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    PloughCast 43: The Work of Generations and the Wisdom of a German Prince

    Generations, Part 1

    By Prince Michael zu Salm-Salm, Peter Mommsen and Susannah Black Roberts

    January 17, 2023

    About This Episode

    Why have an issue on “Generations?” Peter and Susannah discuss the genesis of the current issue, and then go into the issues covered in Pete’s lead editorial.

    Why do we feel the need for roots? Is this something that should be purely met within the church? How does God renew our natural ties, and our ability to love intergenerationally? What are the promises and perils of the rooted life? And how can the wisdom of Christ help us avoid deracination on one hand and the worship of blood and soil on the other?

    Then, they discuss with Prince Michael zu Salm-Salm his piece containing the distilled wisdom of a thousand years of his ancestors living in one spot, working the forests and vineyards of southern Germany. What does that kind of perspective give? They also talk about the Prince’s ecumenical work, in which he aims to mend the rifts of the Wars of Religion, through repentance under the Lordship of Christ. Plus, winemaking!

    [You can listen to this episode of The PloughCast on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.]

    Recommended Reading


    Section I: The Need for Roots

    Susannah Black Roberts: Welcome back to the PloughCast! This is the first episode in our new series, covering our Generations issue. I’m Susannah Black Roberts, senior editor at Plough.

    Peter Mommsen: And I’m Peter Mommsen, editor-in-chief at Plough. In this episode, we will be talking about my editorial, and then speaking with Prince Michael zu Salm-Salm, a German landowner whose family has been managing the same vineyards and woodlands for a thousand years.

    Susannah Black Roberts: So this is the first episode covering our generations issue. Pete, do you want to talk about what we were thinking when we came up with this concept?

    Peter Mommsen: Why we wanted to talk about generations?

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yes.

    Peter Mommsen: Susannah, we started thinking about this back during the Covid pandemic didn’t we, when we looked at the just appalling numbers of elderly people who were dying in nursing homes. And there were reports coming out about how isolated they were. In fact, there were some pretty sobering reports on how just loneliness and isolation were a huge predictor of who would die of Covid. And it just raised a whole bunch of questions about the place of the elderly. What role do they play in society? Why were so many socially and physically separated from younger generations?

    And at the same time, you see this search for roots, this search for deeper, thicker forms of community in various places on the internet. And also I think in real life, in different kinds of nationalist projects, also in identity politics on the left as well. Pulling all those things together, we thought, just, you know what? It would be really good to talk about how the generations are tied together, how they should be tied together. What it means to give a good legacy to the upcoming generation. How do you do that? So tying all those things together was our aim in this issue.

    What are you thinking about when you think about this topic, Susannah?

    Susannah Black Roberts: Primarily, I’m thinking about my own family, which is large, and goes back a ways, and has many opinions on what its legacy ought to be. And also just obviously, again, I got married six months ago, and so, we made a new family, out of these two old families that we came from. And obviously continuing them, and figuring out what my husband’s and my legacy is going to be, and what we’re going to pass on to the next generation: these all feel like very live issues. And then, they also feel very live, in terms of the contemporary sense of deracination, and what Simone Weil called the need for roots, and how real and vivid that is, and what a good and important part of us that is to address.

    Peter Mommsen: And how prone though, to go off the rails as well.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Very, very easily prone to go off the rails that is, in lots of different ways actually, politically and personally.

    Peter Mommsen: So I wrote an editorial.

    Susannah Black Roberts: You did.

    Peter Mommsen: Yeah, I did. And thanks for all your comments on it, Susannah. And speaking of Simone Weil and The Need for Roots, it’s called “Yearning for Roots.” Now I wasn’t thinking about Simone Weil, at least when I started writing it, I was thinking of Alex Haley’s big doorstop book, Roots, right? Alex Haley, famously a journalist and historian, who back in the 1970s, writes this big book that tells this story of his family, his African American family, back through slavery to this ancestor, or putative ancestor, Kunta Kinte in Africa, who’s kidnapped and brought over on the slave ships. And this book becomes a bestseller. It becomes one of the biggest TV sensations ever. 85 percent of US households watched this finale and it sparks . . .

    Susannah Black Roberts: What?

    Peter Mommsen: Yeah, isn’t that crazy? I mean, this is also commentary on the 1970s, right?

    Susannah Black Roberts: Right. Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: But he sparks this huge interest in family history, that has continued unabated up to today, when you have family service companies like 23andMe, or Ancestry, and others, becoming popular holiday gifts, right? Here’s your DNA kit and you too can find out how Irish, or Italian, or Nigerian, you are.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Have you done one of those?

