Bonhoeffer and his guilt

Yesterday a discussion broke out in the comments about whether or not the murderer of abortionist George Tiller is equivalent to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who conspired to kill Hitler. It so happens that I had just seen the movie “Valkyrie” about a different plot to kill Hitler and had been searching the web for information about exactly what Bonhoeffer did. According to this account, Bonhoeffer was actively involved in the broader resistance movement, though his involvement with the conspiracy to kill Hitler was very indirect. Still, I was struck by this:

He did not justify his action but accepted that he was taking guilt upon himself as he wrote “when a man takes guilt upon himself in responsibility, he imputes his guilt to himself and no one else. He answers for it… Before other men he is justified by dire necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience, but before God he hopes only for grace.” [26]. (In this connection, it is worthwhile to recall his 1932 sermon, in which he said: “the blood of martyrs might once again be demanded, but this blood, if we really have the courage and loyalty to shed it, will not be innocent, shining like that of the first witnesses for the faith. On our blood lies heavy guilt, the guilt of the unprofitable servant who is cast into outer darkness.”

One difference between Bonhoeffer and violent culture warriors today is that he didn’t justify what he did. He didn’t insist that he was doing the right thing, that what he did was really good and carried out in a spirit of self-righteousness. He did it in guilt and in the need for grace.

Talk to a veteran

The veterans who fought World War II are passing away and will not be with us very much longer. Those old men at the VFW hall or who sit at the back in church or who shuffle along in walkers at the nursing homes–many of them have experiences in battle and have performed heroic deeds that would be staggering to the rest of us if we only knew. Never dismiss them. Respect them. Honor them.

See if you can get them to tell you what they did during the war. Some can’t talk about it to this very day. But some will. My father-in-law was one of the only survivors of his unit at Iwo Jima. One of the elders at our church when I was growing up was a B-17 gunner. I knew an elderly gentleman who was an intelligence officer and worked behind enemy lines.

Have any of you heard stories like this?

Losing Christendom

I was asked to review a book entitled The Future of Christian Learning, which contains an essay by the well-regarded historian Mark Noll, an evangelical Christian now on the faculty at Notre Dame. Tying in to yesterday’s discussion on the post “Aliens in a Strange Land,” Noll says that Western Civilization once was termed “Christendom.” It was a culture in which the church had considerable intellectual influence, with the society deferring to its moral authority.

Christendom appeared to break up with the advent of the Reformation. But the major Protestant confessional groups–the Lutherans, the Reformed, and the Anglicans–did not completely reject the older concept of Christendom and, when established as state churches, soon presided over Christendoms of their own. But then the pietists came, reacting against these institutionalized churches in favor of individual personal experience. Noll says that the various kinds of pietists had a greater impact than the Reformation and were largely reponsible for the collapse of Christendom, as Christianity withdrew from the culture into the individual heart. Noll notes a special example of this phenomenon in America. Mainline liberal Protestantism assumed a proprietary leadership role in the United States, until it became so liberal and culture-bound that fundamentalists reacted against it and withdrew from the mainstream American culture to pursue spiritual purity. Evangelicals have emerged out of that fundamentalist tradition and are trying to re-engage the culture, with mixed success.

Recovering Christian learning and cultural influence, Noll says, will require reconstructing a new kind of Christendom, which will require evangelicals to learn from the church’s older traditions.

I find Dr. Noll to be persuasive. I don’t quite understand why evangelicals–the heirs of pietists and fundamentalists–are first blamed for withdrawing from the culture, but are currently blamed for trying to be too active. Nor do I understand why the heirs of the “Christendom” churches are now saying that Christians need to be less concerned with the culture and to be instead more spiritual. Shouldn’t the roles be reversed?

Is there any serious prospect for rebuilding a Christendom? If not, were the pietists and fundamentalists right, after all?

The noble army of martyrs

A blog from Christianity Today has posted data on The History of Martyrdom:

Table of Martyrs

The number of people who have died for their faith has shot up dramatically since the 20th century, dwarfing every other period. Other observations: Since martyrs are defined according to the definition of each tradition, the Muslim martyrs would include those killed while fighting in jihads, which is how nearly all of the Muslim wars of conquest have been classified. Also, it would appear that Protestants hardly ever martyr anyone!

What other conclusions can you draw from this data?

HT: One Eternal Day

Michelangelo as secret Lutheran?

Anthony Sacramone reports on a strain of research that is linking Michelangelo to the “Spirituali,” a group of proto-Lutherans in the Roman church who believed in justification by faith:

While studying Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses, part of the Tomb of Julius II, [Antonio] Forcellino began to notice certain “anomalies” that gave him pause. Further research, especially in the Vatican archives, led him to the relationship between Michelangelo and Cardinal Reginald Pole, Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga, and Vittoria Colonna, a noblewoman.

What these folks had in common was a desire to reform the Catholic Church from within. In fact, Pole’s views on justification, like Gaspar Contarini’s, bears a striking resemblance to Luther’s, although not identical to it.

Forcellino believes a tortured and conflicted Michaelangelo began to ask that question that seemed to be in the 16th-century air: “What must I do to be saved?”  ”Grace cannot be purchased,” Michelangelo wrote to Colonna in light of the indulgences controversy, and, influenced by the Spirituali and their Christocentric discussions of reform and renewal, the work of il Maestro began to focus increasingly on Christ and a direct relationship with God, rather than on the insitutional church, its clergy, and its sacraments.

By 1547, Pole, then a papal governor in northern Italy, was at the center of a network of reformed-minded clergy, laity, and artists. They were educated, wealthy, and sympathetic to many of the same concerns as the Protestants, although they themselves were not Protestants.

Pole was seen as a man who could bridge the divide between Rome and the Reformers. Michelangelo, a member of this network, began to produce images “that mirror these ideas,” says one scholar in the Secrets documentary.

But the Spirituali began making the authorities nervous, and Cardinal Caraffa, a nobleman from Naples, became Pope Paul III’s top heresy hunter, Inquisitor General for Rome. He despised anything that smacked of Lutheranism, and to him the Spirituali were secret Lutherans.

And that included, believe it or not, Michelangelo. Caraffa denounced the master painter’s Second Coming of Christ, not only because of the rampant nudity, but also because it focused too much on man and his relation to Christ, not the church.

This group was soon persecuted out of existence. But not before the Pope named Cardinal Pole, an Englishman, as his hoped-for successor to the papacy! He was not elected, but think what might have been.

The Treaty of Tripoli

According to historian Susan Jacoby, when President Obama told a group of Muslims that “we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation.” he was alluding to the Treaty of Tripoli of 1797, which brought an end to the conflict with the Barbary coast pirates. Passed by the Senate without controversy and signed by President John Adams, the treaty makes this statement:

“As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion–as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen (Muslims)–and as the said states have never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religions opinions shall over produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”