It is about an incredible person. Probably the one among the best who was walking the earth ...
Yet his story left me in fear and sadness. It is about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And about the book: „Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich”. The author is Eric Metaxas.
I have to write about my admiration, because in the later part of this review I will be critical also of Bonhoeffer !
So why I have such strange feelings and thoughts ?
Let me now tell you few basic fact — I do not intend to write long, typical review. Eric Metaxas’ work is a very good record of the life and struggle and martyrdom of Dietrch Bonhoeffer. Dietrich was German pastor and theologian. He was born in 1906 in Wrocław (Breslau). He came from very prestigious family of Professor Karl Bonhoeffer, the neurologists and psychiatrist. His decision to become a theologian, and later the priest came when he was only fourteen. His other talents were in music (was a very good pianist) and in sports (was quite good athlete).
The story of Bonhoeffer's life tells the tragic truth about that dark period in German, and more generally, in human history. He opposed the Nazi regime, he did it long before the war and during it. Despite his apparent pacifism and priesthood he conspired to kill Hitler. For his involvement in the plot against Hitler he was sentenced to death and executed by hanging on April 9th, 1945, just few weeks before the end of the war ...
For all interested in details there is a very good article about him on Wikipedia.
Now, let me come to the essence of my feelings. The biography relates also what was the attitude of the Churches to Hitler and his Nazi regime. And here came first shock. How little we know about the “German Christians” whose coat-of-arms had Nazi swastika inscribed into the cross! And how popular that movement was among German Protestants of that times. How little we know about Ludwig Müller — who became Reich’s Bishop in 1933. And let’s not blame only protestants. Catholic Church with all its majesty entered into specific state contract with Hitler — The Concordat. This shameful act, negotiated by pope-to-be, Eugenio Pacelli, was signed when it became quite clear what are true Hitler’s intentions... Do we really know, that it was never revoked by the Holy See? How can we really think of WORDS in the Pius XI encyclical „Mit brennender Sorge” when the ACT was still in place?
Of course there were Christians who opposed Hitler, of course there were priests murdered by Nazism. But what is the shocking truth, is that even in “Confessing Church” the opposition against anti-Semitism was relatively week, and its famous Barmen Declaration even does not list anti-Semitism as a crime!
I know I will tell harsh and strong words here — but all that represents nothing less than a total failure of Christianity in Europe in XX century. When you know all that facts, and spend some hours contemplating on them — what do you think when some European politicians speak about “Christian roots” of Europe?
I will not give answers to these burning questions — I know they would be too blatant...
It seems to me, that Bonhoeffer knew about this total failure, and to me it is clear from his letters, where we can find the term that latter become, somehow improperly, an emblem of his theology: Religionless Christianity:
Our whole nineteen-hundred-year-old Christian preaching and theology rest on the "religious a priori" of mankind. "Christianity" has always been a form--perhaps the true form--of "religion." But if one day it becomes clear that this a priori does not exist at all, but was a historically conditioned and transient form of human self-expression, and if therefore man becomes radically religionless--and I think that that is already more or less the case (else how is it, for example, that this war, in contrast to all previous ones, is not calling forth any "religious" reaction?)--what does that mean for "Christianity"?
Many “Christian” critics of Bonhoeffer thought of his ill will in these thoughts...
Did they know the history? Did they know how many of Hitler’s Willing Executioners (a suggestio to the book is intentional) were devote Christians?
I think that the Bonhoeffer notion of religion which possibly could be built upon ruins of Christianity — is the only true hope for Christianity — at least this is my private, and certainly heavily biased, opinion — of the person who equally intentionally left Christianity years ago ...
On these thoughts I seem to be in line with the author of the biography, though he avoids making such strong statements as I did here.
But there is also something in this book that is even more disturbing. Several times in the book, almost casually, its author relates Bonhoeffer’s and his circles, including his family, opinion about the First World War and the “unjust” treatment Germans got in and after the Treaty of Versailles... Imagine — the people who caused the first round of horrors in XX century, and who, including its best people, to whom Bonhoeffer certainly belonged, did not even accept the historical punishment they got ! Were they blind ?
Are we all blind? Were there only few doves and all that remained was the nest of snakes ?
Written in Paris, London & Lodz....