We warmly recommend watching Terrence Malick’s latest film ‘A Hidden Life’ (UK release 17 January 2020) about unsung hero, Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, who refused to fight for the Nazis in World War II. When the Austrian peasant farmer is faced with the threat of execution for treason, it is his unwavering faith and his love for his wife Fani and children that keeps his spirit alive.
This deeply poetical, familial and (long) film raises many questions.
What would we have done? Is there no way one could swear alliegance to save one’s family and one’s life? While Nazi Germany is an easy – often stereotyped – incarnation of evil, asking the same questions about our modern world in 2020 is more challenging. Is it possible that we are compromising? When does prudence end, and when does resistance become necessary?
The villagers in the film ostracise Franz and his family because of their moral stance. Are we aware and fearful of a similar risk incurred if we stand up for truth and virtue? Precisely, are we standing up, or are we trying to lie low for as long as we can?
Dare we name the forces of oppression in 2020, even though they wear no swastikas up their sleeves?
One wishes that the film had explained the moral distinctions which make some official oaths permissible and others not.
For instance in the Concordat between the Holy See and the German Reich signed on July 20, 1933 [Ratified 10 September 1933] stipulated: “Article 16: Before bishops take possession of their dioceses they are to take an oath of loyalty either to the Reich governor of the state (Land) concerned or to the President of the Reich respectively, according to the following formula:
“Before God and on the Holy Gospels I swear and promise, as becomes a bishop, loyalty to the German Reich and to the State (Land) of . . . I swear and promise to honour the legally constituted government and to cause the clergy of my diocese to honour it. With dutiful concern for the welfare and the interests of the German state, in the performance of the ecclesiastical office entrusted to me, I will endeavour to prevent everything injurious which might threaten it.”
The oath which Franz Jägerstätter refused to take as a soldier was the Wehrmacht Oath of Loyalty to Adolf Hitler, 2 August 1934:
“I swear to God this sacred oath that to the Leader of the German Reich and people, Adolf Hitler, supreme commander of the armed forces, I shall render unconditional obedience and that as a brave soldier I shall at all times be prepared
to give my life for this oath.”
The Catholic faith of Franz is manifest in the film, but less explicit than was the case in his life. After a turbulent (and even sinful) youth, he started taking his faith more and more seriously. Family life made him an exemplary Catholic husband and father. He became the village sacristan. The film should have included at least one holy Mass (there are delightful scenes in his mountain village church). Still, what a pleasant surprise to see a Hollywood blockbuster film depicting the Catholic faith with such accuracy, respect and beauty (the Corpus Christi procession is a little jewel)!
On this eve of the feast of the Holy Family, the most precious gift offered us by Terrence Malick in ‘The Hidden Life’ is his depiction of a deeply Catholic home, where parents, grandmother and children are not spared hardship (working very hard in the fields indeed) but grow in moral stature through their trials embrassed in faith and relying on God’s grace. Aged 94, Fani attended the beatification ceremony of her husband in Rome in 2007, led by Pope Benedict XVI whose own home village was near St Radegund, across the border. No doubt this film can encourage modern families struggling with education, chastity, fidelity – and touch those among our contemporaries who as yet haven’t had the grace of experiencing Catholic family life. Holy Family of Nazareth, please inspire and protect all families!
Closing Title Card “…the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” -George Eliot, ‘Middlemarch’.
Further reading: https://www.firstthings.com/…/a-hidden-life-the-story-of-a-…
Correspondence between Franz and his wife : https://www.ncronline.org/…/collected-writings-franz-jagers….