Dietrich Bonhoeffer happens to be one of my enduring heroes in the Christian faith. A few weeks ago, I gave brief lectures / reflections on his theology and social ethics at my alma mater. Excerpts (a selection of quotations from his writings).
- The Church was silent when it should have cried out.
- In a letter from prison to his fiancee, Maria: It would be better if I succeeded in writing to you only of my gratitude, my joy, and my happiness in having you and in keeping the pressure and the impatience of this long imprisonment out of sight. But that would not be truthful, and it would appear to me as an injustice to you. You must know how I really feel and must not take me for a stone saint…I can’t very well imagine that you would want to marry one in the first place – and I would also advise against it from my knowledge of Church history.
- Only those who cry out for the Jews may also sing the Gregorian chant.
- There are three possible ways in which the Church can act towards the state. In the first place…it can ask the state whether its actions are legitimate and in accordance with its character as state, i.e., it can throw the state back on its responsibilities. Second, it can aid the victims of state action…The Church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering of society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community. “Do good to all people.”…The third possibility is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to jam a spoke in the wheel itself. Such action would be direct political action, and is only possible and desirable when the Church sees the state fail in its function of creating law and order.
- There are things for which an uncompromising stand is worthwhile.
- I ask with all my strength what God is trying to say to us through (the Bible)…since I have learnt to read the Bible in this way…it becomes more marvellous to me every day.
- It is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith.
- Peace is the opposite of security.
- Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all of his disciples deserted him. On the cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.
- In a letter to Eberhard Bethge from Tegel Prison, April 30, 1944: You would be suprised, and perhaps even worried, by my theological thoughts and the conclusions they lead to; and this is where I miss you most of all, because I don’t know anyone else with whom I could so well discuss them to have my thinking clarified. What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today…We are moving toward a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religionless anymore. Even those who honestly describe themselves as “religious” do not in the least act up to it, and so they presumably mean something quite different by “religious.”
- The only fight which is lost is that which we give up.
Quotations primarily from A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, edited by Geffrey B. Kelley, and F. Burton Nelson (Harper Collins, 1990), as reproduced in the Issue no. 32 of Christian History (Vol. X, No. 4, pp. 12-13).