THE struggle within the German Evangelical Church was rightly interpreted abroad as the first stand against all-engulfing National Socialism. Parliament, Federal States, political parties, trades unions: all had surrendered without resistance.

But subsequent events have shown that the resistant strength of traditionally powerful forces in Germany have deeper roots. The executions of Storm Troop leaders in June 1934 were the fruit of resistance by the Reichswehr to the claim of ambitious Brown Shirt commanders to control or coöperate in the remili-tarization of Germany. The successful resistance of the powerful industrialists and capitalists to those National Socialists who wanted to introduce socialism is shown by the facts that the economic dictatorship was entrusted first to a representative of big business and next to a representative of big banking; by the brusque dismissal of the leading Nazi economic theorist of pre-office days (Dr. Gottfried Feder); by the disciplining of Dr. Robert Ley, old-guard National Socialist and Leader of the Labor Front, in his attempts to reform the factories; and by the progressive disciplining of the local Nazi despots. The awakening resistance of scientists to restrictions on the freedom of research is shown by their homage to Fritz Haber, the exiled Jewish chemist whose synthetic nitrate process saved Germany from early collapse in the war. The Jews have survived: coming years are likely to bring proofs of this which seemed inconceivable in 1933. The arts are raising their heads: General Göring outbids Vienna in order to attract Austrian artists to the opera which he wishes to make the foremost in the world, and Pola Negri is brought from America, to the exasperation of German film players, to help in the rehabilitation of the German film.

The tumult is clearly subsiding. Little remains of National Socialism save Herr Hitler and the one scarlet thread that has run through all the tangled events since 1933: militarization in all its forms -- the teaching of nationalism in the schools, the mobilization of manpower, the cementing of national unity, the restoration of national self-respect, preparation for compulsory military and labor service, army expansion, rearmament, and the suppression of popular control, criticism and discussion. Herr Hitler's spokesmen can already confidently announce that Germany is too strong to be invaded. The army must be eternally grateful to him for that. Even the discontented make a clear-cut distinction between the Leader and National Socialism. The "Authoritative State," embodied in his person, will remain. His lieutenants may periodically change and the power of the Party decrease. Real power will remain with the army, the financial magnates, the industrialists and the landowners.

So much of a general forecast may with some confidence be made. If it proves true, the Church conflict will lose importance, for conservative forces will inevitably prevail there too. But it has played its incalculably important part.

National Socialism brought religious dilemmas for many people. Within the Roman Catholic Church, to which one-third of the Germans belong, it brought no conflict, though it did bring a conflict between the Church and the Party-State, because the National Socialist juvenile organization -- the Hitler Youth -- fiercely fought for complete control of youth. The Church itself remained intact; and today the indications are that its differences with the Party-State, temporarily accentuated by the killing of three Catholic lay leaders, are likely to be composed.

But the Evangelical two-thirds of the German population was riven by dissensions originating in National-Socialist political doctrine. One source of dilemma was the anti-Jewish teaching. National Socialists boycotted the Jews on Saturday, and on Sunday went to the churches of their Jewish-derived faith. Not all could appease their consciences as easily as Dr. Robert Ley, who said: "To the argument of clerical dialecticians, that Christ was a Jew, we reply that Christ was either man or God. If He was man, then He was a Jew, but He was not God. If He was God, as we believe, then He was never a Jew."