    Peter Mommsen: I have not. Absolutely not done that. I’m not going to give away DNA to some big commercial database ever, just so I can find out how Neanderthal I am. Right.

    Susannah Black Roberts: I can tell you right now, you’re quite a large percentage.

    Peter Mommsen: I think I am. I’m definitely from the suspicious zone of Northern Europe, where there’s lots of Neanderthals lurking. And they probably were alive a lot longer than most people think. That’s my personal theory.

    Susannah Black Roberts: We’re getting into serious ancient alien stuff right away.

    Peter Mommsen: Yeah. So Roots, right? Alex Haley, I just found this story absolutely fascinating, because it ties into these family search databases. The biggest one,, is founded by two Brigham Young University graduates, who are given access to the genealogical archives maintained by the Mormon Church, because they are themselves Mormons. And that’s sort of where comes from, is from this Mormon Church genealogical database. Now, many people may know why the Mormon Church has a genealogical database.

    Susannah Black Roberts: But some may not.

    Peter Mommsen: Some may not. So why is that, Susannah?

    Susannah Black Roberts: As I understand it, you’re going to have to correct me if I’m wrong. But from what I understand, Mormon theology teaches that one of the ways that we can sort of honor and love our ancestors is by baptizing them, or by getting baptized on behalf of them, as many of them as possible, into I guess, Mormonism?

    Peter Mommsen: Now you and I have never been at such a ceremony, because I believe you need to be Mormon to actually visit the temple for this vicarious baptism. But the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, said this wonderful line, “The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our own dead.” So that’s taking roots pretty seriously. And I take roots somewhat seriously, but I’m not quite sure to Joseph Smith levels, as seeing that as the greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us.

    However, be that as it may, here’s this word connection to Alex Haley. Which listeners may have been asking themselves, how are we connecting these two things? He’s invited by BYU, by Brigham Young University, the Mormon Church functionally, at the height of his fame in 1977, to receive an honorary doctorate. And specifically, the church honors him for basically popularizing family history research, which is something that the Mormon Church is trying to promote in general.

    And in doing so, the university justifies its doctorate with these words: “We see in what Alex Haley has done a remarkable example of the hearts of the fathers reaching down through the generations to the children, and the hearts of the children reaching back to their fathers. We here of all people” – speaking, I suppose, of the Mormon student and faculty body of Brigham Young University – “we here, of all people, can understand and honor his great work in responding to these impulses.”

    I suspect you do not share the Mormons’ belief in vicarious baptism into Mormonism. I certainly do not. However, this idea of the hearts of the fathers reaching down to the generations of the children and vice versa, struck me as a powerful line, even though you could say it’s a bit purple. Because that really is what Haley was doing, in his case, very specifically, telling African Americans, you too have a family history. You come from somewhere, you should live up to something. Haley at the time told this Mormon newspaper, Deseret News, “Families need to get their history recorded. Talk to the oldest members of the family about the most minute details they can recall. Once they’re gone there irreplaceable.”

    Well, I think many families do this, probably not enough, but definitely, my family did. Growing up, I heard stories of my grandparents, great grandparents, great great grandparents. I could visit distant cousins in Switzerland, who would still use the “du” form, because we both came from the same Riga patrician family back one hundred years ago. Right? And there’s something to that, there’s something actually very cool about that. You can be friends with some very unexpected people through your family, through a blood tie that is actually a bit random.

    And yet, although I kind of grew up assuming everybody was like that, I was really shocked to find... Shocked, not in a moral sense, just surprised . . . to find a survey that did, that only 47 percent of Americans, could you believe that Susannah? Only 47 percent of Americans can name all four grandparents, and only 4 percent of Americans can name all eight great grandparents. I mean, that’s just an astounding lack of connection to older generations. And that also kind of, going back to Covid, explains why there’s all these grandparents sitting in nursing homes, unvisited and dying of Covid, without any meaningful connection to subsequent generations.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Reading that made me feel like I belonged to a totally alien culture. That’s so distant. In my growing up, I had a very similar thing to you, where we would tell stories of the family. And we have all these, we’ve got this Connecticut place, where we have trees that are planted in memory of the family dead. Because we can’t actually bury them there, because they don’t let you do that kind of thing in Connecticut. But yeah, this is very much, I assumed . . . I didn’t assume, I knew that our family was weird, but I kind of didn’t realize how weird.

