Von Galen Contra the Swastika

In my first post on Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen, which may be read here, we examined the life of this remarkable German bishop who heroically stood up to the Third Reich.  Today we examine the second of three sermons that he preached in 1941 which made him famous around the globe.  One week after his first breathtaking sermon against the Gestapo, my examination of which may be read here, he preached on July 20, 1941 a blistering sermon against the Nazis and their war on Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular.

Today the collection which I ordered for the inhabitants of the city of Münster is held in all the parishes in the diocese of Münster which have not themselves suffered war damage. I hope that through the efforts of the state and municipal authorities responsible and the brotherly help of the Catholics of this diocese, whose contributions will be administered and distributed by the offices of the Caritas, much need will be alleviated.

Charity, always a prime duty of Catholics.

Thanks be to God, for several days our city has not suffered any new enemy attacks from without. But I am distressed to have to inform you that the attacks by our opponents within the country, of the beginning of which I spoke last Sunday in St. Lambert’s, that these attacks have continued, regardless of our protests, regardless of the anguish this causes to the victims of the attacks and those connected with them. Last Sunday I lamented, and branded as an injustice crying out to heaven, the action of the Gestapo in closing the convent in Wilkinghege and the Jesuit residences in Munster, confiscating their property and possessions, putting the occupants into the street and expelling them from their home area. The convent of Our Lady of Lourdes in Frauen­strasse was also seized by the Gau authorities. I did not then know that on the same day, Sunday 13th July, the Gestapo had occupied the Kamilluskolleg in Sudmühle and the Benedictine abbey of Gerleve near Coesfeld and expelled the fathers and lay brothers. They were forced to leave Westphalia that very day.

The Nazi war on the Church is becoming more brazen in the midst of the War.

On 15th July the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Vinnenberg, near Warendorf, were expelled from their convent and from the province. On 17th July the Sisters of the Cross were driven out of their convent, Haus Aspel in Rees, and forced to leave the district of Rees. Had not Christian love shown compassion for all these homeless ones, these men and women would have been exposed to hunger and the rigours of the weather.

The Nazis make war on faithful Sisters, always dare to the heart of Catholics.

Then a few hours ago I learned the sad news that yesterday, 19th July, at the end of this second terrible week in our region of Munster, the Gestapo occupied, confiscated and expropriated the administrative centre of the German province of the Holy Heart of Jesus, the great missionary house at Hiltrup, which is well known to you all. The fathers and lay brothers still living there were given until    8 ..o’clock yesterday evening to leave their residence and their possessions. They too are expelled from Westphalia and the province of Rhineland.

German missionaries are a special target of the Nazis.

The fathers and lay brothers still living there: I do emphasise these words, for, as I happened to learn recently, 161 men from the ranks of the Hiltrup missionaries are serving as German soldiers in the field,some of them directly in face of the enemy; 53 fathers are caring for the wounded as medical orderlies, and 42 theologians and 66 lay brothers are serving their country as soldiers, some having been decorated with the Iron Cross and other distinctions. The same can be said of the Kamillus fathers of Sudmühle, the Jesuits of Sentmaring and the Benedictines of Gerleve. While these German men are fighting for their country in accordance with their duty and in loyal comradeship with other German brothers, at the risk of their lives, they are being deprived, ruthlessly and without any basis in law, of their home, their parent monastery is being destroyed. When, as we hope, they return victorious they will find their monastic family driven from house and home and their home occupied by strangers, by enemies!

The Nazis are attacking patriotic Germans, who have members of their orders serving with the Wehrmacht.

How is this going to end? It is not a question of providing temporary accommodation for homeless inhabitants of Münster. The religious orders were very ready to reduce their own accommodation requirements to the minimum in order to take in and care immediately for those made homeless. No: that was not the reason. I have heard that the convent of the Immaculate Conception in Wilkinghege is occupied by the Gau film unit. I am told that a maternity home for unmarried mothers is installed in the Benedictine abbey. I have not yet learned what is happening to Sentmaring, Sudmühle and Vinnenberg. And no newspaper has so far carried any account of the safe victories won by the Gestapo in recent days over defenceless men and unprotected women, of the conquests made at home by the Gau authorities of the property of fellow Germans.

