Seventy-five years ago on Saturday, the July plot failed. Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg placed a bomb in a briefcase next to Hitler in the conference room of the Wolf’s Lair, but someone moved the briefcase a little. When the bomb detonated, the heavy conference table shielded Hitler from the blast. Stauffenberg and many other conspirators were caught. He was executed early the next morning.
This Friday, in Christ Church, Oxford, a special service will commemorate the plot [Stauffenberg’s failed attempt to kill Hitler 75 years ago], and all those who resisted Nazism in Germany. It will centre on the altar dedicated to George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, and the main external supporter of German Christian resistance to Hitler.
In Sweden in May 1942, Bell met a young German pastor called Hans Schoünfeld [Schonfeld] and the famous theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who would later be executed in Flossenbürg concentration camp. The former disclosed to him the extent of the resisters’ plot to overthrow Hitler, giving him many of the key names. Charged with this information, Bell went to see Anthony Eden, the foreign secretary. Could the Allies help, with assurances that they would negotiate a settlement with a new German state that renounced aggression and embraced Christian principles? Writing to Eden afterwards, Bell asked: ‘If there are men in Germany also ready to wage war against the monstrous tyranny of the Nazis from within, is it right to discourage or ignore them?’ Eden was suspicious that the moves by the churchmen might be untrustworthy ‘peace-feelers’, which Hitler’s spies were bound to know about. Besides, the Allies were edging towards the doctrine of unconditional surrender. Bell’s efforts came to nothing. The July plotters acted without exterior help. They failed, and died horribly.
Controversy about this will never cease. It is easy to sympathise both with the pleading of the Bishop and with the scepticism of the foreign secretary. But one has to be impressed by Bell’s striking way of putting it: ‘Germany was the first country in Europe to be occupied by the Nazis’, and so its people needed liberation as much as any other. At the service will be read out the words of Helmuth James von Moltke, a resister to the Nazis who opposed the assassination of Hitler on the grounds that this would make him a martyr, but was executed for treason all the same. In his farewell letter to his wife, von Moltke wrote: ‘In the last analysis, the dramatic thing about the trial was this … what we had discussed were questions of the practical-ethical demands of Christianity. Nothing more; it is for this, and this alone, that we have been condemned …Your husband … stood … not as a Protestant, not as a landed proprietor, not as a nobleman, not as a Prussian, not as a German — but as a Christian and as nothing else…’
Faithful readers will know that this column has defended Bishop Bell from a charge of child abuse which the Church of England chose to accept as true 70 years after the alleged acts. A full inquiry by Lord Carlile proved that the processes used to investigate this claim had been worthless. The Church was forced to accept this. It refused, however, to pursue the logic of Carlile’s finding and declare Bell innocent until proved guilty. The Archbishop of Canterbury stated that a ‘significant cloud’ still hangs over Bell; but the cloud is not evidenced. By chance, I was in Chichester for a family gathering last weekend. We stayed at 4 Canon Lane, a guesthouse which was, until the accusation, called George Bell House. His name was then painted out. I was sorely tempted to paint it back again, but realised this would upset the blameless staff, so contented myself with expressing my thoughts in the visitors’ book. I also reminded myself of the geography of the Bishop’s Palace. ‘Carol’, Bell’s accuser, alleged that Bell would collect her from his kitchen and take her upstairs to his study, where he abused her. In fact, the kitchen she mentioned belonged to the theological college next door, and Bell had no access. His study was elsewhere.
On the crenellations which surround the cathedral’s impressive Victorian spire, we spotted three peregrines looking dramatic against the evening sun. The return of birds of prey is an attractive feature of modern times. The downside is that more raptors means fewer songbirds.
1. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14.6). “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. . . . I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10:1, 9.)
8.11 Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.
8.12 We reiect the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.
- The source of revelation is only the Word of God — Jesus Christ. Any other possible sources (earthly powers, for example) will not be accepted – Wiki
8.13 – 2. “Christ Jesus, whom God has made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30.)
8.14 As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, in the same way and with the same seriousness he is also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.
8.15 We reiect the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords–areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.
- Jesus Christ is the only Lord of all aspects of personal life. There should be no other authority – Wiki
8.16 – 3. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined and knit together.” (Eph. 4:15,16.)
8.17 The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.
8.18 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.
- The message and order of the church should not be influenced by the current political convictions – Wiki
8.19 – 4. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men excercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your srvant.” (Matt. 20:25,26.)