    Peter Mommsen: So dear listeners, you’re listening to two, apparently, statistical weirdos. Although, I kind of hope that you too belong to families where you know, certainly your grandparents and great grandparents. And if you don’t, maybe it’s a good time to hop online and figure out who they are. You don’t need to be Mormon to care about these people. But why is that? Are we just being weird, or is there a reason why it’s actually good to know who your great grandparents are, even if you never knew them?

    Susannah Black Roberts: First of all, I think just from on a basic level, I at least experienced the desire to. I have a love for my grandparents, and for my great grandparents, and for my great great grandparents. Although I know less about them, still quite a bit. I know them, and I share with my family, the family who are alive now, a sense of being descended from them. And that’s been very important to me for my whole life. That’s been a huge part of my life, and of understanding who I am. Whether or not I should care about that, I do. And I actually don’t think that there’s anything at all bad about that. I think it’s extremely natural and good.

    Peter Mommsen: So for me, it’s been absolutely formative. I even wrote an entire book about the life story of my non-famous grandfather. Because in a way, to understand why you’ve been put on earth, understanding what your forebears lived for, who they were, what you have to live up to, I think can be very important.

    Now obviously, there are people who don’t have access to that. There’re people who are adopted. There’re people whose parents are just unknown. I mean, one big reason some people go to Ancestry or 23andMe is to actually find out about their biological parentage, or farther back, because they were not able, as Alex Haley urged us, to go and talk to these older generations, they just didn’t know them.

    I have one friend who was telling me his mother is adopted, and it was a great surprise to him watching his own kids grow up, because you just didn’t know what would happen. It was like getting the surprise toy out of a box, because you didn’t have any family on one side to compare back to, or look at old photos. How did grandma look when she was a girl? What your kid’s interests were, what they were good at, whether they were good at soccer or going to be artists. It was just a complete sort of surprise. And that was kind of interesting.

    But I think most people like that do experience that, not as something great, like yay, I’m starting from a blank slate, and I don’t have to worry about my ancestors. A lot of people at least, judging from the people who use these services, really do desire that connection back, that Alex Haley felt was so important.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah. There’s one kind of little anecdote here. There’s this guy I had a crush on probably, I don’t know, ten years ago or something, who, he’s Jewish. His parents were dedicated Communists in Belarus.

    So his parents had been, because their parents were also dedicated Communists, put into collective orphanages. This is something that you did to show that you were very, very serious about being Communist, because even raising your children should not be a private thing. And because his parents had been raised in orphanages, his parents had never learned any nursery rhymes or lullabies. And so, when he was growing up, his parents didn’t sing lullabies to him, and so he didn’t know any lullabies. And I was totally shocked by that sense of Communism as this thing that just comes around and takes an ax to the generations. There are versions of Communism that I’m very much in favor of, including the Bruderhof kind. And I’m certainly not an apologist for capitalism, which I think also sucks, because I think it does similar stuff. But it was just very vivid to me. There’s something very important to this totalizing ideology that needs to take an ax to the generations. And I think that that’s something that we should pay attention to.

    Peter Mommsen: Why we believe this sense of roots, sense of continuity between generations, is so important. It is something just judging from this one survey from, but also just from common life, seems to be eroded by Capitalism, certainly in the sense that Capitalism encourages the erosion of any sort of traditional forms of community and intergenerational continuity. But also, just by the modern idea that now is what matters. We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for. Modernity in general is sort of dismissive of the past. And if you look back on the past as this benighted time, that’s only valuable insofar as it leads up to us, what do you have to learn from earlier generations, apart from maybe looking down at them for being less enlightened than we are now?

    Susannah Black Roberts: My friend group in New York, we have an annual First Sunday of Advent tradition of watching Whit Stillman’s movie, Metropolitan. And there’s this one line where Tom Townsend, who’s the hero, says to Audrey, who’s the heroine, something like, they’re talking about Jane Austen, and she loves Jane Austen. He thinks Jane Austen is ridiculous, although he’s never read any Jane Austen. He’s just read critical essays by Lionel Trilling about Jane Austen. And he says something like, “But all those conventions and all those ways of life, they’re just completely ridiculous in our time.” And Audrey says, “Did you ever think that we might look completely ridiculous to someone from Jane Austen’s time?” And I think that’s a kind of good, helpful heuristic to think about every now and then. What of our world would our ancestors think was ridiculous and silly?

