Above: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Stamp
Image in the Public Domain
DIETRICH BONHOEFFER (FEBRUARY 4, 1906-APRIL 9, 1945)
German Lutheran Martyr
Instead of writing a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I refer you, O reader, to the following links:
- Link #1
- Link #2
- Link #3
Now I reflect on his legacy.
Bonhoeffer opposed the regime of Adolf Hitler, who sought to make Germany great again and wrecked the country and committed genocide in the process. This opposition made our saint an associate of men who plotted to assassinate Hitler.
Sometimes making moral choices is relatively easy. Much–perhaps most–of the time, however, life exists in shades of gray, not black and white. Much of the time the best we can do is to select the least bad choice. The fact that this is true as often as it is indicates that we live in a world in which sin has infected social institutions. Bonhoeffer found himself in a difficult situation not of his making. In that context he made the best choice he could. That led to his execution shortly before the fall of the Third Reich.
Bonhoeffer understood that grace is free yet costly. We cannot purchase grace yet it does require a response. That response in the life of our saint led to martyrdom. As Bonhoeffer wrote,
When Christ calls a man to follow him, he bids him come and die.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
MARCH 24, 2017 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF BLESSED OSCAR ROMERO AND THE MARTYRS OF EL SALVADOR
THE FEAST OF SAINT DIDACUS JOSEPH OF CADIZ, CAPUCHIN FRIAR
THE FEAST OF PAUL COUTURIER, APOSTLE OF CHRISTIAN UNITY
THE FEAST OF THOMAS ATTWOOD, FATHER OF MODERN CHURCH MUSIC
Gracious God, the Beyond in the midst of our life, you gave grace to your servant
Dietrich Bonhoeffer to know and teach the truth as it is in Jesus Christ,
and to bear the cost of following him: Grant that we, strengthened by his teaching and example,
may receive your word and embrace its call with an undivided heart:
through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
—Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 317
Above: Martyrs’ Monument, Stirling Scotland
Image Source = Library of Congress
“Martyr” comes from a Greek word meaning “witness,” although the most frequent use of “martyr” in Christian contexts applies to those who have died for their faith. I, expanding upon that meaning slightly, think of a martyr as one whose Christian faith, in the context of certain circumstances, leads him or her to act in such a way that he or she dies.
The line of Christian martyrs begins with St. Stephen, one of the original deacons. Other famous martyrs from the New Testament include St. Paul the Apostle (beheaded at Rome), St. Simon Peter (crucified upside-down), St. James of Jerusalem (executed by stoning), and St. Onesimus (stoned or beheaded). Later martyrs have included Jan Hus (executed on ecclesiastical orders), St. Agnes (beheaded and/or stabbed), Charles I of England and Scotland (beheaded), Janani Luwum (shot), Martin Luther King, Jr., (shot), Jonathan Myrick Daniels (shot; took a bullet for a girl near Selma, Alabama, in 1965), St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Maria Skobtsova (who sheltered Jews and died during the Holocaust), and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (hanged). The list of identified and recognized martyrs is long and illustrious.
Yet I suspect that most martyrs have been known only to God and a relative few people, and that that their names are lost to history. This feast, which I have created, is for them. It is also for all those martyrs whom I have not added and will not add to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days because their stories would be blurb-length or sound like a story I have told ten or more times already. The Feast of All Saints serves its purpose, but there should be a day just for martyrs. So why not September 30?
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
AUGUST 5, 2012 COMMON ERA
THE TENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST–PROPER 13, YEAR B
THE FEAST OF COLBERT S. CARTWRIGHT, DISCIPLES OF CHRIST MINISTER AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS
THE FEAST OF SAINT OSWALD OF NORTHUMBRIA, KING
THE FEAST OF PAUL VI, BISHOP OF ROME
Gracious God, in every age you have sent men and women
who have given their lives in witness to your love and truth.
Inspire us with the memory of all Christian martyrs,
whose faithfulness led to the way of the cross,
and give us courage to bear full witness with our lives
to your son’s victory over sin and death,
for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
—Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 59
Some major poets have feast days which denominations have assigned them. Examples include
- Saint Caedmon, from the Roman Catholic calendar;
- John Donne and George Herbert, priests of The Church of England with feast days on various Anglican calendars;
- various Roman Catholic bishops and theologians who composed texts which became hymns; Saint Ambrose of Milan comes to mind immediately;
- Phillips Brooks, an Episcopal priest at the time he composed the text of “O Little Town Bethlehem;” his brief tenure as Bishop of Massachusetts came at the end of his life;
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran minister, martyr, and poet who composed the profound work, “Who Am I?”
That is far from being a comprehensive list.
I have added some, including:
- Maltbie Davenport Babcock, a U.S. Presbyterian minister, humanitarian, and author of “This is My Father’s World;”
- W. H. Auden, a member of The Church of England when he lived on that side of the Pond and an Episcopalian when he was an American; and
- Martin Rinckart, a German Lutheran minister who shepherded a population through war and plague and who also wrote the original German text of “Now Thank We All Our God.”
There have been many other Christians who have expressed their faith eloquently via poetry. This feast, one I have created, is also for them.
Poetry is a wonderful and appropriate way to convey divine truth in a non-literal way. Any attempt–from the left or the right–to strip religion of a sufficient amount of mystery and to place excessive emphasis on that which we can grasp rationally is wrong. Therefore I condemn certain excesses of fundamentalism, evangelicalism, and liberalism in Christianity. Yes, we can know much rationally; to minimize that is also wrong. But the true nature of God exceeds human understanding, and I enjoy a good divine mystery. And frequently one needs to resort to a non-literal form of writing to approach a great truth.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JULY 28, 2012 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF THE PIONEERING FEMALE EPISCOPAL PRIESTS, 1974 AND 1975
THE FEAST OF ANTONIO VIVALDI, COMPOSER
THE FEAST OF JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH, COMPOSER
Eternal God, light of the world and Creator of all that is good and lovely:
We bless your name for inspiring all those who with words have filled us with desire and love for you;
through Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Chronicles 29:14b-19
2 Corinthians 3:1-3
John 21:15-17, 24-25
—Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 728