For a New Legal Foundation

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Karl-Heinz Becker repeatedly examined the relationship between Protestant theology and jurisprudence from a historical and contemporaneous perspective. Stationed in Romania as a Wehrmacht chaplain, he had the brochure Der Christ als Jurist (The Christian as Jurist) printed in November of 1941. Numerous typographical and stylistic errors reveal that the pamphlet was produced hastily and unedited and that the printer did not understand its content.

The brochure was addressed to the members of the “Society for Protestant Theology” and was a response to a lecture on Economics and Theology delivered by Constantin von Dietze (1891–1973), an economist at the university in Freiburg whom Becker had known since 1937, at the society’s Pentecost Conference in Alpirsbach in June of 1941. Von Dietze belonged to a discussion group of anti-regime professors in Freiburg, who were simultaneously active in the Confessing Church and later involved in the German resistance’s postwar planning.

Von Dietze’s lecture also included sharp criticism of theologians who conceded that the Nazi state had ethico-moral laws of its own and refused to live up to their responsibility for the world. Out of emotional distress, he let out a cry for help from economics to theology and demanded that it establish abiding principles for an economic and social order discerned from God’s commandments. On the other hand, he did not demand the treatment of concrete economic and social issues (C. v. Dietze, Nationalökonomie, 40f.).

Becker and von Dietze were joined in their efforts to present an ethico-moral alternative to combat Nazi ideology, which was applied as absolute. In his brochure, Becker stressed that communal life could only be regulated by law and politics solely on the foundation of faith and Christian morality. Contrary to the position of Nazi jurist Hans Gerber (1889–1981), he also demanded this for jurists, whom he asserted who may not make themselves the servants of a weltanschauung and impose it on others. Becker explicitly declared that making law solely accountable to the nation in the Nazi sense was insufficient and bred to indifference. Christian loyalty to the state is bounded by justice. The Christian jurist, however, is aware of the moral boundaries of his profession when faced with slipping into the realms of the tendentious (Becker, Christ, 16).

Becker also wrote his treatise Theologie und Rechtswissenschaft (Theology and Jurisprudence) in Romania in 1942. Together with his friend Walter Höchstädter (1907–1994), he intensively promoted this treatise and Der Christ als Jurist in the “Society for Protestant Theology” and in the ecumenical movement.

In it, he endeavored to separate theology from jurisprudence. This appeared to him to have become necessary at that time as the consequence of the disregard for boundaries by the theologian Friedrich Gogarten (1887–1967) and the jurist Carl Schmitt (1888–1985) for instance, which he criticized sharply. Becker consequently demanded a limit to obedience to the state – not for the purpose of curtailing but rather of strengthening its binding force. Only the Christian faith was capable of liberating the state from its religious self-aggrandizement.

Making reference to statements from Reich Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick (1877–1946), Becker sharply criticized that the concrete functions of government and judiciary were longer only in the service of their own practical purpose but served a weltanschauung instead. Rather than its benevolence, the criterion for governmental or legal action was its opportuneness for a weltanschauung, which it demanded for itself. For Becker, this was a radical break with the German Empire’s thousand-year grand and abiding political and legal tradition dictated by morality. ... The previous sense of right and wrong and sense of justice is being supplanted by ideological radicalization of conservative tendencies and thought (Becker, Theologie, 36f.).

Source / title

  • © Karl-Heinz Becker: Der Christ als Jurist, 1942, p. 10–12

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