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Monday, February 19, 2007

Pro tui nominis gloria misericorditer liberemur

The experience we are all passing through must surely at least produce one thing — a passionate love of God and desire for his glory. As far as I am concerned, I find I have to approach him in a new and quite personal way. I must remove all the barriers that still stand between him and me. I must break down all the hidden reserve that keeps me from him.

(Alfred Delp, Tegel Prison, Berlin, December 31, 1944)

On February 2, 1945, Father Alfred Delp, S.J., a widely admired pastor, youth leader, and intellectual, was executed by the Nazis in Plötzensee Prison in Berlin. During the six months before his execution, the shackled priest painfully wrote a stream of deeply moving letters, meditations, and prayers which were smuggled out to friends and family members. These writings reveal a man profoundly changed in the crucible of suffering — a once-arrogant, impatient priest transformed into a herald of hope and grace. With Bound Hands tells the absorbing story of Alfred Delp — a Jesuit hero who found redemption as he plumbed the depths of evil.

       The epigraph reads:

                     . . . unless a grain of wheat falls into
              the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain;
                     but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

                                   (John 12:24)

       This is a post that has long been put off. Reading this book has been a trial of sorts: it strains the emotions and queries the limits of faith; and more disturbingly, it leaves one bewildered by its portrayal of divine grace. Should one — however pious — ever consider the role of a martyr an act of grace? What is grace?
       With Bound Hands: A Jesuit in Nazi Germany consists of three main parts:

  1. a survey of the life of one Jesuit priest, Father Alfred Delp (1907 - 1945): from the unlikely circumstances of his birth; growing up and confirmed a Protestant; his departure from the Lutheran church at thirteen after an altercation with the pastor; his confirmation as a Catholic at the church across the street nine days later; the subsequent discovery of his calling as a priest; and the journey of his religious vocation;
  2. the trial of Father Delp for high treason on January 9 and 10, 1945, before the People's Court of Germany's Third Reich;
  3. and the letters, meditations, and prayers written by the handcuffed priest in his cell.

       To be a Jesuit priest in Germany in the late 1930s was no inconsequential matter. In March 1937, Pope Pius XI had issued the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (With Burning Concern) on the Church and the German Reich, which decried the abrogation of civil rights and the suffering of innocent people, especially the deliberate infliction of hardship based on race. The encyclical, written in German rather than the usual Latin, was clandestinely printed in Germany and hand-delivered to Catholic churches throughout the country on the night of March 13. It was read from the pulpits the following day, Passion Sunday, before the Nazis even knew of its existence. [ . . . T]he encyclical caused a furor among the Nazi leadership. By the end of the day, nearly all copies had been confiscated, and the twelve companies that had printed the document were immediately closed down. Partly in retaliation for this subterfuge, the Nazis began to plan a campaign against all Christian churches, determining to infiltrate their systems at every level. Within the Catholic Church, the Jesuits were considered particularly dangerous.  (26-7)

       Stories regularly reached Valkenburg of the upheavals taking place in Germany: the Nuremberg Laws legitimized the harassment of Jews; many Catholic organizations were dissolved and the Catholic youth movements were outlawed, a direct violation of the 1933 concordat with the Vatican[, which, in return for the Roman Catholic Church agreeing to separate religion from politics, Roman Catholics in Nazi-controlled territories were granted freedom of practice to the Roman Catholic Church]. Priests throughout Germany were monitored for anti-Nazi sentiments in their preaching. Those whose sermons were considered dangerous to the regime were taken into custody.
       Jesuits were already suspect. A family's standing was lowered in the eyes of the Nazis when a son entered the Society of Jesus, and eventually it became illegal for the Jesuits to accept any new candidates at all. [ . . . ] Two other Jesuits were arrested and jailed for preaching against the theories of Alfred Rosenberg, whose writings formed the basis of Nazi ideology. The new arbitrariness of the law — that arguing on the basis of fact no longer mattered — caused disquiet.  (92)

       Several other Jesuits throughout Germany were removed from their posts because of their preaching. The popular Mario von Galli was said to have warned the Nazi spies in his Stuttgart congregation to pay close attention to particular points in his sermons. Later, when von Galli was told by a Nazi official that he would be banished to Switzerland for life, he allegedly gave the cocky reply, "Whose life?"  (29)

