Sunday, June 26, 2011

Transforming the World through Corpus Christi

"Without illusions, without ideological utopias, we walk the streets of the world, bringing within us the Body of the Lord, like the Virgin Mary in the mystery of the Visitation."
-- Pope Benedict, Solemnity of Corpus Christi 2011


See also the Homily of Pope Benedict at Vita Nostra in Ecclesia.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

German Priest-Martyrs Beatified

Hamburg, Germany, Jun 25, 2011 / 12:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News) - Three Catholic martyrs executed under the Nazi regime were beatified in Germany today, June 25. The event was also noteworthy for its rememberance of their Lutheran companion.

Fathers Hermann Lange, Eduard Müller and Johannes Prassek, along with Lutheran pastor Karl Friedrich Stellbrink, were guillotined in a Hamburg prison in November 1943. The Nazi regime found them guilty of “defeatism, malice, favoring the enemy and listening to enemy broadcasts.” . . .

“What distinguishes these four also is the fact that in the face of National-Socialist despotism they overcame the divide between the two faiths to find a common path to fight and act together,” says the official history which accompanied the ceremony. . . .

The official history recounts that the men would copy and distribute the anti-Nazi sermons of Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen of the Catholic Diocese of Munster.

“They felt, like many others, the liberating tone of these sermons, which broke the silence and proclaimed aloud the thoughts many had in their hearts, when the Nazi action for the ‘destruction of unworthy lives’ began, the euthanasia of innocent mentally retarded persons,” the history says.

Read more here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Conscience of Sir Thomas More
The King's Good Servant, but God's First

Today, June 22, is the feast day for St. Thomas More, Patron of the Diocese of Arlington.

The life and martyrdom of Saint Thomas More have been the source of a message which spans the centuries and which speaks to people everywhere of the inalienable dignity of the human conscience. . . . Whenever men or women heed the call of truth, their conscience then guides their actions reliably towards good. Precisely because of the witness which he bore, even at the price of his life, to the primacy of truth over power, Saint Thomas More is venerated as an imperishable example of moral integrity. . . .

Highly esteemed by everyone for his unfailing moral integrity, sharpness of mind, his open and humorous character, and his extraordinary learning, in 1529 at a time of political and economic crisis in the country he was appointed by the King to the post of Lord Chancellor. . . . In 1532, not wishing to support Henry VIII’s intention to take control of the Church in England, he resigned. He withdrew from public life, resigning himself to suffering poverty with his family and being deserted by many people who, in the moment of trial, proved to be false friends.

Given his inflexible firmness in rejecting any compromise with his own conscience, in 1534 the King had him imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he was subjected to various kinds of psychological pressure. Thomas More did not allow himself to waver, and he refused to take the oath requested of him, since this would have involved accepting a political and ecclesiastical arrangement that prepared the way for uncontrolled despotism. At his trial, he made an impassioned defence of his own convictions on the indissolubility of marriage, the respect due to the juridical patrimony of Christian civilization, and the freedom of the Church in her relations with the State. Condemned by the Court, he was beheaded.

There are many reasons for proclaiming Thomas More Patron of statesmen and people in public life. Among these is the need felt by the world of politics and public administration for credible role models able to indicate the path of truth at a time in history when difficult challenges and crucial responsibilities are increasing. Today in fact strongly innovative economic forces are reshaping social structures; on the other hand, scientific achievements in the area of biotechnology underline the need to defend human life at all its different stages, while the promises of a new society — successfully presented to a bewildered public opinion — urgently demand clear political decisions in favour of the family, young people, the elderly and the marginalized.

In this context, it is helpful to turn to the example of Saint Thomas More, who distinguished himself by his constant fidelity to legitimate authority and institutions precisely in his intention to serve not power but the supreme ideal of justice. . . .

What enlightened his conscience was the sense that man cannot be sundered from God, nor politics from morality. As I have already had occasion to say, "man is created by God, and therefore human rights have their origin in God, are based upon the design of creation and form part of the plan of redemption. One might even dare to say that the rights of man are also the rights of God" (Speech, 7 April 1998).

And it was precisely in defence of the rights of conscience that the example of Thomas More shone brightly. . . .

In the Constitution Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council notes how in the world today there is "a growing awareness of the matchless dignity of the human person, who is superior to all else and whose rights and duties are universal and inviolable" (No. 26). The life of Saint Thomas More clearly illustrates a fundamental truth of political ethics. The defence of the Church’s freedom from unwarranted interference by the State is at the same time a defence, in the name of the primacy of conscience, of the individual’s freedom vis-à-vis political power. Here we find the basic principle of every civil order consonant with human nature.
-- Blessed Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Proclaiming Saint Thomas More Patron of Statesmen and Politicians

"Since the court has determined to condemn me, God knoweth how, I will now discharge my mind concerning the indictment and the King's title. The indictment is grounded in an Act of Parliament which is directly repugnant to the law of God and His Holy Church. The supreme government of which no temperable person may by any law presume to take upon him. This was granted by the mouth of our Saviour, Christ Himself to St. Peter and the bishops of Rome whilst He lived and was personally present here on earth. It is therefore insufficient in law to charge any Christian to obey it. And more than this, the immunity of the Church is promised both in Magna Carta and in the King's own coronation oath. . . . I am the King's true subject, and pray for him and all the realm. I do none harm, I say none harm, I think none harm. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive, then in good faith I long not to live. Nevertheless, it is not for the supremacy that you have sought my blood, but because I would not bend to the marriage!"
-- Speech of Sir Thomas More, A Man for All Seasons

See also, Address of Pope Benedict at Westminster Hall, site of the trial of St. Thomas More

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Other Views on Conscience:
Thoreau on Civil Disobedience

Before the White Rose, there had been a history of leafleteers, pampleteers, and essayists seeking to arouse the consciousness and conscience of a people to fight against the wrong and for the good. In the face of those who simplisticly say, "the law is the law, the rules are the rules" and on that basis alone mindlessly comply no matter how irrational or unjust, these writers have said "no, not every 'law' is owed a duty of submission. An unjust law is no law at all."

I don't know that Hans or Sophie Scholl, or any other members of the White Rose, ever knew of, much less read, the writings of people like Henry David Thoreau or various abolitionists or those who rebelled against the English crown, like Thomas Paine. But it is still interesting to consider their thoughts and words on the matter of conscience and resistance to unjust laws and other civil/social evils.

Resistance to Civil Government
Henry David Thoreau (1849)

A government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it. Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience? — in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.

A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power? . . .

How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it. I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave's government also.

All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable. But almost all say that such is not the case now. But such was the case, they think, in the Revolution of '75. If one were to tell me that this was a bad government because it taxed certain foreign commodities brought to its ports, it is most probable that I should not make an ado about it, for I can do without them. All machines have their friction; and possibly this does enough good to counterbalance the evil. At any rate, it is a great evil to make a stir about it. But when the friction comes to have its machine, and oppression and robbery are organized, I say, let us not have such a machine any longer. In other words, when a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize. What makes this duty the more urgent is the fact that the country so overrun is not our own, but ours is the invading army. . . .

There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them; who, esteeming themselves children of Washington and Franklin, sit down with their hands in their pockets, and say that they know not what to do, and do nothing; who even postpone the question of freedom to the question of free-trade, and quietly read the prices-current along with the latest advices from Mexico, after dinner, and, it may be, fall asleep over them both. What is the price-current of an honest man and patriot to-day? They hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to regret. At most, they give only a cheap vote . . .

I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. . . .

It is not a man's duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support. If I devote myself to other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I do not pursue them sitting upon another man's shoulders. I must get off him first, that he may pursue his contemplations too. . . .

Those who, while they disapprove of the character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and support are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform. Some [abolitionists] are petitioning the State to dissolve the Union, to disregard the requisitions of the President. Why do they not dissolve it themselves — the union between themselves and the State — and refuse to pay their quota into its treasury? . . .

Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them? . . .

If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go; perchance it will wear smooth — certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.

