Chapter Twenty Five: One victory for Peace – Christian Democracy in Europe.
Militarism did not have it all its own way and there is one astonishing story which now enters the frame. Europe had been riven with hate, fighting, nationalisms, deep animosities and distrust for several hundred years, but starting in 1945 Europe found its way to peace. This warming story goes on at the same time as the emergence of the Cold War and its origin owes a lot to Christian principles and especially to Christian Democracy in Europe. Christian Democracy is not well understood in Britain and the United States even though it is one of the most important world political movements of the twentieth century. It has expressions which are Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed and Anabaptist and produced differently nuanced responses in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway and more recently in South America, Eastern Europe and elsewhere. It engaged in most democratic elections in Europe from the 1890s to the present under a variety of labels and was in government after many of them. I should declare an interest here, for I stood in two UK elections in 1974 and 1997 as a Christian Democrat candidate. The Fascist groups of Europe tried to close down Christian Democracy along with other groups which stood against them. The Centre Party in Germany tried to oppose Hitler, finally compromised when Hitler was close to power and was then eliminated by the Nazis. Many party members carried their principles through the 30s and the Second World War waiting to pick up the pieces.
Konrad Adenauer and the German Christian Democrat Vision.
Konrad Adenauer was one of these. He was a Catholic who became head of the Cologne Government during the First World War. He was in favour of broadening the Catholic Centre Party into a more general Christian party including Protestant groups. When the Nazis come to power, he was in and out of prison and nearly died, but lasted through the War in some ill-health. After the War Adenauer, with others, quickly formed the Christian Democratic Union and when self-government was again entrusted to the Germans in the election of the 15th August, 1949, he was head of the largest party and became Chancellor on 15th September, 1949. He was a strong critic of Prussian militarism, which he saw as lying behind the development and success of the Nazi Party. Under Bismarck it had dominated Germany during the Kulturkampf era when it set out to suppress Catholic influence, and it later provided the main impetus for the First World War and the militarism which preceded the Nazis. When Adenauer was Chancellor, though to 1963, he worked at an understanding of openness and co-operation with France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and other European countries and especially linked with the Christian Democrats in those countries to form a kind of peace pact, so that never again would the countries of Europe fight one another. The model looked back to the idea of Christendom which had built a non-nationalistic conception of the states and cities of central Europe in Catholic Christianity. Adenauer was also quite prickly on some issues and sought to prevent witch-hunts against Nazis sympathizers, so this was no idyllic transition, but the transformation of basic outlook in Germany was deeply formative in the post-war era.
Another element played into the scene. Germany is historically a federation of Länder, looking back to the city states of the German-speaking peoples for centuries in both Catholic and protestant eras, and this non-centralised model became the federal basis of the new German Federal Republic. This was reflected in choosing Bonn as capital, another emphasis from Adenauer to get away from the Prussian Berlin in the formation of the new Germany and the centralization of the State which occurred with Hitler. So Germany and central Europe generally underwent a strong and peaceward change in the philosophy of society which shaped political practice.
Though this was true, the actual transition in Germany was more tense and mixed. First, the level of rawness and destruction wrought by the War was great. Many were suffering Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome from bombing and death and this level of trauma played out in many families and towns in acute suffering. It also took years of hard work to clear up the devastation, and the German women especially set about it with an amazing commitment given their suffering. Second, Adenauer and others had to relate to substantial level of Nazi support and presumably internalized attitudes present in the population, the guilt for war. Adenauer’s understanding was that there were only a few real Nazis and others had been taken in by the Nazis – a minimal blame understanding. It was a useful myth for a kind of get back to normal occurrence, and then the German people moved through to a fuller acceptance of guilt. The new regime had to work through this sympathizer generation, and to the often annoyance of the Allies they did, without a make-all-Nazis-suffer attitude. This happened and made a sounder basis for real national remorse. Third, there was the direct threat from the East, signalled in the Berlin Air Lift stand-off. Fourth, Germany had to address its militarism. Adenauer for a long while was a strong supporter of the German High Command, seeking to get a German military re-instated from the time he became Chancellor. In 1950 with the start of the Korean War both the United States and Britain agreed that Germany should be re-armed to deter the Soviet threat in Eastern Europe. At the same time France was utterly opposed to German rearmament, and it would be fair to say that the negotiations on this development were convoluted and not marked by mutuality. Yet, Adenauer came to accept and work with the French position, understanding it and accommodating to it. Further, Adenauer was far from generous to those who had suffered under Nazi persecution. Yet, against all these tensions, and as a new generation grew through, Europe as a community of nations and friends, interacting, travelling, trading and agreeing policies became a reality. It was, and is, a resounding success for peace.