A brilliant paragraph by Blessed Von Galen.  Just after speaking of Catholic religious serving with the German military, he contrasts them with the “safe victories” of the Gestapo over defenceless men and unprotected women.

On Monday 14th July I called on the President of the Regional Council and asked for protection for the freedom and property of innocent German citizens. He told me that the Gestapo was a completely independent authority with whose actions he could not interfere. He promised, however, that he would at once convey my complaints and my requests to the Senior President and Gauleiter, Dr. Meyer. To no avail. On the same day I sent a telegram to the Führer’s Chancellery of the Reich in Berlin, in the following terms.

Protests have been unavailing to local Nazi authorities, so Von Galen complains directly to Hitler himself.  Von Galen was completely without fear.

“After a series of terrible nightly air attacks form 6th July onwards, in which the enemy has sought to destroy the city of Münster, the Gestapo began on 12th July to seize religious houses in the city and surrounding area and to make them over, along with their contents, to the Gau authorities. The occupants, innocent men and women, honourable members of German families, whose relatives are fighting for Germany as soldiers, are robbed of their homes and possessions, thrown into the street, driven out of the province. I ask the Führer and Reichskanzler, in the interest of justice and the solidarity of the home front, for the protection of the freedom and property of these honourable German men and women against the arbitrary actions of the Gestapo.”

Von Galen ties in the bombing attacks by the British with the war now being waged on the German people by Hitler’s Gestapo.

I addressed similar requests by telegram to the Governor of Prussia, Marshal Göring, the Minister of the Interior, the Minister for Ecclesiastical Affairs and the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht. I hoped that, if not considerations of justice, at any rate a recognition of the consequences for the solidarity of the home front in wartime would move these authorities to put a stop to the action taken by the Gestapo against our brothers and sisters, and that innocent German women would not be refused chivalrous protection. It was a vain hope. The action continued, and the situation which I had long foreseen and of which I spoke last Sunday has now come to pass: we are faced with the ruins of the inner national community of our people, which in the last few days has been ruthlessly shattered.

The Nazis care nothing for justice and their ruthless actions on the German homefront are destroying the national community of the German people.

I urgently pointed out to the President of the Regional Council, the ministers and the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht that these acts of violence against blameless German men and this brutal treatment of defenceless German women, which make a mockery of all chivalry and can arise only from deep-seated hatred of the Christian religion and the Catholic Church, that these machinations are sabotaging and destroying the national community of our people. For how can there be any feeling of community with the men who are driving our religious, our brothers and sisters, as easy victims out of the country, without any basis in law, without any investigations, without any possibility of defence and without any judgment by a court? No! With them and with all those responsible for these actions I cannot possibly have any community of thought or feeling. I shall not hate them; I wish from my heart that they may gain a new insight and mend their ways.

Von Galen mentions what most people knew in Germany but few dared utter:  higher up Nazis were motivated by burning hatred of Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular.  Hitler mentioned this hatred many times in his private conversation.  This remark was typical:

The fact that I remain silent in public over Church affairs is not in the least misunderstood by the sly foxes of the Catholic Church, and I am quite sure that a man like the Bishop von Galen knows full well that after the war I shall extract retribution to the last farthing. And, if he does not succeed in getting himself transferred in the meanwhile to the Collegium Germanium in Rome, he may rest assured that in the balancing of our accounts, no “T” will remain uncrossed, no “I” undotted!

The actions against the Catholic Church were the opening stages of Martin Bormann’s, newly installed head of the Nazi Party Chancellery, campaign against Christianity.  Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, at his opening address at the Nurmberg trials of Nazi war criminals gave a good overview of the Nazi campaign against Christianity and which may be read here.