As for adopting the ways which the State has provided for remedying the evil, I know not of such ways. They take too much time, and a man's life will be gone. I have other affairs to attend to. I came into this world, not chiefly to make this a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad. A man has not everything to do, but something; and because he cannot do everything, it is not necessary that he should do something wrong. It is not my business to be petitioning the Governor or the Legislature any more than it is theirs to petition me; and if they should not hear my petition, what should I do then? But in this case the State has provided no way; its very Constitution is the evil. This may seem to be harsh and stubborn and unconciliatory; but it is to treat with the utmost kindness and consideration the only spirit that can appreciate or deserves it. . . .

I do not hesitate to say, that those who call themselves Abolitionists should at once effectually withdraw their support, both in person and property, from the government of Massachusetts, and not wait till they constitute a majority of one, before they suffer the right to prevail through them. I think that it is enough if they have God on their side, without waiting for that other one. Moreover, any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already. . . .

I know this well, that if one thousand, if one hundred, if ten men whom I could name — if ten honest men only — ay, if one HONEST man, in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to withdraw from this copartnership, and be locked up in the county jail therefor, it would be the abolition of slavery in America. For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever. But we love better to talk about it: that we say is our mission. . . .

Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. The proper place to-day, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less desponding spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles. . . .

If any think that their influence would be lost there, and their voices no longer afflict the ear of the State, that they would not be as an enemy within its walls, they do not know by how much truth is stronger than error, nor how much more eloquently and effectively he can combat injustice who has experienced a little in his own person. Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose. If a thousand men were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. . . . But even suppose blood should flow. Is there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded? Through this wound a man's real manhood and immortality flow out, and he bleeds to an everlasting death. I see this blood flowing now. . . .

I have paid no poll-tax for six years. I was put into a jail once on this account, for one night; and, as I stood considering the walls of solid stone, two or three feet thick, the door of wood and iron, a foot thick, and the iron grating which strained the light, I could not help being struck with the foolishness of that institution which treated me as if I were mere flesh and blood and bones, to be locked up. . . . I did not for a moment feel confined, and the walls seemed a great waste of stone and mortar. . . . Thus the State never intentionally confronts a man's sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. . . . (emphasis added)
Are these words of Thoreau consistent with Catholic understanding of the conscience and the obligation therefrom to follow or resist governmental authority?

Do they lean too much toward anarchy in saying that even majority-rule government should be resisted when wrong, rather than one merely resorting to the democratic process of elections? Do his words advocate too much for an arbitrary individual autonomy that believes it can choose its own good and evil?

Or does Thoreau strike the right balance between giving unto Caesar what is Caesar's, but giving unto God what is God's, even when a large number of our fellow citizens, even a majority, has chosen to give to Caesar what belongs to God?


See also --
Confronting Injustice With Christian Direct Action
Martin Luther King, Letter from the Birmingham Jail

Of timely interest, see also this --
5 more arrested, accused of feeding homeless in Orlando

Friday, June 17, 2011

Human Life and the Obligation of Conscience

Sophie Scholl and the White Rose confronted the great evil that was National Socialism.

Despite the cries of "never again" after World War II, there are some who seem to think that Hitler and the Nazis so epitomized evil that if a situation does not rise to the level of exterminating six million Jews and millions of others, then it is not really so great an evil. As such, they acquiesce in any number of horrors and "never again" becomes "once again" because, although we might not live in a totalitarian regime such as Nazi Germany, as has been said here repeatedly, there are other evils in the world, other attacks on the inherent dignity of the human person.

What are these "other evils"?

Among other things, practically the entirety of what was a few years ago called the "New Biology," from frozen embryos to embryo-killing stem cell research to other embryo and fetal experimentation to attempted human cloning to organ harvesting to baby selling to the medicalized "aid in dying" of euthanasia, assisted suicide, and withholding of care, to eugenics to, of course, abortion, including abortifacient pills (falsely called emergency "contraception") and that species of death which nearly fully delivers the baby before jamming a pair of pointed scissors into the baby's skull and sucking her brains out to collapse the head, which, as gruesome as that is, still nevertheless leaves militant advocates for abortion. All of these, and more, contribute to a culture of death -- death not only of the physical body, but death of conscience and death of the soul, and eventually death of society itself.

At one point in time, they were all recognized for the immoral and evil attacks on the sanctity of life that they are (especially since many of these things were pursued under that same Nazi Germany that perpetrated the Holocaust - Rudolph Hess said in 1934 that "National Socialism is nothing but applied biology"). But no longer. Today's bioethics fully embraces as virtuous that which was rejected yesterday as reprehensible. Today's bioethics experts
"produce evermore sophisticated rationalizations for turning the unthinkable into the routinely doable. The prohibited becomes the permissible becomes the expected. 'But that would be murder!' is an objection that loses its force the second time around." (Richard John Neuhaus, "The War Against Reason," National Review, Dec. 18, 1987)
However, despite the imprimatur given by bioethics "experts," despite the legal approval of judges and legislators and politicians, there is a higher law than their utilitarianism, than their law of the supremacy of the will. That higher law, which is knowable to all by reason and good conscience, is objective moral truth, including the inalienable diginity of the human person -- that all human beings are inherently equal and entitled to be respected as persons, subjects, and ends in themselves, and not as things, objects, means, or resources to be manipulated by others, regardless of stage of development, cognitive ability, "quality of life," or contribution to society.

Unfortunately, sense of the higher law has been largely lost by our legal system because sense of transcendental Truth has been ignored in favor of a utilitarianism, enforced and protected by positive human "law," that appeals to the will and considers truth and human life to be merely values to be weighed in the equation of what adds or subtracts from another's pleasure. But the unjust statutory and judicial "law" decreeing the wholesale violation of fundamental human dignity is no law at all. And we have a duty under the higher law, as a matter of good conscience, to oppose and resist the evils of today: the attacks, in thought and deed, on the instrinsic dignity, value, and sanctity of human life.

Evangelium Vitae
Blessed Pope John Paul II
21. When the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life; in turn, the systematic violation of the moral law, especially in the serious matter of respect for human life and its dignity, produces a kind of progressive darkening of the capacity to discern God's living and saving presence. . . .

23. The criterion of personal dignity -- which demands respect, generosity and service -- is replaced by the criterion of efficiency, functionality and usefulness: others are considered not for what they "are," but for what they "have, do and produce." This is the supremacy of the strong over the weak.

24. It is at the heart of the moral conscience that the eclipse of the sense of God and of man, with all its various and deadly consequences for life, is taking place. It is a question, above all, of the individual conscience, as it stands before God in its singleness and uniqueness. But it is also a question, in a certain sense, of the "moral conscience" of society: in a way it too is responsible, not only because it tolerates or fosters behavior contrary to life, but also because it encourages the "culture of death," creating and consolidating actual "structures of sin" which go against life.

The moral conscience, both individual and social, is today subjected, also as a result of the penetrating influence of the media, to an extremely serious and mortal danger: that of confusion between good and evil, precisely in relation to the fundamental right to life. A large part of contemporary society looks sadly like that humanity which Paul describes in his Letter to the Romans. It is composed "of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth" (1:18): having denied God and believing that they can build the earthly city without him, "they became futile in their thinking" so that "their senseless minds were darkened" (1:21); "claiming to be wise, they became fools" (1:22), carrying out works deserving of death, and "they not only do them but approve those who practice them" (1:32).

When conscience, this bright lamp of the soul (cf. Mt 6:22-23), calls "evil good and good evil" (Is 5:20), it is already on the path to the most alarming corruption and the darkest moral blindness. . . .

28. This situation, with its lights and shadows, ought to make us all fully aware that we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the "culture of death" and the "culture of life." We find ourselves not only "faced with" but necessarily "in the midst of" this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life. . . .

Nothing helps us so much to face positively the conflict between death and life in which we are engaged as faith in the Son of God who became man and dwelt among men so "that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10). It is a matter of faith in the Risen Lord, who has conquered death; faith in the blood of Christ "that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel" (Heb 12:24). . . .