Robert Schumann and the French Vision.
It was reflected in an amazing change of cultural attitudes. It was especially personified in three people who stuck together – Alcide de Gaspari, the Italian Prime Minister, Konrad Adenauer, the German Chancellor and Robert Schuman, French Foreign Secretary and twice Prime Minister. All three were Catholics, Christian Democrat politicians and happened to be able to converse in German. They were friends and formed together the understanding of Europe as a community of respect and mutuality, which had to bring to an end the threat of war in Europe. Schuman and the French were key, because they had to forgive and put out their hand to the aggressors in the Second World War. Schuman did that. He was a warm, shy, forgiving Christian man. France was the victor in the war, although it suffered deeply, and its distrust of Germany had to be great, but Schumann saw beyond victory and distrust to peace and forgiveness. He was a celibate Christian and Bible scholar, formed by the thinking of St Thomas Aquinas, Pope Pius XII and Jacques Maritain, another important Christian thinker of the era who shaped a deep understanding of Christian democracy. Schumann nearly went to Dachau during the War, but survived, and had a strong vision of the unity of Europe. He aimed for a “school where Christian principles are not only applied and proven in the relationships of man to man, but succeed in overcoming the prejudices and emnities which separate classes, races and nations… we need apostles of reconciliation… It is not a question of changing policy; it is a question of changing men.” This was his big historical vision.
“We are carrying out a great experiment, the fulfillment of the same recurrent dream that for ten centuries has revisited the peoples of Europe: creating between them an organization putting an end to war and guaranteeing an eternal peace. The Roman church of the Middle Ages failed finally in its attempts that were inspired by humane and human preoccupations….The European spirit signifies being conscious of belonging to a cultural family and to have a willingness to serve that community in the spirit of total mutuality, without any hidden motives of hegemony or the selfish exploitation of others. The 19th century saw feudal ideas being opposed and, with the rise of a national spirit, nationalities asserting themselves. Our century, that has witnessed the catastrophes resulting in the unending clash of nationalities and nationalisms, must attempt and succeed in reconciling nations in a supranational association. This would safeguard the diversities and aspirations of each nation while coordinating them in the same manner as the regions are coordinated within the unity of the nation.” (Strasbourg, 19th May, 1949)
Schuman worked with Jean Monnet, another Catholic, in forming the French reaction to the end of the War, and it took shape in this direction of long-term peace and forgiveness. Perhaps the crowning moment of the vision was when Charles De Gaulle, another Catholic, but also the personification of the French resistance to Germany during the Second World War invited Konrad Adenauer to share a thanksgiving Mass in Rheims Cathedral on the 8th July, 1962. Before God they engaged in a public act of forgiving and forgetting, which showed just how far this especially French commitment had also gone.
Churchill, Britain and Europe.
Schuman’s vision was different in shape from a similar perception by Churchill. Already at the end of January, 1943, while visiting Turkey, Churchill began to form the idea of a United States of Europe. It was to be part of the United Nations, premised on the victorious powers continuing fully armed. Churchill conveyed this message on the 19th September, 1946. He addressed the “Tragedy of Europe” in beguiling terms.
