April 11, 2005


Bonhoeffer and pope - parallels (Uwe Siemon-Netto, 4/06/05, UPI)

Sixty years ago this Saturday, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged at Flossenbuerg concentration camp in Bavaria, just days before U.S. forces liberated the camp. The Allies arrived too late to save him and fellow members of the German resistance against Hitler.

Only days before his execution, Bonhoeffer had told the other condemned prisoners, "Let us calmly go to the gallows as Christians."

When the great Protestant theologian was led to the scaffold in the early morning of April 9, 1945, Flossenbuerg's camp physician recalls the following:

"I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer.

"At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost 50 years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God."

This last sentence sounds almost identical to the reports of witnesses who were present when Pope John Paul II died last Saturday -- a week after Easter, just like Bonhoeffer.

But there are more parallels between the Roman pontiff and the Lutheran theologian, who both stressed that discipleship was costly and involved suffering.

"Christ suffered as a free man alone, apart and in ignominy, in body and spirit," Bonhoeffer wrote in his prison letters, "and since then many Christians have suffered with him."

"Christ did not come down from the cross, and neither will I," insisted John Paul, explaining why he would not resign, despite his multiple illnesses and intense pain.

"Both men lived what Lutherans call the Theology of the Cross," says Charles Ford, a St. Louis mathematics professor who ranks among the world's leading Bonhoeffer scholars. "They just used a different terminology."

Sadly they couldn't redeem their age.

Bonhoeffer: a martyr for our collective soul (Richard Chartres, April 2, 2005, The Guardian)

Of the many events planned to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the second world war, one of the most haunting yet hopeful is the gathering in Poland next Friday to remember the hanging of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Flossenburg annihilation camp.

Bonhoeffer was an intellectual who joined thought and action. He began as a systematic theologian and became a leader in the German resistance to Nazism. He had leanings to pacifism, but became a fighter against evil and an associate of the would-be assassins who planned the July plot against Hitler.

In April 1945, Hitler, already confined to his bunker in Berlin, ordered that Bonhoeffer should not be allowed to survive the collapse of the Nazi regime. Today, his statue stands among the 20th-century martyrs above the entrance to Westminster Abbey.

Bonhoeffer wrote: "The thing that keeps coming back to me is, what is Christianity, and, indeed, who is Christ for us today?" He asked this question in the context of what he called "a world come of age". He was acutely conscious of the displacement of God from the culture of Europe: "One may ask whether ever before in human history there have been people with so little ground under their feet."

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 11, 2005 1:51 PM

"Sadly they couldn't redeem their age."

You say that as if it were possible in the first place.

Posted by: NC3 at April 12, 2005 8:59 AM