The European Academy of Religion (EuARe) was co-founded by the Fondazione per le scienze religiose Giovanni XXIII (FSCIRE) in Bologna. After the inaugural conference in 2017, the second annual conferences took place from March 4 to 7 in Bologna. The organizers advertise the conference as being “the largest platform for Religious Sciences in Europe.” 1,320 registered participants were able to choose from more than 790 papers presented in 240 panels. 
I contributed a paper on Franz Jägerstätter to the panel “Catholics in Conflicts: Theology and Politics of Resistance” proposed by the Finnish PhD candidate Petra Kuivala from the Faculty of Theology in Helsinki.  My paper’s theme was in line with the goal of our institute to find a forum where Jägerstätter can be discussed in the broader context of global Catholicism. Among diverse topics such as the Finnish Catholic Church in the 2000’s, the accommodations of the Catholic Church in Post-Revolution Cuba (Petra Kuivala) and Carlo Passaglia’s Excommunication and Conflict with the Roman Catholic Church (Valfredo Maria Rossi), I presented an analysis of Jägerstätter’s case of conscientious objection in World War II. This gave me the opportunity to experiment with some of the ideas that have occurred to me while reading biographies of Jägerstätter (Gordon Zahn, Erna Putz, Johann Bergmann, Thomas Schlager-Weidinger) as well as Jägerstätter’s writings since my appointment last year. Although the focus of our work at the FFJI for the time being is on the digital edition of his correspondence and his writings, it is also important that we contribute to the Jägerstätter research by analysing his texts with new methods and approaches.

At the presentation in Bologna, I made an argument that at first glance does not sound very ground-breaking for those who know Jägerstätter well. Scheuer (2007) has already made the point that Jägerstätter upheld his decision to refuse military service not because he was in opposition to the Church but because he stayed loyal to both his conscience and the Church. I agree with Scheuer’s assertion that connects Jägerstätter’s biographical information with his embeddedness in the Catholic milieu and Catholic piety. However, how Jägerstätter negotiated this position in his writings has not been addressed. In short, I explore how Jägerstätter reconciles his criticism of the (Austrian) churches’ behaviour particularly after the “Anschluss” with his maintained faith in the Church. It is important to note that this analysis refutes those interpretations of Jägerstätter’s case that tend to isolate his decision from his church loyalty and therefore fail to explain the dynamics within the Catholic milieu under National Socialism. I consider the use of discourse analysis very important in that respect. At Bologna, I presented some very preliminary thoughts based on examples from Notebook II and the Berlin prison writings in order to show how Jägerstätter builds on religious discourses to construct catholic identity. 

The most inspiring/thought-provoking moment of the 2019 EuARe Conference was the keynote lecture “Individuals and Communities: What did Jewish Thought bring to Political Theory?” by Sophie Nordmann, from the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, complemented by her article Non c’è individuo senza comunità in Corriere della Sera (March 3, 2019). She highlighted Michael Walzer’s proposal of a third way between individualism and communalism arguing that communal belonging is not a trap into isolation but provides a baseline for the construction of individual identity. Consequently, Walzer was convinced that active citizenship in a liberal democracy works as a natural extension of communal belonging. Without following the political theory debates, this lecture, coming on the day after of my Jägerstätter presentation, presents a possible theoretical frame for my analysis of Franz Jagerstätter’s writings.  
Finally, I share a central part of my Bologna paper "Church, State and the Free Will in the Case of War: Franz Jägerstätter".

Discourses of Christianness: Defining Us and Them

Following Christ

First, Jägerstätter used arguments that he knew from his own and the experiences of other bishops that it was impossible to be both Catholic and National Socialist. For him, the position of the Church prior to Hitler’s rise and the subsequent “Anschluss” was still valid and he questioned if the church had changed its principles. 

Prior to Hitler’s seizure of power, many bishops in Germany banned National Socialists from receiving communion. But how is it now in the Reich? Many people who are members of the N.S. Party go to the communion rail with peace of mind. ... Have the National Socialists now – after more than two years of bringing about the horrible murders of people – adopted a new orientation that would allow and even promote the silence of church officials? Have church officials reached the decision that it is now permissible for Catholics to belong to a party that opposes the church? Have they given a positive evaluation of National Socialism? (Jägerstätter 2009, 174)

Jägerstätter brought the ambiguities of the church officials to the surface without directly accusing them, but by arguing that he is fully in line with the Church. He explained the attitude of the Church authorities biblically by comparing how the Austrian Episcopate acted after the “Anschluss” with the  behaviour of the Apostles’ who abandoned Christ in the garden of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday: “On that day, the Church in Austria allowed itself to be imprisoned. Since then it has remained in chains. Because of this, yes, we have not yet undergone our Good Friday“ (Ibid. 179) 
Through this religious discourse on moral strength and “following Christ”, Jägerstätter defined the ‘we’ around that characterized his own belonging to the Catholic Church. Based on this definition, he then interpreted the failures of Church authorities under Nazi rule spiritually while still defending them against harsher criticism: 

I am not throwing stones at our bishops and priests. They are human beings of flesh and blood as we are, they can be weak. Perhaps they are even more tempted by the evil foe than we. Perhaps, too, they were too little prepared to take on this struggle and to decide for themselves whether to live or to die.  […] Perhaps our bishops thought that the new state would continue only a short time and then fall apart and that by means of their accommodation they could spare many martyrs and much pain among believers. Unfortunately, things have gone otherwise. (Ibid. 175)