    Peter Mommsen: So we’ve sketched out a few reasons why we think we agree with Alex Haley, if not entirely with the Mormon Church, that it’s kind of a good thing for the hearts of the children to reach back to the fathers and mothers and vice versa, to the extent that that’s possible. And maybe when we get into the more sort of Christian part of it, we can think about how it might be possible for the long dead to actually have something to do with us today. But we won’t get into that quite yet.

    Section II: The Limits of Roots

    You could say, that’s almost like our first claim in this podcast series, Susannah, about generations, is that roots are good. There should be more roots and intergenerational connectivity.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yep.

    Peter Mommsen: But, right?

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: So let’s talk about the “but.”

    Susannah Black Roberts: A big part of the “but” is that, very obviously, there are forms of politics that can take this intense human desire for roots and give promises relating to that, that have to do with a kind of ethnic nation that will allow you to have this fundamental sense of belonging that you now don’t have. And because you don’t have it, I think very frequently, when people don’t have that kind of fundamental sense of intergenerational belonging that’s real, that’s like concrete in their own families, they can be very susceptible to the promise of the nation as this kin group that is like a big family. Obviously, this is a lot of German romantic political philosophy involved in this, Herder in particular.

    Peter Mommsen: How could you possibly knock the German romantics?

    Susannah Black Roberts: I’m really sorry. I know the Bruderhof comes out of this as well, sort of. Yeah, there’s a lot to love about German romanticism, but boy.

    Peter Mommsen: They are not uncomplicated.

    Susannah Black Roberts: No. So I mean yeah, when you have a family that is concrete that you can draw from, and you can inherit, whose dreams and legacy you can inherit, that’s an incredible blessing. And I think it’s a blessing that, in a way, everyone should have. And it’s sad if you don’t have it, in the way that everyone should have two parents. Everyone should have parents who don’t die when they’re a kid. There shouldn’t be people who are orphans. It’s like all these “in an unfallen world” kind of thing, these wouldn’t happen. And I think in an unfallen world, we would all have personal connection. We wouldn’t be cut off from our actual families.

    But A, there’s a lot of caveats here. Jesus came to deal with the fact that the world is fallen. So that’s kind of a preview of coming attractions. So don’t freak out if you are an orphan, or if you did grow up, as I did, in a divorced family. Although, my parents were both so intense about being parents anyway that didn’t feel like, I don’t know, severing. Or, if you don’t have a long great, great, great grand parental tradition of story, and song, and light verse, there’s still hope for you. But I do think that if you don’t, and if you really have that hunger, it can be very easy to seek an answer to that hunger, seek food, that turns out to be some kind of extreme ethnonationalist poison, rather than good nourishing food.

    Peter Mommsen: Where the desire for kinship and identity, for lack of a better term, gets out of proportion to other things that are good in life. And I wonder if this doesn’t become a temptation more, and we’ve talked about this before, Susannah, where that real intergenerational family is lacking. So it’s where you’re living in a kind of isolated life, kind of cut off from your grandparents, great grandparents, also where your families came from, just because of geographic mobility. Maybe living in a suburb somewhere, online too much. It becomes a lot easier to project this longing for identity onto some negative sort of blood and soil type stuff. Right? And there’s a reason that the original blood and soil from the last century also got big in a society that had recently industrialized, and was actually cut off from natural families, actual families.

    Susannah Black Roberts: It was something that, I mean I’m just reading now, Dietrich von Hildebrand’s My Battle Against Hitler, which is fantastic. It’s basically his memoir of the generation of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and all those guys. He’s Catholic, everyone should get von Hildebrand-pilled. But he talks about the seduction, or enchantment, of these kinds of ideas, precisely because people were hungry for something good, and they were getting given something that sort of tasted like that good thing, but turned out to be very bad, indeed.

    Peter Mommsen: And just to be quite blunt, there are forms of that around today, and you can see that with certain forms of white nationalism, or other forms of ethnic nationalism on the internet, where people are actually essentializing kind of aspects of themselves as key to their core identity based on, I guess, real or imagined kind of DNA genetic similarity to others, as if that were the basis of human identity, and community, and culture.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah. Or rather, the only basis and the one.

    Peter Mommsen: The only basis. Mm-hmm.

    Susannah Black Roberts: That really trumps, so to speak.

    Peter Mommsen: Because if we’re going to get now to our third point – our first point is, Roots are good. Our second point is, Here’s the buts. And our third point, I think that we’re going to make in this, and these are all things that we want to explore in the next few episodes of this podcast, is of course, this is a Christian podcast. So let’s think about it in a Christian way. And one thing that your husband Susannah, Alastair, points out in our issue, and I look forward to talking with both of you about this, is the importance of genealogy in scripture.

