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Cum Christo in Pace
O. P. Kretzmann

Any ringing of the telephone before 8:00 a.m. and after 6:00 p.m., I have learned, is to be heard with fore boding… It always brings bad, unusual news… and too often my first echo of the rustling of the wings of Death…

It happened again this morning… At 7:40 the telephone rang: Walter Hansen died last night. It was sudden and unexpected. The funeral will be on Friday after noon. I found myself staring at the clock on the wall… Another friend had moved beyond the tyranny of time…

Few people know Professor Walter A. Hansen well… Shy, quiet, a remarkable classical scholar, a competent musician, a first-rate critic of music and books, he lived his life in a cycle between classroom, study, and concert halls… From 1937 until 1966 he had been the music critic of The Cresset and had written of men and music with unfailing charm and grace… Our readers quite regularly disagreed with him, but none ever questioned the thoughtfulness and discernment of his judgment… In our uncritical and tolerant age he could spot a phony two miles off Broadway or Michigan Avenue in every direction… If the term Renaissance manwere still viable in our day of knowledge explosions many of his friends would have applied the term to him… His appraisal of the world around him — in literature, the arts and public affairs — was always in depth and breadth…

These obsolescent qualities made him a member of an almost vanishing breed — not the pedantic nit-picker who counts the adjectives in the Iliad or establishes the nature of Falstaffs drinking habits (although the latter task would have intrigued him) — but a man whose consuming interest was man in all his wisdom and madness, the strange bewilderment of horns and pipes and cymbals which man calls life…

And so Walter Hansen embodied the strange and rare fusion of the artist and the scholar… His translation of Werner Elerts monumental Die Morphologie des Luthertums (The Structure of Lutheranism) was not only accurate but also a sensitive recreation of the thought of the great German theologian… I well remember one rainy November night when he told a few of us of the trials of a translator… The great difficulty in translating, he said, lies in the fact that the translator knows well the nuances, the undertones and overtones, of a word in the original, but can find no possible equivalent in the language of the translation… That particular evening he was worried (thats the exact word) over translating one of Elerts key phrases der evangelische Ansatz”; he himself had examined and rejected a dozen different renderings and had finally translated it The Impact of the Gospel… Walters scholarly modesty and agony are reflected in the fact that he places the original Der evangelische Ansatz in parentheses be hind the translation and then writes a long footnote to apologize for a possible mistake… This is the scholar at work… a relentless embodiment of the passion for truth…

It was in music, however, that Walter found his highest joy and greatest fulfillment… He listened to it, in con cert hall or at home, with all his mind and heart… Many of us must be content with an emotional reaction, a passivity which permits Bach or Beethoven to flow around us and lift life momentarily a step nearer the choir of angels… For him it was also that — but in addition he had the intellectual joy of knowing why Bach suddenly changed the key of a prelude or Beethoven introduced a series of inverted chords… That joy is not for the dilettante…

It is good to inquire why some of us who knew Walter Hansen were drawn to him so strongly and warmly… One reason I have indicated here — he was like a voice from another world now lost in the winds of the worlds confusion and pain… By living and working as he did he showed that even today it is possible for a man to live culturally and intelligently with God… He was (to use a worn term) a thoroughgoing Christian humanist… In the modern and post-modern world this is now, lazily and contemptuously, considered impossible… Christian humanist — to give both words equal weight creates a contradiction which provokes flight in either direction… either to a stupid faith or to a stupid culture…

Men like Walter Hansen prove that this is not true… The true child of God can live securely in the temples of art… In fact, when he does, he brings to life and history a new dimension… a touching of the region which can be traversed only by a fusion of the inward and the outward which leads finally to the ancient peace which only they can know — and none can understand…

And this alone explains the Cum Christo — in p at the head of this Nachruf… The last sum of Waters life was Cum Christo… and we who hear dim music now can know that he hears it too — in the full and final ecstasy of God…

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