Bonhoeffer’s Worldliness

On this date in 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Protestant pastor and theologian known for his ardent resistance to Nazism, was hanged at the Flossenbürg concentration camp.

Reportedly, an SS doctor who saw his execution testified to Bonhoeffer having been “devout, brave, and composed.” He said, “His death ensued after a few seconds . . . I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

Today I am reflecting on this excerpt from a 1944 letter that Bonhoeffer wrote to a friend in 1944 in which he reflects on what he calls “the worldliness of Christianity.”

During the last year or so I’ve come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity. […] I don’t mean the shallow and banal this-worldliness of the enlightened, the busy, the comfortable, or the lascivious, but the profound this-worldliness characterized by discipline and the constant knowledge of death and resurrection.

[…] I’m still discovering right up to this moment that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. […] By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously not our own sufferings but those of God in the world – watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian.”

It is remarkable how, even in the moments before his execution, Bonhoeffer was living with “discipline and the constant knowledge of death and resurrection.

It is life in precisely this world that requires faith.

Bonhoeffer took his responsibility in this world seriously. He had faith that his suffering was not his alone to bear and that he was indeed not bearing it alone.

My 2015 photo of a street in Wrocław, Poland (formerly Breslau, Germany) where Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born

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