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Catholic Church Karlheinz Deschner Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums (books)

Christianity’s Criminal History, 171


Response given

by Hermann Gieselbusch

– Reinbek, 23 August 1996 Sachbuchlektorat Rowohlt Verlag

(Left, Karlheinz Deschner with his editor Hermann Gieselbusch.) After some thirty years of preparation, the first volume of Karlheinz Deschner’s ten-volume Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums (Criminal History of Christianity) appeared in Germany in September 1986. The second volume was published in October 1988 and the third in October 1990. This marked the end of the first epoch: Antiquity.

Three imposing volumes, representing some 1,600 pages, with some 350 scientific notes, around half a thousand names of historical characters and as many place names and thousands of quotations from primary and secondary sources. In all, a veritable Milky Way of names, dates, Christian dogmas, titles and data.

Such a well-founded and fundamental accusation against Christianity—not only against the Church—has never been made before. In any case, the attacked party in principle adhered to Oggersheim’s rule: hold on.

When competent and professional Christians could not ignore it; when tens of thousands of readers devoured every new volume of Deschner’s historical Krimi every two years, when the number of annual departures from the Church was rapidly increasing sixfold and many of the dissidents were giving historical reasons in support of their decision—in particular the cruelties Deschner exposes—then it seemed to the attacked ministers of organised Christianity that the matter had passed the point of no return. And in 1992 they went on a counter-attack.

Hans Reinhard Seeliger, professor of historical theology at the Siegen University of Applied Sciences, organised a conference entitled ‘Criminalisation of Christianity? Deschner’s Church History on the Test Bench’: a three-day symposium at the Katholische Akademie Schwerte am Nordrand des Sauerlandes.

From 1 to 3 October 1992, lectures were given on the twenty-three chapters of the three volumes that have appeared to date, either in general or in particular. Most of the lecturers were professors from Germany and Austria: ordinary, extraordinary, supernumerary, and emeritus, as well as one professor and one honorary professor. Two belong to the Dominican order and one is a Franciscan. The spectrum of specialisations ranges from ancient church history, patrology, Christian archaeology, ancient history, ancient philology and Judaism to historical and systematic theology. The group was joined by a professor of criminal law (because Deschner’s is a criminal history!) as well as a newly qualified doctor of medicine from Freiburg.

Karlheinz Deschner was also invited—a chivalrous gesture—to present ‘the basic and general conception of his work’. One against twenty-two, a very tempting challenge for the combative spirit like Deschner. Nevertheless, he declined the invitation. He had already discussed the proposed topic at length in the general introduction to his work: ‘On the Subject, Methodology, the Question of Objectivity and the Problems of Historiography in General’, which consists of sixty printed pages. To this introduction, as Deschner himself wrote to the organisers, he had nothing to add. [1]

All lectures appeared in book form in the Catholic Traditionsverlag Herder in Freiburg, edited by the initiator Hans Reinhard Seeliger, with a total of 320 pages. On the cover we see the image of the Dominican Savonarola in Florence, painted by Fra Bartolommeo. A joke? (in 1498 Savonarola was burned at the stake). An aspiration? In any case, the editor writes in his introduction that ‘a “beheading” of the author would have been easy to execute’.

Of course, the book published by Herder, which is quite expensive by the way, has not been a bestseller. But even with a limited number of copies it fulfilled its function as a smokescreen. From now on, and with the very erudite reference to this collective volume, is interwoven the verdict that in that book more than twenty experts have shown that Deschner works in an unscientific way and writes with bias. When someone referring to Deschner now asks the Church painful questions, the initiate need only smile with a compassionate expression and refer to the said book—without having read it, of course—and with this magic trick of authority the whole historical mosaic of criminal history is diluted into complacency, and the soul seduced by Deschner must continue to believe that Christianity and its Churches have never had a criminal history, but only and exclusively a sacred history.

The philosopher Hermann Josef Schmidt, a professor in Dortmund, has thoroughly analysed the volume edited by Seeliger in Herder and published his exposé under the title Das ,,einhellige” oder scheinheilige ,,Urteil der Wissenschaf”? Nachdenkliches zur katholischen Kritik an Karlheinz Deschners ,,Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums”.

Deschner assumed that the interested reader can judge for himself which point of view is more convincing, and which author is closer to the critical and historical truth. Deschner, who continually advises his audience to examine what he says, not to ‘believe’ him, believes in the undertow of reason.

But to remain silent in this case would be self-harming and out of touch with reality. Calumniare audacter, semper aliquid haeret: Don’t be shy to slander, there is always something left! A foreign scientist recalled with special emphasis this old, and true, cynicism: Deschner should take a sharp, immediate and clear stand against his Schwerte critics.

The malignant flu in the winter of 1996 made it difficult for Deschner to write the fifth volume of the Criminal History, so he took up the Herder volume again, as a kind of spiritual gymnastics for convalescents, and looked for a modus operandi. To critically analyse the entire three-hundred-page-long text? Impossible. He could only proceed selectively by choosing a single article and analysing it in depth.

Deschner decided on the paper ,,Kaiser Konstantin: ein Grosser der Geschichte?” by Maria R.-Alföldi (the only woman in the Schwerte group). On the face of it, this lecture corresponds to the average level of volume. Some texts yield to all kinds of criticism. A few at least refrain from personal defamation and try to do justice to Deschner’s peculiarities and contribution: Maria R.-Alföldi occupies a middle ground and is therefore representative of the work.

She was born in 1926 in Budapest, received her doctorate in 1949, was appointed professor in Munich in 1961 and worked since then as a scientific advisor and later as a lecturer at the seminar for Greek and Roman history at the University of Frankfurt of Main in auxiliary sciences for archaeology and the history and culture of the Roman provinces (among the auxiliary disciplines of history are epigraphy, papyrology, glyptography and sigillography). Maria Radnóti-Alföldi has mainly published works on numismatics, such as Die constantinische Goldpragung: Untersuchungen zu ihrer Bedeutung für Kaiserpolitik und Hofkunst (1963) and Antike Numismatik: Theorie, Praxis, Bibliographie (1978).

Professor Radnóti-Alföldi is a corresponding member of the Academy of Science and Literature in Mainz. Hans Reinhard Seeliger, at the Schwerte meeting, introduced her as a ‘Constantine researcher of international standing’. Her lecture was received with particular sympathy at Schwerte, but here it seemed like a chorus to torpedo Deschner’s reliability as a historian. How many targets did she make? That is what Karlheinz Deschner discusses in the following reply.

[1] Editor’s note: Our abridged translation of Deschner’s global introduction to his ten volumes can be read on pages 15-25 of a PDF. Deschner’s response to Professor Radnóti-Alföldi will appear in the next post.