8.20 The various offices in the Church do not establish a dominion of some over the others; on the contrary, they are for the excercise of the ministry entrusted to and enjoined upon the whole congregation.
8.21 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, apart from this ministry, could and were permitted to give itself, or allow to be given to it, special leaders vested with ruling powers.
- The church should not be ruled by a leader (“Führer”). There is no hierarchy in the church (Mt 20, 25f) – Wiki
8.22 – 5. “Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17.)
Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the Church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace. [It fulfills this task] by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability. The Church acknowledges the benefit of this divine appointment in gratitude and reverence before him. It calls to mind the Kingdom of God, God’s commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things.
8.23 We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commision, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church’s vocation as well.
8.24 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State.
- The state should not fulfill the task of the church and vice versa. State and church are both limited to their own business – Wiki
8.25 – 6. “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt. 28:20.) “The word of God is not fettered.” (2 Tim. 2:9.)
8.26 The Church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of th free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and sacrament.
8.27 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.
8.28 The Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church declares that it sees in the acknowledgment of these truths and in the rejection of these errors the indispensable theological basis of the German Evangelical Church as a federation of Confessional Churches. It invites all who are able to accept its declaration to be mindful of these theological principles in their decisions in Church politics. It entreats all whom it concerns to return to the unity of faith, love, and hope.
- Therefore, the Barmen Declaration rejects (i) the subordination of the Church to the state (8.22–3) and (ii) the subordination of the Word and Spirit to the Church – Wiki
- WHY BONHOEFFER STILL MATTERS
- THE BARMEN DECLARATION 1934 [End]
Verbum Dei manet in aeternum.
The Word of God will last for ever.
Martin Niemöller preached a sermon titled, “Christus ist mein Führer,” or “Christ Is My Leader.” The use of the term “Führer” was intentional, since everybody in Germany referred to Hitler by that title. For Niemöller, “Christ is my Führer” implied its negation, “Hitler is not my Führer,” and for stating this Niemöller spent seven years in Dachau prison camp.
Later, Niemoller spoke about his own witness and said,
First they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out – because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out -because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out -because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me!
The “Confessing Church” had a short life. They managed to protest and resist Hitler and the German state. They helped over 2000 Jews escape. Many of the pastors were arrested and held in prison. Of significant lasting value is their legacy to the larger church in the Barman Declaration. Indeed, by that statement, we can remain strong and standing.
We live in a broken and fearful world. Let us ask the Spirit to encourage us to pray, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture and to remember how important it is to work with others for justice, freedom and peace. Let us neither be afraid, nor cowardly.
May 27 2019 – “There are also, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Bishop Bell argued, moral questions to be addressed here” – Paddy Ashdown [1941-2018]
“There are also, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Bishop Bell argued, moral questions to be addressed here…Dietrich Bonhoeffer…said…’Responsible action must decide not just between right and wrong, but between right and right and wrong and wrong’.
“So it is, exactly, here. There are no blacks and whites, just choices between blacker blacks and whiter whites. There are no triumphal personal qualities, and no triumphant outcomes. Just flawed individuals, who, at a time of what Bonhoeffer referred to as ‘moral twilight’, felt compelled to do the right thing as they saw it…
“In reading this book you may be struck, as I was in writing it, by the similarities between what happened in the build-up to World War II and the age in which we now live. Then as now, nationalism and protectionism were on the rise, and democracies were seen to have failed; people hungered for the government of strong men; those who suffered most from the pain of economic collapse felt alienated and turned towards simplistic solutions and strident voices; public institutions, conventional politics and the old establishments were everywhere mistrusted and disbelieved; compromise was out of fashion; the centre collapsed in favour of the extremes; the normal order of things didn’t function; change – even revolution – was more appealing than the status quo; and ‘fake news’ built around the convincing untruth carried more weight in the public discourse than rational arguments and provable facts.
“Painting a lie on the side of a bus and driving it around the country would have seemed perfectly normal in those days”.