    So unlike the people today, who can’t name their grandparents or great grandparents, scripture shows a huge interest, and these tables of begats, going back generation upon generation. And so for anyone who is a Christian, or interested in Christianity, that seems to cast an interesting light on how to think about roots.

    And of course, the most prominent one for Christians is the genealogy of Christ himself. And I’m not sure that we’re going to get into that deeply, but I think we can tease it, by saying that, what’s fascinating about this genealogy is that, it’s precisely not a genetic genealogy. It lands up with Joseph, who is not the biological father of Jesus. And that raises a whole bunch of really fascinating questions, that kind of gets at the heart of this issue of Generations. And we want to get into that a little with Alastair, when we have him on a subsequent episode of this.

    But I think it is important to at least note, that the Christian tradition does affirm the goodness of the family, of fathers and mothers having children who have children, and a sense of connectivity, a sense of honor and duty. The Decalogue certainly commands honor of father and mother, and one can understand that is also extending back onto the generations.

    And yet, Jesus didn’t leave children behind, and the early church placed a great value on celibacy. And Jesus himself redefined his family as, those who do the will of the Father in heaven, when his mother and his brothers were looking for him. So without trying to interpret that in any type of final way, let’s just say that, Christianity approaches this question in a kind of layered way. And in a way that certainly includes those who may not know their ancestry, those who may not have a pedigree, those who aren’t of illustrious stock. And also, those who are childless, who are not going to themselves biologically form part of the chain of generations, and yet form part of a greater family, that redefined family, that is continuing through the generations. And so, those are just a few of the themes. And Susannah, I’m probably missing a whole bunch of them, but those are a few themes that kind of form our third kind of point of interest in this series of podcasts is, What’s the Christian way of thinking about this in a way that includes everybody?

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah. And includes all of these truths. I feel like there’re three big truths here that we’ve talked about, and you can’t really kind of pull back on any of them. And I think the first two truths are, to a certain degree, contained in the Christian approach, and in Christ’s own approach, and the approach of the whole counsel of scripture, to how to think about our families, how to love our families, what family means, and the relationship between natural and adoptive, or other forms of family.

    In thinking about this stuff, it just feels to me something that is more like dance than like a final answer. There’s not a kind of a univocal blood and soil Christianity, like that’s not Christianity. And there’s not a univocal anti-natural family Christianity. That’s not Christianity either. And figuring out what reality is, in light of the gospel, and in light of all of our experiences with regard to generations, that’s what we’re here to do in this, the new season of the podcast.

    Section III: Prinz Michael zu Salm-Salm: A Thousand Years in One Place

    Susannah Black Roberts: And now, we’re very happy to welcome Prince Michael zu Salm-Salm. He’s a landowner, entrepreneur, winemaker and forester, the heir to Wallhausen Castle and the surrounding lands and title in Southern Germany, and is in the thirty-second generation of his family on that land.

    So I guess to start off, assuming that not necessarily all of our listeners will have read the piece, do you want to just describe your family a little bit, to let people know where you’re coming from?

    Prince Michael zu Salm-Salm: Well, we live in the Rhineland area, near Main Frankfurt, on the West Bank of the Rhine. And my family happens to live here the last one thousand years, not without interruptions. We were forced out seven times, but never by the people of the homeland, but by French, Swedes, Spanish, Russians, whomever, during these one thousand years. And I consider it to be a big blessing, that we always managed to come home again, and restarted life here. I’m the thirty-second generation living here at that very place, together with my big family. We have six children. All of them are married, all of them have children again. So we have twenty-five grandchildren, which is just wonderful. I’m seventy years old, and by profession, I’m an economist, and vine grower and forester, and did a lot of other things during my lifetime, being in politics, and being in entrepreneurship, being in social jobs and duties.

    Yes. And Philippa is the most important part of my life and our family life, my wife coming from Castell. Quite a similar family, living there for a very long time. But I’m Catholic, she’s Protestant, and that’s what’s all about, a very traditional Catholic family. You’ve got to know that in Germany, after the Thirty Years’ War, which came to an end with a peace agreement, and part of that peace agreement was that, you could live your faith, your religion, but [if you were of the other faith,] you could not stay in a country which was governed Catholic or Protestant. And so, the saying was, cuius regio eius religio, who is the ruler, he decides about the faith of the people, their religion. And in my case it was Catholic, in Philippa’s case it was Protestant. Not a good thing to do, but at least it brought peace in those days. But of course, a very, very hurting experience in the spiritual life of the people.

