Thursday, February 04, 2010

Marking the Birth of a Martyr ...

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor and theologian martyred through his resistance to Adolf Hitler and Nazism, was born on this day in 1906. It was the begining of one of the more significant - if tragically short - lives of the 20th-century.

There was nothing cloistered about this cleric. He attended college in his native Germany, earning a PhD in theology at the age of 21, and took to traveling. He studied at a seminary in New York City, and attended Baptist church in Harlem, where he was introduced to the African-American spirituals that he collected and took back to Germany. He also traveled in India where he met Gandhi and studied the principle of non-violent resistance.

Non-violent, perhaps ... but serious nonetheless, as he returned to his native Germany, co-founded the Confessing Church, and ended up joining a resistance movement that opposed Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. "Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church," Bonhoeffer once wrote. "Our struggle today is for costly grace."

And it did, indeed, prove to be costly. Bonhoeffer was arrested in 1943, and again - for the final time - in 1944, after a failed assassination attempt on Hitler's life. He was imprisoned in a series of concentration camps. Bonhoeffer was tortured, then executed under brutal circumstances in the camp at Flossenb├╝rg on April 9, 1945 ... ending a life, but not a legacy that endures and inspires to this day.

Online resources include
this page devoted to Bonhoeffer created by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the website of the International Bonhoeffer Society, the Bonhoeffer Reading Room at Tyndale College & Seminary and Bonhoeffer's Wikipedia entry.

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