       One of Father Delp's beliefs resonated deeply within me: the reduction of human beings to chess pieces, mere pawns meant to further society's agenda, robs them of their dignity, and ultimately decays into a horrific, mechanical process of state-sanctioned barbarism worse than the chaotic carnage of a Hobbesian world. Consider the distinction between livestock in abattoirs and animals in the jungle; in the latter, one may be prey; in the former, one is meat. Delp harbored a "disillusionment with the two types of socialism... encountered, far-left Bolshevism and far-right Nazism. In both ideologies, all individuality was subsumed into a collective mass, and human beings became mere machines" (48-9).

       Throughout the flag-flying victories and into the period when defeat seemed probable and he became aware of the atrocities committed in the name of the German people, Delp continued to develop some of the ideas he had been thinking about for the previous few years. He had become the resident expert on the "social question," especially as outlined in the Quadragesimo Anno. He continued to work on theories to counteract the Nazi teaching of "mass man" with its doctrinaire belief in the primacy of the state over the rights of the individual.  (33)

       Horrific and out of this world the Nazi doctrine may seem today, they are not. In fact, they are right here — operating right now:

If, in the event of effective crime prevention, a few innocent people are punished or a few guilty ones are over-punished, that would be a price worth paying.

(Andy Ho, commenting on Singapore government's judicial hanging of a convicted Australian drug trafficker)

But I digress. There will be plenty of opportunities to bash the inept, the cruel, the greedy, the sycophants, the Machiavellian, the morally bankrupt, the ethically corrupt, the apathetic and the clueless, on this sunny-tropical-island-fool's-paradise in other posts.

       Towards the end of 1940, in an all-out bid to rid Germany of Jesuits, the Gestapo had set up a file with the names of all German Jesuits, and the following year, Hitler gave a personal order to have Jesuits declared unfit for war service and expelled from the armed forces.  (41)

       Despite the increased danger, following his convictions and belief in social justice, for a short time in 1941, Father Delp "became known as 'an address' for fleeing Jews on the underground route to the safety of Switzerland" (38). He made it clear where he stood on matters of resistance: "Whoever doesn't have the courage to make history," he wrote, "is doomed to become its object. We have to take action" (48). Shortly after, at the behest of his superior, Augustine Rösch, Delp joined a group of intellectuals focused on a Germany after the war, a fateful decision that would end up costing him his life. Thirty-four-year-old Count Helmuth James von Moltke, great-great-grand-nephew of Helmuth von Moltke, a Prussian military hero; trained in law with a special interest in politics and economics; harboring a deep mistrust of flag-waving nationalism and a strong believer in democracy;

       became convinced that the Nazi victory could not possibly last, and an idea began to unfold: start now to plan for the rebuilding of Germany after that inevitable end; establish a new constitution that will never again allow a totalitarian dictatorship to develop. As he saw it, society needed a rebirth, with small communities in which people could participate rather than be alienated. He also began to see a need for a transnational authority because he believed the overly nationalistic sense that had been displayed in Germany would ultimately destroy humanity.
       Aware of his relative inexperience, he sought out people who thought along similar lines, with expertise in industry, economics, and politics. [ . . . ] Eventually, when the loosely formed group was discovered, the Nazis named them the Kreisau Circle (in German, Kreisauer Kreis), but among themselves they were known simply as the "friends."  (44-5)

       It was this group of forward-thinking activists — lawyers, scholars, theologians, chaplains and pastors, Lutherans and Catholics, aristocrats and labor leaders — that Father Delp joined. Before long, the group discovered, much to their anguish and frustration, "that the German Catholic bishops were, as a collective body, paralyzed in opposing the Nazi system" (46):

