A Thesis Never Written – Fr. H. A. Reinhold (1945)

Fr. H. A. Reinhold

[From Reinhold’s Timely Tracts in the Catholic journal Orate Fratres]

Bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler

You may put it down as partiality on my part, but I still think that the greatest Catholic social leader of modern ages was Bishop Emmanuel Ketteler. He seized the banner during a time of bloody revolution, unafraid, and worse for him, when his language sounded like “treason to his own class,” to the “bienpensants” Catholics of his age. He had a vision and a sureness (before Leo XIII, mind you) that can but amaze us of a later day. His courage and frankness never defeated wisdom and prudence, nor did the latter ever deteriorate into that circumlocutional ambiguity which goes about draped as caution. In short: he was a man; he was a Christian; he was a bishop. He thirsted after justice. And he was the first one to open his eyes. From him Count de Mun learned and inspired France, Bishop Bagshawe and Cardinal Mermillod and our own great John Lancaster Spalding learned, and the late John A. Ryan was one of his greatest and noblest disciples.

The spark for this Tract was ignited by Fr. George Higgins’ splendid letters for priests engaged in “labor” work. It flared up when I read the off-print of Fr. Joseph F. Donnelly’s article “Working with Workers” (Ecclesiastical Review, July) which he kindly sent me. The explosion was set off into a “Tract” when John Cort’s report on the B2H1-BÍH (Senate 1171, introduced by Senators Burton, Ball and Hatch) showed the danger which threatens organized labor. Then when I read in the New Leader (August 18, 1945) that our poor, poor giant corporations got a $5,700,000,000 handout in tax-reductions from a Congress chafing at the bit to go on vacation, to “encourage” them (poor, spiritless and downtrodden institutions that they are) to undertake reconversion, the lid was really off. Already their working capital is 63% higher than in 1939. I feel it is a duty now to join the feeble choir of outraged protest, even in the “sacred precincts” of a liturgical magazine. I have said it too often already that I am opposed to liturgy in a vacuum. We must face the world and God if we believe in the mediative character of the opas operatam.

Facing this sector of the world whose prime motive is the same as that of the Commissar for Heavy Industries in Moscow, which is production pure and simple for profits impure and complex, I find myself giving way to suspicion and distrust. I happen to be in very good company: Leo XIII and Pius XI had a few things to say about the basic motives of capitalism which to our great entrepreneurs sound too much like Karl Marx for their liking. As one of the big men on a quiet walk at a German spa told me in 1932: “Catholic priests are tiresome radicals in our days. They remind me of smoked ham: outside they are black, inside red.” He was a very devout Catholic, his son a monk (and in disgrace with his father), and decorated too. Don’t let us fool ourselves. These men, the great lords of enterprise, love us only as long as we do not point our searchlight on their machinations which, often accompanied by a curious personal asceticism, a stern ethos of work and personal integrity, are a great sacrifice before the altar of profit.

This brings me to my thesis which I never was able to finish, and which a famous Catholic historian in this country supervised as far as it went. Ketteler was an outstanding figure, as a matter of fact, a giant among his fellows. His courage had gained him a great deal of respect, even among the enemies of the Church. Even Marx’s counterpart in the new socialistic movement, Lasalle, expressed his admiration for him and took him quite seriously.

Reading up on this thesis I found a strange passage in one of the contemporaries which disclosed that Bismarck, Germany’s almighty chancellor, was planning to ask the Holy See to create the office of a German primate and to appoint Bishop Ketteler to this office, He deliberately thought of social reforms with the help of Ketteler’s great social reform ideas. He knew at the time that the great Bishop, who was a member of the Reichstag, was strongly opposed to his Macchiavellian and ruthless principles, to his brutal assertion of Prussia’s hegemony over Germany, and he knew that the Bishop of Mayence had not feared to say so on several occa-, sions. With truly statesmanlike cleverness he hoped to win the Bishop by making the country really a better place to live in and by undoing what rapacious and imperialistic capitalism was doing to the masses.

It is not known whether the “Iron Chancellor” was simply daydreaming or serious in these plans. But even as a daydream it was indicative of the prestige the Church enjoyed in those days, in spite of animosity among Protestants because of the Vatican Council and its aftermath. And it is easy to see that this respect was due to the figure of Bishop Ketteler.

Then two things happened. In their votes in the diet the Catholics cast their lot with labor. Catholic deputies advocated sweeping social reforms. Catholic papers became most critical of the social system. The Church, at least politically, acted as a left-wing force in the newly forged empire, together with hated and feared socialists.

