The Ambassador in Germany (Dodd) to the Secretary of State

No. 174

Sir: In continuation of despatch No. 139 of September 12, 1933,86 I have the honor to report that Chaplain Müller, the new State Bishop of Prussia, was elected Reich Bishop by the National Synod of the unified Evangelical Church at its first meeting in Wittenberg this week. At a ceremony held in that city in commemoration of the 450th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther it was announced that Wittenberg would be made the center of church life and that the Reich Bishop would reside there at times.

Bishop Müller’s selection was widely expected, as he was Hitler’s own candidate for the highest office in the unified Church. It will be recalled that the failure of the church heads to respect Hitler’s wishes by selecting Pastor von Bodelschwingh for this office resulted in a sharpening of the conflict within the Evangelical Church. This conflict subsided, at least outwardly, after the church elections in July (see section 10 of despatch No. 66 of August 12, 193386) which gave the German Christians, the Nazi extremists, complete control of the Church.

Upon assuming office the Reich Bishop appointed the four members of the clerical ministry which, according to the new Church Constitution, consists of three theologians representing the Lutheran, Reformed and Unionist movements and one jurist (see despatch No. 2456 of June 2, 1933). The Unionists will be represented by the Bishop of Brandenburg, Hossenfelder; the Lutherans by the Bishop of Hamburg, Schoeffel; the Reformists by Director Weber-Elberfeld. Dr. Werner, the head of the Church Senate, is the jurist in the clerical ministry.

As the structure of this body shows, the German Evangelical Church consists of three religious groups. The controversy in connection with the conflict between the Nazi extremists and the moderates in the Church showed, however, that the fundamental differences between these denominations have been greatly attenuated in the course of years [Page 302] that many German Protestants prefer to regard themselves simply as “evangelisch”. The Lutherans are, of course, the followers of Martin Luther. The Reformists are the followers of Zwingli and Calvin. These two groups differ only in their conception of the holy communion, but even this difference is no longer as great as it was. The Unionists, the result of the first attempt to unify the Evangelical Church early in the 19th century, are composed of both former Lutherans and Reformists.

The new Reich Bishop, in addressing the National Synod, referred to the National Socialist movement and its leader, the Chancellor, as a gift from Heaven at a decisive moment “when the enemies of the Cross of Jesus were about to destroy our people completely, internally and externally”. He expressed deep appreciation for the part the German Christians played in unifying the Evangelical Church. A new Reich, he said, was being formed, and it was up to the Church not to wait until the people came to it. The Church must go to the people—the German people of today, “the SA87 man and SS88 man, the man in the labor camp, the man at the plow, the man in the shop, the student, the youth, and especially the woman and mother.” Bishop Müller declared that the new Evangelical Church did not wish to cut the ties with the churches of other nations, but, he said, “equality before God does not exclude the inequality of men among themselves.”

The Nazification of the Unified Evangelical Church has evoked vigorous but apparently futile protests from the moderate groups in the Church outside of Prussia. I have been informed that ten Protestant Bishops, representing virtually all the Protestant leaders outside of Prussia, signed a protest against the personal union of the Reich and Prussian Churches because they fear that as a result of the centralization of ecclesiastic authority in the person of the Bishop of Prussia the Prussian Church will be predominant. The Bishop of Hamburg, one of the signers of this protest, represents this group in the clerical ministry. I have also been informed that 2,000 Protestant Ministers protested against the centralization of ecclesiastic authority and that Marburg University protested against the application of the Aryan Paragraph to clergymen and officials of the Church (see despatch No. 139).

Needless to say, none of this information was published in the German press, which took pains to create the impression that the reorganization of the Evangelical Church was effected with a minimum of friction and opposition.

Respectfully yours,

William E. Dodd
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Sturm-Abteilung.
  4. Schutz-Staffel.