At the end of World War II, in a series of raids on an essentially undefended city, targeting primarily civilians and cultural artifacts, British and American bombers dropped over 3,900 tonnes of explosives on Dresden, Germany, including many thousand incendiary and phosphorous bombs, with such precision and timing as to create swirling drafts of superheated air that would engulf the city in a literal firestorm, leaving it in a heap of ashes. The double symbolism of February 14, 1945, being both Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday is significant, and it is probably more than just a coincidence that the days surrounding this date were chosen for this attack.
American and British government figures, continuing to defend the Dresden firebombing and to minimize the casualties, place the number of dead at around 25,000 to 35,000. Critics of the raid, however, including survivors of the Dresden bombing, have maintained a number nearly ten times higher. The 1945 firebombing of Dresden remains controversial to this day. The following video tells the story from the perspective of those sympathetic to the cause of the civilian victims:
The Dresdner Altmarkt, the central city square of Dresden and focal point of cultural life, was also the center of the Allied attack. After the the War, being under Soviet occupation, most of the Altmarkt continued to lay in various states of disrepair, the most iconic pile of rubble being that of the Frauenkirche, which lay in a heap for half a century until after the fall of the Berlin Wall (pictured at the top-left of this page). Under funding from a private effort which collected donations from all over the world, rebuilding of the Frauenkirche finally began in 1993. We briefly blogged about the Frauenkirche in April of 2011.
I thought about this last night as I was listening to Rudolph Mauersberger's Dresdner Requiem. We haven't blogged about Mauersberger on Intrepid Lutherans before, though many recordings under his direction have been recommended on our pages. In 1930, the Kreutzkirche1, which is located just a few blocks from the Altmarkt, appointed Rudolf Mauersberger as “Kreutzkantor” of the Dresdner Kreutzchor – a boys choir initially “founded as a Latin school at the 'capella sanctae crucis'”2 over 700 years ago, which continues “the medieval tradition of liturgical singing by a boy's choir”3 even to this day, specializing in choral works of the sacred genre (and especially, it seems, of Lutheran composers).
Rudolph Mauersberger was in Dresden during the 1945 Ash Wednesday firebombing. “The destruction... gave rise to a strong creative impulse,”4 within him. Not really known as a composer, most of his creations follow from the destruction of Dresden, beginning with the piece he is probably most well-known for as a composer, Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst (the first piece of the four-part choral cycle, Dresden), which was performed with the surviving members of the Kreutzchor in the ruins of the Kreutzkirche that following August. His Dresdner Requiem was composed a couple years later, and revised through 1961.
- Apart from the Latin introit, Requiem aeternum, the entire work consists of German texts taken from passages of the Old and New Testaments in Luther's translation, and from versus in the German Evangelical Hymn Book... The work is divided into the following sections:
Transitoriness/Death/Dies irae and Comfort through the Gospel
In its liturgical character it is, in the words of Mauersberger, an “Evangelical Mass for the dead, such as the Protestant Church does not yet possess.”5
Becoming One's Enemy
But as I listened to Mauersberger's Dresdner Requiem last night, I thought about more than just the firebombing of Dresden, the loss of innocent life and important cultural artifacts, and the music that such circumstances inspired. The Ash Wednesday firebombing of Dresden became a living representation of what happens when important distinctions between one and his enemy disappear – when he, by all appearances, becomes his enemy. By all accounts, the people of Dresden put their faith in the good-nature of America and Great Britain, “Christian nations” with a shared Western heritage that valued the cultural significance of Dresden, a relatively unimportant military target that by that late stage of World War II, no longer had any significant defense system. The Germans wouldn't trust Russia, of course, and the rest of the world wouldn't trust Germany, but America and Great Britain were recognized by the Germans as different from them – as distinct, separate from them. By all accounts, under the rules of the Geneva Convention, which both America and Great Britain were known to fastidiously observe and hold in high esteem, Dresden was a very unlikely target. Yet, by all accounts, Winston Churchill and military leaders working with him, betrayed what those characteristics called for. By all accounts, he repeatedly sought advice on how he could “roast and baste German civilians,” and operational orders for the Dresden raids laid out a plan that carefully explained how they would deliberately inflict maximum civilian casualties. In this way, in taking on the methods of his enemy, Churchill, became indistinguishable from his enemy, dragging the reputations of America and Great Britain into shame along with him. Adolph Hitler was known to be active implementing his “Final Solution”, a wanton extermination of Jewish people – a “megalomaniacal anti-semite.” Churchill, showing himself in this incident to be a “megalomaniacal germano-phobe,” made himself indistinguishable from his hated enemy. And with him, Great Britain and America.
