Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945:
Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance
By Ferdinand Schlingensiepen
Continuum – £19.99
‘’Hasn’t it become shockingly clear, in everything we have talked about with one another here, that we are no longer obedient to the Bible? We like our own ideas better than those of the Bible. We are no longer reading the Bible seriously; we are no longer reading it against ourselves, but only in our own favour […].’’
So declared the most telluric and tenacious of theologians, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, at the World Alliance Conference in Switzerland in 1932. Words, which if nothing else, continue to reverberate amid the upper echelons of current, self-aggrandizing religiosity, wherein the truth is secondary to that of perpetual advancement – be it circumstantial, financial, ideological, whatever.
Like philosophy and to a certain degree, philanthropy, theology is one of the few remaining mediums wherein the stasis of regulation is without value. Anything goes. Anything is permitted. Anything that is, except for the duplicitous repetition of vacuity. Indeed, the overt potential of fluidic theology, is as provocative as the whole wide world itself – a world wherein entire platoons of humanistic oysters are to be caught and revered and devoured and pondered upon beyond resolution. And even here, within the wide, open cathedral of contemplation, there may still be room for more.
More vision. More discussion. More irregularity.
Having thus reached a point where quintessential enlightenment tenuously beckons, there may still be a place from which to sanctify a collection of free thinking souls: from the premise of ones’ own truth. This is a dictum to which the ever forward thinking Dietrich Bonhoeffer adhered, right up to the day he was murdered by the Nazis (a mere month before the end of the Second World War): ‘’The church must not proclaim principles which are true for all time, but only commands which are true for today. For whatever is ‘always’ true, is just what ‘today’ is not true: God is ‘always’, for us, the One who is God ‘today’.’’
Said words, were professed three weeks before the opening quote, when, as a twenty-five year old student of both theology and philosophy, Bonhoeffer was invited to speak at the behest of the Czechoslovakian Church in Ciernohorske Kupele. The trajectory of his language, for all its icosahedral and infinite essence of a kinematical persuasion, is one thing. The sanctity of his theology, for all its complicit and comprehensive understanding of the human condition, is quite another.
Realising the kloof like demarcation betwixt the two, partially accounts for Bonhoeffer’s dense, depth-charge humanity. Much to the chagrin of Adolf Hitler and his extraordinarily vile ideology. A facet, which along with numerous others, is eminently portrayed by Ferdinand Schlingensiepen in this outstanding new book Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance
Unquestionably well researched, and written with a sensitivity that is both commendable and courageous, Schlingensipen most certainly knows and abides by his subject.
Starting with a close examination of the theologian’s childhood in the chapter ‘Ancestors, Childhood and Youth’ (wherein we learn that Bonhoeffer was actually born in current day Poland), it doesn’t take long for the reader to ascertain that this is a balanced, provocative, considered, and altogether courageous biography of the highest order. The succeeding chapters ‘University Years’ and ‘Years Abroad’ are just as equally thorough. Thus, by the time we reach ‘Before The Storm’ – during the politically inflammatory years of 1931 and 1932 – we already feel somewhat nurtured and at home with the sheer sparkle of Bonhoeffer’s resolute stand (and dare I say, raging common sense) towards the inexorable rising tide of Nazism.
Exceedingly well travelled, well read, and well advanced in the idealistic utopia of crystal clear theological practice and the adherence thereof, one cannot help but speculate upon what might have been – had Dietrich Bonhoeffer survived the concentration camp(s).
Ferdinand Schlingensiepen has written a profoundly wonderful book with grace and clarity. The sort of which, readers will want to refer to, over and over again. In so doing, one will be in a position to (subliminally) immerse oneself amid Bonhoeffer’s congregation. Humility. Poetry:
You left, beloved bliss and pain so hard to love.
What shall I call you? Life, Anguish, Ecstasy,
my Heart, of my own self a part – the past?
The door slammed shut and locked,
I hear your steps depart, resound, then slowly fade.
What remains for me? Joy, torment, longing?
I know just this: You left – and all is past.