71. Certainly the purpose of civil law is different and more limited in scope than that of the moral law. But "in no sphere of life can the civil law take the place of conscience or dictate norms concerning things which are outside its competence," which is that of ensuring the common good of people through the recognition and defense of their fundamental rights, and the promotion of peace and of public morality.

The real purpose of civil law is to guarantee an ordered social coexistence in true justice, so that all may "lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way" (1 Tim 2:2). Precisely for this reason, civil law must ensure that all members of society enjoy respect for certain fundamental rights which innately belong to the person, rights which every positive law must recognize and guarantee. First and fundamental among these is the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being. . . .

In the Encyclical Pacem in Terris, John XXIII pointed out that
"it is generally accepted today that the common good is best safeguarded when personal rights and duties are guaranteed. The chief concern of civil authorities must therefore be to ensure that these rights are recognized, respected, co-ordinated, defended and promoted, and that each individual is enabled to perform his duties more easily. For ‘to safeguard the inviolable rights of the human person, and to facilitate the performance of his duties, is the principal duty of every public authority.’ Thus any government which refused to recognize human rights or acted in violation of them, would not only fail in its duty; its decrees would be wholly lacking in binding force."
72. The doctrine on the necessary conformity of civil law with the moral law is in continuity with the whole tradition of the Church. This is clear once more from John XXIII's Encyclical:
"Authority is a postulate of the moral order and derives from God. Consequently, laws and decrees enacted in contravention of the moral order, and hence of the divine will, can have no binding force in conscience...; indeed, the passing of such laws undermines the very nature of authority and results in shameful abuse."
This is the clear teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who writes that
"human law is law inasmuch as it is in conformity with right reason and thus derives from the eternal law. But when a law is contrary to reason, it is called an unjust law; but in this case it ceases to be a law and becomes instead an act of violence."
And again:
"Every law made by man can be called a law insofar as it derives from the natural law. But if it is somehow opposed to the natural law, then it is not really a law but rather a corruption of the law."
Now the first and most immediate application of this teaching concerns a human law which disregards the fundamental right and source of all other rights which is the right to life, a right belonging to every individual. . . . Disregard for the right to life, precisely because it leads to the killing of the person whom society exists to serve, is what most directly conflicts with the possibility of achieving the common good. . . .

74. The passing of unjust laws often raises difficult problems of conscience for morally upright people with regard to the issue of cooperation, since they have a right to demand not to be forced to take part in morally evil actions.

Sometimes the choices which have to be made are difficult; they may require the sacrifice of prestigious professional positions or the relinquishing of reasonable hopes of career advancement. In other cases, it can happen that carrying out certain actions, which are provided for by legislation that overall is unjust, but which in themselves are indifferent, or even positive, can serve to protect human lives under threat. There may be reason to fear, however, that willingness to carry out such actions will not only cause scandal and weaken the necessary opposition to attacks on life, but will gradually lead to further capitulation to a mentality of permissiveness.

In order to shed light on this difficult question, it is necessary to recall the general principles concerning cooperation in evil actions. Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law.

Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. Such cooperation occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it. This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it. Each individual in fact has moral responsibility for the acts which he personally performs; no one can be exempted from this responsibility, and on the basis of it everyone will be judged by God himself (cf. Rom 2:6; 14:12).

To refuse to take part in committing an injustice is not only a moral duty; it is also a basic human right. Were this not so, the human person would be forced to perform an action intrinsically incompatible with human dignity, and in this way human freedom itself, the authentic meaning and purpose of which are found in its orientation to the true and the good, would be radically compromised. What is at stake therefore is an essential right which, precisely as such, should be acknowledged and protected by civil law.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Roland Freisler

One reason that Sophie Scholl: The Final Days is so good is that, unlike most movies about World War II Germany, it does not portray the Germans as cartoon characters, but instead in a more realistic, life-like manner. There is one exception though -- Roland Freisler, the judge of the People's Court, which condemned Hans and Sophie Scholl and other members of the White Rose. In the film, the actor gives an over-the-top, oafish, bombastic, cartoon-like performance because that is what the actual Freisler was like in real life.

We have discussed how sometimes we might allow our consciences to go to sleep or we might otherwise have difficulty confronting the evil that is before us. But that should not have been a problem with respect to the screams and ravings of "Judge" Roland Freisler and the farce of justice that was dispensed in the People's Court.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Slumbering Conscience

We must not be like the vast numbers of otherwise good people in Nazi Germany. We must not allow our consciences to sleep, so as to not recognize or otherwise ignore the evil that might come upon us. We must remain awake and watchful and vigilant so that we can plainly see the evil confronting us and hear the voice of conscience and encouragement within us to fight that evil.

Read more at Vita Nostra in Ecclesia.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Conscience at Pentecost

Lord, you insist on sincerity of heart; in my inmost being teach me wisdom. Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me, make me whiter than snow.

Create a pure heart in me, God, put a steadfast spirit into me. Do not send me away from your presence, or withdraw your Holy Spirit from me; give me again the joy of your salvation, and be ready to strengthen me with your Spirit.
(Ps. 51:8-9, 12-14)
At the Ascension, speaking of Pentecost, Jesus said, "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses." By this, Jesus called us to be a light of truth to the world. But although we may find that light within us, we do not create the light, God Himself is the Light, and as His witnesses, we merely allow Him to shine through us, and He provides the grace for us to be able to do that.

It has been said below that one cannot, in all good conscience, acquiesce or do nothing in the face of evil, much less give into and cooperate with it, but must instead oppose it. And one cannot justify doing that which is objectively evil by insisting that such conduct does not violate his “conscience,” as if he could choose or create his own conscience. After all, one such as Adolf Hitler could in all sincerity assert that his conscience was not bothered at all by his actions. Indeed, many of the true believers of the Nazi regime believed that what they were doing was virtuous. But that is not the conscience, that is the will.

Over at Vita Nostra in Ecclesia, we consider how discerning right from wrong, good from evil, is not always so easy. Sometimes it can be very difficult. And even when it is clear, sometimes listening to the voice of conscience and resisting evil can be difficult because it might bring with it adverse consequences, it might cost you your life, as it did with Sophie Scholl and other members of the White Rose who sought to be a light and witness of truth to a darkened Germany.

But God does not leave us alone to fend for ourselves in seeking to live our lives in the light of truth and in fighting against the darkness of evil.

Rather, as His Holiness Pope John Paul II taught in Dominum et Vivificantem, He has sent us the Holy Spirit to guide us, to be a light for our conscience and the grace of fortitude to follow it.

On this day of Pentecost, as we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, please go over to Vita Nostra in Ecclesia to learn more.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Faith, Hope, and Love, and the Conscience of Sophie Scholl

If we have a love of truth, rather than a self-centered will, then we open ourselves to the transcendent, we open ourselves to God. And if we place our faith in God, rather than placing our faith in un-Godly men and things, then we will have hope, a trustworthy expectation that harm will not prevail over us, rather than despairing that all is lost.

The hunger for truth in love is something present within all of us because it is imprinted upon our very nature, by God, to love and be loved in truth, to do what is right and good and avoid evil, even if some people act to the contrary. These theological virtues of faith, hope, and love also open us up to grace, the power of God Himself. Grace-infused faith, hope, and love provide the fortitude to listen to that voice of conscience within us and to actually do the right thing.

Conscience is not the same as one’s opinions or feelings, rather, it is a judgment of reason in the application of objective moral truth to a particular case. The word "conscience" comes from the Latin "con-scientia," meaning "with knowledge." Knowledge of what? Knowledge of something other than ourselves, something that is beyond the self -- knowledge of truth, knowledge of the voice of He who is Truth itself, the God who exhorts us to love in truth.

One cannot justify his conduct merely by saying that, because he does not feel bad or think it wrong, such conduct does not violate his “conscience,” as if he could choose or create his own conscience. That is not the conscience, that is the will.

The Nazi leader Hermann Goring proclaimed, "my conscience is Adolf Hitler." Others proclaim, "my conscience is myself." But the foundation of conscience is not man, but God.

