Francis Stratmann: ‘The souls of the well-intentioned’

I had a wonderful Skype interview with Jim Forest this morning. It’s great to be able to see one another’s faces, laughter, tears, and even a pesky sleek feline who likes to sit on Jim’s lap.

In the course of our conversation he mentioned a German Catholic priest who was head of the German Catholic Peace Union in the 1930s and wrote a significant book, War and Christianity Today. His name was Francis Stratmann, OP.

In learning more about Stratmann, I came across an excerpt from a letter he wrote on April 10, 1933, to Cardinal Faulhaber. This was less than a month after the German Catholic bishops had accepted the legitimacy of the National Socialist government and rescinded their mandate that Catholics could not support National Socialism.

“The souls of the well-intentioned are deflated by the National Socialist seizure of power, and I speak nothing but the truth when I say that the bishops’ authority is weakened among countless Catholics and non-Catholics because of their quasi-approbation of the National Socialist movement.”–Francis Stratmann, OP, to Cardinal Faulhaber in Munich (April 10, 1933) [from Catholic Theologians in Nazi Germany, by Robert Krieg]

Stratmann’s German Catholic Peace Union was banned in July 1931 when their offices were raided by 26 men and Stratmann and others had to flee the country. Gordon Zahn’s German Catholics and Hitler’s War tells this story well.

I was struck to my heart’s core at reading this. Our souls are indeed “deflated” by the current “seizure of power.”–Rose Berger

Dorothee Soelle: ‘The Essence of Areligiosity is Isolation’

Dorothee Soelle

Transcending everyday life and its pressures becomes increasingly difficult. The essence of areligiosity, as I see it, is isolation; and isolation is becoming more and more prevalent. More and more people retire into a purely private life, in which the individual has no influence at all on even the most minute sector of public life and is at the mercy of a centralized bureaucracy. …

And old Christian thesis that received considerable attention from the leaders of the Reformation says that where God is absent no vacuum develops but rather false gods work their mischief. People continue to “believe,” and in everything they do they rely on God; they invent God; they “provide themselves with God,” as Luther puts it. The question remains, however, which God this is, which relationships are seen as important, which values are promulgated in myth and reenacted and celebrated in ritual.–Dorothee Soelle, “Rebellion Against Banality”

From The Strength of the Weak: Toward A Christian Feminist Identity by Dorothee Soelle (Westminster Press, 1984)

Rowan Williams: Bonhoeffer, Lent, and Freedom

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Anglican Archbishop of Cantebury, Rowan Williams, preached at King’s School Canterbury on the first Sunday of Lent this year. He took his text from Confessing Church theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s reflections on the nature of true freedom and what it means that “the truth shall set you free.” Quiet contemplation and learning to release the “fictions” of our lives are part of the Lenten practice.

You can read Williams’ entire sermon or listen to it here. Below is the opening section:

In 1939, the young German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was in New York, exploring whether he should stay there as pastor to the German emigrants in the city and considering a string of invitations to lecture in the United States.  He had made himself deeply unpopular with the German regime, making broadcasts critical of Hitler and running a secret training institution for pastors in Germany who could not accept the way that the Nazi state was trying to control the Church.

But, after a draining inner struggle, he decided to sail back to Germany.  In July 1939, after just over a month in New York, he left – knowing that he was returning to a situation of extreme danger.  Six years later, he was dead, executed for treason in a concentration camp, leaving behind him one of the greatest treasure of modern Christianity in the shape of the letters he wrote to family and close friends from prison.  He had left behind the chance of freedom as most of us would understand it and plunged into a complex and risky world, getting involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler, living as a double agent, daily facing the prospect of arrest, torture and death.

But freedom was one of the things he most often wrote about.  In a famous poem he wrote in July 1944, he sketched out what he thought was involved in real freedom – discipline, action, suffering and death.  Not quite what we associate with the word – but with these reflections, he takes us into the heart of what it is for someone to be lastingly free.

The freedom he is interested in is the freedom to do what you know you have to do.  The society you live in will give you all sorts of messages about what you should be doing, and, far more difficult, your own longings and preferences will push you in various directions.  You have to watch your own passions and feelings and test them carefully, and then you have to have the courage to act.  When you act, you take risks.  You seemingly become less free.  But what is really happening is that you are handing over your freedom to God and saying, ‘I’ve done what I had to; now it’s over to you.’  Freedom, he says, is ‘perfected in glory’ when it’s handed over to God.  And this finds its climax in the moment of death, when we step forward to discover what has been hidden all along – the eternal freedom of God, underlying everything we have thought and done. … —Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Cantebury

Read Rowan Williams’ complete sermon.

Pope Benedict’s Homilies on Hildegard Von Bingen

It’s rumored that Pope Benedict may this year complete the canonization process for the great Rhineland mystic Hildegard von Bingen and also make her a “doctor of the church” to honor her tremendous contributions to the Christian faith. If you have never listened to Hildegard’s music, please treat yourself here.

Below are excerpts from Pope Benedict’s 2010 teachings on Hildegard who has long been regarded as a feminist icon for strong female leadership within the Church:

In 1988, on the occasion of the Marian Year, Venerable John Paul II wrote an Apostolic Letter entitled Mulieris Dignitatem on the precious role that women have played and play in the life of the Church. “The Church”, one reads in it, “gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine“genius’ which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms that the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness” (n. 31).

Various female figures stand out for the holiness of their lives and the wealth of their teaching even in those centuries of history that we usually call the Middle Ages. Today I would like to begin to present one of them to you: St Hildegard of Bingen, who lived in Germany in the 12th century. She was born in 1098, probably at Bermersheim, Rhineland, not far from Alzey, and died in 1179 at the age of 81, in spite of having always been in poor health. Hildegard belonged to a large noble family and her parents dedicated her to God from birth for his service. At the age of eight she was offered for the religious state (in accordance with the Rule of St Benedict, chapter 59), and, to ensure that she received an appropriate human and Christian formation, she was entrusted to the care of the consecrated widow Uda of Gölklheim and then to Jutta of Spanheim who had taken the veil at the Benedictine Monastery of St Disibodenberg. A small cloistered women’s monastery was developing there that followed the Rule of St Benedict. Hildegard was clothed by Bishop Otto of Bamberg and in 1136, upon the death of Mother Jutta who had become the community magistra (Prioress), the sisters chose Hildegard to succeed her. She fulfilled this office making the most of her gifts as a woman of culture and of lofty spirituality, capable of dealing competently with the organizational aspects of cloistered life. A few years later, partly because of the increasing number of young women who were knocking at the monastery door, Hildegard broke away from the dominating male monastery of St Disibodenburg with her community, taking it to Bingen, calling it after St Rupert and here she spent the rest of her days. Her manner of exercising the ministry of authority is an example for every religious community: she inspired holy emulation in the practice of good to such an extent that, as time was to tell, both the mother and her daughters competed in mutual esteem and in serving each other.

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