       All along, the three Kreisau Jesuits — Rösch, König, and Delp — had been prodding the bishops to publicly condemn Nazi policies. Moltke still kept in touch with Preysing in Berlin, who, he noted, had become worn down with anxiety over the bishops' inability to make strong collective statements. Indeed, the bishops had debated heatedly during their August 1942 conference about whether to make a public condemnation of the Nazi treatment of the Jews. Adolph Bertram, the eighty-three-year-old chair of the conference and the cardinal archbishop of Breslau, wanted absolute proof of the death camps. Bertram had vivid personal memories of Bismarck's Kulturkampf, and more than anything he wanted to underscore Catholic loyalty to the Fatherland by accommodating the state in matters that did not directly affect the Church.
       By now, however, the Nazi persecution of the Catholic Church, begun in near stealth, had moved into full force: religious houses were closed, churches confiscated, priests incarcerated by the hundreds in the Dachau concentration camp. Speak out on behalf of Catholicism, the bishops decided. Continue resisting in clandestine ways. Beyond that, keep silent. Deeply frustrated, Preysing predicted that he and his fellow bishops would be harshly judged in the future for their collective failure to speak out in forceful terms against Nazi barbarities.  (54)

       In the years after his death, Alfred Delp's classmates from his early years in the Society of Jesus were to remember him as an enfant terrible. He was a maverick, and at times, a Jesuit superior's headache.  (xv)

Indeed, before his incarceration, Delp was a haughty, overbearing, and even proud, priest little given to patience. Though he had a strong sense of social justice and compassion for the poor, he gave those who disagreed with him no quarter, fellow peers were no exception. It was a regular occurrence in the seminary for Delp to argue violently in class, resulting in subsequent chastisement by his superiors, apologizing contritely, only to repeat the whole process again in the next class. He also indulged in his predilection towards fine cigars, procuring them even in times of want during the war.
       However, all these changed when an attempt was made on Hitler's life on July 20, 1944. In the flurry of exhaustive investigations that followed, the Kreisau Circle was discovered. The Gestapo moved in swiftly and most of the members were swiftly apprehended. Father Delp was arrested on July 28, 1944. Within the walls of Tegel Prison, the priest endured an unrelenting battery of tortures: the passive: bright lights shining in his eyes at all hours; a meagre diet of bread and water; and sleep deprivation; the verbal, conducted by three officers: the first hurling abuse and obscenities; the second, speaking in a soothing, obsequious voice; and the third, appealing to the prisoner's patriotism and honor; and last, but by no means the least, the physical: heavy clubs, spiked leather straps, and whips, all applied with such unrestrained ferocity that the handcuffed prisoner fell forward, face and head crashing upon the floor, until naked flesh was pummeled and flayed into broken, bloody pulp (75-6).

       October 1, [1944], Delp said his first Mass in his cell. The Eucharist thus became a lifeline for others in the prison through a method used perhaps by imprisoned priests everywhere: with his bound wrists, he knocked on his wall to the left and the right when Mass was beginning, and the others in turn knocked on their walls, and so on until the entire block of prison cells became alive with the great offering, the cosmic prayer of thanksgiving. Here, religious differences vanished. And gathered into the prayer, in the dank and putrid prison cell, came all the misery and the horror, the evil and the despair of all suffering humanity. For Delp and for his chained comrades, the Mass was not only a momentary consolation, a means of hanging on until the next day, but a meeting place of the world's sinfulness and the purifying presence of God.  (80)

       Four months later, whispering in the prison courtyard (nicknamed the "kindergarten of death"), Delp asked a Protestant prisoner whether they were still having a church service. "Of course," he replied, "I'd rather hope myself to death than perish in unbelief" (121). The Nazis had made an offer to Father Delp: to regain his freedom, he only had to agree to leave the Society of Jesus. He demurred.
       While in prison, with the aid of the prison chaplian, Peter Buchholz, Father Delp maintain a tenuous link with the outside world through letters smuggled out in laundry baskets to two members of his congregation at the parish of St. Georg, in the Bogenhausen district of Munich: Marianne Hapig and Marianne Pünder. Hands shackled together, in a dank and unheated cell, the priest would write, hope, despair, plead, meditate, and pray.