In this spirit I also at once said a prayer for the soul of Ministerialdiri­gent               [Assistant Secretary] Roth, who died suddenly on 5th July. He was a Catholic priest, originally in the archdiocese of Munich, who worked for years, without the permission and against the will of the bishop, as an official in the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs, composing and signing many documents which encroached on the Church’s rights and injured the Church’s dignity. And now he has been drowned during a boat trip on the river Inn. May God have mercy upon his poor soul! Thus, in accordance with our Saviour’s command, we will pray for all who persecute us and slander us. But as long as they do not change, as long as they continue to rob and banish and imprison innocent people, so long do I refuse any community with them.

Von Galen would pray for the Nazi persecutors, even as he spoke out against them.

No: the community of convictions and aspirations in our people has been irreparably destroyed, against our will and regardless of our warnings. I cannot believe that our long-established citizenry and farmers, craftsmen and workers, that our women, that our fathers and brothers and sons, who even now are risking their lives for Germany at the front, can have any community of convictions with those who have persecuted and turned out our religious orders.

German troops fighting bravely at the front are being betrayed by the actions of their own government.

We shall obey them in so far as they are entitled to give us orders as representatives of the lawful authorities. But it must be impossible for us to have a community of convictions, a sense of inner solidarity, with these persecutors of the Church, these invaders of religious houses, who expel defenceless women from their convents, the children of our best families, our sisters, many of whom have lived there for decades in work and prayer, doing nothing but good for our people. I should feel ashamed before God and before you, I should feel ashamed before our noble German forefathers, before my own late father, who was a chivalrous man and brought up, admonished and taught my brothers and me sternly to show the most delicate respect to every woman or girl, to afford chivalrous protection to all the unjustly oppressed, particularly to women as the images of our own mothers, and of the beloved Mother of God herself in heaven, if I had any community with those who drive innocent and defenceless women out of house and home and drive them out of their country without shelter and without resources! Moreover, as I showed last Sunday in St Lambert’s church and as I must repeat today with great solemnity, in a warning inspired by love for my people and my country, that these punitive actions by the Gestapo against innocent people, without any judgment by a court or judicial proceedings or opportunity for defence — the “prosecution of accused persons who are condemned in advance and deprived of any means of defence”, in Reich minister Dr Frank’s words — destroy men’s security under the law, undermine faith in law and destroy confidence in the government of our country.

Von Galen points out the treatment accorded women religious.  For a chivalrous gentleman of the old school such as himself, this was especially beneath contempt.  Once again by quoting Reich Minister Frank, he uses the words of the Nazis against them.

We Christians, of course, are not aiming at revolution. We shall continue loyally to do our duty in obedience to God and in love of our people and fatherland. Our soldiers will fight and die for Germany, but not for those men who by their cruel actions against our religious, against their brothers and sisters, wound our hearts and shame the German name before God and men. We shall continue to fight against the external enemy; but against the enemy within, who strikes us and torments us, we cannot fight with arms. Against him we have only one weapon: endurance — strong, tough, hard endurance.

Catholicism has outlasted persecutors for 2000 years and Von Galen, correctly, predicts that the Church will outlast their Nazi persecutors.

Become hard! Remain firm! We see and experience clearly what lies behind the new doctrines which have for years been forced on us, for the sake of which religion has been banned from the schools, our organisations have been suppressed and now Catholic kindergartens are about to be abolished — there is a deep-seated hatred of Christianity, which they are determined to destroy. If I am correctly informed, the Schulungsleiter [head of indoctrination], Herr Schmidt, before an audience which had been invited by force and which included schoolboys and schoolgirls, expressed this quite frankly and district leader Mieling applauded him enthusiastically, expressing his intention to exert himself for the execution of such plans.

Note Von Galen’s call for hardness and firmness against the Nazi persecutors of the Faith.  I think we could use a fair amount of that attitude today in the Church Militant.

Become hard! Remain firm! At this moment we are the anvil rather than the hammer. Other men, mostly strangers and renegades, are hammering us, seeking by violent means to bend our nation, ourselves and our young people aside from their straight relationship with God. We are the anvil and not the hammer. But ask the blacksmith and hear what he says: the object which is forged on the anvil receives its form not alone from the hammer but also from the anvil. The anvil cannot and need not strike back: it must only be firm, only hard! If it is sufficiently tough and firm and hard the anvil usually lasts longer than the hammer. However hard the hammer strikes, the anvil stands quietly and firmly in place and will long continue to shape the objects forged upon it.