So who is the enemy of the Christian? Of the Church on Earth? I have been taught that the Christian's Great Enemies are three: the Sinful Flesh, the Devil, and the World. The Christian, along with the Church, is called to separate himself and remain distinct from all three. But what happens when a Christian unites himself with Worldliness? What happens when the Church “becomes the culture?” We, at Intrepid Lutherans, addressed this question over three years ago, in a blog post entitled, Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 3.2, What Happened to the Events of the Gospel? (When the Church "Becomes the Culture"), from which the following lengthy quotes are excerpted:
- It was stated above, that the Church “has struggled mightily and in various ways against the withering onslaught of man's great enemy – the World – yet has been forced into retreat.” Following this, a litany of false teaching, in which some truth and great struggle is evident, was produced to show how the Church has conducted its struggle: from within the context of having “become the culture.” In point of fact, the recent history of the Christian Church is littered with the theological ruins of Christian movements which have, in a flailing desperation for the “survival of the church,” become the culture, either not realizing, forgetting or rejecting the fact that the World is one of the Christian's Great Enemies. In the modern West, doing so has meant adopting one of two perspectives: that of rationalistic Empiricism or of mystical Existentialism. In reality, neither perspective is acceptable; both place mankind at the center of truth, and argue their way to God and for man's relationship with Him from (a) the intellectual (objective), or (b) experiential (subjective) attributes of man's existence – the historical record of God's Special Revelation of Himself to mankind no longer being relevant for this purpose, by the World's standards.
- Biblical Inerrancy,
- the Virgin Birth
- the Vicarious Atonement and bodily Resurrection of Christ, and
- the authenticity of the miracles recorded in Scripture.
In response, one option has been the route taken by American Christian Fundamentalism. Recognizing that the church was “becoming the culture” by absorbing or importing its false ideas and anthropocentric priorities, and concerned that the Bible's teaching would be lost as a result, Fundamentalism began developing among Presbyterian theologians at Princeton in the late 19th Century; and into the early 20th Century its influence spread to include Baptists and other Christians. In an attempt to articulate and draw attention to the doctrines of Christianity which were under attack by liberal theology, and to secure continued adherence to Biblical teaching among Christians, a public confession to the “fundamentals of the faith” was secured by those desiring to stand on these teachings and be identified with the fundamentalist movement. Those fundamentals were:
Because of the stark contrast between these “fundamentals” and the liberal consensus in greater Christianity, Christian Fundamentalists in America also began to take on a “separatist” platform over time, which called for not only theological, but, increasingly, social separation from those outside the fundamentalist movement, including separation from non-Christians in society...
As a result of sequestering themselves from society in this way, Fundamentalists almost entirely lost their influence among liberal theologians – their separatism being cause for suspicion among liberals on the one hand, while causing a growing ignorance among Fundamentalists regarding relevant categories of thought and modes of expression on the other. Yet, their Christian piety was still a highly potent witness in society. Nevertheless, by the late 1930's, discontent with separatism had grown sufficiently among Fundamentalists that a counter-movement began to develop from within it: Evangelicalism. This movement initially stressed a healthy involvement in the World – in the context of evangelism and ecumenical dialog. By the close of the 1950's, however, it was clear that Evangelicals had begun to absorb Worldly perspectives from the liberal Christians they had, in evangelical zeal, endeavored to associate with, Dan Fuller and other leading elements of the Evangelical Movement at Fuller Theological Seminary having introduced neo-orthodox controversies over the inerrancy of the Scriptures (the institution eventually rejected inerrancy in the early 1970’s), while that institution had begun to develop philosophies and techniques for evangelism that were engineered to bring about mass conversion – which was the basis of today's “Church Growth Movement” (see our blog post dedicated to this topic, as well, The Church Growth Movement: A brief synopsis of its history and influences in American Christianity. See also various articles on Intrepid Lutherans dedicated to the topic of The Church Growth Movement). Once again, the Church in America set itself on the road of “becoming the Culture,” eventually insisting that, for the survival of Christianity, the church must become the culture.
That the Church must “become the culture” is a lie. That it has increasingly “become the culture” is the manifest reason Western Christianity has slowly disintegrated over the past three centuries. Taking on the culture of the World has produced a vacillating imbalance between emphasis on intellect and emotion in the Church, between reason and experience, objectivity and subjectivity – and not just an imbalance, but a thrashing between these emphases that has drawn the attention of the Church away from the saving events and message of the Gospel, away from the centrality of Christ, and instead upon man and the dual fundamental characteristics of his existence. No, Christianity must not “become the culture” any more than it should it cut itself off from society. No, the Church must not abdicate in the face of its great enemy, the World, either by joining it or by running from it. Rather, as an historical institution, with an historical and saving message, it must stand and face the World on the basis of its confession, it must earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3), by (a) holding on to the specific and historic truths of Scripture in its doctrine, and (b) defending and proclaiming this truth in its practice.