The doctrine of racial exclusiveness and racial discrimination also stimulated the non-Christian Nordic movement, whose followers wished to revive the pre-Christian faith of their remote Germanic forefathers. They believed (as far as their faith can be defined) in the German soul, the great figures of German history, the sequence of the seasons, the alternation of light and darkness, the eternal lesson of life renewed. Symbols of their faith were the sun-sign and the tree of life, still found on the roof-trees of peasant homesteads in northern Germany, even on tombstones in Christian churchyards. Competitive Christianity, they said, had simply adopted and adapted their ancient symbols and festivals, choosing December 25 as the birthday of Christ, for instance, simply because it was a chief festival of the ancient Nordics, the winter solstice. Alfred Rosenberg, "Spiritual Instructor" of the whole National Socialist organization (embracing in one form or another 40 million Germans), and Baldur von Schirach, Leader of the vast Hitler Youth organization, sympathized with these ideas, and the Churches saw their chief enemies in these men. For the heroic generation which National Socialism was to breed, said Rosenberg in his "Myths of the Twentieth Century," the lesson of humility, suffering and sacrifice embodied in the tortured figure on the cross was intolerable. A knightly warrior triumphant, a reptilian adversary recumbent: these were the bearings which a National Socialist should carry on the shield of his faith. True, the Christian Church had preserved the figure of the Germanic knight Saint George, but only in a subordinate position. A German Church would by degrees substitute "the admonitory fire-spirit, the Hero in the highest meaning of the word," for the crucifix.

The non-Christian Nordic cult was there long before National Socialism came, and, left alone, is unlikely to play an important part. The danger to the Church, the resistants held, came not from that source but from those who wished to graft some of the Nordic ideas on to Christianity; to eliminate from the Evangelical faith anything of Jewish derivation; to subordinate the conscience of the Church to the authority of the absolutist State; to substitute a religion of might triumphant for the Christian doctrine of humility, repentance and redemption; to reform the Evangelical faith on a heroic, Teutonic, Nordic basis. These people did not openly avow themselves to be non-Christian Nordics. They claimed to be Christians, but sought to introduce into the Church ideas fundamentally opposed to Christianity. The resistants asked themselves if this was what National Socialism meant by stating in its program that it stood for "practical Christianity."[i]

Such was the background of the Evangelical Church conflict. National Socialist doctrine had brought the seeds of schism; yet the aim of National Socialism, following its "totalitarian" ideal, was complete unity in the Church. Just as the 16 partly self-governing Federal States, each with its parliament and premiers and with populations ranging between 38,000,000 and 50,000, were progressively to give way to 20 Regions of the Realm with tribal names, with from 3 to 4 million inhabitants apiece, and with Governors personally responsible to the Leader: and just as all other departments of public life were to be coördinated and controlled by personal authority instead of majority vote; so was the Church to be remade on the "Leadership principle."

This difficult task was begun when Herr Hitler came to power. He found 28 self-governing Evangelical Churches, reflecting the former dynastic structure of Germany, bound together only by a Church Federation for consultative purposes in matters of common concern to all German Protestantism. The 28 Churches were completely independent; the Federation had no power over them. They were partly Lutheran, partly Reformed (Calvinistic). The greatest, the "United" Church of the Old Prussian Union, with some 19,000,000 members, combined Lutherans and Reformed under one administration. Now they all were to be unified under a single all-powerful leader.

The leader had already been chosen, though the Churches did not know it. Ludwig Müller, a military chaplain with much war service, while he was garrison chaplain at Königsberg some years before had had a long conversation with Adolf Hitler and had subsequently remained his ardent admirer. Large and jovial, shaven-headed, the Iron Cross on his coat, he was the ideal of a priest militant. One day soon after Herr Hitler became Chancellor, Chaplain Müller informed the Church leaders of the Führer's wish that the Protestant Churches should be unified. The Churches had nothing against unification in itself. Indeed, they were quite ready to reorganize the Church administration in harmony with the political reorganization of the Reich: that is, to bring the independent churches under the control of a Reich Church and a Primate (or Reich Bishop). Accordingly the Church Federation charged Dr. Kapler (its Lay President), and two leading Lutheran and Reformed theologians, Bishop Marahrens of Hanover and Dr. Hesse, to draft a constitution for the new unified Church. They met at Loccum in April 1933. But they met under the shadow of a now unavoidable Church conflict, for in Berlin the "German Christians" had just held their first conference.

