By Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania
In the Academy Award winning motion picture, Sophie Scholl (2005), the title character, Sophie (1922 – 1943), is a young woman born into pre-war Nazi Germany. A member of institutions created by the NAZI party, such as the Bund Deutscher Mädel or BDM (the female quivalent of the Hitler-Youth), Sophie matures into an individual, who, unlike many of her countrymen and women begins to see the diabolical nature of Hitler’s social policies. To Sophie, the social works programmes, and the NAZI charitable institutions, are based on principles that are not only flawed, but inherently evil, because they limit the understanding of full humanity to only part of God’s creation – the Aryan. What keeps Sophie protected from Hitler’s lie – is her personalized belief in God. Even in the darkness of her prison cell, she is able to see the beauty of God – and has the courage to stand up against not only her Gestapo interrogators, but Hitler’s feared judge, Roland Freisler (1893 – 1945). Guillotined on the 22nd of February, 1943, after a sham trial, Sophie’s last words: “The Sun still shines” have been interpreted to mean that God conquers all Ages; God’s notion of social justice and service goes beyond the justice imposed by Commonwealths, Republics and Reichs. Both her life and her death are poignant and concrete reminders as to what may occur when public charity is manufactured by Governments and Institutions so as to exist without the root of all love – God. Such charity too often becomes preferential, political and ‘with strings attached’.
- The Fullness of God (cf. Ephesians 3: 14 – 21)
- The Path Way to the Soul
- On the Salvation of the Rich Man (cf. Mark 10: 22)
The White Rose movement of which Sophie was a founding member drew its membership from committed young Christians, who eventually suffered and died beside Sophie, individuals such as: her brother, Hans Scholl (1918 – 1943), and Alexander Schmorrell (1917 – 1943). Producing only six leaflets in the time of its existence, the White Rose, declared to Germany, in the first of its leaflets: “It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes … reach the light of day?”; while in the fourth leaflet appeared the catch-cry of White Rose: “We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience.” When the members of the White Rose movement were tried and condemned – part of the prosecution’s indictment was that the Reich had, through its social works programmes, given these individuals so much – but these individuals were guilty of gross ingratitude. Thus Sophie Scholl and her compatriots died at the hands of a court who believed in the limited temporal nature of social service – executed for the ‘crime’ of having had hearts filled with an understanding of service that knew no racial or political boundaries.
Yet in the Catholic context at least – social justice programmes, must provide formation that goes far deeper than the establishment of soup kitchens, to feed the hungry, and visits to elderly-care facilities, to tend to the lonely, however admirable these programmes are.
Alice Miller in her study, “Thou Shalt Not Be Aware, provides an analysis of the psychological development of both Hans and Sophie Scholl. According to Miller: “the tolerant and open atmosphere of their childhood had enabled them to see through Hitler’s platitudes at the Nuremberg Rally, when the brother and sister were members of Nazi youth organizations. Nearly all their peers were completely won over by the Führer, whereas Hans and Sophie had other, higher expectations of human nature, not shared by their comrades against which they could measure Hitler. Because such standards are rare, it is also very difficult for patients in therapy to see through the manipulative methods they are subjected to; the patient doesn’t even notice such methods because they are inherent in a system he takes completely for granted.” (Miller, 1984, p. 21). For the majority of Germans who accepted Hitler and his policies, these people still sought to serve their neighbour and nation, but by way of obeying the dictates of their Führer; for Hans and Sophie Scholl – the edict to serve God was a far higher edict – and therein lay the distinction in what service to others meant; one reliant on the service of man, devoid of God – the other devoted to the service of God – and through God – man.
The critical problem of this type of ‘service’ is that it varies with the temperature of the political climate, or the prevailing winds of a particular lobby-group.
Much has been said in recent years of the need of educational institutions to form students who have a devotion to societal service and justice. Such public initiatives should be commended for attempting to help form the conscience of the next generation, so that the adults of tomorrow can realize that each individual within society has a responsibility not only to tend to their own needs, but to be sensitive to the welfare of others. If nothing else, social justice programmes, serve to jump-start the conscience in order to see life from a different perspective – calling a person beyond themselves.
Yet in the Catholic context at least – social justice programmes, must provide formation that goes far deeper than the establishment of soup kitchens, to feed the hungry, and visits to elderly-care facilities, to tend to the lonely, however admirable these programmes are. St. Thomas Aquinas (1222 – 1274) writes in Summa Theologica: “the root of merit is charity; and while … charity consists in the love of God and our neighbour, the love of God is by itself more meritorious than the love of our neighbour, as stated above. Wherefore that which pertains more directly to the love of God is generically more meritorious than that which pertains directly to the love of our neighbour for God’s sake”. (ST II,II, Q. 182, Art. 2). To Aquinas, the increasing capacity in a person’s life to do acts of charity, must be developed in accord with that individual increasing his or her capacity to love God. For Aquinas this is the primary goal of living and of giving – living and loving with a purpose – living and loving with meaning and understanding – not only with raw emotion. (ST II,II, Q. 184, Art. 3).
