This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Monday, April 9, 2012

April 9 -- Feast of Saint Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is commemorated as a saint in the Lutheran Church.  I'm on shaky ground here, as I am not sure what exactly a saint is in the Lutheran Church.  So I will say only this: in the Hagiomajor Canon, Bonhoeffer is a full saint, all rights and privileges secured.  That and a fistful of dollars would get him a cup of coffee at Starbucks, if there's a Starbucks in Heaven.  (No, we are not going to debate that question.)

Pastor Bonhoeffer was a brilliant theologian, by all accounts.  His dad, a famous and wealthy German neurologist, was disappointed that Dietrich wanted to go into ministry, but supportive when his son spoke of being a reformer.  Young Bonhoeffer studied and traveled widely, wrote prolifically, and became much-sought as a scholar.  When the Nazi regime came to power and sincere Christianity became unfashionable (not as dangerous as Judaism, to be sure, but certainly a suspicious inclination), Bonhoeffer got job offers in safe havens, but returned to Germany to fight the power.

Some of the clergy who fought seemed to embrace martyrdom.  Openly critical from their pulpits, they were busted by the Gestapo, imprisoned in the camps, starved, beaten, and killed.  The path is direct, if not easy.  Bonhoeffer's path was much less direct and certainly no less easy.  Upon return to the Fatherland, he was forbidden to speak publicly or publish. He and his brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnany,  joined the Abwehr, the German military intelligence office, and used their positions to communicate with the German Resistance and the Allies.  It says something about the Nazi hubris that they would accept such a devout Christian and ardent critic into their military intelligence unit, as if he might suddenly have been converted to their evil.

To abbreviate a distinguished career as a subversive, Bonhoeffer helped German Jews escape to Switzerland.  He also participated peripherally in a couple of plots to assassinate Hitler.  When the Gestapo busted him, it was mostly about the Abwehr-SS rivalry, but as the busts continued and more information was discovered, the extent of Bonhoeffer's subversion became clear.

Lest you think find some contradiction between Bonhoeffer's professed Christianity and his willingness to participate in an assassination (even of Hitler), be assured that he was not comfortable with it either.  He was certain of its morality, but aware nonetheless of the guilt he was taking onto his soul by killing.  Sympathetic guards who smuggled his letters out of prison have provided some of the thoughts he had about it. One guard even offered to help him escape, but Bonhoeffer was unwilling to bring retribution onto his family by disappearing. 

He was sent to Buchenwald, and from there transferred to Flossenberg, both concentration camps.  The allies were rolling into Germany from the east and west, but the program of eliminating enemies in the camps continued unabated.  Orders to hang Bonhoeffer were executed two weeks before the camp was liberated, three weeks before the fall of Berlin, and four weeks before Germany surrendered.  His brother Klaus, two brothers-in-law, and a handful of other conspirators were all killed just before Germany fell.

EXCESSIVE DETAIL ALERT:  The following paragraph may be upsetting.  Then again, perhaps that should be on the blog banner instead of here.

I thought hanging was a surprisingly simple and humane method of execution, but I was wrong.  He was stripped naked in his cell before being led to the gallows in the courtyard.  They did not use a thick rope or a long drop; instead, he was hanged with a thin wire for a slow strangulation.  There is a memorial stone at Flossenberg that bears the names of the Resistance members executed there, Bonhoeffer's first among them.

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