The German Christians, broadly defined, were at that time National Socialist pastors and churchgoers organized to eliminate from their Evangelical Christian faith anything incompatible with Nazi political doctrine. One of their leaders said that they were "Evangelical National Socialists who follow Adolf Hitler everywhere, even to Potempa." The reference was to a cause célèbre. A few months before the Nazis came to power, a Communist was murdered by several Nazis at Potempa in circumstances of extraordinary brutality. They were condemned to death. The Nazis waged a national campaign for their reprieve, and the von Papen Government gave way. Herr Hitler telegraphed expressions of warm sympathy to them in prison and after National Socialism came to power they were released and given a triumphant homecoming.

This famous first conference in Berlin demanded that the Old Testament be abolished and its place taken by German sagas and legends; that the Hebrew prophets should give way to German philosophers and poets; that the leaders of the Church must be men "politically trustworthy," of pure Aryan (non-Jewish) descent; and the like. The Church Federation, in alarm, hurriedly drew Herr Hitler's attention to these demands and to his guarantee, given a few weeks before, to respect the independence of the Church. At Loccum, Chaplain Müller, present as intermediary between the Chancellor and the three drafters of the new Constitution, demanded the Primacy for himself. As candidate they instead chose Dr. Friedrich von Bodelschwingh, whose record as administrator of the famous Bethel charitable settlement at Bielefeld and distance from Church politics had gained him universal respect. The German Christians vehemently demanded Chaplain Müller's candidature. But the Federation ignored this, and the representatives of the 28 Churches, summoned to meet on May 26, 1933, elected Dr. von Bodelschwingh as their candidate for Reich Bishop by a large majority.

Open warfare followed in the Church. State intervention in support of Chaplain Müller, nominee of a Roman Catholic Chancellor, was met by defiance, countered in turn by arrests and dismissals of the resisting clergy, autocratic decrees and recantations by Dr. Müller, disturbances in the churches, and the like. Following Dr. von Bodelschwingh's election, Chaplain Müller was given the microphone and declared that the Church leaders "had not listened to the call of the hour." The people wanted a man who for years had fought in the struggle for German freedom. The Storm Troops, upon whom the State now rested, must have the Gospel preached to them in unadulterated words; they must feel once more that Christianity was "an heroic faith."

The State, in fact, was behind Chaplain Müller and the German Christians (whose patron he was); subjugation of the Church by the State authority was to be attempted. On June 24 Dr. Bernhard Rust, Nazi Minister for Ecclesiastical Affairs in Prussia, appointed Dr. August Jäger, senior church official in that Ministry, as State Commissioner for all the Evangelical Churches of Prussia, announcing that "the situation of State, people and Church demands that an end be put to the prevailing confusion." Dr. von Bodelschwingh, the Primate-elect, laid down his mission, stating that this move made its fulfilment impossible. Dr. Jäger dissolved all elected bodies of the Prussian Churches. Storm Troops occupied the Berlin offices of Church press and missionary organizations. The entire Old Prussian Church and the other Evangelical Churches in present Prussian territory (Hanover, Schleswig-Holstein, Hessen-Cassel, and Nassau) were put under sub-commissioners. By a stroke of the pen, Dr. Jäger made Dr. Friedrich Werner, a Berlin lawyer, acting Vice-President of the High Council of the Old Prussian Church. More alarming still for the resistants, Dr. Joachim Hossenfelder, leader of the German Christians, was made Spiritual Vice-President of the Prussian High Church Council, with powers to appoint General Superintendents, Superintendents and clergy. "Thanks are due to God and His instrument, Adolf Hitler, for the averting of Bolshevist chaos," said Dr. Jäger. The representatives of the Old Prussian, Hanoverian and Hessian Churches protested at Eisenach against this State intervention as a breach of the constitutionally guaranteed independence of the Prussian Evangelical Churches and appealed for the protection of the Reich Government.