To M. December 29, 1944

       Far more than a civilization or a rich heritage was lost when the universal order went the way of medieval and ancient civilization. Western humanity today is spiritually homeless, naked, and exposed. The moment we start to be anything beyond "one of the masses" we become terribly aware of that isolation which has always encompassed the great. We realize our homelessness and exposure. So we set to work to build ourselves some sort of house and shelter. Our ancestors, those among them who were really great, could have left us a legacy much more helpful for our progress. We can only account for the contorted thought of people like Paracelsus or Böhme on the grounds that life's insufferable loneliness and lack of design forced them to build a shelter for themselves. And although it is such a self-willed and distorted and angular structure, it still has the marks of painstaking care and trouble and in that must command our respect. Goethe had rather more success; his instinct was surer and it led him to guess at some of nature's more important designs. Moreover, he had a good — though not in all respects dependable — master whose ideas he copied to a very large extent.
       Every now and then someone comes along and tries to impose his own plan on the rest of the world, either because he knows he has stumbled on a universal need or because he thinks he has and overestimates his own infallibility. Such people will never lack followers since there are so many who long for a well-founded communal home to which they can feel they "belong." Time after time in the end they come to realize that the shelter offered is not all it purports to be — it cannot keep out the wind and the weather. And time and time again the deluded seekers conclude they have been taken in by a mountebank who probably had no intention of deliberately deceiving them but was nevertheless a charlatan misleading himself and others. . . .

       At the risk of being flippant (an English professor totally flipped when I quoted "The Eagles" in a paper in my freshmen year, so there you go), the lyrics from a song by The Eagles seem especially apt here:

              We are like sheep without a shepherd
              We don't know how to be alone
              So we wander 'round this desert
              And wind up following the wrong gods home
              But the flock cries out for another
              And they keep answering that bell
              And one more starry-eyed messiah
              Meets a violent farewell

       For months, Delp prepared with his counsel to defend against the charges, despite the news being less than encouraging:

To M., January 3, 1945

       To add to all the rest, I have just learned that the presiding judge is anti-Catholic and a priest-hater; yet another reason for leaving everything confidently in God's hands. It always comes back to this — only he can handle this situation.

       His worst fears were confirmed on the day of the trial:

       The small courtroom was located on the second floor. Inside, a long table for the court officials stood at the top of the room. Directly in front of it was a smaller table, before which the defendants were to stand as their turns came. A large Nazi flag hung on the wall facing the assembly, in the center of which a small hole had been made for filming to take place. There were also hidden cameras elsewhere in the room.
       The defendants filed in, each flanked by two guards. They sat in four rows facing the front of the room. Delp sitting in the last row. Behind the defendants, assorted Nazi Party members crowded into five rows of chairs. A side door opened, and three officials marched into the room dressed in red robes: the prosecutor, the court clerk, and the president of the People's Court, Judge Roland Freisler. They walked to the long table; Freisler, a fifty-two-year-old man with a thick fringe of black hair surrounding a bald pate, took center seat.
       The disquieting rumors that Delp had heard about Roland Freisler — that he was a priest-hater, that he never changed his mind once the trial began — were true. And there was more. Even within Nazi circles, Freisler had gained a notorious reputation for pitiless and vicious judgments. As a young soldier in World War I, he had been captured by the Russians and had returned to Germany as a member of the Communist Party. After becoming a lawyer, Freisler switched his political allegiance to National Socialism and began his move up through the Nazi ranks. It was said that he had his eye on the post of Minister of Justice. When he was passed over for this position and appointed to the People's Court, he decided to make an indelible impression on Hitler, who was particularly interested in seeing the filmed trials of those associated with the July 20 attack on his life. Freisler's judicial style was to act as both judge and prosecutor and to humiliate the defendants by yelling insults at them. For the trials after July 20 he had outdone himself. Suspenders, belts, and neckties had been removed from the defendants, and they were forced to hold on to their trousers to keep them from falling down. Military stripes had been torn from the jackets of army officers. Freisler shrieked so loudly that at one point a sound engineer warned him that he was wrecking the microphones. When he worked himself into a froth, the blood rose to his face and spread up to his bald head. Not for nothing was the judge nicknamed "Red Roland."

