Christians around the world are preparing to remember the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran theologian executed for his opposition to the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler.
"He is a saint – in the Protestant meaning of the word," said Germany’s top Protestant bishop, Wolfgang Huber, one of the editors of the complete works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was born on 4 February 1906 in Breslau in what was then Germany, but is now the Polish city of Wroclaw.
Bonhoeffer was executed on 9 April 1945 in the closing days of the Second World War in Europe, at the hands of one of Hitler’s special commandos in the Flossenbuerg concentration camp, in Bavaria that was liberated by the US Cavalry on 23 April 1945.
He was linked to the chief conspirators in the failed 1944 bomb plot to assassinate Hitler.
Bonhoeffer is now said to be one of the world’s most-cited Protestant theologians, with churches and parish centres named after him, and numerous books and movies recounting the story of his life.
In Wroclaw on 4 February, a commemoration organized by the Polish Ecumenical Council is to be addressed by Bishop Huber, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams from England, and Polish Lutheran Bishop Ryszard Bogusz.
Still, Bonhoeffer’s biographer Renate Wind, a theologian in Munich, warns against venerating Bonhoeffer. "Don’t commemorate him, respond to him," Wind told Ecumenical News International.
She noted how Bonhoeffer once wrote that "the Church is the Church only when it exists for others".
Taking her cue from Bonhoeffer, Wind says her vision is of a Church that does not retreat behind church walls or cling to privileges, but makes a stand for groups and people that have been marginalised, persecuted and isolated.
"Bonhoeffer believed that awareness [of God] is part of daily life," said Wind, noting that his political and social commitments were rooted in his faith.
In the years immediately following the Second World War, the Protestant church in Germany had difficulty getting to grips with Bonhoeffer because of his role in the resistance.
In 1953 the Lutheran bishop of Bavaria refused to take part in a memorial service for the theologian on the grounds that he had been a member of the political resistance and not a church martyr for the sake of Christian faith.
"Violence is and always will be sin – he knew that," says Wind about the German theologian’s part in the resistance.
However, she noted, Bonhoeffer was convinced that if the political authorities acted in an inhumane way, it was the mission of the Church "not just to bandage the victims under the wheel but to put a spoke in the wheel itself".
Bonhoeffer was born into an influential family of professionals and intellectuals, and his decision to study theology is said to have surprised his parents.
He became a university lecturer with a doctorate in theology, as well as a participant in the early ecumenical movement.
He studied in New York and was a pastor in London. After the Nazis came to power he joined the Confessing Church which opposed Hitler’s incursions into church life.
From 1935 he headed an unofficial, later illegal, seminary of the Confessing Church.
Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, Bonhoeffer reached safety in the United States where friends had secured him a teaching contract.
But a few weeks later he decided to return to Germany believing that his place was with his own people.
He was then recruited into the resistance under the cover of working for the German counter-intelligence.
He was imprisoned in April 1943 and hanged two years later for treason.
(c) Ecumenical News International SEE also http://www.journeyonline.com.au/archive_article.php?articleId=250
Photo : German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed for opposing Adolf Hitler