Without a love for God – the parameters of who a person should show love to, are no longer as broad as the instruction of Christ in the Parable of the Good Samaritan – but may be manipulated to a point where the extent of charity taught to the next generation is determined by race, colour or creed
In Catholic theology, a service to others can in no way be separated from a love of God. The danger of making such a separation lies in the service programme becoming self-limiting, braced by some form of temporal or secular ideology that sees ‘service’ tied together with what it means to be a good citizen of the State. The critical problem of this type of ‘service’ is that it varies with the temperature of the political climate, or the prevailing winds of a particular lobby-group. Government inspired ‘service’ programmes can also, under the ‘right’ conditions, as has been seen in the case of Sophie Scholl, be used as a breeding ground to do evil under the guise of a greater good. Further, without a love for God – the parameters of who a person should show love to, are no longer as broad as the instruction of Christ in the Parable of the Good Samaritan – but may be manipulated to a point where the extent of charity taught to the next generation is determined by race, colour or creed. Within modern history we see not only the social works programmes of the Hitler-Youth, or the Soviet Young Komosols, but youth service programmes promulgated in Castro’s Cuba, as well as Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Without God, we may even attain the stage in society of a degree of moral lassitude where animals have greater rights to life than the unborn child or the sick and elderly, and this legislated in the name of social justice and social consciousness, all the while supported by the ‘socially aware’ majority.
Without God, we may even attain the stage in society of a degree of moral lassitude where animals have greater rights to life than the unborn child or the sick and elderly, and this legislated in the name of social justice and social consciousness, all the while supported by the ‘socially aware’ majority.
In addition, ‘service to others’ programmes devoid of God-centeredness, run the real risk of becoming exercises in pragmatism, if at the school level students perform acts of charity in order to bolster their Curriculum Vitae, or to win College colours or to obtain compulsory points for graduation. Such is the path to moral prostitution; loving others for the calculated benefit that one receives for a particular expression of charity, rather than loving others from the compulsion in one’s heart to share God’s love with all men and women. As Catholic educators it is critical therefore to place the love of God at the centre of any social justice or social service programme; for it is not in failing to ‘know’ goodness that the angel is separated from the devil – but in the devil’s failure to love ‘goodness’, at its highest point; that being God; as well as the devil’s failure to love God’s creation, of which mankind is part. It is love that must take the central part of all social service – and God being the author of love, must be given His recognizable central place.
this does not mean that charitable activity must somehow leave God and Christ aside. For it is always concerned with the whole man
The great acts of charity conducted throughout the Ages by members of the Church, have in fact been acts inspired by the love of God. When Mother Antonia O’Brien ventured to begin the work in Beagle Bay of establishing a leprosarium for the indigenous population in Australia, she and her Saint John of God sisters, many of them not even yet beyond girlhood – left all behind them in the greenery of Ireland to come to the most harshest climate on earth – not to serve man in some atheistic sense, but to serve God by serving those who no-one else had the courage or desire to do. It is this important concept of the necessity of God in all works of charity, that Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. According to Benedict XVI: “this does not mean that charitable activity must somehow leave God and Christ aside. For it is always concerned with the whole man.” (2006,§31).
The renowned Spanish essayist, Miguel de Unamuno (1864 – 1936), also elaborated on this notion when in words resounding with poetry, he wrote: “The work of charity, of the love of God, is to endeavour to liberate God from brute matter, to endeavour to give consciousness to everything, to spiritualise or universalise everything; it is to dream that the very rocks may find a voice and work in accordance with the spirit of this dream; it is a dream that everything that exists may become conscious, that the Word may become life”. (Unamuno, 1954, 214). According to Unamuno, it is through a love of God, that our perspective of life and love is steered; it is through this same God that our sense of labour is given a profound expression of meaning; it is through this love of God, that our labour does not become tainted, by the vain-glory and political nature of society.
The Letter of St. James is often quoted to emphasize the importance of service in connectivity to Christian Faith. True, St. James instructs: “faith without deeds is useless” (James, 2: 20, The New Jerusalem Bible). But similarly later in the same Epistle, St. James exhorts: ”The nearer you go to God, the nearer God will come to you.” (James, 4: 8, The New Jerusalem Bible). Faith without works is indeed empty – but works without Faith may in fact lead to moral evil. True, a concern for others, is the fingerprint of God in all our spirits, believer or non-believer, alike – yet God did not teach us through Christ to love our neighbour above all else – rather, the first commandment that we are ordained to obey, as Aquinas so clearly preached in his Summa is that: “’You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’”; after this point we are obliged to love our neighbour as ourselves – in a God-inspired manner, with love, zeal, self-sacrifice, justice and Truth – even unto death. (Luke 10: 27, The New Jerusalem Bible & cf. John 15: 13).
This article was published in The Church and Life Newspaper, June 2017.