       Delp was the first defendant to be called up. He walked to the small table, accompanied by his police guards, who sat down behind him while he stood directly in front of Freisler. The judge began by asking questions in a normal tone of voice that may have momentarily fooled some of the defendants into thinking that he was presiding over a regular court of justice. [ . . . ] What did he know of the meetings at Kreisau? What was discussed at those meetings? The Kreisau meetings concerned a future society and yet not one National Socialist was present? Instead there were clergymen and people who later plotted the attempt on the Führer's life? Freisler's voice had begun to rise, his face redden. What did such meetings prove? And the future society they were planning — all this was in the event of a possible defeat? Defeat? Such talk amounted to high treason! Freisler now spat out his words, launching into a general tirade: Catholic priests assented to tyrannicide, bishops had fathered illegitimate children, Jesuits provoked an anti-German attitude. In his defense statement, Delp had claimed to have been absent from a meeting that had taken place at his house; this fact was thrown at him as a "typically Jesuitical" action: "By that very absence you have shown yourself that you knew exactly that high treason was afoot and that you would have liked to keep the tonsured little head, the consecrated holy man, out of it. Meanwhile he may have gone to church to pray that the conspiracy should succeed in a way pleasing to God."
       Delp stood calm and self-possessed and spoke in a low, even voice, an effort that he later admitted took every ounce of self-control. The chaplain Harald Poelchau later pieced together an approximate recall of one of the exchanges between Delp and Freisler:

FREISLER: You miserable creep, you clerical nobody — who dares to want the life of our beloved Führer taken . . . a rat — that should be stamped on and crushed. . . . Now tell us, what brought you as a priest to abandon the pulpit and get mixed up in German politics with a subversive like Count Moltke and a troublemaker like the Protestant Gerstenmaier. Come on, answer!

DELP: I can preach forever, and with whatever skill I have I can work with people and keep setting them straight. But as long as people have to live in a way that is inhuman and lacking in dignity, that's as long as the average person will succumb to circumstances and will neither pray nor think. A fundamental change in the conditions of life is needed. . . .

FREISLER: Do you mean that the state has to be changed so that you can begin to change conditions that keep people away from the church?

DELP: Yes, that's what I mean. . . .

       But the judge seemed no longer interested. He had made his case against Delp in a volley of personal abuse, and when it came to the main charge against him, Freisler simply waved it away.
       Although stung and angered by Freisler's bias against him, Delp may have well have been confused by the realization that the indictment he thought would hang him was passed over with hardly a comment. The grilling he had prepared for and fretted over for weeks thus ended in an anticlimax. [ . . . ] At five o'clock the court was dismissed and the accused were driven back to prison. As Delp mulled over the day's proceedings in his cell, the matter became clear to him: his trial had little to do with the purported reason for his arrest, his supposed involvement with the plot on Hitler's life, about which he had been largely ignorant. He had been on trial and would probably be condemned because of the way of life and the Christian principles to which he had dedicated himself.  (160-4)

       Back in his cell, awaiting the likely sentence of death, both hands cuffed, Father Delp wrote.

To Marianne Hapig and Marianne Pünder, January 11, 1945

Good people,

       Well, so now I'm going down the other road. Whatever God wills. Let it be all done and given over into his freedom and goodness.
       May God reward you for all your kindness and love. That was no court of law, but rather an orgy of hate. . . .

