Diligence, meticulousness and passion to the end

Diligence, meticulousness and passion to the end

The church historian Arnold Angenendt © Cristian Gennari (KNA)

To his students he always said "No TV! Read!"Laziness of thought was anathema to the church historian Angenendt. With meticulousness and passion, he turned church history research upside down – to its rescue.

Even in the small potato fields of the Lower Rhine, great thinkers can get their start. Arnold Angenendt is such a person. With his weak stature, he was not suited for farming, his parents judged. So after the end of the war in 1945, the mother cycled to the episcopal boarding school Gaesdonck, eight kilometers away, and enrolled her son. A bicycle trip with considerable consequences for research in church history in Germany: The lanky farmer's son from Asperden developed into one of the most renowned church historians of the present day. This Monday Arnold Angenendt turns 85 years old.

Two things distinguish Angenendt in particular: First, there was his enormous diligence. With relentless meticulousness, he pursued sources, brought buried facts to light. It is the diligence of the one who had to work for everything himself – as the first academic in an old farmer's family. Born in 1934 into what he himself called a "village world that was popular Catholic and yet already in demand".

Humorous rhetoric filled lecture halls and church pews

At the same time, it was this village-rural environment that led to the second thing that characterizes Angenendt: his clear language and way of thinking. He can explain even small-scale special research in a generally understandable way and put it into larger contexts. Angenendt's rousing, humorous rhetoric filled lecture halls and church pews alike. Angenendt was a cult figure and, as a teacher, an unyielding driver to independent thought.

Munster is Angenendt's base station: He was ordained a priest there in 1963 and held the chair of Medieval and Modern Church History at the university from 1983 until his retirement in 1999. There he continued his research at the Cluster of Excellence "Religion and Politics. Angenendt's main topic as well as lifelong passion is the history of religiosity in the Middle Ages – thus the eponymous title of his major work published in 1997.

Extensive research and respected publications

Angenendt's greatest scholarly achievement is to make approaches to the history of mentality and social history, as developed by the French "Annales school" and the "Nouvelle histoire", fruitful for research in church history. If church history as a discipline can be connected to general historiography today, if it is an interlocutor on an equal footing, then that is largely thanks to Angenendt, explains Gisela Muschiol, a church historian from Bonn who completed her habilitation under him.

Angenendt asks about Christianity as an organizational form of the spirit, how piety came about, and the influence religion had on the development of society. In 2007, his widely acclaimed book "Tolerance and Violence" was published. Christianity between the Bible and the sword." The work cleared up prominent prejudices against Christianity as thoroughly as it did convincingly. It suggests that the Inquisition was de facto a step toward the rule of law, passing only 97 death sentences in its 317 years of existence. Even the Berlin daily newspaper "taz", which is unsuspicious of ecclesiastical adulation, paid high tribute to the publication.

Liberal positions

In debates about the Tridentine Mass and the ancient rite, Angenendt was a sought-after interlocutor through his studies on the Mass in the Middle Ages. In the face of conservative representatives, he took the liberal line: the liturgy did not fall from heaven, as such it was never removed from time and was by no means unchangeable. In 2015, von Angenendt published "Marriage, Love and Sexuality in Christianity"; in it, he calls, among other things, for the meaningfulness of compulsory celibacy to be put to the test, as well as Catholic sexual teachings.

Angenendt, who has been suffering from Parkinson's disease for several years, had his gravestone made while he was still alive. The inscription reads: "Here rests one who continually had to give expert opinions. May you, O Lord, not hold it in bad esteem."

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Christina Cherry
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