Jerome-Michael VEREB, C.P., “Because He Was A German!” Cardinal Bea and the Origins of Roman Catholic Engagement in the Ecumenical Movement. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006. pp. 300. $35.00 hc. ISBN 13-978-0-8028-2885-9.
Reviewed by Daniel P. SHERIDAN, Saint Joseph’s College, 278 Whites Bridge Road, Standish, Maine 04084

Father Jerome Vereb, C.P., formerly of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has written a fine historical study of an important dimension of the emergence of the Catholic involvement in the ecumenical movement. This was the establishment of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity just prior to Vatican Council II. Although history shows a convergence of factors, Vereb pays particular attention to the German Catholic contribution leading to the establishment. “In substance, through the course of this study, I have attempted to research a confined historical era in order to target the significance of the dates March 11-13, 1960, and the letter of Cardinal Jaeger to Pope John XIII on 4 March of that year.” The events of those dates led to the establishment of the Secretariat. In Vereb’s background study, the activities of five key figures converge on those dates: Cardinal Lorenz Jaeger of Paderborn, Pope Pius XII, Cardinal Augustin Bea, Maximos IV Saigh, Melchite Patriarch of Antioch, and Pope John XXIII. Vereb unfolds the background to this establishment with special attention to the unexpected emergence of Cardinal Bea as President of the Secretariat and leading figure at Vatican II.

Vereb’s book is divided into seven parts. The Prologue focuses on “The German Context of the Ecumenical Movement.” Vereb takes his motif for his book from the reason why Cardinal Bea was chosen as the first President of the Secretariat. Vereb cites Archbishop Loris Capovilla, then John XXIII’s secretary, who claimed, “Because He Was German!” It was not accidental that the first President was German since so much of the long pre-history of Catholic ecumenism had to do with German Catholic theological developments in the first part of the twentieth century.

Part 1, “A Middle Eastern Prelude,” highlights the prescient role of Maximos IV Saigh in first proposing in 1959 to John XIII that a Secretariat be established to promote Church unity. Of significance is the emphasis that Maximos placed on the role of professional ecumenists in this proposed Secretariat. He wanted theologically and ecumenically well-trained scholars on the staff. Vereb has uncovered the fact that John XXIII did not act on Maximos’ letter because it was vetoed by Cardinal Tisserant of the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

Part 2 explores “The German Theater of Ecumenical Activity” in the inter-war and post-war years through the struggles, both ecclesiastical and political, of such theologians as Adolf Herte, Joseph Lortz, Karl Adam, and Max Metzger. Lorenz Jaeger, Archbishop of Paderborn from 1942 to 1975, was the strongest advocate for ecumenism among the German episcopate. He also gave support to scholars like Herte and Lortz.

Part 3 delineates the life and character of “Augustin Bea [1881-1968], Cardinal of Ecumenism.” Bea was a Jesuit Old Testament scholar, of a conservative bent who defended the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. He left Germany for Rome in 1924, and served as professor at the Gregorian University and was Dean of the Pontifical Biblical Institute. From 1945 to 1958, he was Pius XII’s personal confessor and thus was in a position to influence Pius. From 1949-1959, he was also German Language Consultor at the Holy Office. He was appointed Cardinal by John XXIII in 1959. In this period he played key roles in drafting Divino Afflante Spiritu and Mediator Dei, and the Holy Office’s document on ecumenism, Ecclesia Catholica. If this had been all he had done, his work would have been of some historical significance for the renewal of the Church under Pius. But John XXIII intervened.

In Parts 4 and 5, Vereb studies the correspondence and collaboration, begun in 1951, between Jaeger and Bea, two Germans, one a leader in Germany, the other in Rome. In their letters, they began to formulate the idea of a Vatican bureau to promote Church unity. The two collaborators conspired to challenge the status quo of the Vatican bureaucracy. This led to “The Letter” of March 4, 1960 from Jaeger to Pope John XXIII. This historical letter of petition was favorably received and led to the foundation of the Secretariat by Pope John. However, the letter was largely drafted by Bea. An important feature of the Secretariat, as envisaged and as set up, was an emphasis on scholarship. Ecumenism as practiced at the Secretariat was to be professional.

Part 6 deals with “The Ecumenical Endeavor of Cardinal Bea” after the establishment in 1960 of the Secretariat in 1960, during the Vatican Council II, until Bea’s death in 1968. Bea was a man of the Church with a unique charism for ecumenical love for unity. In Vereb’s words: “Bea’s answer is clear. From the certitude of ecumenical Kenntnis, love means acceptance of anyone who has been chosen by Christ, who has believed in Christ and who has been baptized in Christ, for like it or not, we are together in the family of Christ.”

Vereb’s work is an important contribution to our understanding of the Catholic Church’s irrevocable commitment to the promotion of Christian unity.

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