- “In the 18th Century, the Bible died, in the 19th Century, God died; and in the 20th Century, man died.”
- Though acknowledging natural law, Enlightenment philosophers and scientists did so primarily as an enemy of the Church, in an attempt to sweep away any need for, or recognition of, Special Revelation and the divine law it contains. Enlightenment “Natural Theology” represented the notion that all there is to be known of God can be determined from a study of nature. A recognition of God and His law in the created order, while rejecting specific knowledge of Him or of His will from Special Revelation, is the foundation of modernistic deism. Following from this foundation, very sophisticated and intellectually honest attempts to systematize nature produced clear evidence of design and of a nameless “Intelligent Designer” that was admitted with little question.
Yet, the discoveries of science did not yield a tranquility and peaceful harmony as, perhaps, some may have thought that neutering revealed religion, by depriving it of Special Revelation and of a voice in society on that basis, would achieve. Instead, the same observations of the primitives manifested themselves: natural systems are inherently corrupt, they deteriorate and decay; cells, like animals, attack and devour one another; there is struggle, exploitation, and miserable death at every level of nature; over time, entropy is the dominant reality of the universe. Escaping the moral consequences of such observations, it seems, by the end of the 19th Century, even the deity was eliminated from natural law (some of the final blows being struck by the philosophical contributions of Immanuel Kant), making “natural law” entirely anthropocentric.
The caption under the image at the head of this post reads, “The state of the Church on Earth, today.” And in my opinion, this is an accurate picture. It is nearly everywhere in utter ruin. Though the message of the Gospel continues to stand on its own, it by definition stands as a remedy for man's sinfulness and the certainty of his eternal separation from God apart from the promises offered through it. Post-Modernism rejects certainty. It is ambivalent toward the future. And most of the Church has united itself with the thought patterns and priorities of post-Modernism. Neither certainty nor the future can be experienced in the present. The only message that can be known with any certainty by a post-Modernist is one that can be verified by experience. And the one experience with any genuine religious significance that seems to endure is fundamental to the message of the Law, a message which is increasingly rare in Lutheran circles and misused nearly everywhere else: a realization that the world is full of evil, that people act selfishly and often with evil intentions toward others – they are not “basically good,” they are “basically bad,” and the smart person today acts in ways that will preserve himself from the thoughtlessness of others, and will place him in a position of advantage should he need to defend himself. This is a world set against itself, individual by individual. It is a world absent the wholesome cultural impact of Christian teaching, which, for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, impels the Christian to daily put down the old man, to restrain the evil that inheres and to put the welfare of others before his own, and which, by Christian example, inspires others to do the same. If the image of Luther, still pointing to the Word, but standing alone in a pile of rubble that used to be one of the most awe inspiring churches on the planet, is representative of the state of the Church today, then the ashen landscape of Dresden is a suitable representation of the World without the influence of a healthy, robust Christianity. The evidence is all around us.
- It is worth noting that the Kreutzkirche has not been an insignificant church in Saxony. Through the end of the Age of Lutheran Orthodoxy, the rise and fall of Lutheran Pietism, to the birth of the Enlightenment in Germany, the Kreutzkirche served as the seat of the Saxon Bishop, which (as we read in our post, Music for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Part 3: Johann Sebastian Bach), was held by the “last of the Lutheran theologians from the Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy, and vigorous opponent of Pietism, Valentin Ernst Löscher (1673 – 1749).” Among many other things, from his post at the Kreutzkirche, he oversaw the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche as one of the wonders of church architecture for which it is recognized today. “A large Gothic structure since the Middle Ages” (as we read in our post, Music for Holy Week, Part 2 – excerpts from Markus Passion), by 1722 the Frauenkirche “had fallen into such a state of disrepair that it needed to be demolished and rebuilt. The rebuilding began in 1726...” Even as society was sinking into Enlightenment thinking, and the church was dying all around him, Löscher, a champion of Lutheran orthodoxy to the last, spared no expense overseeing the construction of a Masterpiece of Christian Architecture, that has remained a symbol of the Gospel beloved by all who see it.
- Direct quote taken from the liner notes of the following album: Dresdner Requiem, by Rudolph Mauersberger