‘Strange Glory’ by Charles Marsh
It is always extraordinary to be reminded about the gaps – and sometimes very significant indeed – in our knowledge. The life and death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of these areas. Born in 1906 and executed by the Nazi regime in 1945, this is the story, the biography of a man of enormous contradictions. A German Lutheran with a high-minded and stringent theology seeks to engage in what he believes to be an essential meaninglessness caused in some part by modernism and its violence.
Born into an aristocratic, patriotic and accomplished family, Bonhoeffer decided at the age of 13 to become a theologian. There is a rigour and challenge and authenticity to his theology – a lived conviction. Faith, he stresses always, can only be found in actions of faith: “only he who obeys believes”. And it was in the actions of the entire German church, Catholics and Protestants that Bonhoeffer saw the frightening way in which they gave in to Hitler and his ideology. In his intense movement and action against Hitler, writings of all sorts, letters, fragments, sermons and poetry poured out of him. They reveal the strength of his character and his existential serenity even as things grew truly awful – Bonhoeffer suffered degrading, painful torture and was finally executed in April 1945.
Marsh tells the story with skill and a rather beautiful attention to detail which allows his reader to get inside the richness and complexity, both of the culture within which Bonhoeffer was nurtured and the ways in which his convictions were shaped and practiced.
This is a very rich and beautifully written book which will illuminate and challenge its readers.