To M., after January 11, 1945

       From the moment he [Judge Roland Freisler] started it was all over. I strongly advise my brothers in the Society to keep away from these trials where one is not a human being but an object. And all under an inflated rigmarole of legal terms and phrases. Just before this I had been reading Plato, who said that the greatest injustice is that performed in the name of justice. [ . . . ]
       What fools we were when we tried to make preparation for this trial — it had nothing whatever to do with facts or truth. This was not a court of justice but a function. An unmistakable echo and nothing else. [ . . . ]
       What is God's purpose in all this? Is it a further lesson with regard to complete freedom and absolute surrender? Does he want us to drain the chalice to the dregs and are these hours of waiting preparation for an extraordinary Advent? Or is he testing our faith?
       What should I do to remain loyal — go on hoping despite the hopelessness of it all? Or should I relax? Ought I to resign myself to the inevitable and is it cowardice not to do this and to go on hoping? Should I simply stand still, free and ready to take whatever God sends? [ . . . ]
       I don't know. Logically, there is no hope at all. The atmosphere here, so far as I am concerned, is so hostile that an appeal has not the slightest chance of succeeding. So is it madness to hope — or conceit, or cowardice, or grace? Often I just sit before God looking at him questioningly.
       But one thing is gradually becoming clear — I must surrender myself completely. This is seedtime, not harvest. God sows the seed and some time or the other he will do the reaping. The one thing I must do is to make sure the seed falls on fertile ground. And I must arm myself against the pain and depression that sometimes almost defeat me. If this is the way God has chosen — and everything indicates that it is — then I must willingly and without rancor make it my way. May others at some future time find it possible to have a better and happier life because we died in this hour of trial.
       I ask my friends not to mourn, but to pray for me and help me as long as I have need of help. And to be quite clear in their own minds that I was sacrificed, not conquered. It never occurred to me that my life would end like this. I had spread my sails to the wind and set my course for a great voyage, flags flying, ready to brave every storm that blew. But could it be they were false flags or my course wrongly set or the ship a pirate and its cargo contraband. I don't know. And I will not sink to cheap jibes at the world in order to raise my spirits. To be quite honest I don't want to die, particularly now that I feel I could do more important work and deliver a new message about values I have only just discovered and understood. But it has turned out otherwise. God keep me in his providence and give me strength to meet what is before me. [ . . . ]
       Do not give up, ever. Never cease to cherish the people in your hearts — the poor forsaken and betrayed people who are so helpless. For in spite of their outward display and loud self-assurance, deep down they are lonely and frightened. If through one life there is a little more love and kindness, a little more light and truth in the world, then life will not have been in vain.
       Not must I forget those to whom I owe so much. May those I have hurt forgive me — I am sorry for having injured them. May those to whom I have been untrue forgive me — I am sorry for having failed them. May those to whom I have been proud and overbearing forgive me — I repent my arrogance. And may those to whom I have been unloving forgive me — I repent my hardness. Oh yes — long hours spent in this cell with fettered wrists and my body and spirit tormented must have broken down a great deal that was hard in me. Much that was unworthy and worthless has been committed to the flames.
       So farewell. My offense is that I believed in Germany and her eventual emergence from this dark hour of error and distress, that I refused to accept that accumulation of arrogance, pride, and force that is the Nazi way of life, and that I did this as a Christian and a Jesuit. These are the values for which I am here now on the brink, waiting for the thrust that will send me over. Germany will be reborn, once this time has passed, in a new form based on reality with Christ and his Church recognized again as being the answer to the secret yearning of this earth and its people, with the Society of Jesus the home of proven men — men who today are hated because they are misunderstood in their voluntary dedication or feared as a reproach in the prevailing state of pathetic, immeasurable human bondage. These are the thoughts with which I go to my death.
       And so to conclude, I will do what I so often did with my fettered hands and what I will gladly do again and again as long as I have a breath left — I will give my blessing. I will bless this land and the people; I will bless the Church and pray that her fountains may flow again fresher and more freely; I will bless all those who have believed in me and trusted me, all those I have wronged and all those who have been good to me — often too good.
       God be with you and protect you. Help my poor old parents through the days of trial and keep them in your thoughts. God help you all.
       I will honestly and patiently await God's will. I will trust him till they come to fetch me. I will do my best to ensure that this blessing, too, shall not find me broken and in despair.

To the Kreuser family, after January 21, 1945

I know from experience, friends, that today existence takes more than strength, and we've been affected and we're exhausted, and yet still there remains the mandatory call of love. So let's fail in anything except the thing that makes us human beings: adoration and love. Adoration and love: that's what it takes to be human. Thanks for all your loyalty and kindness and concern. There's an inner space where there's no evening and no farewell.
       May God protect you. Good-bye.


