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Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a Sacrificial Martyr Term Paper

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Updated: Sep 5th, 2021

There have been so many examples of sacrifice throughout the history of mankind so as to give us the evidence what the virtue of sacrifice means. “Anything, material or immaterial, offered to God or a deity as an act of propitiation or homage, the destruction or surrender of something valued or desired for the sake of something having, or regarded as having, a higher or a more pressing claim, the loss entailed by devotion to an interest, also, the thing so devoted or surrendered. To sacrifice means to surrender or give up something for the attainment of some higher advantage or dearer object.” Thus goes a definition of the term sacrifice. (sacrifice). However, the examples of sacrifice par excellence are not many in the history to count them. If you want to have one such rare example, let us find it in the sacrifice of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German clergy man sacrificed his great moral, virtue, ethics and religious beliefs in an attempt to kill Hitler. Let us find what makes the sacrifice that Bonhoeffer made an extra-ordinary one. Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace, the winner of Best Film at Monte Carlo Television Festival, “brings to a wide audience the heroic rebellion of Bonhoeffer, a highly regarded Lutheran minister who could have kept his peace and saved his life on several occasions but instead paid the ultimate price for his beliefs.” (Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace. 2004).

The movie clearly gives the evidence to what the real love is and what the true sacrifice means. In the light of the movie and the works on him, let us analyze the life of Bonhoeffer the true sacrificial martyr.

“What is a moral person to do in a time of savage immorality? That question tormented Dietrich Bonhoeffer” and he used all his strengths to fight against the Nazi rule and Hitler. (Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace – DVD. 2007).

An attempt to teach the world about the great man Bonhoeffer, the movie gives an account of what his life meant in relation to the concept of sacrifice. The protestant theologian, at the time of the World War II, got involved in the resistance against the Nazi rule. He was arrested on April 5, 1943 and was kept in jail without trial as the authorities failed to determine the deepness of his involvement. Through his inspirational letters that he wrote in the jail, Bonhoeffer attains the maximum attention of the audience. Death, to Bonhoeffer, was nothing more than the attainment of his life’s success and so he was able to face death courageously. The life and death of Bonhoeffer gives a great massage to the entire world without the constraints of the time. This is a message of high conviction and a life of moral example. A total submission to the divine grace that was the essence of his faith which assured him that his death was meaningful to God.

“Without being blasphemous or overdramatic here, there are obvious parallels to the life of Christ in Bonhoeffer’s march toward death and they add to our sense of him as the quintessential modern martyr.” (Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace, 2000.

A true investigation about the why Bonhoeffer is considered a model of sacrifice is required in deciding the influence of the great leader on the modern human actions. There are so many other examples of great actions in the resistance against the totalitarian rule of Hitler. But the life example of Bonhoeffer as it is available to us through the record he left behind gives the complete picture of what the real sacrifice is. Bonhoeffer was aware of his particular destination and hi willingly chose to take up the model of sacrifice. He knew that call to follow his Lord meant a readiness to live a life of sacrifice and to die for him. It is the same conviction that provided him the courage to follow and abide by the law of God above the laws of Hitler at a time when most other Christians chose the opposite.

The courageous and wholly convinced Bonhoeffer even at the cost of his life opposed the Nazis and their leader Hitler. These convictions caused him his life at the hands of the Gestapo. The movie Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace gives a dramatized account of the struggle he willingly accepted at the brutal rule of the totalitarian government. “More than just a biographical film, Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace sheds light on the little-known efforts of the German resistance. This award-winning film – directed by Eric Till and shot in the Czech Republic, Berlin and Canada — brings to a wide audience the heroic rebellion of Bonhoeffer.” “The actions of Bonhoeffer raise questions about justice, service, sacrifice and moral responsibility — issues that most people are likely to struggle with at some time in life.” (Buseck, 2007). The concepts of moral responsibility, justice, service and above all the true picture of sacrifice are provided in the movie. The resistance against the evil rule of the Nazis gives us the ultimate value of conviction. Bonhoeffer was convinced about the evil ways of Hitler’s rule and the struggle that the Christians faced as a result. However, his resistance was not limited for the cause of the Christians. He also strongly voiced his concern for the Jews.

As part of his resistance against the nasty rule, Bonhoeffer engaged himself in the activities of a secret group the aimed at the overthrow of Hitler. Apart from this, he also helped many Jews to get out of the country that persecuted them. He was a man of great service to the humanity as a whole. The activities that he got involved in aimed at the realization of his self-conviction and great social concern.

However, the method he adopted involved many types of deception and anti moral ideas. Naturally, there was an enormous moral struggle that was going on in his mind. This, moral dilemma is very much clear in the movie. Many of the scenes of the movie we find the same critical outlook of life as Bonhoeffer faced it. The evils of the German rule were very severe and finally he arrived at a solution to the moral dilemma when he chose the lesser of the two evils. He was crystal-clear that it was worse to be evil than to do evil. This conviction helped him in becoming a true martyr and he is not an ordinary martyr, but beyond that a true sacrificial martyr.