In vain; for Chaplain Müller, escorted by Storm Troops, occupied the offices of the Evangelical Church Federation and proclaimed himself head of it and President of the Prussian High Church Council with autocratic powers -- dictator, in fact, of the Old Prussian Union Church. The General Superintendents (two had already been dismissed) told Chaplain Müller that they would not recognize Pastor Hossenfelder's authority in the highest spiritual office of the Prussian Church. They ordered prayers to be offered in the churches, but the new rulers of the Church counter-ordered that all pastors should read a message of thanksgiving "for the deliverance of the State from disorder" and for the pains which the State, though heavily preoccupied, was taking to reorganize the Church. They were also ordered to hoist the Nazi swastika flag. This message was read in some churches, not in others. Where the swastika flag was not flown the Storm Troopers themselves hoisted it. They marched in formation to the churches and their color bearers, ignoring the pastors, took stand on the altar steps.

The opposition began to organize. Its great difficulty was to know what it was fighting against, what Herr Hitler wanted. It was fighting for the Church, and it was mortally afraid of the accusation that it was fighting against the new State. If Herr Hitler wanted only unification they were ready to coöperate. But what was this unified Church to be, what men were to rule it, what was to be the foundation of its faith? It did not know the answer, and still does not. Was Herr Hitler of one mind with the Rosenbergs, the Schirachs, and the German Christians? Did he, in short, desire a new Kulturkampf?[ii]

Access was difficult to the aged President von Hindenburg at his closely-guarded retreat in distant East Prussia. But some tidings reached him, and he wrote to Herr Hitler expressing "the deepest concern" at the conflict. He urged the Chancellor to restore peace within the Church, and only then to strive for its unification. This had some effect. The plenipotentiaries of the independent churches sat down with representatives of the State, with Chaplin Müller and Dr. Jäger, to redraft the new constitution. In July Herr Hitler reported to the President that it was complete, the commissioners withdrawn, and church pacification at hand. Dr. Rust actually did withdraw Dr. Jäger, who withdrew his sub-commissioners; but Dr. Werner and Pastor Hossenfelder remained in control of the Prussian High Church Council, and the dismissed superintendents and pastors were not reinstated. The resistant clergy in Prussia, made skeptical, organized for active opposition in a group called "Gospel and Church."

The new constitution provided for the unification of the 28 Churches in a "single German Evangelical Church" under a Reich Bishop not elected (this would have been democratic and in conflict with the "leadership principle" embodied in Herr Hitler), but "summoned" by the National Synod after nomination by the 28 church leaders. The National Synod was to be formed of 20 nominated members and 40 delegates from the 28 independent church synods, which were to be constructed from elections held on July 23. In these elections the German Christians, backed by the mighty party machine, obtained a two-thirds majority in most parish and district councils, State and provincial Synods, and the National Synod. Herr Hitler's voice, broadcast on election eve, left churchgoers with the impression that to vote against the German Christians would be to vote against him, and widespread intimidation was also alleged by the opposition.

Thus elected, the Synod of the Old Prussian Union Church forthwith elected Chaplain Müller as State Bishop of Prussia, and he appointed Pastor Hossenfelder Bishop of Brandenburg (including Berlin). Of the 229 delegates, all but 75 were German Christians. The epithet "traitors" was hurled at the resistants, and Bishop Müller threatened them with the concentration camp. A law was passed excluding from the clergy and from church office all who were not "politically trustworthy" or who had Jewish blood within two generations. Thus the "Aryan paragraph" (the anti-Jewish clause of the National Socialist Civil Service Act) was being applied to the Church. The 75 resistants left the room, amid imprecations.

The new National Synod met (September 27) at Wittenberg, the cradle of the Reformation. The town was gaily decorated with Nazi flags; the white ecclesiastical banner with the violet cross was suspended from the bridge joining the twin towers of the Stadtkirche. Only Westphalia had sent a few resistants, but they were not allowed any part in the program. Bishop Müller was unanimously elected Reich Bishop. But the cleavage within the Church, for all this show of unity, was deepening every day. Over 2,000 pastors had joined the "Gospel and Church" resistants. Luther had nailed his 95 theses to the church doors 400 years earlier; and visitors to Wittenberg found manifestoes of defiance to the new Primate posted up in the town.