Just or Unjust War

Jägerstätter knew that he was categorically correct about the anti-Christian nature of the Nazi regime because of his Catholic education and personal assessment. But was he morally correct not to join soldiers, many of whom were equally critical of the regime? Yet here Jägerstätter’s engagement in in the Catholic discourse about the justness of the Second World War, a topic the Bishops had been particularly silent on in contrast to World War One—a war  declared “just” from beginning to its end—provides an some illumination:

It is very sad when we hear again and again from Catholics that this war, which Germany is leading, is perhaps not unjust because it will eradicate Bolshevism. […] But if we are fighting simply against Bolshevism, why are we so concerned about such things as ore, oil, and farmland? Further, have our enemies actually come against Christian belief with weapons in order to eradicate it? […] (Ibid. 181–82)

In Berlin Tegel, where Jägerstätter spent the last three months of his life and was sentenced to death by a Reich Court Martial, he addressed those in the Catholic milieu who still argued for a certain alliance between the Nazi state and the Church: 

To be sure, someone could ask me, ‘Do you cherish more those people who are destroying the churches?’ [=Bolshevism, AS] I believe that every Christian knows clearly enough that nothing better can be expected from the kind of man who would destroy churches. But in my judgment, there is someone who is allowing the churches to stand and yet is having success in destroying souls. He even contributes to the building of churches, but works with trickery and cunning. [=National Socialism, AS] This man is more destructive than the one who sets out to tear down churches and imprisons all of the priests. Will the existence of church buildings be helpful if people no longer believe very much or believe nothing at all? Are the priests still much help to us if they must remain silent when they should be speaking out? Do doctors help much when they have someone lying there covered with blood and yet are forbidden from bandaging the patient? (Ibid. 240)

True Christianity

In texts like these, a clear distinction is made between two forms of Christianity. For ‘true Christianity’ the politics of the Nazis is more dangerous than the threat of Bolshevism. Jägerstätter was able to criticize his church as well his Christian peers without betraying his church because he did so within the framework of specific Christian discourses. A pillar of which, holiness, he refers to through the example of saints and martyrs: “To strive for holiness is the duty not only of some individuals but of everyone.” (Ibid. 238) Jägerstätter was strongly influenced by the Bible revivalism of his time and other forms of piety. These strengthened individualized forms of religious life within the realm of the Catholic milieu. To obey God more than man, for him, did not mean to disobey the Church but to follow its teachings under the roughest of circumstances. The strength to do so comes from the grace of God and the Church itself. 

How antimodernist piety and modern Catholicism are linked

In conclusion, I contextualize the biographical case study on Franz Jägerstätter in the broader history of Catholicism. Jägerstätter’s conscientious objection to the collaboration of the Church and National Socialism marked a crossroad in several respects. His religious identity was strongly rooted in the forms of piety that have become popular in the late 19th century within the framework of the antimodernist defence of Catholicism. Yet this movement included elements that laid the foundation for the emancipation from a blind obedience to the Church in the areas of practical matters of acts and individual behaviour. Jägerstätter’s strong piety, that strengthened his religious identity within a rural nominal Catholic milieu, was also based on the private use of religious literature and the Bible. This privatization of faith enabled the growth of a religious identity beyond the norms and behaviours that were accepted by all in-group members of the traditional Catholic milieu. Jägerstätter had to refer to his personal conscience on Biblical grounds in order to maintain his decision to refuse military service in Hitler’s war and avoid a falling out with the Church community. He chose to align himself with the in-group of early Christian saints and martyrs which allowed him to reconcile his decision with the advice from the Church authorities. He did so by emphasizing the theology of grace that is the guiding principle behind his reasoning and strength. Because of this, his texts are not in fact much at odds with the Catholic Church. He drew his resistance to the Nazi regime and the unjust war from the Catholic Church and the tools it provided discursively through its popular channels. However, he had no official support from the Church with regard to his personal decision of conscientious objection. Jägerstätter, in fact, criticized the unspoken alliances or compliance with the Nazi regime (war against Bolshevism) that were common in his milieu. The Catholic Church had to learn from Jägerstätter’s case. It did so in the Second Vatican Council by re-evaluating the autonomy of individuals in the moral assessment of wars in Gaudium et Spes. It is less known that Jägerstätter’s vita was mentioned in the sessions of the Council. Archbishop Thomas D. Roberts declared that martyrs like Jägerstätter should never have to feel abandoned. Jägerstätter always saw himself in line with the Church. The Church needed to recognize that it should be in line with Catholics like him too. 

Jägerstätter, Franz. 2009. Letters and writings from prison. Edited by Erna Putz. Maryknoll, NY [u.a.]: Orbis Books.
Scheuer, Manfred, 2007. Selig die keine Gewalt anwenden: Das Zeugnis des Franz Jägerstätter. Innsbruck [u.a.]: Tyrolia.



Schmoller, Andreas. "Jägerstätter and Catholicism: A review of the 2019 EuARe Conference in Bologna." Franz und Franziska Jägerstätter Institut, 25.6.2019.