Col. Tim Mallard, chaplain in the US Army, spoke about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology and lessons for today at the Christianity and National Security Conference.
The views expressed in this video are those of the speaker and not of the US Army or Department of Defense.
Tim Mallard: Thank you very much, I appreciate the opportunity to come here today, Mark. And although I’m daunted by the fact that we’re speaking at the end of the day and I’m the only thing standing between you and whatever plans you have for the evening. So, I’ll do my best to keep your attention engaged. As Mark said, I’m Timothy Mallard, I teach at the United States Army War College, just down the road in Carlisle, Pennsylvania just down the road from messiah so, home of by the way in that area the finest ice cream shop in the entire world Leo’s ice cream, if you ever get up there go to Leo’s, okay. I hope that’s not on the recording but anyway, as an active-duty Army Officer and Chaplain I do have to say even though I am in civilian dress that the views I express in this lecture are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the official policies or positions of the U.S. Army War College, the U.S. Army Chaplain Court, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the United States Government, okay.
My intent in offering them is to raise them into the scholarly discussion for you all around these topics. But you might ask why Bonhoeffer at a conference on Christianity and realism. I think it kind of goes back to what Eric Patterson kicked us off with today, the Augustinian ideal of the common good. I think Bonhoeffer can help us discern a way ahead in what, if you’ll be, if you’ll forgive me as one who has worked for 34 years in the public square what often feels like being in exile living in a post-religion religion less western modernity in your context that might feel completely different but again after 34 years working in the public square and many people of faith not just Christians but Jews, Muslims, many people feel as if we are living in a post-religious western modernity now.
But I want to borrow an analogy from the army right, so I’m in the army, so I’m going to borrow an analogy from the army and that is that I think that one of the things that Bonhoeffer offers us is an azimuth to find our way ahead toward building up the common good. Now if you’ve ever done land navigation, if any anybody here has ever been in the army and you’ve done land navigation you have to have a compass, it lands a lens at compass right and the most important thing on with your that you do with your compass is you pick your azimuth you pick your direction that you’re going to go, but when you get that direction then you have to create waypoints on the route so that when you get to point number one then you course correct if you’re a little bit off on that azimuth and you get back on that azimuth, and then you can get to the point or the place that you want to go. In a way I think Bonhoeffer offers that but I’m going to do something that may counter your thoughts about Bonhoeffer. I don’t believe the azimuth that we should follow in studying him in his life is to look first at his conspiracy and martyrdom right. In fact, I think the proper azimuth is to take a focused look at just some of his theology and so I’m going to offer seven waypoints on Bonhoeffer’s theology that we’ll get to in a minute that will be I hope waypoint’s for you in terms of again navigating your way as a public intellectual in the public square again and potentially a post-religionless modernity.
Now that said if you if we could please, I don’t know who’s controlling the slides, there we go thank you very much, I’m often asked about sources, so if I had two sources to recommend as a secondary source I would recommend Schlingen Stephen’s book, I still think it’s the single finest readable one volume anthology or historical account of his life, that’s the book on the left, and if you’re going to study Bonhoeffer and Bonhoeffer’s theology you have got to be willing to dig into the accumulated 17 volumes of his life’s work right and that is contained in the fortress press book the one you see on the on the right is just one of those 17 volumes, his book discipleship or from the German knock full that’s the title it’s not the cost of discipleship it was an American translation from the 1950s okay. But that entire 17 volume corpus.
So I’m going to pull just seven points from that lifetime of work on Bonhoeffer all right so I’m often asked about sources, and I can talk more about those in the Q&A, but if we can go to the next slide and just kind of build it one thing I do want us to make sure that we, so we just keep hitting build who’s got the slides oh thanks, appreciate it, so just hit enter and let’s keep building the pictures as they come up although we’re not going to look at Bonhoeffer’s, here I’ll just give the thumbs up and just keep building, we’re not going to look at Bonhoeffer’s conspiracy and martyrdom we do have to be able to understand the context of the kierken kampf which overtook Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945 and just keep kind of keep building there and you see some pictures that frankly um are arresting and they should be arresting in terms of the national socialist parties manifest attempts to co-opt religion for its purposes within the state and this led of course to the pogrom or that really it’s not just a program it’s the show of the Holocaust against the Jews codified in the bonsai conference in which the final solution was enacted across all the elements of the Nazi state resulting in the deaths of over 6 million Jews and hundreds of thousands of other people including political prisoners and those who disagreed with the state of in any kind.
