A page dedicated to the German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Most recent posts are uppermost, older pages down the page.
Reflection at the 75th Anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Reprinted here by kind permission of the author, the Revd Ken Walker. A former translator of Dietrich Boenhoeffer’s works, he is now retired and lives in Chester.
Written in pencil from his basement Gestapo prison cell in Berlin’s Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse the last letter to be received from Dietrich Bonhoeffer was to his parents and is dated 17th January 1945. Along with greetings for fiancee Maria, and for the family, he ends “Es geht mir gut/I’m well. Stay healthy. Thanks for everything”. Following the relatively relaxed 18 months he was held in the Tegel prison, Bonhoeffer had been confined here at the Gestapo headquarters with its 8 foot by 5 foot cells since October, and would remain just another 3 weeks, until his transfer to Buchenwald before finally being delivered to Flossenburg for execution 75 years ago today.
After the earlier prolific and theologically significant, groundbreaking correspondence, from Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse Bonhoeffer had previously received permission to send a letter only once – on the occasion of his mother’s birthday at the end of 1944. With the letter he enclosed a poem, a poem of remarkable assurance. The poem for New Year 1945 was familiar from Letters and Papers, but for me and for many Baptists it was when it appeared as a hymn, the translation and adaptation by Fred Pratt Green, no. 117 in Baptist Praise and Worship in 1991 that Bonhoeffer’s words took on new life. The words speak into all our seasons of darkness – such as the present time that prevents us meeting even “where 2 or 3 are gathered together.”
In our hymnbooks Bonhoeffer’s poem “Von guten Maechten” has been altered to make it more widely useful. His first verse explicitly identifies the context as New Year, which for us is acknowledged at the foot of the hymn. But it is now his last verse, returning as it does to the guten Maechten (the gracious powers) that begins the hymn as we know it in English.
In our British Baptist Hymnbook, the last verse rises from silence to a great paean of praise as Keith Clements provided a fresh solution where Pratt Green had found difficulty in translating. Sung typically to the tune Finlandia, the hymn has powerful, simple and honest gravitas.
By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered
and confidently waiting, come what may,
we know that God is with us night and morning,
and never fails to meet us each new day.
Yet are our hearts by their old foe tormented,
still evil days bring burdens hard to bear;
O give our frightened souls the sure salvation
for which, O Lord, you taught us to prepare.
And when the cup you give is filled to brimming
with bitter suffering, hard to understand,
we take it gladly, trusting though with trembling,
out of so good and so beloved a hand.
If once again, in this mixed world, you give us
the joy we had, the brightness of your sun,
we shall recall what we have learned through sorrow,
and dedicate our lives to you alone.
Now as your silence deeply spreads around us,
open our ears to hear your children raise
from all the world, from every nation round us,
to you their universal hymn of praise.
This final doxology inspires us with a sense of the oikumene, a vision of a better world and created order, living together in harmony. Bonhoeffer, in its early forms, had called on the international ecumenical movement for support in the naming of evil in the church. Notwithstanding the wider use of the hymn that Pratt Green was envisaging, Bonhoeffer’s life and example serve as a call to us to be vigilant precisely at a time such as this when global insecurity over Covid-19 may prove to be open to exploitation by nationalistic populist leaders. As so often, it is to Dietrich Bonhoeffer we turn again when we seek truly to live without illusions, to be disciples of Jesus Christ, in the world of today. This hymn brings us close to the faith that sustained him.
A post from Andrew Draycott, Associate Professor of Theology at Biola in Los Angeles, who teaches courses on Bonhoeffer.
German Pastor and Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed 75 years ago (April 9th, 1945) by the Nazi regime in the Flossenbürg concentration camp. The orders to eliminate even the most peripheral agents in the plot to assassinate him came from Hitler himself. Bonhoeffer is reported to have walked to his death calmly, confessing that for him the best was yet to come.
As we meditate on Jesus’ journey towards his death on Calvary, Bonhoeffer’s confidence is poignant: instead of justifying his actions, this Christian knew his actions to be morally wrong, but he chose to surrender his conspiratorial calling, in dire extremity, to Christ’s judgment. Many of us struggle with Jesus’ journey to the cross, how can this sacrifice of a righteous man, the Son of God, make sense, and do good?
Bonhoeffer follows his saviour in tragic circumstances in bearing guilt and trusting in God’s judgment. Jesus takes up his cross to bear the sin of the world, in the tragedy of its rejection of the Creator, trusting in God’s vindication and redemption, in him, of all things. The tragedy of the untimely execution is haunting, but not the end of the story, for Jesus, for brother Bonhoeffer, and for you and me. This is Easter hope, attained through the realities of suffering, even the suffering of our own failings and regrets as we lose normality, around us, and around those we love. As we experience the prisons of our social isolations and quarantines, the self-chosen submission even to death by our Lord for us empowers the anticipation of our hoped-for reunions for Life together.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: 75th Anniversary of his execution April 9th 1945.
In Holy week we remember Judas, the traitor. It is so painful to us when people we have trusted betray us. We are told that in his remorse ‘Judas went and hanged himself’. On April 9th 1945 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged as a traitor. His story, his words can speak to us in our here and now.
For today one brief thought. In Holy week we remember how Jesus ‘set his face to go to Jerusalem’, well aware of the danger. In the summer of 1939 Bonhoeffer had accepted an invitation to work in New York. Once there, however, it became clear that he could not stay, so he caught the last ship back. He wrote,
‘I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share in the trials of this time with my people……’
Today all over the world so many people, especially Medics are facing up to the stark reality of what might be the cost of ‘doing their job’. Today on the radio Dave Tomlinson said something on the lines of how the applause at 8 pm on Thursdays could be a ‘holy moment’.