Persecution and “Toleration”: Liberal Theologians

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The liberal theologians, including such notable academic theologians as Hermann Mulert, Martin Rade, Otto Baumgarten, Rudolf Otto, Martin Dibelius, Paul Tillich and Rudolf Bultmann, were a numerically small group of Protestants, which never allowed itself to be infected by national euphoria or impressed by National Socialism and its propaganda.

The National Socialists presented a pointedly anti-liberal position from the outset. Western, liberal traditions of thought that had evolved since the French Revolution were ultimately made accountable for every one of the Weimar Republic’s supposedly undesirable developments – parties, parliamentarianism, the rule of law, human rights, etc.

These political reservations were applied directly to other domains influenced by liberalism. The liberal theologians were therefore fighting an utterly losing battle when the Nazis assumed power. Whereas they had initially continued working in church administration or at universities, making no secret of their thinking, they were for the most later forced into early retirement or ousted from their jobs for other, frequently spurious reasons.

Hermann Mulert (1879–1950), for instance, had worked as a full professor of systematic theology at the University of Kiel since 1920. He was a member of the DDP until its dissolution in 1933. A liberal theologian, he was a member of the Protestantenbund and the Volkskirchenbund. He was unable to muster any sympathy for the Nazi government’s aims. As editor in chief of “Die Christliche Welt” as of 1932, Mulert disseminated liberal ideas against Nazi ideology. Mulert criticized both the abandonment of principles of the rule of law and the Nazis’ anti-Jewish policies. The magazine was discontinued in 1941.

Mulert was dismissed from his job as a university professor in 1935. In anticipation of his pending removal from his post by the National Socialists, he submitted the request for dismissal himself in 1935. Mulert supported opponents of National Socialism financially. When the war broke out, he returned to his hometown of Niederboritzsch in Saxony where he administered the neighboring town’s parish, which was vacant because of the war. The liberal theologians remained a nonconformist element in Nazi state, even though their potential influence waned as time passed.

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