Rightly understood, conscience is not the voice of self, but the voice of God within our hearts, our very souls, it is the light which is given us so that we might make our way in the dark. In this, God speaks even to the hearts of atheists and, if they are otherwise of good faith, they can hear Him even if they do not realize that it is His voice speaking to them.

We ourselves are not the light, God is the Light. The task of conscience is not to create moral truth, but to perceive it. The judgment of conscience does not establish the law or decide for itself what is right or wrong; rather it bears witness to the authority of the natural law, it is the voice of Truth within the person calling him to act in conformance with truth, to do good and avoid evil.

A good conscience does not restrict human freedom, but instead calls a person to genuine freedom in truth, for only in truth will one be set free. A poorly formed "conscience" is not one that is "with knowledge," but is instead one that is "with ignorance." So the obligation to follow one’s conscience is an obligation to follow a good conscience, one that is "with knowledge" of transcendent truth, and not a bad or erroneous or malformed counterfeit "conscience."

In journeying through life, now and then we come to a crossroads and must choose between the good or the evil. When confronted with evil, we have an obligation in conscience, written as law upon our hearts, to do the good and resist and fight the evil. One cannot stand idly by in the face of evil. To simply go along and avoid having to confront evil can quickly become cooperation with evil, especially since evil often will not leave you alone, but will demand your involvement and approval. Many otherwise "good" Germans merely went along with the Nazis, afraid of the consequences if they were to resist that evil, but not Sophie Scholl.

Her love of what is right and good and just, building on rock by placing her faith in God, rather than in a twisted anti-God despot whose hatred for the inherent dignity of man offered only the hopelessness of Hell to the people of the world, gave Sophie the grace and fortitude to defiantly shine the light of truth on the evils of the Nazi regime. Inspired by the words of Blessed John Henry Newman, Blessed Clemens August von Galen, Catholic Bishop of Münster, and other Catholic scholars and thinkers, Sophie sought to awaken the conscience of the German people so that they might liberate themselves from the great evil of Adolf Hitler and National Socialism.

In her activity with the White Rose, and at her interrogation and trial, from her faith, hope, and love, we see in Sophie Scholl a whole panoply of virtue and grace and beatitude at play, from justice, fortitude, prudence, and temperance, to wisdom, counsel, knowledge, understanding, piety, and fear of the Lord, to goodness, kindness, faithfulness, joy, and peace, to being poor in spirit and mournful, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and persecuted for that righteousness’ sake.

This is a good lesson to learn. Although we might not live in a totalitarian regime such as Nazi Germany, there are other evils in the world, other attacks on the inherent dignity of the human person.

Can we, in all good conscience, do nothing or merely go along? Or should we, like Sophie, be a light to a dark world?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Young Joseph Ratzinger in Nazi Germany

During his visit to the United States, Pope Benedict spoke of his experiences growing up under the Nazi regime.

My own years as a teenager were marred by a sinister regime that thought it had all the answers; its influence grew – infiltrating schools and civic bodies, as well as politics and even religion – before it was fully recognized for the monster it was. It banished God and thus became impervious to anything true and good. Many of your grandparents and great-grandparents will have recounted the horror of the destruction that ensued. Indeed, some of them came to America precisely to escape such terror.

Let us thank God that today many people of your generation are able to enjoy the liberties which have arisen through the extension of democracy and respect for human rights. Let us thank God for all those who strive to ensure that you can grow up in an environment that nurtures what is beautiful, good, and true: your parents and grandparents, your teachers and priests, those civic leaders who seek what is right and just.

Death of Conscience in a Culture of Death

Nazi Germany is not the only place in human history where people suffered from death of conscience. There have been other evils in the world, other attacks on the inherent dignity of the human person. One of those places is here, the United States, with too many people have used a suicide machine on their consciences in going along with or even supporting convicted murderer Jack Kevorkian's salacious revelry in death. He was given a hero's send-off in his funeral today.

Dr. Death helped to kill over 100 people with his devices that delivered medical poison to his victims who had themselves ignored that voice of objective moral truth about the inherent dignity, value, and sanctity of all human life. And thus, the "never again" of the child euthanasia and T-4 programs of 1930s-40s Germany has become "once again."

But the evil promoted by Kevorkian did not die with him, and will not be buried with him. The culture of death continues apace.

Sophie Scholl in Her Own Words

It isn't easy to banish all thoughts of the war. Although I don’t know much about politics and have no ambition to do so, I do have some idea of right and wrong, because that has nothing to do with politics and nationality. And I could weep at how mean people are, in high-level politics as well, and how they betray their fellow creatures, perhaps for the sake of personal advantage. It is enough to make a person lose heart sometimes. I often wish I lived on a Robinson Crusoe island.

There are times when I dread the war and feel like giving up hope completely. I hate thinking about it, but politics are almost all there is, and as long as they're so confused and nasty, it's cowardly to turn your back on them. You're probably smiling at this and telling yourself “She's a girl.” – Letter to Fritz Hartnagel, April 1940

The only remedy for a barren heart is prayer, however poor and inadequate. As I did that night at Blumberg, I'll keep on repeating it for us both: We must pray, and pray for each other, and if you were here, I'd fold hands with you, because we're poor, weak, sinful children. Oh, Fritz, if I can't write anything else just now, it's only because there's a terrible absurdity about a drowning man who, instead of calling for help, launches into a scientific, philosophical, or theological dissertation while the sinister tentacles of the creatures on the seabed are encircling his arms and legs, and the waves are breaking over him. It's only because I'm filled with fear, that and nothing else, and feel an undivided yearning for him who can relieve me of it. – Letter to Fritz

When I was able to get home it first hit me that you had left and I couldn't do anything about it. Every day before that an evening with you was waiting for me after school, now no more, strange feeling. I had grown too accustomed to your warmth. That is also a danger. At home I looked at the notebooks that you had bought and I got the stupidest surge of hope that I'd find something of you, something especially for meant for me. I would so much like to have something of you that I could always keep by me, that nobody else would notice.

I can't be overwhelmingly happy. I'm never free for a moment day and night from the uncertainty in which we live these days, which excludes any carefree plans for tomorrow and casts a shadow over all the days to come.

I think the war is starting to have powerful repercussions in every respect. Sometimes, especially of late, I've felt it grossly unfair to have to live in an age so filled with momentous events. But that's nonsense we're really being presented with scope for direct outside action. – Letter to Lisa Remppis, 1941

Isn't it bewildering … that everything is so beautiful, despite all the horrors that exist? Lately I've noticed something grand and mysterious peering into my sheer joy in all that is lovely — the sense of a Creator whom innocent creation worships with its beauty. Only man can be hateful or ugly, because he possesses a free will to cut himself off from the chorus of praise. It often seems that he will succeed in drowning out this chorus with his cannon thunder, curses, and blasphemy. But it has become clear to me this spring that he cannot. And so I must try to throw myself on the side of the victor.

I pity people who can't find laughter or at least some bit of amusement in the little doings of the day. I believe I could find something ridiculous even in the saddest moment, if necessary. It has nothing to do with being superficial. It's a matter of joy in life.

Just because so many things are in conflict does not mean that we ourselves should be divided. Yet time and time again one hears it said that since we have been put into a conflicting world, we have to adapt to it. Oddly, this completely unchristian idea is most often espoused by so-called Christians, of all people. How can we expect a righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone who will give himself up undividedly to a righteous cause?

Stand up for what you believe in even if you are standing alone.

I've been thinking of a story from the Old Testament: Moses stood all day and all night with outstretched arms, praying to God for victory. And whenever he let down his arms, the enemy prevailed over the children of Israel. Are there still people today who never weary of directing all their thinking and all their energy, single-heartedly, to one cause?

The real damage is done by those millions who want to "survive." The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don't want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won't take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don't like to make waves — or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honor, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It's the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you'll keep it under control. If you don't make any noise, the bogeyman won't find you. But it's all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.