    So when we came together, two traditions, how should I say, fought each other, and my family wasn’t happy that I’m going to marry a Protestant lady. And yes, there really started our life with Jesus. Because I was raised in a Jesuit college, very good training for the brain, but very bad for the heart, and real believing and trust in the Lord. And so, I really lost my faith in those days in that college, and found it back by seeing the rich parts of Protestantism, knowing about the Bible, and the Word, and being very trustworthy in the Lord. And so, we decided, and really discovered that, Jesus is the boss, in both in Catholic and in Protestant churches, or should be the boss, at least should be, and he became the boss in our marriage. So that’s all about, that’s a long story in hopefully short enough version.

    Peter Mommsen: You were very active around the time that there were celebrations of the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. You were very active in certain initiatives around then. Would you be able to tell us a bit about them? I believe that’s when some of the first contacts that we had from Plough, and from the Bruderhof communities, which publishes the magazine.

    Prince Michael zu Salm-Salm: I discovered first in ’85 the importance of reconciliation. And that happened in my home village, where there was a big celebration of the church building five hundred years earlier. And it’s a small village, but the president of the republic came, and the bishop, and so forth. It was a big celebration, and I was asked to give a speech for the family, because it was all about the family building the church, building the castle, and so forth, and so forth. And I realized, we didn’t build it, that were the people who did it, and therefore, forced to build it, and not treated always in a nice way. And I decided to talk about that, and to ask for forgiveness.

    And that was very moving experience for me, because in our village, I felt always very much at home, and very well accepted. And in elections I got, in secret elections, I got 90 percent of the votes, and so forth.

    But when I asked for forgiveness, what my family has also done in those centuries, bad things, I cannot only take the good things about it and be the heir, but have also to take care of the bad things, in my view. The mayor, who is a friend of mine, came and said, “Prince Michael, now after so many years, everything is good again. And after you ask for forgiveness, we give that forgiveness.” And that was a wonderful moment, and a turning point in my life and in the village. It really started flowering and developing very well, and we work even better together than ever.

    So I realized, if that reconciliation in a small piece of the country is important, it might be and should be important in the bigger history. And of course, all what happened around the reformation was so important, and Luther was such a big guy bringing that reformation, and being fought for that. Interesting enough, my family turned immediately to Protestantism, to Luther. Went with him for about three generations, and then turned back again for Catholicism, this isn’t just because of, how you would say it, corruption, or how would you say, you would say career. The guy, one of my uncles, was able to become the Elector of Mainz, which is the number one elector of the Emperor. The German emperor was elected by seven electorates, and to become one of them was a very important career step. It was the prime minister of the country, so to say.

    But his career could only go that way when the family turned back to Catholicism. So he probably didn’t do it those days. I couldn’t talk to the guys five hundred years or one hundred years ago. But in my view, he was educated Protestant, turned at the age of twenty to become Catholic for the career, and not for other good reasons. So I thought that’s important to bring that to Jesus, and also to the people who have been involved with the families, and all those many, many millions who had been disturbed by our doings over the centuries. And there is reconciliation, and I wouldn’t say reconciliation, revelation, saying sorry, so sorry for that, important and necessary. And yes, that we tried to do, and we also invited all the noble families of Germany to do so with us. And that happened in Erfurt.

    And on the other hand, we learned all that in that movement where we got to know each other in Wittenberg, 2017. And so, that is a process, that’s a walk through history, going back to the good things of history, but also remembering, and regretting, and trying to pray and ask for forgiveness for the bad things which happened. And it’s Jesus, it’s Jesus who went to the cross for our sins. And I tend to tell people how wonderful and great I am, but I’m a sinner, and Jesus didn’t come for the wonderful heroes, but for us as sinners to the world.

    Susannah Black Roberts: It sounds to me, I mean just hearing your story, it’s that one solution to the Thirty Years’ War is the Peace of Westphalia, and the principle of Cuius regio, eius religio, and then, eventually, political liberalism. And then the other solution to the Thirty Years’ War is a unity between Catholic and Protestant in a family under the Lordship of Christ. It seems like a sort of alternative to the modernist liberal version of peace. And your version strikes me as a more deeply rooted peace, the peace that you and Philippa have between you.

    How did she come to her own faith? Is that something that you could talk about? Because obviously, she was raised Protestant, but it seems to have been a very deep faith for her early on.