Primate Müller now appointed his Ecclesiastical Ministry. The Lutheran and Reformed members were Bishop Schöffel of Hamburg and Dr. Weber of Elberfeld. The other two members represented, like the Primate himself, the great Prussian Church. They were the two men left over from Dr. Jäger's intervention in Prussia: Bishop Hossenfelder, and Dr. Werner, who became "Legal Administrator," or Chancellor. A period of apparent quiet followed. It was used by the resistants to expand their organization, now renamed "The Pastors' Emergency League." It comprised 3,000 pastors, all sworn to defy the authority of the Primate, to resist interference with the ministry, and especially to resist the application of the Aryan paragraph, which they regarded as contrary to the Gospel. Their leaders, Pastor Martin Niemöller and von Rabenau of Berlin, were suspended. Pastor Niemöller, a former submarine commander and holder of the Iron Cross, nevertheless, preached at his church in the fashionable suburb of Dahlem throughout the conflict. His congregation solidly supported him, and those who had ordered his suspension never attempted forcible eviction. Suspended pastors in other places also preached. In some cases they were actually prevented. But on the whole, churchgoing continued without abnormal interruption, and the uninitiated visitor to Germany saw little of the conflict (of which, incidentally, barely a word ever appeared in the German press).

On November 13 the fat was in the fire again. Dr. Krause, Berlin leader of the German Christians, speaking at a packed demonstration, demanded from the Primate the ruthless application throughout the Church of the Prussian anti-Jewish law; the segregation of all members of the Church of Jewish or other foreign racial descent into special religious communities (the "Ghetto Church" idea); the elimination of the crucifix, of the whole of the Old Testament and of "superstitious portions" of the New Testament. "The Nordic spirit," he said, "must conquer Oriental materialism."

The consternation caused by these demands forced the Primate's hand. He removed Dr. Krause from all Church offices. But the aims of the German Christians, who controlled the Church administration and whose leader was a member of the Primate's Ecclesiastical Ministry, were now clear. The membership of the Pastors' League jumped to nearly 7,000, and it demanded the dismissal of Bishop Hossenfelder, the revocation of the Prussian anti-Jewish law, and the repudiation of the German Christian heresies, "including the doctrine that nationhood, history and contemporary development should rank with Holy Scripture as a second source of revelation."

The Primate's surrender was the first victory for moderation since National Socialism had come to power. He issued a church law suspending the Aryan paragraph in Prussia, dropped Bishop Hossenfelder and Dr. Werner from his administration, and withdrew his patronage from the German Christians. But his authority was gone. The resistants had no confidence in him and maintained that under his Primacy pacification of the Church was impossible. The Lutheran Bishops of Bavaria, Baden, Hanover, Hesse and Württemberg rallied to the Pastors' League (mainly recruited from Prussia, where the Primate himself was State Bishop) and threatened defiance to his authority unless he reformed his ministry according to their demands. But the Primate answered by reënacting the anti-Jewish law (the resistants opposed the principle rather than the practical effect of this) and prohibited all public opposition to his administration, on pain of instant suspension. Then he began, one after another, to appoint and install German Christians as Bishops of the formerly independent churches, the synods of which, controlled by the German Christians, docilely voted their incorporation in the nominally unified Church which he headed.

The German Christians, however, began to split. Dr. Krause gravitated towards the Nordics, and at crowded meetings in Berlin invoked the example of the Japanese religion, in which "service to the Kaiser and Fatherland is service rendered to God." Dr. Hossenfelder had to resign his bishopric and his leadership of the German Christians. Another section of the German Christians turned against the Primate, stating that he had brought disunion to the Church. But the Primate went his way, and in investing one of his nominees as Bishop of Brunswick threatened to "rap on the knuckles" those who refused his "proffered hand;" he also defended the Aryan paragraph.