Many people think of our times as being the last before the end of the world. The evidence of horror all around us makes this seem possible. But isn't that an idea of only minor importance? Doesn't every human being, no matter which era he lives in, always have to reckon with being accountable to God at any moment? Can I know whether I'll be alive tomorrow morning? A bomb could destroy all of us tonight. And then my guilt would not be one bit less than if I perished together with the earth and the stars.

I know that life is a doorway to eternity, and yet my heart so often gets lost in petty anxieties. It forgets the great way home that lies before it. Unprepared, given over to childish trivialities, it could be taken by surprise when the great hour comes and find that, for the sake of piffling pleasures, the one great joy has been missed. I am aware of this, but my heart is not. It seems unteachable; it continues its dreaming … always wavering between joy and depression.

It was a sunny day, I was carrying a child in a white dress to be christened. The path to the church led up a steep slope, but I held the child in my arms firmly and without faltering. Then suddenly my footing gave way ... I had enough time to put the child down before plunging into the abyss. The child is our idea. In spite of all obstacles it will prevail.

I am, now as before, of the opinion that I did the best that I could do for my nation. I therefore do not regret my conduct and will bear the consequences that result from my conduct. – Statement made during interrogation

Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don't dare express themselves as we did. – Statement made in court, February 21, 1943

It is such a splendid sunny day, and I have to go. But how many have to die on the battlefield in these days, how many young, promising lives. What does my death matter if by our acts thousands are warned and alerted. Among the student body there will certainly be a revolt. – Last words to cellmate Else Gebel

Thursday, June 9, 2011

"The Day of Reckoning has Come"
The Sixth Leaflet of the White Rose

Two major events were to precede the publication and distribution of the sixth leaflet of the White Rose -- an inflammatory, misogynistic speech given to students of the University of Munich by the Gauleiter (Nazi district leader) of Bavaria, and the devastating defeat of German forces in the Battle of Stalingrad. And one major series of events was to immediately follow the distribution of the leaflet -- the arrest, trial, and execution of Han and Sophie Scholl, and fellow White Rose member, Christoph Probst.

On January 13, 1943, in observance of the 470th anniversary of the University, Gauleiter Paul Giesler addressed all university students at a special assembly at the German Museum in Munich. Giesler harshly criticized the women, saying that they had no right to waste time and money by being students, and they instead had an obligation to do their duty to the Führer by producing a son for Germany. He even offered them the services of certain men if the women could not attract one themselves. Several women protested and got up to leave, but they were then detained at Giesler's direction. At this, some of the men rushed the podium, beat the Nazi student leader, and held him until all women were released. This event was the first demonstration against the Nazis by the Munich students, and it encouraged the White Rose to appeal more directly to the student population.

Meanwhile, the German offensive to capture Stalingrad, which had begun in August 1942, was ending in disaster for the Wehrmacht, which was suffering from starvation and extreme cold due to the harsh winter and an inability to be resupplied or reinforced. A Soviet counter-offensive ended on February 2, 1943, with the destruction of the German Sixth Army and attached forces, with an estimated 750,000 killed, missing, or wounded, and 91,000 men captured. Hitler's arrogance and belief in the "power of the will" had resulted in an ocean of blood.

When news of the defeat reached the homeland, the White Rose struck with a graffiti campaign in Munich, and then set upon composing the sixth leaflet. Believing that the students were receptive to the message, Hans and Sophie decided to personally distribute copies at the University, in addition to mailing them anonymously to strangers. While classes were in session, when the hallways were empty, they spread copies wherever they could, on the floor outside classrooms, on ledges, and on benches. But they still had some leaflets remaining, so they took them up the stairs above an indoor courtyard and flung them down moments before students came streaming into the hallways.

The Sixth Leaflet
Distributed February 16-18, 1943
Fellow Fighters in the Resistance!

Shaken and broken, our people behold the loss of the men of Stalingrad. Three hundred and thirty thousand German men have been senselessly and irresponsibly driven to death and destruction by the inspired strategy of our World War I Private First Class. Führer, we thank you!

The German people are in ferment. Will we continue to entrust the fate of our armies to a dilettante? Do we want to sacrifice the rest of German youth to the base ambitions of a Party clique? No, never!

The day of reckoning has come - the reckoning of German youth with the most abominable tyrant our people have ever been forced to endure. In the name of German youth we demand restitution by Adolf Hitler's state of our personal freedom, the most precious treasure we have, out of which he has swindled us in the most miserable way.

We grew up in a state in which all free expression of opinion is unscrupulously suppressed. The Hitler Youth, the SA, the SS have tried to drug us, to revolutionize us, to regiment us in the most promising young years of our lives. "Philosophical training" is the name given to the despicable method by which our budding intellectual development is muffled in a fog of empty phrases. A system of selection of leaders at once unimaginably devilish and narrow-minded trains up its future party bigwigs in the "Castles of the Knightly Order" to become Godless, impudent, and conscienceless exploiters and executioners - blind, stupid hangers-on of the Führer. We "Intellectual Workers" are the ones who should put obstacles in the path of this caste of overlords. Soldiers at the front are regimented like schoolboys by student leaders and trainees for the post of Gauleiter, and the lewd jokes of the Gauleiters insult the honor of the women students. German women students at the university in Munich have given a dignified reply to the besmirching of their honor, and German students have defended the women in the universities and have stood firm.... That is a beginning of the struggle for our free self-determination - without which intellectual and spiritual values cannot be created. We thank the brave comrades, both men and women, who have set us brilliant examples.

For us there is but one slogan: fight against the party! Get out of the party organization, which are used to keep our mouths sealed and hold us in political bondage! Get out of the lecture rooms of the SS corporals and sergeants and the party bootlickers! We want genuine learning and real freedom of opinion. No threat can terrorize us, not even the shutting down of the institutions of higher learning. This is the struggle of each and every one of us for our future, our freedom, and our honor under a regime conscious of its moral responsibility.

Freedom and honor! For ten long years Hitler and his coadjutor have manhandled, squeezed, twisted, and debased these two splendid German words to the point of nausea, as only dilettantes can, casting the highest values of a nation before swine. They have sufficiently demonstrated in the ten years of destruction of all material and intellectual freedom, of all moral substance among the German people, what they understand by freedom and honor. The frightful bloodbath has opened the eyes of even the stupidest German - it is a slaughter which they arranged in the name of "freedom and honor of the German nation" throughout Europe, and which they daily start anew. The name of Germany is dishonored for all time if German youth does not finally rise, take revenge, and atone, smash its tormentors, and set up a new Europe of the spirit.

Students! Students! The German people look to us. As in 1813 the people expected us to shake off the Napoleonic yoke, so in 1943 they look to us to break the National Socialist terror through the power of the spirit.

Beresina and Stalingrad are burning in the East. The dead of Stalingrad implore us to take action.

"Up, up, my people, let smoke and flame be our sign!"
Our people stand ready to rebel against the Nationals Socialist enslavement of Europe in a fervent new breakthrough of freedom and honor.
Hans and Sophie thought that they had gone undetected, but a sycophantic janitor by the name of Jakob Schmid ran over and detained them. After being first taken to offices at the university, Hans and Sophie were transported to Gestapo headquarters for questioning.

For several hours, Sophie denied any involvement with the leaflets when questioned by Gestapo interrogator Robert Mohr. She nearly had him convinced, but after incriminating evidence began to mount, Sophie defiantly took full responsibility, seeking to protect the others. She then put her interrogator to shame with her fearless and eloquent exposition on freedom, conscience, God, and the dignity of human life.

"We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!"

The White Rose, whose members included Hans and Sophie Scholl, was a German resistance group that fought for the overthrow of the Nazi regime. But they did not fight with guns or bombs. Inspired in part by the words of Blessed John Henry Newman on the conscience, their only weapons were words -- words of truth, words of conscience. In making speaking out their weapon of choice, they had been encouraged by the example of Blessed Clemens August von Galen, the Catholic bishop of Münster, whose anti-Nazi sermons had been secretly circulated, causing a great stir. As such, the White Rose were greatly feared by the Nazi officials, who had long sought to suppress freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of conscience.

