By- Guenter Lewy

"Guenter Lewy left his native Germany as a boy of fifteen in 1939, emigrated to Palestine and then to the United States. He has since taught at Columbia University and Smith College, and is now Associate Professor of Government at the University of Massachusetts McGraw-Hill Book Company New York London Sydney Toronto

Copyright 1964 LIBRARY OF CONGRESS No. 64-21072

Chapter 12 [final chapter]

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The behavior of the Catholic Church under Nazi rule was related to a number of specifically German conditions. The Church shared the widely prevailing sense of nationalism and patriotism; she was affected by the same excessive respect for authority that did so much to hinder the Resistance. More importantly, the bishops, many of the lower clergy and their parishioners concurred in certain Nazi aims. They welcomed the Nazis' anti-Communism as a counterpoise to the liberal, anti-clerical and atheistic currents of the Weimar republic.

They were attracted by the National Socialist call for a strong state, a new German Reich that would again be a world power and able to solve the country's pressing economic and social problems. Some churchmen expected that the increase in the power of the state and the introduction of the leadership principle would result also in a strengthening of the authority of the Church.

In a mood of naive trust and wishful thinking about Hitler's promises of religious peace, and anxious to protect the Church's organizations, schools and newspapers, the German bishops supported the signing of the Concordat. After this pact had been concluded the course of accommodation was fixed. In order not to jeopardize those provisions of the Concordat which the Nazi regime chose to honor it was regarded as imperative to placate the Nazis.


Had Hitler pursued a policy similar to that of Mussolini's peaceful coexistence with the Church, it is more than likely that the German episcopate, like its counterpart in Italy, would have become even more identified with the Nazi government and movement than they actually did. But German National Socialism was truly totalitarian in its aspirations, intent upon dominating all aspects of life, and hence ill-inclined to accept partners. The conflict between Church and State was therefore probably unavoidable no matter what the policy of the hierarchy and the Holy See.

Only very gradually and rather late did the bishops begin to realize that Hitler's regime was intent upon destroying the Church. Even then they thought that they could ward off the encroachments of the Nazis by protesting against violations of the Concordat and combining these protests with affirmations of loyalty to the state.

The Church's opposition was carefully circumscribed; it was rooted in her concern for her institutional interests rather than in a belief in freedom and justice for all men. In this the German episcopate followed a policy very much in keeping with the Church's traditional mode of operation and thought.

With this summary we leave behind the specific German elements underlying the conduct of the German Church. We turn to our concluding task, an explanation on a higher level that involves the Catholic Church as a world-wide institution, and its political and moral theories.


"In any crucial situation." Sidney Hook once observed, "the behavior of the Catholic Church may be more reliably predicted by reference to its concrete interests as a political organization than by reference to its timeless dogmas."1 One may go a step further and say that these dogmas are sufficiently flexible and ambiguous so that the Church can accommodate a variety of political conditions running the gamut from democracy to totalitarian dictatorship. Some of this ambiguity can be attributed to the highly abstract theological and metaphysical foundations of Catholic political theory, but much is a matter of design that serves to pave the way for the Church's adjustment to different situations.

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Some Catholic political theorists, Jacques Maritain for example, have sought to show that the natural law ethic of the Church necessarily leads to the affirmation of the natural rights of man and thence to the defense of democracy as the only political system able to guarantee such rights. Some day, perhaps, the Church will put the stamp of orthodoxy upon these ideas. Today, however, when still many political forms other than democracy are alive and functioning, the Church has not made Maritain's espousal of democracy official. Papal teachings on politics, which we can consider authoritative even if they are not expressly delivered as 'ex cathedra' pronouncements, still adhere to a more elusive doctrine, and this finding holds true for the nineteenth-century pope, Leo XIII, as well as for the recent reform pope, John XXIII.

Contemporary Catholic political doctrine owes a great debt to Pope Leo XIII. His election to the Chair of Peter in 1878 marked a decisive turning away from the essentially negative, if not reactionary, policies and ideas of his predecessors in the first three quarters of the nineteenth century. Most European states in 1878 were still monarchies, but Leo XIII perceived that new forces were in the making and he understood that the Church could not blindly oppose them. In a number of encyclicals he reformulated Catholic thought on the state in such a way as to prepare for the acceptance of democracy.

Abandoning the principle taught by St. Thomas Aquinas and most later theologians that monarchy was the best form of government, Leo XIII maintained that the Church was essentially indifferent to the various modes of ruling provided the general welfare and the interests of the Church were insured:

Of the various forms of government the Church does not reject any that are fitted to procure the welfare of the subject: she wishes only-and nature itself requires-that they should be constituted without involving wrong to any one, and especially without violating the rights of the Church.'2

Two years later, in 1890, Leo XIII again pointed out that "the Church, the guardian always of her own right and most observant of that of others, holds that it is not her province to decide which is the best amongst many diverse forms of government, and the civil institutions of Christian states, and amid the various kinds of


state rule she does not disapprove of any, provided the respect due to religion and the observance of good morals be upheld."'

Leo XIII's successors, presiding over a Church still composed of a variety of political currents - monarchy and liberalism, democracy and fascism - have continued to teach Leo's ideas. "Universally known is the fact," declared Pope Pius XI in 1933, "that the Catholic Church is never bound to one form of government more than to another, provided the divine rights of God and of Christian conscience are safe. She does not find any difficulty in adapting herself to various civil institutions, be they monarchic or republican,aristocratic or democratic."4

The adaptation to authoritarian and dictatorial regimes was facilitated by the Church's hierarchical constitution and the affinity for authoritarian ideas produced by its makeup. Catholicism, wrote the historian Christopher Dawson in 1936, "is by no means hostile to the authoritarian ideal of the State. Against the liberal doctrines of the divine right of majorities and the unrestrained freedom of opinion the Church has always maintained the principles of authority and hierarchy and a high conception of the prerogatives of the State." Catholic social ideals set forth in the encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI, Dawson argued. "have far more affinity with those of Fascism than with those of either Liberalism or Socialism." Catholic political ideas "correspond much more closely, at least in theory, with the Fascist conception of the functions of the 'leader' and the vocational hierarchy of the Fascist State than they do with the system of parliamentary democratic party government...."'

As long as Fascist movements served as a bulwark against Communism, the Church was willing to accept the loss of political liberties that followed their accession to power. Atheistic Communism has for a century been the Church's number one enemy. This uncompromising hostility drew strength from the personal experiences of Popes Pius XI and XII. At the end of World War I, as Papal Nuncios in Poland and Germany, respectively, the two men had had experience with the anti-religious fervor of Communist regimes, and what they saw and heard in Warsaw, Munich and Berlin colored their political outlook and influenced their subsequent policies as heads of the Church. Both of these Popes were preoccupied with the threat of Communism, and therefore ....