The aged President now intervened again. He handed Herr Hitler, with his implicit recommendation, a memorandum for the pacification of the Church, containing proposals which emanated from the resistants. First among them was the supersession of the Primate. On January 28, 1934, representatives of the now depleted German Christians and of the resistants met in the presence of Herr Hitler (who had with him the memorandum) and of the Primate. The opposition was confident; the struggle seemed to have been won. But a great disillusionment was in store. Pastor Niemöller, the Pastors' League leader, had previously told an acquaintance over the telephone, in reference to Herr Hitler's visit to the President, that "Hitler is now receiving the last unction." An indiscreetly jocular, though intrinsically harmless remark. The critical meeting had barely opened when General Göring, then regarded as a warm supporter of the Primate, strode into the room "with material supplied by the Secret Police." The record of Pastor Niemöller's jest was produced. The Primate, quietly watching, had no need to say a word. The opposition retired in confusion.

The Primate pressed home his advantage. He issued a decree investing himself with dictatorial powers over the Prussian Union Church, and invalidating all contrary constitutional provisions. He thus became sole arbiter of the Prussian Church, which by virtue of its 19,000,000 members was of decisive importance in the conflict. The resistant Bishops hurriedly declared their "unconditional loyalty to the Third Reich and its Leader" and their unanimous support for the Primate. Dr. Niemöller was arrested, taken to Secret Police headquarters, but released on condition that he report daily. The Primate, in virtue of his autocratic powers, retired some 50 pastors, general superintendents and church officials, and ordered that pastors should in future be chosen only from men with records of Storm Troop and labor camp service.

The complete submission of the Bishops spread consternation among the resistant clergy in Prussia. The Primate seemed to have triumphed. They had to begin all over again. They did not hesitate, and set to work to build up an independent Evangelical Church. Dr. Niemöller's congregation proclaimed his dismissal illegal and called on him to continue preaching, which he did. Resistant pastors in the Rhineland church province formed an opposition "Free Synod," and declared that "the grave disturbance of the Church is due to a heretical attack on the foundations of its doctrine, which is particularly noticeable in the administration of the Church contrary to the teaching of the Gospel." The spiritual authority of the Primate's administration was defied, "because it had been formed under coercion," and preachers and elders were exhorted not to obey its orders and to disregard suspension. Other free Synods were formed in Pomerania and in Berlin-Brandenburg, both adopting the Rhenish resolutions.

Undeterred, the Primate extended his dictatorial régime, now decreeing the complete absorption of the Old Prussian Church (hitherto dictatorially ruled by him) in the Reich Church. And at a great German Christian meeting he proclaimed anew that he was and always would be a German Christian. He and they would not rest "until only National Socialists stood in the pulpits and only National Socialists sat in the pews." Though denying that he wished to set up "a cult of Wotan," he expressed guarded sympathy with certain of the Germanic ideas of Herr Rosenberg. And in further emphasis of the military ideology which underlies National Socialism he appointed Bishop Oberheid of the Rhineland his "Chief of Staff."

At this point the law began to take a hand in a way which had later repercussions. The Primate, in abolishing the Prussian High Church Council in January, had abolished the office of Dr. Werner, his own appointee. Dr. Werner sued for payment of salary, claiming that the Primate's decrees were unconstitutional, and gained the verdict.

Then the Primate appointed to the long vacant Legal Administratorship (or Chancellorship) of his Ecclesiastical Ministry, Dr. Jäger, the instrument of the first State coercive intervention in 1933. Dr. Jäger was an old-guard National Socialist, a member of the Party National Executive. He had said that the appearance of Jesus Christ in world history was "the flaming-up of the Nordic spirit in the era of decadence." Here again was the old confusion of Christian and racial ideas. His appointment was announced from Party headquarters at Munich, not from the Primate's office, and he retained his Prussian State appointment. He was now charged with "the constructive organization and internal administration of the Reich Church." The inference was inescapable. The State meant to intervene again on the Primate's behalf.