From June 1942 until February 1943, the White Rose published and distributed six leaflets, seeking to awaken the slumbering conscience of the German people and stir them to overcome their fears for their personal security and resist. Because open personal distribution of their words to the public was too dangerous, they distributed their leaflets by leaving copies in public places and anonymously mailing copies to people throughout Germany. However, for the sixth leaflet, it was decided that they would be distributed by leaving copies in the hallways of the University of Munich. A draft of a seventh leaflet was found in the possession of Hans Scholl at the time of his arrest at the University.

Here are excerpts from the leaflets distributed by the White Rose (with pdf copies of the originals available at the individual links) --

The First Leaflet
Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be "governed" without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct. It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes - crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure - reach the light of day?

If the German people are already so corrupted and spiritually crushed that they do not raise a hand, frivolously trusting in a questionable faith in lawful order in history; if they surrender man's highest principle, that which raises him above all other God's creatures, his free will; if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and thus subject it to their own rational decision; if they are so devoid of all individuality, have already gone so far along the road toward turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass - then, yes, they deserve their downfall.

Goethe speaks of the Germans as a tragic people, like the Jews and the Greeks, but today it would appear rather that they are a spineless, will-less herd of hangers-on, who now - the marrow sucked out of their bones, robbed of their center of stability - are waiting to be hounded to their destruction. So it seems - but it is not so. Rather, by means of a gradual, treacherous, systematic abuse, the system has put every man into a spiritual prison. Only now, finding himself lying in fetters, has he become aware of his fate.

Only a few recognized the threat of ruin, and the reward for their heroic warning was death. We will have more to say about the fate of these persons. If everyone waits until the other man makes a start, the messengers of avenging Nemesis will come steadily closer; then even the last victim will have been cast senselessly into the maw of the insatiable demon.

Therefore every individual, conscious of his responsibility as a member of Christian and Western civilization, must defend himself against the scourges of mankind, against fascism and any similar system of totalitarianism. Offer passive resistance - resistance - wherever you may be, forestall the spread of this atheistic war machine before it is too late, before the last cities, like Cologne, have been reduced to rubble, and before the nation's last young man has given his blood on some battlefield for the hubris of a sub-human. Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure. . . .

The Second Leaflet
Now the end is at hand. Now it is our task to find one another again, to spread information from person to person, to keep a steady purpose, and to allow ourselves no rest until the last man in persuaded of the urgent need of his struggle against this system. When thus a wave of unrest goes through the land, when "it is in the air", when many join the cause, then in a great final effort this system can be shaken off. After all, and end in terror is preferable to terror without end. . . . since the conquest of Poland three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way. Here we see the most frightful crime against human dignity, a crime that is unparalleled in the whole of history. . . .

Why tell you these things, since you are fully aware of them - or if not of these, then of other equally grave crimes committed by this frightful sub-humanity? Because here we touch on a problem which involves us deeply and forces us all to take thought. Why do the German people behave so apathetically in the face of all these abominable crimes, crimes so unworthy of the human race? . . .

The Third Leaflet
Every individual human being has a claim to a useful and just state, a state which secures the freedom of the individual as well as the good of the whole. For, according to God's will, man is intended to pursue his natural goal, his earthly happiness, in self-reliance and self-chosen activity, freely and independently within the community of life and work of the nation.

But our present "state" is the dictatorship of evil. "Oh, we've known that for a long time," I hear you object, "and it isn't necessary to bring that to our attention again." But, I ask you, if you know that, why do you not bestir yourselves, why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanized state system presided over by criminals and drunks? Is your spirit already so crushed by abuse that you forget it is your right - or rather, your moral duty - to eliminate this system?

But if a man no longer can summon the strength to demand his right, then it is absolutely certain that he will perish. . . . Do not hide your cowardice behind a cloak of expediency, for with every new day that you hesitate, failing to oppose this offspring of Hell, your guilt, as in a parabolic curve, grows higher and higher. . . .

We have no great number of choices as to these means. The only one available is passive resistance. The meaning and the goal of passive resistance is to topple National Socialism, and in this struggle we must not recoil from any course, any action, whatever its nature. At all points we must oppose National Socialism, wherever it is open to attack. We must soon bring this monster of a state to an end. . . .

The Fourth Leaflet
Every word that comes from Hitler's mouth is a lie. When he says peace, he means war, and when he blasphemously uses the name of the Almighty, he means the power of evil, the fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the foul-smelling maw of Hell, and his might is at bottom accursed. True, we must conduct a struggle against the National Socialist terrorist state with rational means; but whoever today still doubts the reality, the existence of demonic powers, has failed by a wide margin to understand the metaphysical background of this war. Behind the concrete, the visible events, behind all objective, logical considerations, we find the irrational element: The struggle against the demon, against the servants of the Antichrist. Everywhere and at all times demons have been lurking in the dark, waiting for the moment when man is weak; when of his own volition he leaves his place in the order of Creation as founded for him by God in freedom; when he yields to the force of evil, separates himself from the powers of a higher order; and after voluntarily taking the first step, he is driven on to the next and the next at a furiously accelerating rate. Everywhere and at all times of greatest trial men have appeared, prophets and saints who cherished their freedom, who preached the One God and who His help brought the people to a reversal of their downward course. Man is free, to be sure, but without the true God he is defenseless against the principle of evil. He is a like rudderless ship, at the mercy of the storm, an infant without his mother, a cloud dissolving into thin air.

I ask you, you as a Christian wrestling for the preservation of your greatest treasure, whether you hesitate, whether you incline toward intrigue, calculation, or procrastination in the hope that someone else will raise his arm in your defense? Has God not given you the strength, the will to fight? . . .

We wish expressly to point out that the White Rose is not in the pay of any foreign power. Though we know that National Socialist power must be broken by military means, we are trying to achieve a renewal from within of the severely wounded German spirit. This rebirth must be preceded, however, by the clear recognition of all the guilt with which the German people have burdened themselves, and by an uncompromising battle against Hitler and his all too many minions, party members, Quislings, and the like. With total brutality the chasm that separates the better portion of the nation from everything that is opened wide. For Hitler and his followers there is no punishment on this Earth commensurate with their crimes. But out of love for coming generations we must make an example after the conclusion of the war, so that no one will ever again have the slightest urge to try a similar action. And do not forget the petty scoundrels in this regime; note their names, so that none will go free! They should not find it possible, having had their part in these abominable crimes, at the last minute to rally to another flag and then act as if nothing had happened! To set you at rest, we add that the addresses of the readers of the White Rose are not recorded in writing. They were picked at random from directories.

We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!

The Fifth Leaflet
It has become a mathematical certainty that Hitler is leading the German people into the abyss. Hitler cannot win the war; he can only prolong it. The guilt of Hitler and his minions goes beyond all measure. Retribution comes closer and closer.

But what are the German people doing? They will not see and will not listen. Blindly they follow their seducers into ruin. Victory at any price! is inscribed on their banner. "I will fight to the last man," says Hitler-but in the meantime the war has already been lost.

Germans! Do you and your children want to suffer the same fate that befell the Jews? Do you want to be judged by the same standards are your traducers? Are we to be forever a nation which is hated and rejected by all mankind? No. Dissociate yourselves from National Socialist gangsterism. Prove by your deeds that you think otherwise. A new war of liberation is about to begin. The better part of the nation will fight on our side. Cast off the cloak of indifference you have wrapped around you. Make the decision before it is too late. . . .

The imperialist ideology of force, from whatever side it comes, must be shattered for all time. . . . Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the protection of individual citizens from the arbitrary will of criminal regimes of violence-these will be the bases of the New Europe.

Next: The Sixth Leaflet. Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans were arrested immediately after distributing the sixth leaflet in the corridors of the University of Munich on February 18, 1943. A copy was smuggled out of Germany and, in July 1943, copies of the leaflet were dropped over Germany by Allied planes, retitled "The Manifesto of the Students of Munich."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hans and Sophie Scholl and Newman on Conscience

Although they were raised Protestant, both Hans and Sophie Scholl were highly influenced by Blessed John Henry Newman and his "theology of conscience." An associate of theirs, Theodor Haecker, was a scholar of Newman and had translated his works into German. When Sophie's boyfriend Fritz Hartnagel was deployed to the eastern front, she gave him two volumes on the sermons of Cardinal Newman, and his thought influenced Fritz as well.

