Friday, 9 April 2010

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Biography

The English translation of Ferdinand Schlingensiepen’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, arguably the greatest Christian martyr of the 20th century, has just been published by Continuum. It is timely, as today marks the anniversary of his execution – hanged with piano wire – at Flossenbürg concentration camp in 1945 as Göttedämmerung descended on the Nazi state he had opposed with such dignity almost to its end. His statue stands among the modern martyrs on the outside of Westminster Abbey and he is commemorated, brilliantly, in verse by W.H. Auden:

He told us we were free to choose
But, children as we were, we thought —
‘Paternal Love will only use
Force in the last resort

On those too bumptious to repent.’
Accustomed to religious dread,
It never crossed our minds He meant
Exactly what He said.

Perhaps He frowns, perhaps He grieves,
But it seems idle to discuss
If anger or compassion leaves
The bigger bangs to us.

What reverence is rightly paid
To a Divinity so odd
He lets the Adam whom He made
Perform the Acts of God?

It might be jolly if we felt
Awe at this Universal Man
(When kings were local, people knelt);
Some try to, but who can?

The self-observed observing Mind
We meet when we observe at all
Is not alarming or unkind
But utterly banal.

Though instruments at Its command
Make wish and counterwish come true,
It clearly cannot understand
What It can clearly do.

Since the analogies are rot
Our senses based belief upon,
We have no means of learning what
Is really going on,

And must put up with having learned
All proofs or disproofs that we tender
Of His existence are returned
Unopened to the sender.

Now, did He really break the seal
And rise again? We dare not say;
But conscious unbelievers feel
Quite sure of Judgement Day.

Meanwhile, a silence on the cross,
As dead as we shall ever be,
Speaks of some total gain or loss,
And you and I are free

To guess from the insulted face
Just what Appearances He saves
By suffering in a public place
A death reserved for slaves.

Friday's Child, (In memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyred at Flossenbürg, April 9, 1945)

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