“This noble continent … is the fount of Christianity and Christian ethics [stretching it a bit] and the origin of most of the culture, arts, philosophy and science both of ancient and modern times.” [flattery] Then after portraying the horrors of a post-war Europe, torn asunder, he set out his plan. “It is to re-create the European Family, or as much of it as we can, and provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe. In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living. The process is simple. All that is needed is the resolve of hundreds of millions of men and women to do right instead of wrong, and gain as their reward, blessing instead of cursing. Much work has been done upon this task by the exertions of the Pan-European Union which owes so much to Count Coudenhove-Kalergi and which commanded the services of the famous French patriot and statesman, Aristide Briand. There is also that immense body of doctrine and procedure, which was brought into being amid high hopes after the First World War, as the League of Nations. The League of Nations did not fail because of its principles or conceptions. It failed because these principles were deserted by those States who had brought it into being. It failed because the Governments of those days feared to face the facts and act while time remained. This disaster must not be repeated. There is, therefore, much knowledge and material with which to build; and also bitter dear-bought experience. I was very glad to read in the newspapers two days ago that my friend President Truman had expressed his interest and sympathy with this great design. There is no reason why a regional organisation of Europe should in any way conflict with the world organisation of the United Nations. On the contrary, I believe that the larger synthesis will only survive if it is founded upon coherent natural groupings.”
This vision reflected Churchill’s generosity of spirit, especially towards France, but it was also reflected his attitude to the USSR. He had just made his “Iron Curtain” speech in the United States and was clearly formulating bulwarks against the Communist menace, as he perceived it. So Churchill’s vision was substantially a military one against the USSR, and he saw Britain’s foreign policy as mainly a special military and economic relationship with the United States, with the Empire/Commonwealth and the United States of Europe as part of the picture, providing three levels of British security, and so it has largely been. Churchill did not have the vision from within Europe or the same Christian Democrat basis for seeing the communal unity, though he was aware of it. Although similar Christian connections also draw the Commonwealth together, as Queen Elizabeth often recognizes better than her governments, Britain has remained on the edge of this vision.
Alcide De Gaspari and the Italian Perspective.
A similar vision existed in Italy. De Gaspari was a Catholic academic who worked in the Catholic student movement and developed within the kind of vision set out in Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical Rerum Novarum addressing the condition of the poor. He entered politics, but when Fascism dominated under Mussolini, he opposed it, was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison, but with the help of the Vatican he moved into a job in the Vatican library for fifteen years. When Mussolini fell he helped form the Christian Democrats and became their leader and the Prime Minister from 1945 to 1953, no mean achievement in Italy. He put together coalitions including groups from Communists to Nationalists and established Italy as a stable democratic country after two decades of Fascism. De Gaspari was widely trusted and respected, and the long Catholic stand against war was a relief to the Italians after a long subjection to the Mussolini frog marching Fascism. De Gaspari, too, got on with Schuman, Adenauer, Monnet and the others in a co-operative rebuilding of Europe.
Italy, like Germany, rediscovered another part of their Catholic and Protestant past. Europe had been, before this rampant nationalism set in been a cosmopolitan Catholic, Protestant and Renaissance culture. Dante, Michelangelo, Monteverdi, Erasmus, Shakespeare, Dürer, Luther, Calvin, Leonardo, Voltaire, Bach, Pascal and many others were European thinkers both in their own work and through dissemination. Europe had been the world’s richest international cultural debate, and Italy was part of all the countries of Europe. This cosmopolitan culture was rediscovered as the paucity of Fascist art and marching music was discarded and receded. Italian art and economics was part of European culture again. So with the quiet work of De Gaspari and others Italy and Europe was healed. When he died on the 19th August, 1954, about a year after he ceased to be Prime Minister, he was found to be so poor that he was to have had to have the normal pauper’s burial provided by the state. But it probably did not concern him a great deal.
The Dutch Contribution.
