Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

no greater love: dietrich bonhoeffer

When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in 1906 in Breslau, son of Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer. Karl was a prominent psychiatrist in Berlin, and Paula home schooled their eight children. Dietrich was a precocious child who excelled at academics. His parents expected him to follow his father into psychiatry, but Dietrich was more interested in theology. He attended the Universities of Tübingen and Berlin, and was awarded a doctorate in theology at age 21. Because church regulations did not allow him to be ordained before age 25, he traveled to the United States where he studied for a year at Union Theological Seminary in New York. While he was there he made frequent trips to Harlem to visit the Abyssinian Baptist Church, where he learned many African-American spirituals. He took a collection of these back to Germany.

In 1931, Bonhoeffer was ordained as a Lutheran pastor. Only two years later, Adolf Hitler came to power. Bonhoeffer became concerned by the Nazis' attempts to infiltrate church leadership, and by the failure of many Christians to take a stand against them. Bonhoeffer joined a small, committed group that included theologians Karl Barth and Martin Niemöller, in establishing the Confessing Church.

Bonhoeffer realized that he had two roles to play, that his pastoral care and his work as a resistance leader were both important. He studied the writings of Mohandas Gandhi, and for a time publicly advocated nonviolent resistance. But the fact that he spoke of resistance at all drew the attention of the Nazis. He was banned, first from preaching, then from teaching, then from all public speaking.

Bonhoeffer became convinced that nonviolent resistance would not work, that the only way to stop Hitler was to kill him. He became involved with resistance leaders who were plotting Operation Valkyrie, an attempt to assasinate Hitler.

Bonhoeffer was arrested in April, 1943, after it was discovered that he had helped fund the escape of Jews to Switzerland. On July 20, 1944, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg carried out Operation Valkyrie by detonating a bomb in a briefcase during a conference between Hitler and his top military leaders. The bomb killed four men and injured many others, but Hitler survived.

The Nazis arrested 7,000 people associated with the plot. From secret documents uncovered in September of that year, the Nazis learned of Bonhoeffer's association with the conspirators. He was transferred first to a maximum-security prison, and ultimately to Flossenbürg concentration camp.

On April 8, 1945, Bonhoeffer was sentenced to be hanged. The following morning at daybreak, Bonhoeffer and other conspirators were stripped naked, ridiculed, and led to the gallows. Lacking proper equipment for hanging, the Nazis improvised by using nooses of piano wire attached to meat hooks.

Two weeks later, U.S. troops arrived at Flossenbürg and liberated the camp.


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

no greater love: william tyndale

The Bible has been translated into more languages than any other book. More than fifty complete translations have been produced in the English language alone. But the Bible was not always so readily available.

In the early days of Christianity, the New Testament writings were collected, copied, and treasured by churches throughout the Roman Empire. Together with the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible combined with a few other writings) these became the Scriptures, the sacred writings, of the church. To be sure, there were a few disagreements about whether some of the books should be included, but within a few centuries the matter was settled. The Bible was soon translated into Latin for the benefit of those Christians in Western Europe, for whom Greek was no longer a common language. This Latin translation was known as the Vulgate, from the Latin versio vulgata, meaning "common translation".

As the centuries went by, Latin ceased to be the common tongue of the West, and new languages arose — French, Spanish, Italian, German, English, and many others. But the Bible read in the churches continued to be the Vulgate.

It wasn't that no translations were made. As early as the eight century, the Venerable Bede translated the Gospel of John into the English of the day. A group known as the Waldensians, after their leader Peter Waldo, translated part of the Bible into French. In the late 14th century, John Wycliff oversaw the first complete translation of the Bible into English. Though the Catholic Church condemned Wycliff's translation as being error-prone, it was widely circulated throughout England.

The invention of the printing press in the early 15th century permanently changed the religious landscape in the West. Critics of the Catholic Church were able to publish pamphlets questioning the church's doctrines, and distribute them quickly and widely. The printing press was also a boon for those who desired to translate the Bible into the new common languages.

In addition, translators were also aided by the work of the Catholic Priest and scholar, Desiderius Erasmus. Erasmus gathered as many Greek and Latin manuscripts as he could find, and published a new Latin translation. He included the Greek text to allow other scholars to check the accuracy of his translation. His text was first published in 1516, and was revised many times over the next few years.

Martin Luther received a copy of Erasmus' text, and began translating the Bible into German in 1521. In that same year, William Tyndale began to express his interest in translating the Bible into Modern English.

Tyndale sought permission from the Catholic hierarchy, but was rebuffed. He then left England and made his way to Germany, where he worked on a translation in secret. Tyndale's English New Testament was published in 1525. Tyndale also began writing pamphlets criticizing Catholic doctrines such as transubstantiation, and the Catholic understanding of salvation. Back in England, Cardinal Wolsey called for Tyndale's arrest.

Fleeing from an anti-Lutheran backlash in Germany, Tyndale escaped to Antwerp in what is now Belgium. He continued to publish copies of his New Testament, which were then smuggled into England and Scotland.

At about the same time, Henry VIII, King of England, separated himself from the Catholic Church in order to divorce his wife. Tyndale was just as critical of Henry as he was of Catholicism, and Henry, too, called for Tyndale's arrest.

