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Jorg Ernesti, Okumene im Dritten Reich.

Jorg Ernesti, Okumene im Dritten Reich. Konfessionskundliche und kontroverstheologische Studien 76. Paderborn: Bonifatius Verlag, 2007. Pp. 411. 49,90 [euro].

This monograph is a summary of the ecumenical dialogue concerning the integration of the Evangelical (Lutheran) and Catholic churches from the 1920's to the 1940's. Included is an abundance of correspondence between the dialogue partners, who express remarkable respect for their correspondents' beliefs, even those not fully shared.

In presenting this ecumenical dialogue, the author identifies the names and concerns of the correspondents; the book is thus empirically persuasive. Moreover, it elevates the humans who stood out in pursuing dialogue in the face of the Third Reich's opposition to ecclesiastical activities that were oriented to any goal other than the goal of the Reich. That tension between the ecumenism of the churches and the ideology of the Reich is described in detail.

Yet the partners in the theological dialogue appear to have been startlingly unconcerned with the oppressive ideology of the Third Reich in the protocols of 1934. The give-and-take of the correspondence of the interchurch theological exchange largely illumined the subtle distinctions between the Evangelical and Catholic approaches to grace, to justification, to liturgy, to the cross, and to church. With remarkable candor, both churches acknowledged their differences. For example, the Evangelical theologians tended to focus upon the functional and pragmatic value of community in responding to grace, while the Catholic theologians tended to focus upon the mystical union of the community with the Lord.

Then, in 1936, there occurred a shift in the focus of the dialogue: the correspondents began to focus upon the threat of National Socialism to the faith of all German believers. One who is aware of the history of the development of the Third Reich cannot but revere the ecumenical partners for having so early discerned the oppressive nature of the Reich, even before the Reich's military had begun its gradual absorbing of surrounding nations. The dialogue also identified a barrier that blocked the integration of the two churches: Both sides tended to overstress the value of knowledge rather than belief. That was a return to the firstcentury church's problem with Gnosticism, that is, with the value of a secret knowledge as more important than belief.

As the Reich escalated its military aggression, the dialogue, surprisingly, continued to focus upon theological topics. As an example, in the early 1940's a major concern was the need to recover a more historically objective vision of the contribution of Martin Luther to the comprehension of belief by both churches. The partners held a hope that this more objective vision would perhaps enable the churches to move toward a unity of their respective communities. Most interesting also is the effort of the "Nazi bishop," Alois Hudal, to persuade Pope Pius XII to agree to a union of churches on the basis of the Nazi worldview of the primordial German racial superiority and its consequent future of political and social evolution as the super race.

This book would be of considerable interest to those who would like to explore how German believers attempted to respond to the ideology of the Third Reich, to those dealing with Evangelical-Catholic ecumenism in the middle of the twentieth century, and, finally, to those who attempt to situate ecumenism within the social and political contexts in which dialogue partners strive to work toward the unity of churches.

Daniel Liderbach, Holy Family Parish, Parma, OH
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Author:Liderbach, Daniel
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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