2012 - Vol. 57
on the Road to Freedom
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer(1906-1945)
wrote this prose poem a few months before his execution by the Nazi regime
in 1945, translated by Frank Clarke.
If you set
out to seek freedom, then learn above all things to govern your soul and
for fear that
your passions and longings may lead you away from the path you should follow.
your mind and your body, and both in subjection, obediently, steadfastly
seeking the aim set before them;
discipline may a man learn to be free.
do what is right, not what fancy may tell you,
grasping occasions, not cravenly doubting –
only through deeds, not through thoughts taking wing.
nor fear, but go out to the storm and the action,
God whose commandment you faithfully follow;
will welcome your spirit with joy.
A change has
so strong and active, are bound; in helplessness now you see your action
you sigh in
relief, your cause committing to stronger hands; so now you may rest contented.
Only for one
blissful moment could you draw near to touch freedom;
it might be perfected in glory, you gave it to God.
thou greatest of feasts on the journey to freedom eternal;
aside all the burdensome chains, and demolish the walls of our temporal
body, the walls of our souls that are blinded,
so that at
last we may see that which here remains hidden.
long we have sought thee in discipline, action, and suffering;
now may behold thee revealed in the Lord.
[source: Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
Letters & Papers from Prison, (c) 1953, SCM Press, LTD]
Bonhoeffer was born into a family of seven children in Breslau, Germany.
He grew up in Berlin, where his father worked as a prominent professor
of psychiatry and neurology; his mother was one of the few women of her
generation to obtain a university degree. At the age of 14 he decided he
would become a Lutheran pastor and theologian. He was the first of the
German theologians to speak out clearly against the persecution of the
Jews. He was 39 years old when he was taken out of his prison and hanged
as a Nazi traitor in 1945. As he left his cell he said to his companion,
"This is the end –
but for me, the beginning of life.".
|Bonhoeffer in the courtyard of Tegel Prison,
summer of 1944
Christian Kaiser Verlag
> See related article,
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
perhaps no other century has the church seen so many confessors and martyrs
to the faith as in this one. Countless Christians have placed their lives
on the line for the gospel. Most of these witnesses to the passion and
victory of Christ are relatively unknown, but some have become public signs
of God's kingdom. I have in mind a number of candidates for sainthood in
the new religious situation in which we find ourselves – people who have
refused to bow the knee to Baal and whose stories have increasing significance
for our time.
the 1930s] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a then relatively unknown German Lutheran
pastor and theologian, aroused the ire of the Nazis by his radio address
attacking the Nazi leadership principle and also by his open support of
the Confessing Church movement. Having founded what soon became an
underground seminary at Finkenwalde in Pomerania, he demonstrated in his
own life what he had urged on others - that fidelity to the kingdom of
God takes precedence over all other loyalties, including that which we
owe to our nation. By the late 1930s, Bonhoeffer's activities were greatly
restricted by the Gestapo. Two of his former professors at Union Theological
Seminary in New York succeeded in bringing him safely to America but he
could not allow himself to remain in refuge, detached from the sufferings
of his people. Against his teachers' advice, he boldly decided to return
to Germany, even though by this time he was a marked man.
the war began, Bonhoeffer, despite his pacifist convictions, was led to
participate in a resistance group that eventually plotted to assassinate
Hitler. In April 1943 he was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned at
Tegel in Berlin. While in prison, he had an opportunity to escape, but
he called off the escape plans for fear of reprisals against his family.
Although often tempted to despair, he radiated a joy and peace that were
a constant source of inspiration to his fellow prisoners. He was
hanged on the gallows in the Flossenburg prison camp in April 1945.
was arrested because of his illegal activities in the resistance movement.
Bonhoeffer has been hailed by secular and political theologians as an outstanding
example of political involvement on behalf of the oppressed. What they
have not sufficiently discerned is that Bonhoeffer's political acts were
motivated by a deep religious faith in the God of the Bible, by an unequivocal
commitment to the gospel of reconciliation and redemption. Bonhoeffer will
come to be appreciated in this new age of persecution for his devotion
to Jesus Christ and not simply for his political heroism.
from the book, Crumbling Foundations, by Donald Bloesch (c) 1984
by The Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Used with permission.]