    Prince Michael zu Salm-Salm: You see, when she was young, let’s say till the age of twelve or so, the marriage of her parents were not happy. And her parents found, in ’63 roundabout, Jesus in their lives, and the marriage turned to becoming a good one in Jesus. And Philippa saw her parents and their development, and that showed her that the Lord is a wonderful savior. And yeah, it helped especially as her brother, her younger brother, who was to become the heir of the family, and was killed in a car accident. That was one year before we met, and she was very much impressed how faith in the Lord gave her parents strength, and they kept on as believers.

    So I would say, her faith was rooted in, and based on, good experience. And we went being engaged, my parents-in-law sent us to a seminar of the so-called Marburger Kreis, which is a movement, or a congregation, or what would you call it? My English is too bad. They tried to show people that Jesus is in the center of our lives, should be in the center of our lives. And we both went there, because before that, we fought very theoretically about Catholicism. I was good, trained by Jesuits. I could explain very well what Catholics believe. And she was very much rooted in Protestantism. So we were on two different planets. And in that week of the Marburger Kreis meeting, we saw that the Lord is Jesus that stopped our very theoretical fights between religions, and brought us to him. That’s what it’s all about.

    Peter Mommsen: That’s a wonderful story. And how do you see the future of this work, of this work for reconciliation? What needs to happen? I know you’ve been involved in bring Christians together across some of these divides.

    Prince Michael zu Salm-Salm: I’m very optimistic. I can see so many wonderful movements in the world like yours, like the Bruderhof, and many, many others. And I can start earlier again. When the Lord founded the world, he created the man in his image. Is that the right English wording?

    Peter Mommsen: Yes, that’s right.

    Prince Michael zu Salm-Salm: And now we are more than seven billion people. So you need billions and billions of people to get the whole image of the Lord, and we will never get it. So to me, it seems very clear, that there are different ways of how to pray, how to praise, how to move forward to Jesus. If you are centered in Jesus, he is our world, he is our Lord, he’s our center, and we, looking to him, we will be able to stop fighting, but will praise him as our Savior and Lord. So that is why reconciliation, and praying, and praising, and asking, and reading his Word together, to me, seems to be so important. And that is why we are not – I mean, I’m still working now a bit with Catholic Church, and I’m still at home in my Catholic church, and Philippa in the Protestant Church, but we are very much open to see the wonderful much bigger world in which Jesus works, walks through on the globe, and let’s walk together, reconciled, and as friends in his love. That’s what I feel.

    Section IV: The Wisdom of the Ancestors

    Peter Mommsen: I wonder if we could turn now to the piece you wrote for us, which is on something that has a lot to do with the story of your family. You mentioned you’re the thirty-second generation in the same area, the same land, with its vineyards, and forests, and farmland. And there, you’re talking about sustainability, and taking care, and stewardship of this land, and you give ten theses, points to think about. And that has quite a bit to do with your work, doesn’t it? You advise other families as well, who are responsible for forest and farmland. Could you talk a little bit about how you got into that?

    Prince Michael zu Salm-Salm: Being the eldest out of eight children, I was very early taken into responsibility; feeling responsible for my brothers and sisters, feeling responsible for the place I inherited. But the property itself had become very small by these wars, especially the First, the Second World War. And we lost a lot of property by the depatriotization in Eastern Germany, Eastern Europe, especially in Czech Republic.

    And so, I was never able to live from the place, but I had to work. And first, I worked with my father-in-law’s estate. Then in a private bank. And then I founded my own small asset management company, concentrating on convertible bonds, and on stocks, and so forth. And then, other families came to me knowing that we do a good job in forestry and wine, and asked for help to put their term, part of their assets into forestry and farming.

    And so, we founded this branch of our company, which by the way, I handed over yesterday to my eldest son, Constantin. And that’s an interesting experience too. And the wine, I handed over to my son Felix, and what I built now, working as an entrepreneur, I do together with my four daughters. So entrepreneurship is something I think, where Christians should and could show the world that good stewardship is, long term, the best way to invest. Because you don’t go for short term goals, you shouldn’t be greedy. But long term thinking is generational thinking, and is also thinking about the idea that you borrowed what you own from your children and grandchildren, and you are steward for the Lord.

    So I saw so many high class businessmen, who were only looking for their compensation, their commissions and whatever, which is very short term minded. And when we look at the climate change subject, and when we look at how we kill the planet, it’s all about short term thinking and not long term thinking. And that’s what I think we really can contribute, as Christians who do not look for ourselves, but for eternal life, which is a much better perspective.

    Susannah Black Roberts: One of the things that you had talked about in the piece was the importance of political participation, and the importance of care for the common good, in a political sense. How do you see that related to the rest of your work?

