichte is, in many ways, an anomaly. The majority of the chapters focus on Catholic literati...