The movie gives the complete evidence of what the sacrifice means in the wider sense of the term. Here, we find Bonhoeffer working for some noble cause and the result of the acts he does is the ultimate gallows. In the German situation of the oppression of the Christians and Jews the protestant priest joins the resistance. The fruitless attempt of the assassination of Hitler makes life difficult for Bonhoeffer as he is caught by the Gestapo. There he undergoes numerous interrogations and humiliations though there was no solid evidence against him. In the trying time his faith is put under strong test and there was every opportunity that he fails the specific time. Even so he did not give up his resistance spirit. The amount of struggle he undergoes is unimaginable and fear and his doctrinal positions had their share in it. The moral beliefs, ethics, virtue, and religious positions are all tested to their maximum. The terrific pressure and struggle is evident in the movie. They all point to the vast degree of greatness to the position he chose at the cost of these sacred beliefs. The particular scene of the movie where the pastor grapples with the haunting questions of his soul in the solitude of the dark room gives the real picture of the struggle that he suffered. He came to a different mode of conclusion. Bonhoeffer was clear that “there is no justification of actions in advance without criteria for good and evil, and this is not available.” (Bonhoeffer, 1995 p. 231). “Neither future consequences nor past motives by themselves are sufficient to determine the moral value of actions.” (Bonhoeffer, 2006). When evidence connecting him to the resistance is gathered by the Gestapo, Bonhoeffer is hung at the orders of Hitler. He admitted the death with readiness and was reportedly praying fervently at the time of his death.

What is so great at the martyrdom that we witness in Bonhoeffer? Or what makes this martyr a great sacrificial martyr? You get the best answer possible to the question when you read the real meaning of the concept of sacrifice. It is obviously one of the major philosophical values of Christianity that is taught by Christ through his life example. Here we see the giving away of the greatest pleasures and immediate returns for the cause of something greater in life with an expectation of something higher. This is possible only when there is a great conviction about the activities one is involved in. More importantly there should be a true faith in what is superior or higher compared to the lesser things one sacrifices. To make it clear, great conviction along with optimism or the belief in some greater returns makes sacrifice possible in its complete sense. “”When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” With these words, in The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave powerful voice to the millions of Christians who believe personal sacrifice is an essential component of faith. Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor and theologian, was an exemplar of sacrificial faith” (Bonhoeffer, 2007). Bonhoeffer through his life showed what the real value of sacrifice is.

The importance of Bonhoeffer’s martyrdom is that he was ready to sacrifice the greatest of his beliefs moral and doctrinal positions for the cause of something he considered more valuable. The person with grand conviction alone can even think of such a great deed of martyrdom. Let us see what Bonhoeffer feels about this. “Who stands firm? Only the one for whom the final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all these, when in faith and sole allegiance to God he is called to obedient and responsible action: the responsible person, whose life will be nothing but an answer to God’s question and call.” (Bonhoeffer, 1971 p. 5). The story of Bonhoeffer’s sacrifice gives us the most convincing different example of sacrifice that a man can think of in his life time. He was faced with the ultimate choice between the moral life and the resistance spirit. There was a particular moment in his life where he struggled to arrive at decision. This is one of the most imperative times of his life. And there he went on to choose the conviction of his conscience and decided to side with the lesser evil. The fact that he could have made the ultimate choice between his life and death is worth considering here. Choosing life would mean the complete acceptance of his failure as a true human being with a view of the life of his brothers. He did not opt for this, rather went on to die for the cause a greater idea. His convictions cost him his life.

Bonhoeffer was influenced greatly by the cause of the society at a time when Hitler and his Nazi rule terrified the entire Europe especially Germany. Life was impossible for the Jews and the Christians. Finding the misery of the people, guided by the personal conviction the protestant pastor came forward to fight the evil rule of the Nazis. His way to the attainment of this goal was to join the resistance force that plotted a conspiracy against Hitler. The significance of this gallant decision is that it was a meditated act at the sacrifice of many great values that he considered precious. Thus he sacrificed the moral beliefs, ethics, virtue and religious values and contrived to kill Hitler, who to him was the symbol of evil. He knew that his attempt would mean an ultimate denial of everything that he considered grand. The value of the sacrifice is when you do it for a greater cause and Bonhoeffer considered the resistance spirit a higher virtue compared to others. The ultimate result of the sacrifice is that he becomes a martyr of sacrifice. It is because Bonhoeffer knew that the choice he makes would result in his own death and he had the freedom of choice. Such a freedom and awareness existing, the choice of a greater deed means the actual worthiness of the action. Thus, Bonhoeffer became a sacrificial hero out of his complete conviction and free choice.

Bonhoeffer’s decision to join the resistance and the attempt to assassinate Hitler is the most important point of our discussion. As we understand, this was at the sacrifice of his moral values, ethics and religious beliefs as a protestant preacher. There was some greater motive that drove him forward. This great conviction to work for the cause of his fellow humans encouraged him to sacrifice the cherished concepts, beliefs and practices. The point at which Bonhoeffer attempted to kill Hitler or to devastate an evil from the face of the earth marks the beginning of a sacrificial hero. He was clear about the result of the action he would involve in. But the harshness of the result did not block him from his great act. Sacrifice par excellence – no other explanation would give a better picture of this action. Religion may be observed at its clearest view through this kind of a sacrifice. Bonhoeffer is a martyr, who accepted the gallows at the hands of the Nazis or, better, he is the true sacrificial martyr who gave away his life and treasured beliefs and practices for the cause of greater accomplishment.

Works cited


Winner of best film at Monte Carlo television at 2000. Web.

Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace – DVD. Christian cinema.com. 2007.

(2000). Brothersjudd.com. 2002. Web.

CBN.com. 2007. Web.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ethics. Simon & Schuster Inc, New York. Touchstone Edition. 1995. 231.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The cost of discipleship. Editorial Reviews. Amazon.com. 2007. Web.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. After Ten Years. Letters and Papers from Prison. Enlarged Edition, Eberhard Bethge, ed. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1971. 5.

The internet encyclopedia of philosophy. 2006. Web.

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