The opposition, rallied by this development, regained unity in a great demonstration of 10,000 Protestants in the great Cathedral at Ulm, where the Bishops of Bavaria and Württemberg, the representatives of several opposition "Free Synods," and of the Pastors' League again found themselves united in defiance of the Primate. A "Confessional Community of the German Evangelical Church" was formed, claiming to be the rightful Church. Its demands were the reinforcement of the Church Constitution, the revocation of the Primate's autocratic decrees, and strict observance of the Party-State's professed determination not to interfere in the Church conflict. The eventual aim was a "Reich Free Synod" composed of Free Synod delegates from the various districts: a body, that is, which could claim to be constitutional and put forward the opposition's claims, based on the rejection by courts of law of the validity of the Primate's decrees.

Superficial unification, meanwhile, proceeded apace. By May the Primate claimed that only the Bavarian and Württemberg churches remained outside the reorganization of the Church on the political model -- that is, with regional Bishops directly responsible to the Primate, just as in the political field there were only to be Governors personally responsible to Herr Hitler.

At last, at Barmen on May 30, delegates from the organized opposition throughout the country constituted "The Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church." The Primate's administration was denied the right to represent the Church or the laity "in so far as they have attained power by coercion or un-Christian methods." The Confessional Synod, though divided on many points, agreed on six "theological points," refuting as follows the heretical ideas against which it was fighting:

1. Jesus Christ is the only word of God. The heresy is refuted that the Church can and must recognize other events and powers, figures and truths as the revelation of God.

2. God, through Jesus Christ, claims our whole life. The heresy is refuted that there can be spheres of life in which we do not belong to Him but to other masters.

3. The Christian Church is a community of brethren and belongs solely to Christ. The heresy is refuted that the Church can do with its mission and organization as it likes and surrender it to the vagaries of temporarily prevailing philosophical and political convictions.

4. The offices of the Church are not there to give one man dominion over another. The heresy is refuted that the Church can and should give itself, or allow itself to be given, leaders endowed with ruling powers.

5. The Gospel tells us that the State has the divine task of looking after law and order in a world not yet delivered. The heresy is refuted that the State, over and above its special task, should and can become the single and total regulator of human life and thus also fulfil the vocations of the Church.

6. The mission of the Church consists in preaching to all people the message of the mercy of God. The heresy is refuted that the Church can place the word and works of the Lord at the service of any arbitrarily chosen wishes, aims and plans.

The excitement attending the "clean-up" of June 30 (described by one German Christian Bishop as revealing to the world "the unique greatness of the Führer") diverted attention for a time from the Church conflict. But the counterblow to the formation of the Confessional Synod came in August. The National Synod elected in July 1933 then met for the first time since the election of the Primate. It contained 44 German Christian and 15 opposition members. The majority passed laws which completely merged all the formerly independent churches in the Reich Church, professedly legalized all measures taken by the Primate, abolished the Church flag, and obliged all pastors and church officials to take an oath jointly to Herr Hitler and the Primate's administration.

The bitterest pill for the opposition was the oath, which in their view confused spiritual and worldly issues. Refusal to take it would be represented as disloyalty to Herr Hitler. Their most strenuous efforts had been devoted to avoid being manoeuvred into this position. Nevertheless they took up the challenge, and a manifesto condemning the proceedings of the National Synod and defying the Primate was read in many churches. In a passage the courage of which can only be fully understood in the light of the bloody events which had occurred in Germany a few weeks earlier, it said that the Primate's administration "makes the preaching of the Gospel subservient to the lust for power of erring men . . . . We declare to the churches and congregations, in our responsibility before God, that obedience to this régime is disobedience to God." Resistant pastors were called on to refuse to take the oath.[iii] The legal strength of the resistants' position was reinforced by judgments of the Reich Supreme Court and the Berlin High Court (arising from appeals against suspensions) which denied all legal validity to the Primate's decrees.

Thus, in September 1934, the Church was rent from top to bottom at the very moment when superficial unification had been completed. Only the Bavarian and Württemberg Bishops (among the heads of Churches) still stood out, and the Primate tried to overcome this last obstacle by decreeing that he himself was the sole source of legislation for these two Churches. The coping stone was laid on the edifice of surface unification by the solemn investiture of Dr. Müller as Reich Bishop in the Evangelical Cathedral in Berlin on September 23, in the presence of all the Bishops appointed by himself.