Acting on conscience themselves, because they could no longer in good conscience fail to act against the Nazi regime, much of the purpose of the leaflets of the White Rose was an appeal to the conscience of the German people, to rouse them to stop ignoring that voice within them and instead, in obedience to that voice of truth and what is right and good, to resist the horrific evil in their midst.

On the Nature of the Conscience
Letter to the Duke of Norfolk
Blessed John Henry Newman
December 27, 1874
I must begin with the Creator and His creature when I would draw out the prerogatives and the supreme authority of Conscience.

I say, then, that the Supreme Being is of a certain character, which, expressed in human language, we call ethical. He has the attributes of justice, truth, wisdom, sanctity, benevolence and mercy, as eternal characteristics in His nature, the very Law of His being, identical with Himself; and next, when He became Creator, He implanted this Law, which is Himself, in the intelligence of all His rational creatures. The Divine Law, then, is the rule of ethical truth, the standard of right and wrong, a sovereign, irreversible, absolute authority in the presence of men and Angels.

"The eternal law," says St. Augustine, "is the Divine Reason or Will of God, commanding the observance, forbidding the disturbance, of the natural order of things." "The natural law," says St. Thomas, "is an impression of the Divine Light in us, a participation of the eternal law in the rational creature."

This law, as apprehended in the minds of individual men, is called "conscience," and though it may suffer refraction in passing into the intellectual medium of each, it is not therefore so affected as to lose its character of being the Divine Law, but still has, as such, the prerogative of commanding obedience. . . . this law is the rule of our conduct by means of our conscience. Hence it is never lawful to go against our conscience; as the fourth Lateran Council says. . . .

This view of conscience, I know, is very different from that ordinarily taken of it, both by the science and literature, and by the public opinion, of this day. It is founded on the doctrine that conscience is the voice of God, whereas it is fashionable on all hands now to consider it in one way or another a creation of man.

Of course, there are great and broad exceptions to this statement. It is not true of many or most religious bodies of men; especially not of their teachers and ministers. When Anglicans, Wesleyans, the various Presbyterian sects in Scotland, and other denominations among us, speak of conscience, they mean what we [Catholics] mean, the voice of God in the nature and heart of man, as distinct from the voice of Revelation. They speak of a principle planted within us, before we have had any training, although training and experience are necessary for its strength, growth, and due formation. They consider it a constituent element of the mind, as our perception of other ideas may be, as our powers of reasoning, as our sense of order and the beautiful, and our other intellectual endowments. They consider it, as Catholics consider it, to be the internal witness of both the existence and the law of God. They think it holds of God, and not of man, as an Angel walking on the earth would be no citizen or dependent of the Civil Power. . . .

Conscience is not a long-sighted selfishness, nor a desire to be consistent with oneself; but it is a messenger from Him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by His representatives. . . .

Words such as these are idle empty verbiage to the great world of philosophy now. . . . We are told that conscience is but a twist in primitive and untutored man; that its dictate is an imagination; that the very notion of guiltiness, which that dictate enforces, is simply irrational, for how can there possibly be freedom of will, how can there be consequent responsibility, in that infinite eternal network of cause and effect, in which we helplessly lie? and what retribution have we to fear, when we have had no real choice to do good or evil?

So much for philosophers; now let us see what is the notion of conscience in this day in the popular mind. There, no more than in the intellectual world, does "conscience" retain the old, true, Catholic meaning of the word. There too the idea, the presence of a Moral Governor is far away from the use of it, frequent and emphatic as that use of it is. When men advocate the rights of conscience, they in no sense mean the rights of the Creator, nor the duty to Him, in thought and deed, of the creature; but the right of thinking, speaking, writing, and acting, according to their judgment or their humour, without any thought of God at all. They do not even pretend to go by any moral rule, but they demand, what they think is an Englishman's prerogative, for each to be his own master in all things. . . .

Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations. . . . Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit. . . . It is the right of self-will.

The Testimony of a Good Conscience
Sermon of Blessed John Henry Newman
"Our rejoicing is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you." (2 Cor. 1:12)
In these words, the great Apostle appeals to his conscience that he had lived in simplicity and sincerity, with a single aim and an innocent heart, as one who was illuminated and guided by God's grace. . . .

And so also speaks St. John: "If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God." (1 John 3:21) Such was the confidence, such the rejoicing of St. Paul and St. John; not that they could do anything acceptable to God by their unaided powers, but that by His grace they could so live as to enjoy a cheerful hope of His favor, both now and evermore.

The same feeling is frequently expressed in the Psalms: a consciousness of innocence and integrity, a satisfaction in it, an appeal to God concerning it, and a confidence of God's favor in consequence. . . .

What the text means by "simplicity and sincerity," I consider for all practical purposes to be the same as what Scripture elsewhere calls "a perfect heart." . . . A man serves with a perfect heart, who serves God in all parts of his duty; and, not here and there, but here and there and everywhere. . . .

Now then to attempt to describe that state of heart, which Scripture calls simple and sincere, or perfect, or innocent; and which is such, that a man may know he has it, and humbly rejoice in it.

We are by nature what we are; very sinful and corrupt, we know. . . . God alone can change us; God alone can give us the desires, affections, principles, views, and tastes which a change implies: this too we know. . . . What then is it that we who profess religion lack? I repeat it, this: a willingness to be changed. . . . We do not like to be new-made; we are afraid of it; it is throwing us out of all our natural ways, of all that is familiar to us. . . .

But when a man comes to God to be saved, then, I say, the essence of true conversion is a surrender of himself, an unreserved, unconditional surrender; and this is a saying which most men who come to God cannot receive. They wish to be saved, but in their own way; they wish (as it were) to capitulate upon terms, to carry off their goods with them; whereas the true spirit of faith leads a man to look off from self to God, to think nothing of his own wishes, his present habits, his importance or dignity, his rights, his opinions, but to say, "I put myself into Your hands, O Lord; make me what You will; I forget myself; I divorce myself from myself; I am dead to myself; I will follow Thee." . . . These are words worthy of one who was to be to after-ages the pattern of simplicity, sincerity, and a pure conscience. . . .

Men who are quite honest, who really wish to surrender themselves to Christ, have counted the cost. They feel it is no slight sacrifice which they are making; they feel its difficulty and its pain; and therefore they cannot make an impetuous offer of their services. They cannot say, "Lord, I will follow You wherever You go"; it is too great a profession. . . .

[In many ways,] men serve God, but do not serve Him with a perfect heart, or "in simplicity and sincerity." And in explaining what I consider Scripture to mean by perfectness of purpose, I have explained also in a measure how it is that a person must know if he has it. For it is a state of mind which will not commonly lie hid from those who are blessed with it. . . . when God prevails on a heart to open itself to Him, and admit Him wholly[, there] is a perceptible difference of feeling in a man, compared with what he was, which, in common circumstances, he cannot mistake. . . . what a difference is this! what a plain perceptible change, which cannot be mistaken! what a feeling of satisfaction is poured over the mind! what a sense that at length we are doing what we should do, and approving ourselves to God our Saviour! . . .

Perfectness of heart, simple desire to please God, "a spirit without guile," a true and loyal will, where these are present, faith is justifying; and whereas those who have this integrity will more or less be conscious of it. . . . really religious persons will commonly enjoy a subdued but comfortable hope and trust that they are in a state of justification. . . . if they be really perfect in heart, there will be this secret sense of their sincerity, with their reason or against reason, to whisper to them peace. And on the other hand, it never will rise above a sober trust, even in the most calm, peaceful, and holy minds. . . .

