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than a month after the German Catholic bishops had accepted the legitimacy of the National Socialist government and rescinded their mandate that Catholics could not support National Socialism.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

Letters and Writings from Prison

jagerstatterorbisFranz Jagerstatter: Letters and Writings from Prison, edited and translated by Austrian theologian Erna Putz, has just been released by Orbis Books. This collection of writings by the Catholic Nazi resister Jagerstatter represents the first time his writings have been translated into English.

Jagerstatter was executed in 1943 for refusing to serve in the Nazi army. Before taking this stand he had consulted both his pastor and his local bishop, who instructed him to do his duty and to obey the law–an instruction that violated his conscience.

For many years Jagerstatter’s solitary witness was honored by the Catholic peace movement – his story saved from oblivion by Gordon Zahn who wrote about it in In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jagerstatter.

Now, with his beatification in 2007  (read my column On Becoming a Christian about Jagerstatter’s beatification), his example has been embraced by the universal church. He stands as one of the great martyrs of our time.

An introduction by Jim Forest, founder of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, sets these writings in the context of Franz’s life and times, and draws out their meaning for today. Here’s an excerpt from Jim’s introduction:

Franz Jägerstätter was one of the least likely persons to question the justifications for war being announced daily by those in charge or to say to no to the demands of his government. What did he know? And, for that matter, who would care about his perceptions? He was only a farmer. He had never been to a university or theological school. His formal education had occurred entirely in a one-room schoolhouse. Though active in his parish, which he served as sexton, he was not a person whose name would ring a bell for his bishop. No priest or bishop or theologian, no matter how critical of Nazi doctrine, was announcing it was a sin to obey the commands of the Hitler regime when it came to war. So far as he knew none of his fellow Catholics in Austria, even those who openly disagreed with Nazi ideology, had failed to report for military duty when the notice came.

How could so unimportant a person dare to have such important convictions? How could a humble Catholic farmer imagine he had a clearer conscience than those who led the Church in his homeland? And, in any event, didn’t his responsibility to his wife and children have priority over his views about war and government?

Read Jim’s full introduction here.