Catholicism as an anvil that cannot be destroyed and that will continue to shape the objects forged upon it.  Von Galen knew the history of the Church well, and he knew that those who seek to destroy the Church only end up destroying themselves, while the Church remains.

The anvil represents those who are unjustly imprisoned, those who are driven out and banished for no fault of their own. God will support them, that they may not lose the form and attitude of Christian firmness, when the hammer of persecution strikes its harsh blows and inflicts unmerited wounds on them.

God, always the hope of the persecuted.

It is our religious, the fathers, lay brothers and the sisters, who are now forged on the anvil. The day before yesterday I was able to visit some of those who had been driven out in their temporary accommodation and to speak with them. I was greatly edified and encouraged by the valiant bearing of the good men and the weak and defenceless women, who had been so ruthlessly torn from their convent, from the chapel, from the vicinity of the tabernacle, and who are now going into unjust banishment with their heads held high, in the consciousness of their innocence, trusting in Him who feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field and even joyous in the joy which the Saviour enjoins on His disciples: “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” Verily, these men and women are masterpieces of God’s forging.

Courage as an essential compliment of religious faith, too little talked about today I think.

What is being forged in these days between the hammer and the anvil are our young people — the new generation, which is still unformed, still capable of being shaped, still malleable. We cannot shield them from the hammer-blows of unbelief, of hostility to Christianity, of false doctrines and ethics. What is instilled into them at the meetings of those youth organisations, which we are told they joined voluntarily and with the agreement of their parents? What do they hear in the schools which the children are compelled to attend without regard to the wishes of their parents? What do they read in the new school-books? Christian parents, ask your children to show you these books, particularly the history books used in the secondary schools.

The Nazis are attempting to poison the minds of young Catholics against their Faith.

You will be appalled to see how these books, in complete disregard of historical truth, seek to fill inexperienced children with mistrust of Christianity and the Church, indeed withhatred of the Christian faith.

We see a much milder version of this in too many public school text books in our own country today.

In the favoured state educational establishments, the Hitler schools, the new teachers’ training schools, all Christian influence and even all religious activity are excluded as a matter of principle. And what is happening to the children who were sent last spring to remote parts of the country to escape the air-raids? What religious instruction are they getting? How far can they practice their religion? Christian parents, you must concern yourselves with all this. If you do not, you are neglecting your sacred duties; if you do not, you cannot face your own conscience, nor Him who entrusted the children to you that you might lead them on the way to heaven.

Christians cannot simply sit on their hands as their children are molded by an anti-Christian state.  The first safeguard of Christianity has always been the simple desire of Christian parents to pass on Christianity to their children.

We are the anvil, not the hammer! Unfortunately you cannot shield your children, the noble but still untempered crude metal, from the hammer-blows of hostility to the faith and hostility to the Church. But the anvil also plays a part in forging. Let your family home, your parental love and devotion, your exemplary Christian life be the strong, tough, firm and unbreakable anvil which absorbs the force of the hostile blows, which continually strengthens and fortifies the still weak powers of the young in the sacred resolve not to let themselves be diverted from the direction that leads to God.

Catholics must teach their Faith to their children and strengthen and fortify them in the Faith.

It is we, almost without exception, who are forged in this present time. How many people are dependent — on an occupational pension, on a state pension, on children’s allowances and so on! Who nowadays is still independent, unrestricted master in his own property or business? It may be that, particularly in time of war, strict control and guidance, even the concentration and compulsory direction of products, of production and consumption, is necessary, and who will not readily bear this out of love for his people and his country? But through this follows dependence on many persons and authorities, who not only restrict freedom of action but also bring free independence of sentiments and convictions into grave danger and temptation, as soon as, at the same time, these persons and authorities represent an ideology hostile to Christianity, which they seek to impose on those who are dependent on them. Dependence of this kind is most evident in officials; and what courage, what heroic courage is required of those officials who in spite of all pressure maintain and publicly confess their faith as Christians, as true Catholics!