    Prince Michael zu Salm-Salm: It took a big part of my lifetime. For ten years I was very much engaged in politics. I was in the shadow cabinet for Rheinland-Pfalz, which is one of the sixteen lenders responsible for environment and health. We lost the election however, so I never made it to the top top. But it was a very good experience to learn how difficult politics are.

    Politics means the common perspective, the wealth of the nation, and not the wealth of the individual only. And to take care for everybody is something I learned very early from my parents. They had this horrible experience of Nazism, and my mother’s brother, one of them lost his life in resistance to Hitler. So they really told me, if you don’t fight the bad part of the world, the devil so to say, things go in the wrong direction. And so, this is very deep fundamental thing, and told to me by my parents, so that I always felt responsible.

    I got out of politics when Philippa told me it’s just too much. I was so stupid. I mean, I was a businessman, I was politician, I was the father of a family, I was founder of different companies, and at the same time, I was also working for the public, as head of the German forest owners association, the German wine growers, a top wine growers association. So first, I just tried to do too much at the same time. And Philippa told me, “Stop it now,” the real politics. And I did so. But it was a very interesting experience. And till now, I’m not involved in party politics anymore. But I try to support good politicians, from every sort of politician direction, being left, right, whatever, liberal. I’m just interested in people, and good people to support them. That’s what I try to do today, in a small capacity. It’s not a full time thing.

    Peter Mommsen: So one final topic that, if we, let’s end on a light note, which is wine. What are the kinds of wine that your family focuses on? And I know, you’ve been very instrumental in improving the quality of the German wines. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

    Prince Michael zu Salm-Salm: Wine is from a fruit, one of the nicest fruits the Lord gave us. Because it’s made from grapes, and that is a science by itself: how to produce good grapes. But then you have the chance to transfer that fruit into something totally different by fermentation, which makes wine. And it’s so interesting, because it’s a good picture of what happened with Jesus. That’s why he takes wine, because there’s a total change from grape to wine, and wine, drunk in small quantity, brings good ideas, is very positive and tastes wonderful. So it’s really a mystical thing, it’s a miracle. And to be part of that miracle is very, very much a life story. Even more involved is Philippa herself. She’s a wonderful wine lady. And for my son Felix, my second son, who is really a wine grower, and to be honest, produces much better wines than I ever did. They taste much, much better today. And he works as a regenerative farmer in wine, with cows, with chicken in his vineyards. And so, he really is a fantastic wine grower and wine chap.

    And what wine teaches you is, that you may work hard, and be very experienced and whatever, but still there’s somebody higher who is much more involved in the wine, because nature, weather, conditions, you can’t make, they’re given by the Lord. So we try to, and we learn to, be humble, and hopefully, obedient to him, to protect and take care of his nature of the wonderful things he donated to us for our lifetime to work with, and to be a good steward of. And with wine, you can really bring love and joy to the people, in good taste. And so, wine brings good relationships, brings positive thinking, if you don’t drink too much.

    Peter Mommsen: Well, thank you so much. This has been a wonderful conversation, where we’ve covered a wide variety of topics.

    Prince Michael zu Salm-Salm: OK, thank you so much.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Thank you so much. Thanks for listening, be sure to subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast needs met, and share with your friends! For a lot more content like this, check out for the digital magazine. You can also subscribe: $36/year will get you the print magazine, or for $99/year you can become a member of Plough. That membership carries a whole range of benefits, from free books, to regular calls with the editors, to invitations to special events, and the occasional gift. Our members are one aspect of the broader Plough community, and we depend on them as a kind of extra advisory council. Go to to learn more.

    Peter Mommsen: On our next episode, we’ll be talking with theologian Carl Trueman about whether the church needs to speak differently to different generations, and then with Susannah’s husband, Alastair Roberts about the Bible’s begats, and marrying into her large family.

    Contributed By PrinceMichaelzuSalmSalm Prince Michael zu Salm-Salm

    Prince Michael zu Salm-Salm is the heir to lands in southern Germany and the managing partner of Salm-Salm & Partner, an asset management company serving institutional clients, families, and foundations, which he founded in 1990.

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    Contributed By portrait of Peter Mommsen Peter Mommsen

    Peter Mommsen is editor of Plough Quarterly magazine. He lives in upstate New York with his wife, Wilma, and their three children.

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    Contributed By portrait of Susannah Black Roberts Susannah Black Roberts

    Susannah Black Roberts is a senior editor of Plough.

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