Bishops Meiser and Wurm, of Bavaria and Württemberg, refused to recognize the incorporation of their churches in the Reich Church and continued, enthusiastically supported by their congregations, to exercise independent authority. Bishop Wurm was suspended, and this led to disturbances and protest meetings -- unprecedented under the National Socialist régime -- in many South German cities. The Confessional movement answered the Primate's investiture with defiant declarations, read to packed congregations, in which certain public remarks of Dr. Jäger, the Primate's Chancellor, were interpreted as meaning that "the Confessions are to be abolished in favor of a super-confessional National Church and the place of the faith of the Christian Church is to be taken by a hybrid Nordic-Christian religion. Because they do that, Primate Müller and Chancellor Jäger and all who follow them have cut themselves off from the Christian community. They have left the foundations of the Christian Church and forfeited all rights to it."

The Primate struck back hard. He stopped the salaries of 24 pastors in one district alone, and suspended 15 Brandenburg pastors who read this declaration. The State also showed its hand. Bishop Wurm was put under "house arrest." Dr. Jäger was sent to Bavaria and, with a detachment of secret police, forcibly retired Bishop Meiser, appointing a Commissioner for the Bavarian Church.

But the anger of Bavarian churchgoers took open form, and the attempt to coerce the two South German Bishops broke down completely. They remained unsubdued, in independent control of their churches. Dr. Jäger had to resign. The fiction of "unification" was exposed. On October 30 Herr Hitler received Bishops Meiser, Wurm and Marahrens and was understood to accept their contention that the Church should be left to decide its own affairs.

These are, in brief outline, the main developments in an extraordinary conflict the paramount importance of which is that it has shown, to a world become sceptical, that men are still ready to fight and suffer for ideas and ideals in Germany. After two years it has left the Church almost unified on paper, but more divided in practice than it has been since the Reformation. The resignation of the Primate, on which the resistants insist and which seems unlikely long to be delayed, would not end the conflict as long as the State does not unambiguously withdraw from it, for the resistants regard themselves as engaged in a struggle to save Christianity from submergence in a pagan National Socialist Weltanschauung. The dismissal of Professor Karl Barth, the eminent theologian whose writings have played so large a part in the struggle of the opposition, for failing to give the Hitler salute is a sign of the difficulty of reconciling the opposing standards.

The struggle, Bishop Meiser said after his reinstatement, is only beginning. Nevertheless, present tendencies in Germany are towards moderation and circumspection, for the reasons described at the beginning of this article. The Church conflict is unlikely to be pushed so far that it becomes a menace either to internal unity or to the united front which must be opposed to the outer world.

The Church has gained, and not lost. The struggle has rallied lethargic churchgoers, quickened their interest in their faith, made them feel that it is something to be fought for, not kept on the bookshelf. Half-empty churches now are filled. Ultimately the conflict that was forced on Christianity in Germany in 1933 by the blurring of the borderline between the claim of the Party-State to absolute temporal authority and the claim of the Church to freedom of conscience may lead to the Church's renewal and rejuvenation.

[i] The Nordics, incidentally, demand that they be given the status of a third confession, that State servants in all categories be released from the obligation to belong to a Christian Church, and the like.

[ii] The complexity of the conflict was increased by the fact that many resistants claimed to be convinced National Socialists, and many German Christians, at any rate in the later stages, disclaimed any sympathy with pagan and Nordic ideas, claiming that they only desired the rejuvenation and quickening of a Church grown torpid and lethargic, in harmony with the great national awakening which National Socialism had brought to Germany. Nevertheless, in the last analysis their aim was indisputably to introduce certain ideas originating in National Socialist political philosophy into their Christian faith, and the gap between the opposing forces thus remained wide.

[iii] It has not yet been taken.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • DOUGLAS L. REED, correspondent in Berlin of the London Times; author of "The Burning of the Reichstag"
  • More By Douglas L. Reed