LAST TWITTER ENTRIES – 2018
“Bell shared the Anglo-Catholics’ conviction that the church was not, and must never be, the creature of the state. When he spent Christmas 1914 at Canterbury with the Archbishop, Davidson, he noted in his diary on 29 December that this was the day on which Becket was murdered, and went to the Cathedral to visit the place of his martyrdom. Indeed Becket was to become increasingly influential in the twentieth century Church of England, reminding it that there are times when the church has to stand against the state”
~ Alan Wilkinson [Source: “Britain and the Threat to Stability in Europe, 1918-45” – Ch 5 ‘Bishop Bell and Germany’ – Page 77]
May 25 2019 – “Today’s disturbing echoes of the build up to the second world war” – Guardian – Letters
As Martin Kettle says (Brexit Britain and Weimar Germany are perilously alike, 16 May), there exist in the UK at the moment far too many similarities with Weimar Germany for comfort. It is easy to see parallels in the falling out of love with parliament, the lack of cooperation between parties and the far right’s repeated message of national betrayal, and to link them with a possible surge in support for a rightwing autocracy.
It is worth mentioning, however, that Adolf Hitler’s rise initially was through democratic votes in general elections, with the Nazis becoming the biggest party in the Reichstag after the July 1932 election. It was after the November election of that year when they actually lost ground, when it was decided to offer Hitler the chancellorship, leading to the Enabling Act and the destruction of opposition parties.
Divisions on the left, with the inevitable lack of viable policies to challenge the promise of a strong Germany coming from Hitler, were an important factor in the rise of fascism, and must not be repeated here. The Labour leadership has a duty to provide a united opposition to the threat from the right; if Labour loses the support of its remain voters and their votes are shared around smaller parties, a significant and dangerous similarity could be created, with terrible consequences.
• Martin Kettle points to today’s echoes of 1920s and 1930s Germany. He is far from the only observer to make the point: in his final book, containing riveting biographical essays on individuals who stood up to Hitler, the late Paddy Ashdown wrote: “In reading this book you may be struck, as I was in writing it, by the similarities between what happened in the build-up to World War II and the age in which we now live. Then as now, nationalism and protectionism were on the rise and democracies were seen to have failed, people hungered for the government of strong men; those who suffered most from the pain of economic collapse felt alienated and turned towards simplistic solutions and strident voices … ‘fake news’ built around the convincing untruth carried more weight in the public discourse than rational arguments and provable facts.”Paddy comments wryly: “Painting a lie on the side of a bus and driving it around the country would have seemed perfectly normal in those days.”
Teaching the uncomfortable facts of history is crucially important and we neglect it at our peril.
“The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with faith to fight for it”
“There are also, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Bishop Bell argued, moral questions to be addressed here”
~ Paddy Ashdown
[Source: “Nein! Standing Up To Hitler 1939-1944” – Collins 2018 – Page 301 – Epilogue]
Never Forget: Recalling the Death of Bonhoeffer
The great preacher, writer, theologian and witness to the faith, Dietrich Bonhoeffer,was executed on April 9, 1945, just days before the Nazi camp where he was held, Flossenbürg, was liberated. He was 39.
Here’s what happened:
On 4 April 1945, the diaries of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr, were discovered, and in a rage upon reading them, Hitler ordered that the Abwehr conspirators [those who had plotted for Hitler’s assassination] be destroyed.
Bonhoeffer was led away just as he concluded his final Sunday service and asked an English prisoner, Payne Best, to remember him to Bishop George Bell of Chichester if he should ever reach his home: “This is the end—for me the beginning of life.”
Bonhoeffer was condemned to death on 8 April 1945 by SS judge Otto Thorbeck at a drumhead court-martial without witnesses, records of proceedings or a defense in Flossenbürg concentration camp. He was executed there by hanging at dawn on 9 April 1945, just two weeks before soldiers from the United States 90th and 97th Infantry Divisions liberated the camp, three weeks before the Soviet capture of Berlin and a month before the surrender of Nazi Germany.
Bonhoeffer was stripped of his clothing and led naked into the execution yard where he was hanged, along with fellow conspirators Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Canaris’s deputy General Hans Oster, military jurist General Karl Sack, General Friedrich von Rabenau, businessman Theodor Strünck, and German resistance fighter Ludwig Gehre.
Eberhard Bethge, a student and friend of Bonhoeffer’s, writes of a man who saw the execution: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer… kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer…In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”
His legacy has been profound:
Bonhoeffer’s life as a pastor and theologian of great intellect and spirituality who lived as he preached—and his being killed because of his opposition to Nazism—exerted great influence and inspiration for Christians across broad denominations and ideologies, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, the anti-communist democratic movement in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, and the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa.
Bonhoeffer is commemorated in the liturgical calendars of several Christian denominations on the anniversary of his death, 9 April. This includes many parts of the Anglican Communion, where he is sometimes identified as a martyr.