Author Archives: Casper

Letters and Papers

Martin Marty has posted over at The Immanent Frame on what looks to be an interesting new book: Marty’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison: A Biography. Here is an excerpt

The letters and papers from prison reveal much about Bonhoeffer’s spiritual life and vocation, and these served a new generation of collegians and seminarians who were looking for models of witness and courage. They tell of his spiritual life and vocation, as for instance in the first letter, when Bonhoeffer asked his friend, who had served as his pastor back when they were studying theology and pastoral practice together, now, through letters, again to be his pastor, since he had not been allowed to see one in prison. He pleaded to his friend: “After so many long months without worship, confession and the Lord’s Supper and without consolation fratrum—[be] my pastor once more, as you have so often been in the past, and listen to me.” Then came a revelation about Bonhoeffer’s psyche: “You are the only person who knows that ‘acedia,’ ‘tristitia’ [sadness in the face of spiritual good, medievalists called it] with all its ominous consequences, has often haunted me.” But, he resolved, “neither human beings nor the devil” would prevail.

The Pacifism of Bonhoeffer

Ted Grimsud has posted an analysis of Bonhoeffer that touches on the same issues raised earlier on this blog, namely – is Bonhoeffer a martyr?

Here’s a snippett:

Bonhoeffer was labeled by the Nazi Gestapo from 1933 on as “a pacifist and enemy of the state.” He avoided military service because he could not allow himself to take human life, especially as an agent of the Nazis. Through family connections, he managed to evade military induction by working for a military intelligence agency—but his work there did not involve anything that directly supported the war effort and in fact served as a cover for him to pursue ecumenical contacts in western Europe. The purpose of these secret contacts was to make possible postwar church relationships.

Bonhoeffer was part of a collection of about 100 Nazi resisters in this intelligence agency, and a handful of those were directly involved in the assassination plot. But there is no evidence that Bonhoeffer himself was. After the conspiracy was discovered, thousands were arrested, the vast majority of whom had nothing to do with the plot. At Bonhoeffer’s trial, he was convicted of draft evasion (which itself would have been a capital offense). That is, the Nazis themselves never claimed Bonhoeffer was involved in the plot.

In this scenario, then, stage two is actually fully consistent with stages one and two. Bonhoeffer refused to fight in the military and found a way to do constructive ecumenical work while not violating his convictions. He was arrested mainly because he was known to have connections with assassination conspirators, but was convicted of draft evasion (in his case, a profoundly pacifist stance), not involvement in the plot. In the end, he was executed. We don’t know exactly why, but quite likely simply because he was seen as an enemy of the state (which had been his label from 1933)—one of thousands the Nazis put to death in the final months of the war as a concluding act of revenge.

Review of “Bonhoeffer & King: Speaking Truth to Power”

Review of J Deotis Roberts, Bonhoeffer & King: Speaking Truth to Power, Westminster John Knox, (2005). ISBN: 0664226523.

At the age of thirty nine both Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr were murdered on account of the fact that both spoke (and acted out this speech) to power. Bonhoeffer was murdered by in a Nazi concentration camp in April 1945; Martin Luther King, Jr, like Bonhoeffer, also murdered in April, this time April 1968 whilst campaigning for fair wages for Blacks.

 

The author of this book, J Deotis Roberts, is himself a significant Black and Liberation theologian and hence a joint study of both of these theologians makes a certain sense. While I am not well-read in Black Theology (although I have read Cone) but I find it hard to imagine Black Theology would be anything like the same as it is today were it not for the efforts of MLK, even if some motifs of Black Power thought are developed against MLK’s nonviolent method. Likewise, it is clear that early Liberation Theology, as a reading of Gutierrez’s A Theology of Liberation will make apparent, has used Bonhoeffer’s theology as an important resource in early Liberation Theology, particularly in regards to theological methodology.

 

J Deotis Roberts begins his study with a brief synopsis of his “biography as theology” approach by which he analyses the biography of both MLK and DB. As a brief historical introduction to these two figures then this is helpful, however, I do not think that Deotis Roberts really offers anything revealing as regards to the relationship between these two theologians. In fact, this comment probably applies to the the rest of the book. As a brief introduction to the different theologies of DB and MLK then this is probably going to be a useful book. However, there is little in the DB sections, which is more my specialism that is particularly new, it is instead a summary of Bonhoeffer from the secondary literature. As a Black theologian who was at least peripherally active in the Civil Rights movement it is possible that Deotis Robert’s discussion of MLK is more interesting, although my impression is that the same applies to these sections. Similarly, this book is weak the relation of the respective theologians to the wider theological context.

 

That said, I do not think Bonhoeffer and King is a bad book. While it may not be an original contribution to theology it is a good introduction to the social theology of both of these theologians and with it to some of the central themes of political theology. Where J Deotis excels is in two of the main issues on which the theological visions of DB and MLK coalesce, namely in the issues of religion and the influence of Gandhi. It is not surprising that Deotis Roberts places significance on Bonhoeffer’s observation of the racist treatment of Blacks while he was a student in America. It is with the Church’s complicity in the anti-Jewish racism in Germany that the links between DB and MLK’s struggle in America are apparent and Deotis Roberts does a very good job of delineating these. Similarly, both of these theologians had a a profound respect and learned a great deal from the mission of Gandhi, although with DB’s involvement in the anti-Hitler conspiracy it is perhaps questionable whether this influence continued to the end of his life, something which the author does not adequately address.