Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a “Protestant Saint”

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At the latest, Dietrich Bonhoeffer had become an authority acknowledged worldwide on his 100th birthday in 2006. On this occasion, Bishop Wolfgang Huber, President of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany at the time, presented him as a Protestant saint during a speech in Breslau, Bonhoeffer’s birthplace. Huber was able to draw on Luther’s view of saints as paragons of faith.

Admittedly, this byword expressed something that had long become fact: Every denomination now views Bonhoeffer as an ideal type of 20th century martyr for his action against Hitler, which was motivated by his Christian faith and for which he paid with his life. Many associate a religious and moral authority with his name, without necessarily being familiar with the historical context.

The candle pictured, sold by purveyors of devotional items at the pilgrimage site of Altötting in Bavaria, illustrates this exemplarily. On it, the seventh verse of Bonhoeffer’s poem “Von guten Mächten” is quite unabashedly combined with Mary, Mother of God, who is venerated in Altötting and occupies a prominent position in Catholic piety.

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  • © Photo: Tim Lorentzen 2011

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