German bishops praise constitution on 75th anniversary of post-Nazi era

German bishops praise constitution on 75th anniversary of post-Nazi era

The Reichstag in Berlin, seat of the German federal Parliament. / Credit: Gregor Samimi/Unsplash (CC0)

CNA Newsroom, May 24, 2024 / 15:34 pm (CNA).

German bishops have lauded their country’s constitution as a beacon of freedom this week as the nation commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Grundgesetz, or Basic Law.

At an ecumenical church service held in Berlin on Thursday, Bishop Michael Gerber, vice president of the German Bishops’ Conference, reflected on the Basic Law’s historical significance and enduring impact, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

“What was formulated 75 years ago considering the terrible catastrophe of National Socialism and the Second World War is today the foundation for the future of our country and — more broadly — our continent,” he said in his sermon.

The Federal Republic of Germany is commemorating the 75th anniversary of enacting its Basic Law on May 23, 1949, over several days. President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has ordered an official state ceremony, and leaders such as President Emmanuel Macron of France are visiting. Citizens are invited to “democracy festivals” in Berlin and other locations.

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, praised the Basic Law as “a great treasure” on the conference website, saying the constitution was “formulated as a counter-draft to a totalitarian system, which is why it rightly names the reference points of all responsibility right at the beginning: God and man. Our liberal democracy stands on the foundation of this responsibility.”

Gerber emphasized the concept of responsibility embedded in the Basic Law. “Our faith is based on trust in God and God’s view of us humans. After 1945, we were given an undeserved new beginning with the opportunity to live in peace and freedom. This new beginning is interpreted as an undeserved gift — as grace.”

The German Basic Law was crafted in the aftermath of the Nazi regime and World War II, serving as a bulwark against tyranny and totalitarianism. It was influenced significantly by Christian values and the Catholic Church, aiming to prevent the recurrence of past atrocities. The constitution’s preamble, “Conscious of their responsibility before God and man,” highlights this commitment to human dignity and ethical governance.

Bishop Heinrich Timmerevers of Dresden-Meissen also underscored the significance of the Basic Law.

“The creators of this constitution had created a firm foundation against the background of our history that unites Christianity and the Enlightenment, faith and reason,” he said, according to CNA Deutsch. “The 75th anniversary of the Basic Law makes me look back with gratitude on this common foundation of our coexistence.”

Timmerevers highlighted the ongoing relevance of the Basic Law in addressing contemporary challenges.

“It is important to think about how the Basic Law can be filled with life. For me as a Christian, this also includes maintaining an awareness of the question of how we are ultimately responsible for our actions.”

The German prelate urged voters to scrutinize party programs through the prism of human dignity and responsibility in a year that marks the constitutional anniversary and critical European elections.

“Who stands up for human dignity and the right to life, and in what way?” he asked. “Is this only granted exclusively to some, or does human dignity apply to everyone?”