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Pope Adenauer I

By Bruce Walker
web posted April 25, 2005

If there was a thread running through the Papacy of John Paul II -- his life as a slave laborer for the Nazis in occupied Poland near Auschwitz, his ascension when Solidarity began to become a major force in Poland, the confluence of the remarkable presidency of Ronald Reagan and the equally remarkable primeministership of Lady Thatcher during the critical years of John Paul II's first decade as pope -- then there is a thread running through the ascension of Benedict XVI as well.

The Second World War, political correctness, ephemeral modern memories, and an ocean of unimportant information often causes moderns to never grasp true greatness and significance. Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Ratzinger, began his rise within the Catholic Church in 1962 in Cologne. By accidence or by Providence, that same year one of the most extraordinary statesmen in modern history finally left office, Konrad Adenauer.

Adenauer, like Ratzinger, was a devout Catholic whose career was intimately connected with the city of Cologne and his character bears remarkable similarities to Pope Benedict XVI. When the Great War ended in 1918, Adenauer was already a middle-aged man. He was Lord Mayor of Cologne, the fourth largest city in Germany, and had to handle millions of hollow faced, angry, bitter and frightened German soldiers returning home to starving families. This great man, with a combination of intellectual brilliance, unapproachable integrity and pure courage presided over this thankless task perfectly.

Konrad AdenauerHe was one of the few, perhaps the only, politician in Germany who actually could have made the Weimar Republic work. Adenauer was President of the Prussian State Council from 1922 to 1933, opposing consistently the Nazis and the Communists and almost becoming Chancellor on several occasions. Adenauer represented all that was best in Germany, and his politics were firmly rooted in his faith.

There are touching, almost haunting, snapshots of his life which tell everything: his first wife died and one of his daughters had his first grandchild soon thereafter. The grandchild was gravely ill from birth and Adenauer, and the following except from his biography relates:

"Toward midnight the child's breathing began to rattle. Adenauer telephoned the doctor, who was willing to come but said that his visit would be to no purpose since he could not save the child. Adenauer returned to the sickroom. He took the baby from his cot and held him in his arms until, as dawn broke, it was all over. Then, with the telephone ringing incessantly and clamoring for his presence at the Town Hall, he hurried back to his office."

That is the sort of reverence for life that we will receive from Pope Benedict XVI and the sort that was made famous by another incredible and noble Rhinelander, Albert Schweitzer, who was at once the foremost interpreter of Bach in the world, one of the finest physician in the world, and the perhaps the greatest Biblical scholar of his day -- and who dedicated his life to the alleviation of human and animal suffering in Africa. Schweitzer himself, in fact, coined the term "reverence for life."

Schweitzer and Adenauer are examples of how intellectual powerhouses combined with moral certainty and indomitable spirit can produce men who change the world for the better. Adenauer certainly did that. When the Nazis took power, he was almost sixty years old. He refused to meet Hitler and was thrown into prison by the Nazis. Although released later, Adenauer was arrested again by the Gestapo in 1944 at age sixty-eight.

When the Federal Republic of Germany was formed out of the democracies half of the Weimar Republic (East Germany, Pomerania, Silesia and East Prussia were all occupied by the Communists), Adenauer was one of the few men who could credibly lead the new nation. He did. Twice in a single lifetime, Adenauer had to deal with carnage, destruction and suspicion of victorious powers, when he began the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany at age seventy-four in 1949.

This Chancellor need make no moral concessions to the Jewish people or to the State of Israel. Indeed, as a vigorous and constant opponent of Nazism, at great risk to himself, and as a strong proponent of peace after the Great War, few human beings have done more to oppose the rise of the Third Reich. Yet he asked Israel, and was allowed by Israel, to have his nation make reparation payments for HaShoah.

Germany had few arguments to make for the release of its prisoners of war in the Soviet Union, considering that the Nazis had allowed perhaps millions of Red Army soldiers to starve to death during the Great Patriotic War, yet Adenauer was able to obtain the release of German POWs in 1955.

Germans, who know Cardinal Ratzinger, also know Konrad Adenauer, who was recently voted as the greatest German of all time. The two men both entered their highest office very late in life, and yet Adenauer used every life experience, every tragedy, every intellectual and practical challenge, to make him easily stand above any political leader in German history.

I suspect that Pope John Paul II saw something in this German priest that looked like the very best in a people capable of producing Schweitzer and Hitler, and I suspect that the unquestioned intellectual powers of this wise old new pope, combined with the indomitable character of another old German from Cologne, will produce a Papacy quite remarkable and very good.

Bruce Walker is a contributing editor with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.


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