In the bottom you see some pictures of ways in which Bonhoeffer attempted to navigate this environment to contribute to the common good including his rectorship of the pastor’s seminary at finkevalda in Pomerania which the Gestapo eventually shut down and his work with other members of the confessing church and the failing of which eventually would lead him into his participation in conspiracy against the third Reich and again we can talk about that in the Q&A, but I don’t want to focus on that as the primary way to understand how Bonhoeffer might help us inform our context I want to be clear, I’m not trying to draw a context between inter-war and World War II Nazi Germany and in the United States today. I’m not trying to do that, but what I am saying is that Bonhoeffer knew something about living almost again as a foreigner and an exile in his own land and culture and he often felt like he was in some senses speaking to a diminishing remnant of the faithful people within the within the confessing church who were attempting to live lives of confessional authenticity and witness even in the midst of national socialism.
Now that said, even though there’s not an immediate correlation of the two contexts, a couple of things I think we have to do in terms of studying Bonhoeffer number one we have to allow him to speak for himself and we cannot overlay on him our theological ecclesial or worse yet political biases all right and I’ve taken the term from biblical studies here in Bonhoeffer studies that we cannot conduct Jesus and Bonhoeffer’s life, Bonhoeffer is not a 21st century American evangelical Christian, okay I mean just let’s kind of get that off the table, he is in early 20th century confessing church Luther and pastor, who along with many other people were attempting to navigate again the press of national socialism and living faithful in reaction to it. So, we have to allow him to speak for himself, and then do what we can to take the principles which he lays out I’m going to detail again seven of these as waypoints in a minute and see if they can’t be applied in our context. And the second thing that we have to do is we have to rise to the challenge of understanding Bonhoeffer’s biblically grounded historically anchored yet socially attenuated ecclesiology and Christology and working to over overcome our theological deficits in this area or in these areas if that sounds a bit daunting, it is, I mean I mean again the man the accumulated corpus of letters papers dissertation everything was 17 volumes he published his PHD dissertation in Berlin at night at, or he graduated at the age of 21 I mean he was you know fundamentally a brilliant person and even in the in the midst of his struggle over the course of his life against national socialism he continued to write and publish and part of our challenge is to be willing to wade into the depth of his theology.
So, let’s go to the next slide please, and let’s keep building and go past that I thought I had hit that one. So you see some things here in terms of the conspiracy of martyrdom there’s George Bell Bishop of Chichester with whom he worked, admiral Canaris, and colonel Hans von Oster that was his cell in Tegel prison, keep building there please that was his fiancée Maria van Vetermeier, and then finally the last picture that’s where he was hung along with van Oster and Konaris and his brother-in-law Hans Vandognani at Flossenberg concentration camp in Bavaria in 1945, the day before the concentration camp was liberated by American forces. So next please, okay so if I had seven things to offer you as again a way ahead things on which you might take a look at building your own theology of public engagement from Bonhoeffer these seven ideas stand out. Number one all for Bonhoeffer all theology begins with the incarnation.
Right, now this is mentioned that Bonhoeffer is a Lutheran theologian but here he is he was categorically breaking from Luther who really the court the basis of Luther’s theology was the theology of the cross Bonhoeffer was taking that even further back to the incarnation and frankly even before as a precursor to the incarnation the creation and the fall really and the rupture of the divine human relationship in Eden all right but at the very minimum Bonhoeffer’s theology has to begin with the incarnation because you can’t understand the end of Bonhoeffer’s theology without understanding that beginning. The second thing is taken from the title of his doctoral dissertation sanctorum communion that the church is the earthly presence of Christ as he will call it later in discipleship we are the community of the crucified, this is both in a real and in a mystical sense for Bonhoeffer right we are the tangible presence of the body of Christ but we are also mystically the body of Christ in the world, and we have to understand that as a type of frankly challenge to live up to that, much as Scott was just detailing in his fine presentation previous to that although he wasn’t talking about Bonhoeffer this is in some sense an allied idea.