In the Netherlands there was a long history of proud independence since the Spanish Wars of the early 17th century and also a strong tradition of Protestant and Catholic political party contributions since the late 19th century. The Calvinist Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP) founded by Groen van Prinsterer and Abraham Kuyper became a party of government at the beginning of the twentieth century. Another Protestant Party, the Christian Historical Union (CHU), was a formative influence on Dutch politics, and the Catholic Party (KVP) growing out of Rerum Novarum in the 1890s was also deeply formative and a normal party of government. British people do not understand that all of these parties had an agenda for the poor and Dutch politics did not have the same Conservative-Socialist split of British politics. In the First World War the Netherlands did not participate. It is often stated to have been neutral, not for one side or the other, but it was also for peace and non-conflict, the position of both the Catholic and Kuyperian traditions. Thus, the Dutch were fiercely independent and also had a strong principial dislike of totalitarianism. When in the Second World War arrived they were unceremoniously invaded by Germany on the 10th May, 1940 and were rapidly forced to surrender. Rotterdam was bombed to the ground in the process. The Dutch were submitted to forced labour for the Germans. They also faced the Holocaust of some 100,000 Jews who lived in the Netherlands despite a strike against the deportations in February, 1941 and an active underground. At the end of the War, with famine, emigration of 500,000 citizens and loss, there was deep seated anger at what the German state had done. But it learned forgiveness. Over time, the values of democratic Christian Democracy and of Socialism re-established themselves and the Dutch welcomed a European community of nations without national animosities and became one of the cornerstones of European co-operation. Most Dutch speak French, German and English, and its linguistic openness was another point of intergration in the new European community.
Corrie Ten Boom, who had been put in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp describes forgiveness.
It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives. It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown. ‘When we confess our sins,’ I said, ‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. …’The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room. “And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were! He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women? But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze. ‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there.’ No, he did not remember me. ‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—’will you forgive me?’And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses,’ Jesus says, ‘neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’ ‘Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’ For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.
Forgiveness was the bedrock of the new Europe, one that no longer needed to fight.
The Christian Democrat vision, especially in the Netherlands, contained another important dimensions in the central idea of governance, not recognized in Anglo-American culture, but most strongly formulated by Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch Prime Minister, often called sphere sovereignty. The normal model in much western political ideology is of the State over society or a collection of individuals. In the Fascist model the state embodies and directs the whole of society and the economy. Yet a Christian understanding is different. It sees a number of institutions as God-given and comprising the plural fabric of society. These include marriage and family, work and economic activity, education, church and religious formation, and community relations as well as the state. Essentially the state is not “sovereign”, limited, has no absolute authority, is under law and involves responsibilities, and must honour other institutions. Indeed, the word, “institution” has its meaning in the idea that God has instituted these areas as part of our normal lives and in all these areas we are accountable to live freely and faithfully in an open God-ward direction and not through State surveillance. Thus, there is no absolute or totalitarian state, but all institutions are part of the way we are called to live. This pluralism, or sphere-sovereignty, as the Dutch call it, gives a much more open view of society. The Christian Democrats in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy and elsewhere shared much of this perspective. This pluralism, reflected in the work of many Christian social and political philosophers, is less understood in English-speaking traditions.
Indeed, it went further than this, for the understanding in the Netherlands, Belgium and to some extent Germany was that in each institutional area, not just in politics, democratic variation should be allowed as people followed their own perspectives in the media, education, work and unions. This pillarisation, or Vezuiling, made sure that ideological pluralism was allowed in all institutional areas of society – schools, business and unions, the media, arts, universities, families and religion. Abraham Kuyper, Prime Minister of the Netherlands at the turn of the century, developed this perspective most fully. It is, in fact, recognizing democracy, the right of people to say and live by what they believe in every area of life, not just in politics. Christians accept this position because they are Christian. God is sovereign and no human institution, state, party or person should be sovereign. You can believe the truths of God, and respect everyone else’s beliefs because they too are part of God’s open society. It is the most radical understanding of democracy that has ever been developed, and it merely reflects the way Christ actually lived. Martyrdom in Christianity reflects this holding of the Christian truth and the suffering it may produce, and Luther’s Protestant stand, “Here I stand; I can do no other. So help me, God.” is similarly nonconformist in this deepest sense. Nonconformity is, in part, nonconformity to the absolutist state. Given that so many Jews and Christians had suffered under the Nazis with these views, although a lot had died for them, it is not surprising that their weight should reappear in European political thought as a major Dutch contribution to European non-totalitarianism reflecting the deep convictions found among hundreds of thousands of churches throughout Europe and millions of Christians.