Secondly a depression hit the country after a terrific victory boom, called the “founders’ years” (so many new enterprises were founded). Scandals broke, especially in the big railroad business. Several members of Bismarck’s cabinet were involved ; as a matter of fact, the mud of sordid dealings in shares began to splash the front of Bismarck’s own house. And the men who proposed reform began to expose in the diet and in their papers what was happening behind the people’s backs. Nationalization of railroads was demanded — and later effected.

For years the Chancellor had resisted with scorn and ridicule when his liberalistic and free-enterprise allies and the wealthy bourgeoisie and shallow intelligentsia demanded secularization laws against the Church. He was, in spite of his faults, too smart a prince in Macchiavelli’s sense to fight the Church. He knew Jt would not pay, it would not even make sense. He mocked those fanatical liberals (in the European sense!) who called for the secularization of education and of matrimony and for the exclusion of the Church’s influence. Of course, behind his scorn lay the Macchiavellian idea — Dr. Gurian reminded me of this — that no prince or leader should undervalue the Church as a means of ruling the masses. Show her all respect in public and laugh at her with your intimates. We have to see his plans concerning Ketteler in no other light than Mussolini’s, Napoleon’s, Franco’s or Stalin’s.

But Bismarck made the one and fatal mistake of attacking the Church and waging what history calls the Kulturkampf, only to lose it and t© go into eclipse after this defeat. One must read and re-read contemporary writers to see how he was made to yield by sheer blackmail. As a Prussian Junker he had no love for the Pope, but he did have respect for Ketteler as a fellow noble and a German bishop. The Vatican Council had not made him sour enough to yield to the anti-Catholic forces. As he was a statesman of the Macchiavellian kind, and Bavaria and South Germany had to be won for the new Protestant Reich, the “prince” must show, not have, respect for the Church.

The enemies of the Church needed a depression, scandals, to scare the almighty Chancellor. They had to bring him evidence or pseudo-evidence that men like Ketteler meant business and were willing to join hands with radical socialists to reform society. Then Bismarck forgot the Prince of Machiavelli and attacked the Church, outlawing the socialists at the same time. His idea was to keep the Church so busy with self-defense that, now without allies in the social field, she would have no time for radical social reform.

He followed this master-stroke with another: as the first statesman on the Continent he introduced his government-sponsored social insurance, old age pensions, nationalization of utilities, but distorting all this into a paternalistic undemocratic state machinery which helped to make the people dependent on the State. What had been planned on a democratic and co-operative basis by Bishop Ketteler and his friends as a safeguard of the freedom and dignity of the individual, was thus forged into a government handout and made to serve the true masters of the state: the military, the financial bourbons, the anonymous managers of cartels, the barons of feudal estates, and their servile friends of the intelligentsia.

The worst of the story is that after Bishop Ketteler, Baron Vogelsang, Reichensperger and his other great associates were gone, the Catholics of Germany had lost their great leaders and became, protesting and grumbling at first, a cog in the wheel of imperialistic and plutocratic Germany. Their back had been broken, and they always tried to be 110% Germans after they had been imeared as unpatriotic for twenty years of suffering. No wonder that in 1914 and, after a short and promising revival of Ketteler’s spirit in the early 1920’s, in 1933 they broke down. There was no Ketteler, there were only the epigones of the Kulturkampf, glad to be permitted to live in the full sunshine of government favor. Even when Hitler began to kick them around and to interpret Macchiavelli by showing respect in speeches and laughing at them in actions they were still trying to live down the age-old accusation of being minus-patriots, of being socially subversive and, to add injury to insult, were not even able to live up to their own tenets.

This ought to be remembered as an historical example of what happens to the Church when she sides with the poor and finds a leader who seems to mean what he says. When the celebrating is over, when we have become accustomed to the fact that life is normal again and no ration points needed, when we have learned to look away from the misery the war left in England, France, Belgium, in Europe generally and in Asia, and when we then discover that we are faced with a major political and social crisis in our own land, the same forces that compelled Bismarck to smother Ketteler will be looking for ways and means to make American Catholics see “what is good for them — or else.”

H. A. R.

[Reinhold, H. A.(Hans Ansgar). “Timely Tracts: A Thesis Never Written.” Orate Fratres, vol. 19, no. 11, Oct. 1945, pp. 510–514.]