Third, the Christian and his or her duty to the state really must begin with a consideration of allegiance an allegiance that is either penultimate second to last to the state or ultimate first and foremost to god, and this then informs duty, and I think it’s instructive that Bonhoeffer detailed this in his radio address in Berlin in 1933 two days after the national socialists came to power in the mek daifung that’s the German word they still use power grab, right to describe the ascendance of the national socialists to the federal government Bonhoeffer even then in 1933 two days after they came to power went on the radio in Berlin and talked about this to the entire city of berlin about this duty of being able to delineate one’s penultimate allegiance to the state versus ultimate allegiance to God and the fact that that in the in assessing our ultimate allegiance we have to be prepared to answer to God for the decisions around this sense of allegiance and duty.
Fourth that the precondition for discipleship is the death of the self this is a fairly well-known idea in Bonhoeffer’s theology, but you simply and you know the translation it’s actually a little bit of a, it’s I’ll say it because it’s famous, but in the German it’s not the correct translation when Christ calls a man he bids him come and die, it’s a little bit more stilted in the German so it sounds a little bit more palatable in the English in that regard, but Bonhoeffer is saying for a man or a woman when God calls us when Christ calls us in discipleship we have to die to ourselves, and that is a precondition for successful or for discipleship.
Now related to that is the concept of costly versus cheap grace and that only this can lead to obedient discipleship and if necessary suffering and this is very important in Bonhoeffer’s theology, the Christian does not choose suffering as God’s way in his or her life, God places that calling on the Christian, the Christian only has the responsibility to respond one way or another—do I accept the suffering that God has laid on my life or not, so suffering can’t be something that I choose for myself in terms of my Christian vocation it is either a part of God’s calling in me or not but obedient discipleship may lead to suffering and will always lead in his idea in his theology. This is an idea from his ethics of free and responsible action for the other right, so that I am extending myself as Christ has extended himself for me, I am willing to do the same thing for another.
Sixth this is again Bonhoeffer I think it is kind of his genius in his life, in his ethics, unfinished at his death but begun in 1942 the Nazis had taken the Lutheran ideal of orders of creation and they had turned them on their head for orders of creation and they had kept those, they had they had wanted to really subvert those into the ideology of the Nazi control of the church and the state, Bonhoeffer attempted to reclaim those and reframe them as orders of preservation later in his life in ethics he will call them four mandates right, and that these mandates are non-negotiable expressions of church and community in or like faithful life in the world and they are marriage, family, church, and work and in a sense if we sort of compare or contrast those with our contemporary society some of those even are even today sound you know counter cultural to a great degree, but for Bonhoeffer those were those were absolutely sacrosanct expressions of the Christian life in the world marriage, family, church, and work and they are built on Luther’s two kingdom taxonomy.
And then finally, that Christ is the mediator for the world and the German word, and the rough translation is vicarious representative actor, right, that is what Christ is for us, and if we going back to his point about the church being the earthly community of the crucified, if Christ is that for us then we are called to do no less than that for the world as well, so Christ is the mediator and the man for others it’s a very famous phrase in Bonhoeffer’s theology. But what he means by that is that Christ only is God’s reconciling agent in creation ultimately that finds its expression in the eschaton in the completion of Christ’s redemptive mission in his return. So one of the things I think it’s important to end with about Bonhoeffer and studying waypoints in his theology if his theology is an azimuth right a trajectory and if these are waypoints to understand how we too can follow on that same azimuth, I think that it’s important to understand that Bonhoeffer never lost the sense of ultimate hope in the redemption of all of creation by Christ at the completion of his redemptive mission for God the Father and in the second coming.
So I’m going to stop there that’s probably enough and there’s lots of other things we can talk about with Bonhoeffer and I’ll be happy to answer questions about, I will be happy to answer questions about the conspiracy and martyrdom if you want to, but I wanted to focus for you all in giving you at least a snapshot of the rich theology, the ecclesiology particularly, and the Christology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer because I think that that can be an exciting way ahead for us and also helping to work for a world that is informed by the Christian ideal of the common good. Thanks, I’ll take your questions.
Nobody wants to ask anything about Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Sir.