The Catholic Church and the Papacy.
Here, we must say something about the long-term influence of the Catholic Church on the peace of Europe, partly because it has been poorly understood. In the First World War Pope Benedict XV consistently opposed the War, pointing out the evil and destruction which would follow. He was right and was not thanked by the belligerents. He proposed the Christmas truce in December, 1914 and then another cease-fire and truce later in the War. But the combatants were not able to withdraw from the War without looking silly, because a 1-1 draw when millions had died did not look good. The Pope was therefore marginalized in a fairly deliberate way, especially at the Versailles Peace Conference. Given President Wilson’s precarious position at home, it turned out to be a serious mistake. In the 1920s the papacy continued to work for peace, and it was the driving force behind millions of signatures backing the Great 1932 Geneva Disarmament Conference. It failed, as we saw in War or Peace?, mainly through Japanese militarism, the arms companies and British negativism.
Catholics opposed Hitler in principle on his way to power and exposed its ideology. They attacked its racism. The Nazis in turn hated Catholic internationalism. When the Nazis came to power, Pope Pius XI tried a Concordat with Hitler in 1933, but the Führer ratted on that, and Catholic persecution was one of the earliest cases of Nazi oppression. Goebbels, Himmler, Bormann and Heydrich were vehement anti-Catholics. The rich heritage of Catholic schools, universities, colleges, newspapers, monasteries, political parties, welfare programmes, youth movements and trade unions was closed down, often with real venom. Monasteries became brothels. Leaders were murdered. From 1935 clergy were sent to Dachau Concentration Camp, and by the time the War was underway some 3,000 were there. In 1937 the Papal Encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (with burning concern) was read from pulpits but then confiscated by the Gestapo to wipe out co-ordinated opposition. When the Nazis moved into Poland they murdered two thousand Catholic clergy and thousands of other Catholic leaders as part of their aim to destroy all Polish independence. In Austria Catholic leaders were persecuted; Odilo Globocnik in Vienna led the attack. Otto Neururer was tortured and hanged and Jacob Gapp was guillotined in Berlin. Catholic protestations were put down decisively by mobs. Similar patterns occurred in Czech and Slovene areas. It was going to be Catholic annihilation.
Finally, when the Nazis and Mussolini were fully in power, each established their own Fascist Churches to supplant Christianity completely. In 1936 Hitler created the Reich Church. This did not have the Christian cross as its symbol but the swastika. The Bible was replaced by “Mein Kampf” which was placed on the altar. By it was a sword. Only invited Nazis were allowed to give sermons there. It was meant to be the replacement of Christianity. The Nazis planned on ceasing publication of the Bible. As the War approached Pope Pius XII in both Germany and Italy had little hope but to save lives. The Catholic Church again espoused neutrality, meaning it was against the War, and the Papacy acted carefully so as not to jeopardize the lives of yet more. When you do not fight, and are under duress, with people depending for their lives on you, that is the kind of thing you have to do.
But wars come to an end. They have to come to an end. And peace without enemies has to work, because there is no other option, and in 1945 the Catholic Church was ready for peace. It had done no killing. And through Catholics in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Britain and elsewhere a kind of peace grew out of the chaos; they could be trusted. Gradually a community of nations took place and grew, replacing national militarism with trust and mutual respect. The command of Christ that we love one another was obeyed and people made decisions to be friends across previous persecution and national boundaries. It is an unrecorded history. They were going to respect one another and bury militarism as a way of relating. It took root, grew and showed the success of ordinary neighbour love and peace in human political affairs. We learned that nation can speak peace to nation, and this victory is with us today so that military confrontation between the states of Europe is now unthinkable. That a great victory and as a Protestant I thank the Catholic Church for its deep contribution to it.