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»Because He Was a German!« Cardinal Bea and the Origins of Roman Catholic Engagement in the Ecumenical Movement.
Grand Rapids-Cambridge: Eerdmans 2006. XXVIII, 332 S. gr.8°. Lw. US$ 35,00. ISBN 978-0-8028-2885-9.
Donald L. Huber
»Because he was a German!« is a useful addition to the literature of ecumenism, and of the events leading up to the Second Vatican Council. Originally a dissertation at the Theology Faculty of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome (the Angelicum), the book explores in considerable detail the German context for the rise of ecumenism in the modern Roman Catholic Church. At the center of the Roman expression of the ecumenical movement as the Council convened was a German Jesuit, Cardinal Augustin Bea, the first president of the Secretariat (later, Pontifical Commission) for Promoting Christian Unity. The book, which focuses on the years 1940–60, is not another biography of Bea, but is rather a monograph on the centrality of the German context for understanding the emergence of ecumenism in Rome at mid-century, and for better understanding the pivotal role that Bea played in this development.
Quoting Archbishop Loris Capovilla, private secretary to Pope John XXIII, V. argues that Bea was the right man at the right time for the job precisely »because he was a German!« (XXII). This was certainly not because Bea spent most of his career in Germany, although his first appointments after his ordination in 1912 were in Berlin (study), Aachen, and Munich. Rather, from 1924 until his death in 1968, he was continuously resident in Rome, beginning with his appointment as a professor of biblical theology at the Gregorian University, and ending with his service as president of the Secretariat. (In between he served as dean of academic programs at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, as confessor to Pope Pius XII, as a consultor to the Holy Office, and in other high positions.) His German sensitivities were thus the result not only of the accident of his birth and of his early priestly experiences, but even more of his continuing attention to German history (especially the Reformation of the sixteenth century and the subsequent ecclesiastical principle of cuius regio, eius religio) and to contemporary German events (the fall of the Second Reich, the Weimar Republic, Hitler’s Third Reich, the postwar occupation, and the division of Germany proper into two nation-states that perfectly mirrored the larger East-West conflict). His keen observation of these events, together with his devotion to – and careful study of – the message of the New Testament, prepared him for the crowning achievement of his life, which was to be one of the principle leaders of the movement to »foster more frequent and wider contacts with Separated Brethren, inspired by the greatest possible frankness and charity« (287).
Bea’s commitment to Christian unity was, in other words, at least partly a response to the deep disunity exhibited in German history and contemporary events. To be a German Christian was to know much about death-dealing conflict, not least of all in the theological and spiritual realms. But, on the other hand, it was also a context that could give rise to a realistic hope that Jesus’ prayer that »they may be one« (John 17) is not merely religious idealism but is a vision for the church, and for the human race, that can actually be experienced in this life through the activity of the Holy Spirit.
This hopeful commitment to unity was not lifelong with Bea, although hints of it are found early on, especially in his biblical scholarship (he had been trained in Berlin by Protestant scholars, which was quite unusual at the time). Rather, it emerged specifically in the darkest days of the Second World War, and blossomed after the war, culminating in his elevation as cardinal, and his appointment to the presidency of the Secretariat. Much of the book details the collaboration with others that was essential to this development. Special attention is paid to the thought and activities of Archbishop (later, Cardinal) Lorenz Jaeger, the German ecumenical activist who collaborated with Bea to make the formal proposal to found a curial office devoted to ecumenism (which included the Jewish people, as well as baptized Christians not in communion with Rome). Indeed, given his longer experience in the field, Jaeger might have been a logical choice to become president of the Secretariat had his personality been different – V. observes that Jaeger sometimes appeared to be a »field marshal with a miter« – and had he not been under a cloud because of his activities during the Nazi era (211). Other Germans who receive significant attention include Josef Höfer and Max Metzger. Non-Germans, especially Johannes Willebrands, Yves Congar, and the Eastern Patriarch Maximos IV Saigh are not neglected, but they are on the periphery of this account.
Along the way, as is befitting a dissertation at a prestigious Roman university, V. deals with many related topics. Among them are the role of »spiritual ecumenism« (e. g., Taizé), the ecumenical spirit of Christians in the concentration camps, the emergence of a new Roman Catholic historiography of the Reformation (especially the work of Adolf Herte and Joseph Lortz), Waldemar Gurian’s thesis concerning the bifurcation (Evangelical and Catholic) of the German soul, the attitude of various Lutherans and other German Protestants to Roman Catholicism and to the emerging ecumenical movement, the relationship of the Roman Catholic Church to the nascent World Council of Churches, the important role of the pioneering Catholic Conference for Ecumenical Questions, the emerging ecumenism of Pope John XXIII, and much more.
Among its many strengths, I note that this book is written from a position of intimate knowledge (V. served on the staff of the Secretariat in its early years) and reflects careful attention to primary and secondary sources. Included in the primary sources are interviews with some who participated in the events the book describes. Generous use of subtitles assists the reader to navigate the complexities of the book. The prose is generally straightforward, although I had trouble understanding the occasional convoluted sentence. The use of Lutheran-Reformed-Union terminology is not always consistent, although the Protestant reader familiar with German church history will have little trouble discerning which group is meant. There is quite a bit of overlap between chapters, betraying the book’s origins as a dissertation. An appendix includes the full text of five letters from the crucial period November 1959 – March 1960, including a letter from Jaeger to Pope John XXIII not previously published in full, and a 1968 letter from Patriarch Maximos V Hakim to Pope Paul VI.
»Because he was a German!« should be read alongside Stjepan Schmidt’s Augustin Bea: The Cardinal of Unity (English translation, 1992) and other standard works on ecumenism and Vatican II. I do not recommend it as a starting point for studying this period of Roman Catholic history, but it will provide many valuable insights for the more advanced student.