Col. Tim Mallard: No, thank you very much. Having lived 10 years in Germany by the way, I can say that it’s not only fun to learn, it’s exceptionally hard to learn particularly based on where you are in Germany at the time, you know because, you know Bavarian Deutsche is completely different than you know Deutsche and the Rhineland false by dialect, but to your point Bonhoeffer’s German is intensely, it’s a height, it’s a hook to which it’s a theological German and I think infidelity to his concepts you really have to be able to delve into it in theological German and that only magnifies the scholarly task of attempting to study it. Now the Dietrich Bonhoeffer virga, the collected works have been published by the international Bonhoeffer society and all translated by really capable German and Bonhoeffer scholars, so that English translation is very faithful, but one of the advantages of that particular translation is you will see in an original work Bonhoeffer’s footnotes that he put about at that work, and then footnotes from the original German translation the immediate postwar translation of all 17 volumes, and then footnotes about the English translators at the bottom so some of the pages can get a little bit tedious but that’s helpful that said I really do encourage people to study Bonhoeffer and the richness of the German original because there are some concepts that are simply almost done, they don’t approximate even into English. Okay. Thank you. Yes please.
Questioner: I’m from Liberty University and I’m actually Lutheran, so this is very interesting to me. You said that Bonhoeffer didn’t necessarily agree with Martin Luther’s ideas on income on incarnation, he used the incarnation, and I was curious as to what Bonhoeffer’s beliefs were with the five solos?
Col. Tim Mallard: Okay, well it’s not that he didn’t agree with Luther, he just wanted to advance Luther’s theology, he was very much a champion of Lutheran theology but he wanted to I think broaden and expand it back to frankly the book of Genesis, you know as much as anything. So regarding the five solos I think it’s important we have one of the things that’s exciting aboutBonhoeffer is not only with his intersections with reformed theology, so the you know the five solos of the reformation for the most part can at least today are often allied with reformed theology, he would have he would have upheld all of those but he would also, he was not unwilling to point out obliquely at places where Calvin was wrong, you know or you know even Luther you know got this idea wrong, I mean lengthen, by the same token he gave equal
weight to critiquing roman catholic theology, he made several trips abroad in which he intersected with roman catholic theology, he was deeply informed by his time here in America as a graduate student, deeply formed by his experience at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem in which he first encountered African American theology and particularly in and these were many of them were still living either first generation descendants of slaves or in some cases had been slaves themselves in 1927 at that point, and so and yet he critiqued American social gospel theology with Walter Rauschenbusch and others you know, so he was widely read and conversant with various religious expressions around the world and I think he was willing to comment or be in dialogue with many of them, but largely he would still as a Lutheran have held to the five solos without you know me as an evangelical Presbyterian being able to say well he was certainly Presbyterian, he was he was Lutheran he had great critiques particularly for reformed ecclesiology for instance. So, thanks, great question. Thanks. Yes, sir in the back please. And please just speak up, my ears are not so good anymore.
Questioner: I’m a roman catholic so I want to know what did he dislike the most about Roman Catholicism and then what did he appreciate the most about Roman Catholicism?
Col. Tim Mallard: Wow, that’s interesting. I’m not sure I could say, I don’t want to make a pejorative value judgment and speak for Bonhoeffer and say what he liked the most or didn’t like the most. I will say several things that he found attractive about roman catholic theology compared to Lutheran theology was a balance between word and sacrament and the lived ecclesiology of the church particularly relative to you know what we would term today social justice or care for the poor, but grounded in a firm theo grounded in a firm theology. I, this is not getting completely to your I wouldn’t say there’s anything he didn’t like about roman catholic theology, but I will say as a Lutheran he you know he didn’t hold to the authority of the pope you know but he did appreciate the history of the papacy relative to the history of Germany and particular, excuse me, the history of Europe and particularly the history of Germany and so he was able to in a very nuanced way appreciate the influence of Roman Catholicism on contemporary Germany in his day and age. Now, all that said let me say that today Bonhoeffer has been has gained a really robust reading and appreciation within contemporary roman catholic ecclesiology and Christology and so you were finding a number of roman catholic scholars writing with great affection for him particularly again relative to both his ecclesiology and Christology. So, thanks, good question though. Others?
