The Lion of Munster
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 a sermon that he preached at the Cathedral of Saint Victor’s in Xanten, Germany on February 9, 1936, long before the three sermons that he preached in 1941 which made him famous around the globe. Prior examinations of his 1941 sermons may be read here, here and here.
I have just consecrated a new altar in your venerable and splendid cathedral,in a small space deep beneath the choir. But why? Your church is already so richly endowed with altars.
Beginning a sermon with a question is an approach that I wish more priests and bishops would use. It engages the minds of the listeners from the outset.
You know the answer. The researches of the past few years have given proof that there below us lies a holy and particularly venerable place. Not only has the tradition been substantiated, according to which several previous churches were said to stand on the site of this present church, the oldest of them dating back to the time of the martyrs, to the fourth century A.D. We are also provided with fresh evidence that holy martyrs, who with their blood bore witness to Christ, were interred here, to await the resurrection. We believe in the resurrection of the body. Christ’s words have given us this promise: The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God. Whosoever does not
believe in the independent life of the individual soul, in its continued existence after the death of the body, in its reunification with the bodyand in life everlasting, this man is no true Christian. We hold these beliefs, because we believe in Christ, who is the truth. Because we hold fast to the beliefs of the Apostles and of our Christian forebears. The entire history of your city, speaking to you through the its towering churches, which are monuments in stone, proclaiming itself in the stones found lying beneath them, is evidence of our faith.
The martyrs have always been the human bedrock for Catholicism, from Saint Stephen, the first of the ever glorious martyrs, to our own day with the recent martyrdom of the brave Shahbaz Bhatti. Continue reading
Neither praise nor threats will distance me from God.
Blessed Clemens von Galen
The Nazis hated and feared Clemens August Graf von Galen in life and no doubt they still hate and fear him, at least those now enjoying the amenities of some of the less fashionable pits of Hell. Going into Lent, I am strongly encouraged by the story of Blessed von Galen. I guess one could come up with a worse situation than being a Roman Catholic bishop in Nazi Germany in 1941, and confronting a merciless anti-Christian dictatorship that was diametrically opposed to the Truth of Christ, but that would certainly do for enough of a challenge for one lifetime for anyone. (Hitler privately denounced Christianity as a Jewish superstition and looked forward after the War to “settling accounts”, as he put it, with Christianity in general and Roman Catholicism in particular.)
Priests who spoke out against the Third Reich were being rounded up and shipped off to concentration camps. What was a bishop to do in the face of such massive evil? Well, for the Bishop of Munster, Clemens von Galen, there could be only one answer.
A German Count, von Galen was from one of the oldest aristocratic families in Westphalia. Always a German patriot, the political views of von Galen would have made my own conservatism seem a pale shade of pink in comparison. Prior to becoming a bishop, he was sometimes criticized for a haughty attitude and being unbending. He was chosen Bishop of Munster in 1933 only after other candidates, no doubt recognizing what a dangerous position it would be with the Nazis now in power, had turned it down. I am certain it did not hurt that he was an old friend of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII.
Von Galen immediately demonstrated that he had not agreed to become Bishop of Munster in order to avoid danger. He successfully led a fight against the Nazi attempt to take over Catholic schools, citing article 21 of the Concordat between the Vatican and Nazi Germany. He then began a campaign, often using humor and ridicule, against the Aryan racial doctrines proposed by Alfred Rosenberg, chief Nazi race theorist, and a man even some high level Nazis thought was little better than a crank. Von Galen argued that Christianity totally rejected racial differences as determining how groups should be treated, and that all men and women were children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ. The Bishop spoke out against Nazi attacks on the “Jewish Old Testament” stating that Holy Writ was Holy Writ and that the Bible could not be altered to suit current prejudices.
In early 1937 he was summoned by Pope Pius XI to confer with him on an encyclical in German, highly unusual for an encyclical not to be written in Latin as the primary language, that the Pope was in the process of drafting. The encyclical was the blistering Mit Brennender Sorge (With Burning Heart) that the Pope ordered be read out in every parish in Germany on Palm Sunday 1937. A head long assault on almost every aspect of National Socialism, it may be read here.
The language in the encyclical was blunt, direct and no doubt benefited from von Galen’s input and his experience from the battles he was waging with the Nazis. Continue reading