It may be objected, that, if the feeling of a good conscience be the evidence to us of our justification, then are persons in a justified state who are external to the Church, provided they have this feeling. I reply briefly [that] any man who has really the testimony of a good conscience is acting up to his light, whatever that is. This does not, however . . . determine what his light is; nor what degree of favor he is in. . . .

Let us then, since this is our privilege, attempt to share in St. Paul's sincerity, that we may share in his rejoicing. Let us endeavour to become friends of God and fellow-citizens with the saints; not by sinless purity, for we have it not; not in our deeds of price, for we have none to show; not in our privileges, for they are God's acts, not ours; not in our Baptism, for it is outward; but in that which is the fruit of Baptism within us, not a word but a power, not a name but a reality, which, though it can claim nothing, can beg everything —- an honest purpose, an unreserved, entire submission of ourselves to our Maker, Redeemer, and Judge. Let us beg Him to aid us in our endeavour, and, as He has begun a good work in us, to perform it until the day of the Lord Jesus.

Next: The Leaflets of the White Rose - "We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!"

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bishop von Galen and the Inviolability of Human Life

One of the major influences upon Hans Scholl and his decision to form the White Rose was the sermons of Clemens August von Galen, Catholic Bishop of Münster, especially the sermon that he delivered on August 3, 1941. In another part of the sermon, available here, Bishop von Galen spoke of conscience and how the Nazi regime had set itself against God, praying that God's forgiveness and mercy descend upon the German people. In the excerpt below, he speaks out against the egregious and horrifying attacks on human life.

The Killing of the "Unworthy"
Sermon of 3 August 1941
Dearly beloved Christians! The joint pastoral letter of the German bishops, which was read in all Catholic churches in Germany on 26 June 1941, includes the following words:
"It is true that in Catholic ethics there are certain positive commandments which cease to be obligatory if their observance would be attended by unduly great difficulties; but there are also sacred obligations of conscience from which no one can release us, which we must carry out even if it should cost us our life. Never, under any circumstances, may a man, save in war or in legitimate self-defense, kill an innocent person."
I had occasion on 6th July to add the following comments on this passage in the joint pastoral letter:
"For some months we have been hearing reports that inmates of establishments for the care of the mentally ill who have been ill for a long period and perhaps appear incurable have been forcibly removed from these establishments on orders from Berlin. Regularly the relatives receive soon afterwards an intimation that the patient is dead, that the patient’s body has been cremated and that they can collect the ashes. There is a general suspicion, verging on certainty, that these numerous unexpected deaths of the mentally ill do not occur naturally but are intentionally brought about, in accordance with the doctrine that it is legitimate to destroy a so-called "worthless life" - in other words to kill innocent men and women, if it is thought that their lives are of no further value to the people and the state. A terrible doctrine which seeks to justify the murder of innocent people, which legitimizes the violent killing of disabled persons who are no longer capable of work, of cripples, the incurably ill and the aged and infirm!"
I am reliably informed that in hospitals and homes in the province of Westphalia lists are being prepared of inmates who are classified as "unproductive members of the national community" and are to be removed from these establishments and shortly thereafter killed. . . . the patients who have been selected for killing are removed from their home area to some distant place. Some illness or other is then given as the cause of death. Since the body is immediately cremated, the relatives and the criminal police are unable to establish whether the patient had in fact been ill or what the cause of death actually was. I have been assured, however, that in the Ministry of the Interior and the office of the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Conti, no secret is made of the fact that indeed a large number of mentally ill persons in Germany have already been killed with intent and that this will continue. . . .

We must expect, therefore, that the poor defenseless patients are, sooner or later, going to be killed. Why? Not because they have committed any offense justifying their death; not because, for example, they have attacked a nurse or attendant, who would be entitled in legitimate self-defense to meet violence with violence. In such a case the use of violence leading to death is permitted and may be called for, as it is in the case of killing an armed enemy.

No: these unfortunate patients are to die, not for some such reason as this but because in the judgment of some official body, on the decision of some committee, they have become "unworthy to live," because they are classed as "unproductive members of the national community." The judgment is that they can no longer produce any goods: they are like an old piece of machinery which no longer works, like an old horse which has become incurably lame, like a cow which no longer gives any milk. What happens to an old piece of machinery? It is thrown on the scrapheap. What happens to a lame horse, an unproductive cow?

I will not pursue the comparison to the end - so fearful is its appropriateness and its illuminating power.

But we are not here concerned with pieces of machinery, we are not dealing with horses and cows, whose sole function is to serve mankind, to produce goods for mankind. They may be broken up, they may be slaughtered when they no longer perform this function.

No: We are concerned with men and women, our fellow creatures, our brothers and sisters! Poor human beings, ill human beings, they are unproductive, if you will. But does that mean that they have lost the right to live? Have you, have I, the right to live only so long as we are productive, so long as we are recognized by others as productive?

If the principle that men is entitled to kill his unproductive fellow-man is established and applied, then woe betide all of us when we become aged and infirm! If it is legitimate to kill unproductive members of the community, woe betide the disabled who have sacrificed their health or their limbs in the productive process! If unproductive men and women can be disposed of by violent means, woe betide our brave soldiers who return home with major disabilities as cripples, as invalids!

If it is once admitted that men have the right to kill "unproductive" fellowmen - even though it is at present applied only to poor and defenseless mentally ill patients - then the way is open for the murder of all unproductive men and women: the incurably ill, the handicapped who are unable to work, those disabled in industry or war. The way is open, indeed, for the murder of all of us when we become old and infirm and therefore unproductive. Then it will require only a secret order to be issued that the procedure which has been tried and tested with the mentally ill should be extended to other "unproductive" persons, that it should also be applied to those suffering from incurable tuberculosis, the aged and infirm, persons disabled in industry, soldiers with disabling injuries!

Then no man will be safe: some committee or other will be able to put him on the list of "unproductive" persons, who in their judgment have become "unworthy to live." And there will be no police to protect him, no court to avenge his murder and bring his murderers to justice. Who could then have any confidence in a doctor? He might report a patient as unproductive and then be given instructions to kill him! It does not bear thinking of, the moral depravity, the universal mistrust which will spread even in the bosom of the family, if this terrible doctrine is tolerated, accepted and put into practice. Woe betide mankind, woe betide our German people, if the divine commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," which the Lord proclaimed on Sinai amid thunder and lightning, which God our Creator wrote into man’s conscience from the beginning, if this commandment is not merely violated but the violation is tolerated and remains unpunished! . . .

"Thou shalt not kill!" God wrote this commandment in the conscience of man long before any penal code laid down the penalty for murder, long before there was any prosecutor or any court to investigate and avenge a murder. Cain, who killed his brother Abel, was a murderer long before there were any states or any courts of law. And he confessed his deed, driven by his accusing conscience: "My punishment is greater than I can bear ... and it shall come to pass, that everyone that finds me the murderer shall slay me" (Genesis 4,13-14).

"Thou shalt not kill!" This commandment from God, who alone has power to decide on life or death, was written in the hearts of men from the beginning, long before God gave the children of Israel on Mount Sinai his moral code in those lapidary sentences inscribed on stone which are recorded for us in Holy Scripture and which as children we learned by heart in the catechism. . . .

And now the fifth commandment: "Thou shalt not kill," is set aside and broken under the eyes of the authorities whose function it should be to protect the rule of law and human life, when men presume to kill innocent fellow-men with intent merely because they are "unproductive," because they can no longer produce any goods. . . .
One of those "worthless" and "unproductive members of the national community" came from the family of Joseph Ratzinger. Reports John Allen in his book, The Rise of Benedict XVI, p. 148 (2005),
The brutality of the Nazi regime once touched the Ratzinger family personally. A cousin with Down's Syndrome, who in 1941 was fourteen years old, just a few months younger than [Joseph] himself, was taken away in that year by the Nazi authorities for "therapy." Not long afterward, the family received word that he was dead, presumably one of the "undesirables" eliminated during that time. Ratzinger revealed the episode on November 28, 1996, at a Vatican conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Care. He cited it to illustrate the danger of ideological systems that define certain classes of human beings as unworthy of protection.