Col. Tim Mallard: Okay, oh yes sir. Please. Yes. Okay. So, now I’m going to do my best to try and answer, relate this to his experience in the conspiracy so Bonhoeffer attempted to work through with carl Bart and Martin Demolar and others in the kierken kampf but failing that, he did go to America, but then turned around six weeks later and came back. And in coming back, he did so because to Germany he didn’t feel as if he would have a way to stand with the people of Germany after the war if he had left before the war began. But, he was also very circumspect about the threat he was facing. He knew that he was already on the, as a confessing church pastor, that he was he was being viewed by the Reich’s bishop’s office and so he chose to apply to become an army chaplain and that was turned down, and then he decided based on his contacts in the international ecumenical church community to offer himself even though he officially represented, had portfolio from the Third Reich he was what was called a demon, it’s a contraction in German for trollinsmon which means like a sort of confidant, you’re able to go abroad and you then you report back on your observations but Bonhoeffer used that ability to go abroad even during the war to create connections with ecumenical church leaders around Europe and in order to try and subvert the Nazi the third Reich basically because so he came to a point where he believed that the third reich was beyond the ability to be redirected by the power of the church and that the only thing as he put it in the German was to throw a spoke in the wheel. Now that led to in inadvertently his arrest, he was arrested as part of a power struggle between the abvir and the military intelligence director at the ss, he was kind of swept up in that only later while he was in prison did the discover Bonhoeffer’s name and some files with the obvious and that’s when they uncovered the op fair conspiracy for which he was eventually hanged so he spent the last few years of his life in prison awaiting that fate, hopefully trial, but it never went to trial. That’s a bit of a long answer but basically he did come to the point where he had to make a decision personally about living out the implications of his own theology and whether he was whether God was calling him to suffering and potentially even a death of martyrdom and he seemed to be comfortable with that at the end of his life, although there are some first-hand accounts of life at Flossenburg we have to sort of take with a grain of salt, but his imprisonment and taggle in Berlin was, is much more well documented, observations by some of the guards and some other people. So basically he came to a point where he had to make a decision about his own theology and whether he would act in accordance with it or not, even at the expense of putting his own life at risk in the lives of others, I will say that it’s important to understand that Bonhoeffer was not a pure pacifist as we understand pacifism today, baitka and schlingenzippen and some others make this point very clear, he held very clearly on the biblical injunction against violence, but he did believe that failing the ability or the responsibility of the state to care for again, these mandates, that the Christian could in fact in extremis circumstances, act against the state and that’s what he ended up choosing to do. So, a bit of a longer answer to your question, but it’s a complex process for him. And by the way this decision remains one of the sticking points for many Bonhoeffer scholars today, trying to understand how this man, who particularly early in his life seemed to gravitate almost exclusively toward pacifism by the end of his life had basically decided to participate in conspiracy against the state. So, thank you, good question. Yes sir. Dallas, right?
Questioner: Yeah. So once again disclosure, I’m also Roman Catholic but I wanted to, so the history of him in Germany in early 1930s very much also mirrors all issues in the Catholic Church in Germany at the same time. So, I was wondering do you think papals difficulties like benedict soyeh had a lot of effect on his social teachings is very kind of qualifies to Germany in the 1930s.
Col. Tim Mallard: I don’t think, I don’t think the paplical, there’s not a record that the papal encyclicals per se did but he was very much informed by particularly roman catholic, at first, you know ideology you know resistance through teaching and preaching, and then in terms of social action in and around Bavaria particularly centered in Munich all the way through the war, and to the point that Bonhoeffer when he was on the run at one point found haven in the monastery at Etal just outside Ober Amargao where he continued to work on his ethics, which is a roman catholic monastery there. So, if you go there to that monastery today the brothers have actually put up a marble plaque on the wall in honor of Bonhoeffer and the fact that he stayed there, and they were willing to house him. So, there was very much, and it’s just hard to overstate particularly in Bavaria, that part of Germany is so staunchly roman catholic and was so allied with the genesis of the Nazi movement, eventually a party, that faithful Catholics and faithful protestants like Bonhoeffer all the way through the war could find common ground and working together against the state eventually. It yeah, I think that’s probably about the best I could answer that. Thanks. Although I’m not sure I answered your question to the full, so if you want to talk offline, we can. Other questions though? All right. Well, it’s been my pleasure to be here, Mark, oh no you’re going to, it’s been my pleasure to be here and again I’ll be around at the break and tomorrow if you want to engage in more private discussion. Thanks so much.