Here Von Galen highlights one of the great dangers in modern times:  so many people are dependent on the State for their livelihood, that the will to resist is sapped by this dependence.

At this present time we are the anvil, not the hammer! Remain steadfast and firm like the anvil receiving all the blows that rain down on us, in loyal service to our people and country, but also ready at any time to act, in the spirit of supreme sacrifice, in accordance with the precept: “Men must obey God more than men.” Through a conscience formed by faith God speaks to each one of us. Obey always without any doubt the voice of conscience.

Catholics must be ever ready to make the supreme sacrifice in order to obey God rather than men,

Take as your model the old Prussian minister of justice – I have spoken of him before – who was ordered by King Frederick the Great to overturn and alter in accordance with the monarch’s wishes a judgment which he had pronounced in accordance withthe law.  Then this true nobleman, a certain Herr von    Münchhau­sen, gave his king this magnificent answer: “My head is at your majesty’s disposal, but not my conscience.” Thus he wanted to say: I am ready to die for my king; indeed I am obedient to him and shall even accept death at the hands of the hangman. My life belongs to the king, not my conscience, that belongs to God! Is the race of such noblemen, who have this attitude and act in accordance with it, are Prussian officials of this stamp now extinct? Are there no longer any citizens or country people, craftsmen or workers of similar mind? Of similar conscientiousness and nobility of mind? That I cannot and will not believe. And so I say once again: become hard, remain firm, remain steadfast! Like the anvil under the blows of the hammer! It may be that obedience to our God and faithfulness to our conscience may cost me or any of you life, freedom or home. But: “Better to die than to sin!” May the grace of God, without which we can do nothing, grant this unshakeable firmness to you and to me and keep us in it!

This paragraph is very familiar in thought to all English speaking Catholics who honor the memory of Saint Thomas More:

My dear Catholics of Münster! After a bomb had crashed through the aisle of the Cathedral during the night of 7th – 8th July another bomb hit the outer wall and destroyed St Ludger’s Fountain, the monument to the return from banishment of Bishop Johann Bernhard in 1884. The statues of Bishops Suitger and Erpho flanking the monument were badly damaged, but the figure of St. Ludger, apostle of the Münster region and first Bishop of Münster, remained almost unscathed. The undamaged right hand is raised in blessing and pointing to heaven, as if to convey to us through the almost miraculous preservation of the statue this admonition: Whatever may befall, hold firm to the Catholic faith that was revealed by God and handed down by our forefathers! In all the destruction of the works of man, in all trouble and sorrow I address to you the words which the first Pope addressed to the oppressed Chris­tians of his day: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walkethabout, . . . Whom resist steadfast in the faith . . . But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you. To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.”

(1 Peter 5,6-11).

Let us pray for the banished religious orders, for all who must suffer unjustly, for all in trouble, for our soldiers, for Münster and its inhabitants, for our people and country and for its leader.

Blessed Von Galen ends once again by praying for his chief adversary Adolph Hitler.  He recalls the Kulturkampf waged unsuccessfully by Otto von Bismark against the Church in Germany in the Nineteenth Century by his reference to the return from banishment of Bishop Johann Bernhard.  Blessed Von Galen had a truly Catholic view of history.  No matter what the historical travail of the moment, nothing can prevent the Church from carrying out her sacred mission.  Catholics have to suffer much in this world, but they can take deep consolation from the knowledge that the gates of Hell will never prevail against the Church created by Christ.  After this sermon I imagine Blessed Von Galen assumed that he would be tossed into a concentration camp or perhaps summarily executed.  That however was not the case.  Next week we will look at the third of his great anti-Nazi sermons, and one which I believe has special significance for our own time.

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  1. Truly inspiring. Thank you. Thank you also for the video clips from “A Man for all Seasons”.

  2. When we see a Saint in action like Blessed von Galen, John, or Saint Thomas More, we see the heights to which Fallen Man, with the grace of God, can attain, and that is truly inspiring indeed.

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