       On the afternoon of Friday, February 2, [1945,] the feast of Purification and a traditional day for Jesuits to make their vows. [Peter] Buchholz[, the prison chaplain,] was told that Delp would soon be executed. The chaplain went to cell 317. Inside, Delp, weakened from fear, struggled against despair, and a six-month preparation for death, still wondered if there might be hope of being saved from the rope. Could the Russian troops not get to Berlin in the next few minutes? Could world history not run faster? Buchholz had no answer. Delp's gaunt face then lit up with the playful smile of a child. "In half an hour," he said, "I'll know more than you do."
       The execution building was a short distance away. Walking upright, shoulders squared and wearing the wooden shoes given to those about to be executed, Delp was led to the door of the building at about three o'clock in the afternoon. Inside, the building is one cavernous room with a cement floor. A black curtain had been pulled across the width of the room. The execution formula was read out: "You have been sentenced by the People's Court to death by hanging. Executioner, do your duty." The black curtain was pulled away, and ahead, at the top of the chamber, in front of two rounded windows, eight meat hooks hung from the ceiling. Delp was stripped to the waist, and led towards one of them. The executioner, as likely as not fortified with brandy, placed a rope around his neck and hoisted him up. His prison pants were yanked off and his naked body struggled and twitched, then slackened, and then became still. The executioner made his routine pronouncement: "The sentence has been carried out." Elsewhere in the prison, the form on which he had signed over his clothes was pulled from a pile and the date stamped in: 2 Feb. 1945.
       "For the glory of your name may we be mercifully set free."
       The bodies of the condemned prisoners of Plötzensee were customarily burned; orders had been given after July 20 that the ashes of those implicated in the assassination plot be strewn over sewage waste. No record exists of exactly what happened to Delp's cremated remains, and it is presumed that they were disposed of in the same way as the ashes of the others.
       Later, a pair of broken eyeglasses, a rosary, and a copy of The Imitation of Christ were found in cell 317.  (xiv-v; 207-8)


       And so as life goes on, what have they come to mean, these deaths? Where was God, it is asked, when millions died in concentration camps? And, we might similarly ask, where was God when this group of upright people dreamed of a splendid renewal of humanity and planned for a just society in which human dignity would be respected and the things of God would be central? Where was God when it all came crashing down, their dreams and plans, and they landed in damp cells, their souls in anguish, their hands in chains, and, in the end, the remains of their bodies mingled with sewage waste?  (217)

       The consolation of Father Delp being hailed as a martyr leaves me cold. His fate being lionized romanticized as a seed sown for a later, fruitful harvest in future troubles, disturbs, me. If that was the purpose of his life, then the only difference between the Nazi ideology Delp dissects and denounces, of the primacy of the state over the individual and the reduction of the individual to a mere cog, void of human dignity, is that the reins holding him are directed by the divine.
       My mind cannot fathom how a loving, benevolent God would so callously sacrifice a brilliant light so selflessly and zealously given to him. Here was an exceptionally intelligent man in the prime of his life, who dedicated the rest of his life to serving God and doing good works, and yet, for the last six months of his earthly existence, he was starved, mentally tortured, and regularly beaten within an inch of his life; and, at the end, hoping against hope — "Could the Russian troops not get to Berlin in the next few minutes? Could world history not run faster?" — executed by strangulation. Cremated, his ashes were strewn over sewage. All these to eradicate intellectual haughtiness and instill humility in the priest? Is this grace?
       At its conclusion, With Bound Hands portrays Father Delp's

       suffering [as] the doorway to God, his prison cell and bound hands the pathway to freedom. He has awakened to the realization that something infinitely greater is going on than his personal experience indicates. In that realization he surrenders to the mercy of God.  (220)

And that "no one — not the saint, not the villain — escapes. But in the end, where one surrenders, there is grace" (221).

What is the nature of this "grace"?
Hoping against hope, and only to find hope shattered is not grace.
Hoping against futile hope is Sibyl in an Eliotian nightmare.
As anyone familiar with the turmoil of an unsettled heart knows, that is not grace — it is mental and emotional torture.

What is grace?

In an encyclical, Pius XI wrote,

"Grace," in a wide sense, may stand for any of the Creator's gifts to His creature; but in its Christian designation, it means all the supernatural tokens of God's love; God's intervention which raises man to that intimate communion of life with Himself, called by the Gospel "adoption of the children of God."

Is the "gift" of martyrdom, grace? Can it? If grace is meant by Father Alfred Delp being judged more kindly than the Nazis are today, well, then it has also been said that history is written by the victors. Martyrdom, in this case, is a coin given to counterfeit.

What is grace?
What is faith?

But there is no answer.

Will the fires of indignation over Father Alfred Delp's fate serve to refine faith to a stronger mettle?

One can only hope. And hope, as I understand it, is a facet of grace.

Perhaps then, it is in possibility where the divine rests in grace.

Whoever saves a single soul, it is as if he had saved the whole world (Talmud).


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