It is the 10th of June 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1930. The whole world was reeling after the U.S. stock market crashed in October of the previous year. The coming decades would call into question the new liberal order, with economic disasters interrupted by national and international conflicts.
However, the creatives would not stop creating. 1930 saw the debut of the following: Mickey Mouse, Looney Tunes, Scotch Tape, Neoprene, the Twinkie, and the chocolate chip cookie. So, a lousy year in some respects, but restlessness can cause innovation.
In 1930 Pope Pius XI published his encyclical “Castii Conubi.” This Latin phrase means “of chaste wedlock.” The Pope used this document to reaffirm the church’s doctrine of marriage as well as its opposition to birth control and abortion. The document furthermore stated that on matters of morals, the state was to follow the direction of the church. Pope Pious would go on sign several controversial concordats with the Nazi Reich, before finally condemning Nazism in his German encyclopedic “Mitt Brennender Sorge.”
Germany was in the age of the Weimar Republic, a remarkably liberal and permissive society. It would eventually be used by some to explain the economic and supposed social decay. By 1930, the Germans had accepted the Dawes Plan, a refinancing plan for paying back its war reparations. The French had taken the Ruhr Valley, thus further crippling the German manufacturing sector.
Widespread unrest bubbled over in the German Federal Elections of 1930. The national socialists, led by Adolf Hitler, took 18% of the vote and became the second-largest bloc in the Reichstag. The question of what to do with Hitler and Germany would riddle international actors for the next decade. We will return to the German context in just a moment.
1930 saw the births of several remarkable people. A few such as Clint Eastwood, Buzz Aldrin, Stephen Sondheim, and Gene Hackman are still alive today. These living gentlemen overlapped with a few famous folks who died in this year. Acclaimed author D.H. Lawrence died in 1930, as did former President and Supreme Court Justice William Howard Taft. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle also died in 1930.
And it was on this, the 10th of June in 1930, that the theologian Adolf Von Harnack died. The controversial German theologian would be hailed as an innovator by some and derided as a heretic by others. He was probably a little bit of both. Harnack was born in 1851 to Theodosius and Anna. He had a twin brother called Axel. And would it not have been for Hitler, Adolf and Axel have been a great name for a buddy-cop procedural.
Theodosius was a Luther scholar and encouraged his son’s inquiry into church history and Biblical studies. Adolf received his Ph.D. and first job at Leipzig. It is here he began his work on the history of Christian Dogma. He left the confessionalism of his father and challenged long-held beliefs about the Apostles Creed and the Gospel of John. He questioned how a free academic could be forced into the structures developed by the church over time. Harnack became a kind of cause celeb and was eventually confirmed to a post at the University of Berlin, but only after Emperor Willhelm upheld his appointment.
While his historical methods leave something to be desired, his significant contribution was his large-scale church history that, if nothing else, revealed the range of disparate beliefs and practices throughout the church over time. Harnack also caused waves when he signed the Manifesto of the 93. This document affirmed the military actions of Germany during WW1. His seeming capitulation to the state towards the end of his life caused many, including his former student Karl Barth, to reject him, as well as his modernist and accommodationist theology. In some ways, the Neo-orthodox movement was birthed out of this dispute between Harnack and Barth. Harnack served as an inquiring mind in the church, a theological nuisance to others, and certainly a bridge in the history of doctrine from 19th c. Romantic modernism to Neo-orthodoxy of the 20th c. and the rejection of old theological liberalism. Born in 1851, Adolf Von Harnack died on this, the 10th of June, in 1930. He was 79 years old.
The reading for today comes from the Novelist and Pastor Frederick Buechner, who was still alive and born three years before the events on today’s show. This reading comes from his “The Clown in the Belfry: Writings on Faith and Fiction.”
“Turn around and believe that the good news that we are loved is better than we ever dared hope, and that to believe in that good news, to live out of it and toward it, to be in love with that good news, is of all glad things in this world the gladdest thing of all. Amen, and come Lord Jesus.”
― Frederick Buechner, The Clown in the Belfry: Writings on Faith and Fiction
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 10th of June 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man hailed as an innovator and derided as a heretic, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.