You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2010.
In April of 1933, Dietrich Bonhoeffer delivered a lectured to a group of Berlin pastors. This lecture was entitled, “The Church and the Jewish Question.”
Dietrich gave the rest of the lecture to an almost empty room. His demand that the church must be prepared for political resistance had flabbergasted most of his audience. With this attitude, Dietrich remained alone in his church. The only ones who would have agreed with him, the Religious Socialists, were themselves already among the persecuted (69).
In April of 1933, Dietrich Bonhoeffer delivered a lectured to a group of Berlin pastors. This lecture was entitled, “The Church and the Jewish Question.” Renate Wind, in Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Spoke in the Wheel, wrote that…
…most the people sitting there were certainly not encouraged by the way in which the state was exercising its office. But they were good Lutherans, and so Dietrich first moved on tiptoe through the theme of church and state. The church has no right to appropriate to itself power over the state. But it may not keep out of politics if the state abrogates basic human rights (68-69).
In his essay, “The Church and the Jewish Question”, Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated that the third course of action is…
…is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself
A few statements later, Bonhoeffer went on…
A state which includes within itself a terrorised church has lost its most faithful servant. But even this third action of the church, which on occasion leads to conflict with the existing state, is only the paradoxical expression of its ultimate recognition of the state; indeed, the church itself knows itself to be called to protect the state qua state from itself and to preserve it.
In the Jewish question the first two possibilities will be the compelling demands of the hour. The necessity of direct political action by the church (step three) is, on the other hand, to be decided at any time be an “Evangelical Council” and therefore ever by casuistically decided beforehand
Bonhoeffer delivered this essay in 1933, soon after Hitler took power. By the time the third course of action was a viable option, there was no “Evangelical Council” strong enough to make the decision to jam the wheel. Bonhoeffer decided to try to place a spoke in the wheel.
As stated before, perhaps pthe most controversial statements of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his essay, “The Church and the Jewish Question” had to do with the third way that the church could respond to the state…
The third possibility is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself.
Such action would be direct political action, and is only possible and desirable when the church sees the state fail in its function of creating law and order, i.e. when it sees the state unrestrainedly bring too much or too little law and order. In both cases it must see the existence of the state, and with its own existence, threatened. There would be too little law if any group of subjects were deprived of their rights, too much where the state intervened in the character of the church and its proclamation, e.g. in the forced exclusion of baptised Jews from our congregations or in the prohibition of our mission to the Jews (No Rusty Swords, 225).
This final volume in the series records Bonhoeffer’s thoughts in the final chapters of his own life. He was arrested in 1943 and was executed on April 9th, 1945 for speaking out for the voiceless of those being mass murdered by the Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer’s letters from prison represent his final theological legacy. They contain such well-known but difficult-to-pin-down phrases as “religionless Christianity” and “god of the gaps.” Now we have the definitive translation of these important works, along with additional never-before-published material.The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Series offers material from some of Bonhoeffer’s most influential thoughts along with biographical information about his life, ministry, and imprisonment. Bonhoeffer was a man of strong convictions; this dedication to the wholeness of the Gospel cost him his life at the hand of the Nazi regime during World War II. Each volume in this series is rich with Bonhoeffer’s wisdom of what it takes to follow Christ in a fallen world
In Hitler’s Germany, a Lutheran pastor chooses resistance and pays with his life
In April 1933, during the early months of Nazi rule in Germany, the “Aryan Paragraph,” as it came to be called, went into effect. A new law banned anyone of Jewish descent from government employment. Hitler’s assault on the Jews—already so evidently under way in his toxic rhetoric and in the ideological imperatives of his party—was moving into a crushing legal phase. German churches, which relied on state support, now faced a choice: preserve their subsidies by dismissing their pastors and employees with Jewish blood—or resist. Most Protestant and Catholic leaders fell into line, visibly currying favor with the regime or quietly complying with its edict.
Such ready capitulation makes the views of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young Lutheran theologian in Hitler’s Germany, all the more remarkable. Within days of the new law’s promulgation, the 27-year-old pastor published an essay titled “The Church and the Jewish Question,” in which he challenged the legitimacy of a regime that contravened the tenets of Christianity. The churches of Germany, he wrote, shared “an unconditional obligation” to help the victims of an unjust state “even if they [the victims] do not belong to the Christian community.” He went further: Christians might be called upon not only to “bandage the victims under the wheel” of oppression but “to put a spoke in the wheel itself.” Before the decade was out, Bonhoeffer would join a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and pay for such action with his life.
