Sunday, June 05, 2005 +

Who Are the Church?

“In the superbly edited Vatican documents on World War II we may find a very large amount of significant information on the relationship of the Holy See to the government of the Third Reich; we may find much important material about the relationship of the German hierarchy to either; we may even find much that is interesting and intriguing about the relationship of certain German prelates to each other—and yet there is amazingly little about the attitudes, the currents of opinion, about the very behavior of German Catholics themselves. I say ‘amazingly,’ since every serious historian, weighing the evidence of the relationship of the papacy to the Third Reich during those burdensome years, will agree that the existence of German Catholics was the principal concern of the Pope at the time. One the other hand, perhaps this is not so amazing, after all. Fragile, friable, unreliable, and incomplete as they are, the surviving records reflect the principal concern of people at a given time. After all, history is a reflection of what people actually did and thought. In a despairing letter, on January 23, 1943, the aristocratic bishop of Berlin, Konrad von Preysing, cited the recent words of the nuncio, Cesare Orsenigo: ‘Christian love, it is all very fine, but the most important duty is not to make difficulties for the Church.’ Is it going far to suggest that the regrettable narrowness with which this unduly cautious prelate conceived the duties of the hierarchy of the Church during those tragic years corresponds, in one way or another, with the undue narrowness with which certain historians of the Church are wont to conceive their own tasks; and that, conversely, the broadening recognition of the wider challenge before historians may correspond to a recognition of the wider concerns of a truly catholic Church?”
—John Lukacs, Remembered Past, p. 124.