The Father and I Are One

(Homily for Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C)

In his book The Holy Reich (Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945) Richard Steigmann-Gall argues persuasively that the Nazis did not reject Christianity, but reinterpreted it to fit their own ideology. Contrary to conventional wisdom, most Nazi leaders, including Hitler, were not keen on reviving paganism. Rather, they talked about something which at first glance seemed very appealing - “positive Christianity.” Also referred to as “active” or “practical” Christianity, it emphasized deeds over doctrine.*

The Nazis contrasted “positive Christianity” with “negative Christianity.” The former strove to evoke good feelings - and, for that reason, was quite adaptable. The latter, with its doctrines such as original sin, worried more about the truth than whether people felt good about themselves. Thus, it resisted adaptation to popular opinion. The Nazis looked down upon “negative Christianity” and they particularly despised the dogma, ritual and internationalism of the Catholic Church. Those things they saw as evidence it had been “corrupted by Jews.” In the early years of his regime, Hitler worked hard to establish a Protestant Reich Church (modeled after the Church of England) but eventually dropped the project because of resistance from Evangelicals who valued doctrine.

In today’s Gospel Jesus makes a statement that will mean one thing for a practical Christian and something else for a doctrinal Christian. He says, “The Father and I are one.” A practical Christian might conclude that Jesus is simply saying that he and God the Father work in coordination, that Jesus knows the Father’s will and strives to put it into effect. A doctrinal Christian would say, “yes, but there is so much more.” For us Jesus' oneness with the Father means that he is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, one in being with the Father.”

Much depends on whether we accept the doctrines of the early Christians. Jesus tells us today that he gives his sheep eternal life. Does he do this as a mere man or as God? If he is simply one more enlightened teacher in the style of Buddha or Mohammed, we hardly need to bother about “hearing his voice.” The “practical Christianity” of the Nazis gave them no firm ground for approaching Jesus. They actually went so far as to deny that Jesus was a Jew and to cast him as the model anti-Semite. We can marvel at such willful distortion, but today respected authors are making even stranger claims.

You and I live in circumstances far different from Germany of the 1930’s. Yet there are similarities and we can learn important lessons from how Christians responded to that challenge. Like them, we find ourselves in a society dominated by people who use the authority of “science” in order to discard the inherent dignity of some human beings. The sub-humans today are not Jews, Gypsies and Slavs, but unborn children and the terminally ill. Interestingly enough, opposition to abortion, euthanasia and medical experimentation on human embryos has come not from humanists or liberals, but from conservative, doctrinal minded Christians. And we face the disapproval not only of secularists, but also of Christians who wish to accommodate to the “new realities.” The latter often admonish conservatives to not be so uptight, that what matters is not doctrine, but helping people feel good about themselves.

I do not advocate doctrinal Christianity because it makes one heroic. It may or it may not. I advocate it because it is true. One can only know the truth by listening to the Shepherd’s voice and following him.


*Like most educated Europeans of his day, Hitler believed that only “science” could judge if something were true or false, real or unreal. For that reason the Nazis disregarded Christian doctrines as “unscientific” but at the same time were careful to advance their own doctrines under the banner of science. They did find plenty of material in Darwin and other evolutionary scientists to justify their racial views.

Spanish Version

See also: Hitler's Pope

by Fr. Martin Rhonheimer The Holocaust: What Was Not Said:

I am pained by unfair Jewish attacks on the Catholic Church. But I am also pained by a one-sided Catholic apologetic that minimizes the injustice done by Christians to Jews in history, or seeks to relegate it to oblivion. I am especially aware of the Jewish sensitivity to topics that Catholics often pass over either too quickly or in silence.

From Archives (Fourth Sunday of Easter, Cycle C):

2016: Second Priority
2013: Tend My Sheep
2010: One With The Father
2007: The Time of Great Distress
2004: The Father and I Are One
2001: Between Scylla and Charybdis
1998: The Lamb Will Shepherd Them

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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Fr. Brad's Homilies

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