In “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy,” Eric Metaxas tells Bonhoeffer’s story with passion and theological sophistication, often challenging revisionist accounts that make Bonhoeffer out to be a “humanist” or ethicist for whom religious doctrine was easily disposable. In “Bonhoeffer” we meet a complex, provocative figure: an orthodox Christian who, at a grave historical moment, rejected what he called “cheap grace”—belief without bold and sacrificial action.
Since the 1960s, some of Bonhoeffer’s admirers have seized upon a phrase from one of his letters—”religionless Christianity”—to argue that he favored social action over theology. In fact, Bonhoeffer used the phrase to suggest the kind of ritualistic and over-intellectualized faith that had failed to prevent the rise of Hitler. It was precisely religionless Christianity that he worried about. After a 1939 visit to New York’s Riverside Church, a citadel of social-gospel liberalism, he wrote that he was stunned by the “self-indulgent” and “idolatrous religion” that he saw there. “I have no doubt at all that one day the storm will blow with full force on this religious hand-out,” he wrote, “if God himself is still anywhere on the scene.”
As the storms of hatred raged in Germany, Bonhoeffer moved beyond “confession”—that is, preaching and writing—and into rebellion. By the summer of 1940, he was recruited by Adm. Wilhelm Canaris and others as a double agent for their conspiracy against Hitler, an effort that operated out of the Abwehr (Nazi military intelligence). Henceforth he would pretend allegiance to the regime and pass along to the conspirators—whose goal was Hitler’s assassination—whatever intelligence he could gather. He depended on deception for his survival.
It was a bizarre role for a religious man, and a hitherto loyal German citizen, to play. As Mr. Metaxas notes: “For a pastor to be involved in a plot whose linchpin was the assassination of the head of state during a time of war, when brothers and sons and fathers were giving their lives for their country, was unthinkable.” And yet it became thinkable for Bonhoeffer precisely because his understanding of faith required more than adhering to tidy legalisms about truth-telling and nonviolence.
Mr. Metaxas notes that Bonhoeffer drew deeply from historic Christianity, especially its emphasis on the love of God expressed in the life and teachings of Jesus. Bonhoeffer also had an extraordinary capacity for empathy, responding with ever more horror to the plight of those around him. In his book “Ethics” (1949), he chastised those who imagined they could confine their faith to the sanctuary and still live responsibly in an unjust world. In “The Cost of Discipleship” (1937), he made unreserved obedience to Jesus—in every realm of life—the mark of authentic belief. “If we worry about the dangers that beset us, if we gaze at the road instead of at him who goes before, we are already straying from the path.”
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
By Eric Metaxas
Thomas Nelson, 591 pages, $29.99
It is here that many who invoke Bonhoeffer for their own causes stumble grievously. Atheists such as Christopher Hitchens praise his “admirable but nebulous humanism.” Liberals exalt his social conscience while setting aside his belief in sin and judgment. The theologian Stanley Hauerwas has even tried to recruit Bonhoeffer for the pacifist cause. But Bonhoeffer argued pointedly in the opposite direction. “Only at the cost of self-deception,” he wrote, can observant Christians preserve a facade of “private blamelessness clean from the stains of responsible action in the world.”
After a failed assassination attempt on Hitler in 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested on charges of assisting Jews and subverting Nazi policies. Two years later, in early April 1945—after his full involvement in the conspiracy became known—he was executed at the Flossenburg concentration camp in Bavaria. By all accounts he faced with courage and serenity the ultimate consequence of his choices. His was a radical obedience to God, a frame of mind widely viewed today with fear and loathing, even among the faithful. In “Bonhoeffer,” Mr. Metaxas reminds us that there are forms of religion—respectable, domesticated, timid—that may end up doing the devil’s work for him.
Mr. Loconte is a senior lecturer in politics at the King’s College in New York City and the editor of “The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler’s Gathering Storm.”
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page W15
Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved
No doubt, the most controversial statements of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his essay, “The Church and the Jewish Question” had to do with the third way that the church could respond to the state…
The third possibility is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself (No Rusty Swords, 225).
Soon after Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out in his essay, “The Church and the Jewish Question” that there are three possible ways the church can respond to the state. The second way is…
Secondly, it can aid the victims of state action. The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering of society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community. “Do good to all men.” In both these courses of action, the church serves the free state in its free way, and at times when laws are changed the church may in no way withdraw itself from these two tasks…
(No Rusty Swords, 225)
In his 1933 essay (soon after Adolf Hitler came to power), German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out that there are three possible ways the church can respond to the state. The first way is…
…in the first place…
it can ask the state whether its actions are legitimate and in character as state, i.e. it can throw the state back on its responsibilities…
(No Rusty Swords, 225)