In 1535 one Henry Phillips found Tyndale in Antwerp, claiming to be a new Christian and wanting to learn from Tyndale. In reality, Phillips was preparing to betray Tyndale to church authorities.

Tyndale was arrested and taken to a prison outside of Brussels. He was convicted of heresy and sentenced to burning at the stake. On October 6 he was led from his prison cell and tied to the stake. Zealous to the end, Tyndale cried out before he died, "Lord! Open the King of England's eyes."

As was the custom of the day, the execution officer strangled Tyndale to death, then lit his body on fire.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

no greater love: edith stein

Sufferings endured with the Lord are his sufferings, and bear great fruit in the context of his great work of redemption.

- Edith Stein

Edith Stein was born on October 12, 1891, in Breslau, Germany, to working-class Jewish parents. She was the youngest of eleven children of Siegried and Auguste Stein. Her father died before Edith's second birthday, and her mother struggled to raise the seven surviving children by herself.

Even as a child, Edith earned a reputation for her intelligence and wit. She quickly rose to the top of her class in school, and devoured books in her free time.

She underwent a crisis of faith at age thirteen, and began to doubt the existence of God. But the experience only deepened her desire to seek truth wherever it might be found.

In 1911, Edith entered the local university, where she studied philosophy. She developed an interest in phenomenology, a school of thought then being developed by Edmund Husserl at Göttingen University. After graduation Edith Stein enrolled at Göttingen for postgraduate work, in order to study with Husserl. It was at Göttingen that she first showed an interest in Christianity.

In 1916, Husserl took a professorship at the University of Freiburg, and invited Edith to join him as a graduate assistant. At Freiburg, she completed her doctoral degree. She remained there as a teaching assistant until 1922.

During a holiday in 1921 she read the autobiography of St. Teresa of Ávila, and found the Truth she had been seeking all her life. She promptly converted to Christianity, and was baptized into the Catholic Church on New Year's Day, 1922. She understood Christianity as a fulfillment, not a rejection, of her Jewish heritage.

O my God, fill my soul with holy joy, courage and strength to serve You. Enkindle Your love in me and then walk with me along the next stretch of road before me. I do not see very far ahead, but when I have arrived where the horizon now closes down, a new prospect will prospect will open before me, and I shall meet it with peace.

- Edith Stein

After her baptism, she resigned from Freiburg and took a position teaching at a Dominican girls' school. Though she enjoyed teaching, she missed the intellectual stimulation of university life. On the advice of Jesuit priest and philosopher Erich Przywara, she began translating the works of Thomas Aquinas to German. Her translations, as well as her own original writings, captured the attention of the academic world, and in 1932 she was offered a teaching position at the Educational Institute at Münster.

Her university job did not last long. In the following year, Adolf Hitler came to power, and one of his first acts was to forbid Jews from teaching.

Edith had been attracted to monastic life for several years, and now that she was not able to teach, she entered the Discalced (Barefoot) Carmelite monastery at Cologne. Believing that she could help bridge the gap between Christians and Jews, she wrote Life in a Jewish Family in an attempt to show that the similarities between human beings are greater than the differences that divide us.

She also requested a meeting with the Pope, to implore him to speak out against the Nazi atrocities, but her request got lost somewhere in the bureaucracy of the Vatican.

In November of 1938, German diplomat Ernst vom Rath was assasinated by Herschel Grynszpan, a German-born Polish Jew. The Nazis retaliated with an anti-Jewish pogrom that has come to be known as Kristallnacht, or Night of the Broken Glass. Nazi stormtroopers, armed with sledgehammers and axes, went through Jewish communities, shattering the storefronts of more than 7,000 businesses and burning more than 1,000 synagogues. The following day, more than 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

After this, the Carmelites feared for Edith's safety, and transferred her to a monastery in Echt in the Netherlands. Her safety did not last long even there. Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1942. They first began rounding up unbaptized Jews, but when the Dutch Bishops' Conference published a statement condemning the racism of the Nazi regime, the Nazis began arresting Jewish converts as well. Believing it was better to give herself up rather than bring possible repercussions on her Sisters, Edith surrendered on August 2, 1942, and was placed on a cattle train to be transported to Auschwitz. Seven days later she was sent to the gas chambers.

Once can only learn the science of the Cross by feeling the Cross in one’s own person.

- Edith Stein


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

no greater love: janani luwum, charles oboth-ofumbi, erinayo oryema

The year was 1977, the one hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the first Christian missionaries in Uganda, but Archbishop Janani Luwum was not celebrating.

Anglican missionaries Shergold Smith and C.T. Wilson had arrived in what was then called Buganda in 1877, had preached to the king and his court, and had found a mostly receptive audience. One notable exception was the Kabaka (king), Mutesa I. The missionaries were critical of Mutesa because of his many wives. After Mutesa died, his teenaged son Mwanga II took a much more aggressive approach. Mwanga expelled the missionaries and outlawed the Christian faith. In 1886, in an attempt to stamp out Christianity once and for all, Mwanga sentenced 32 Ugandan Christians to be burned to death.

Mwanga discovered what Nero, and so many persecutors through the centuries, had discovered: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church," as Tertullian had so famously put it. Many Ugandan citizens were inspired by the martyrs' boldness in the face of death, and the church won many converts in a short time.

The Church of Uganda continued to grow despite hardships and trials. One of the church's greatest trials was during the tenure of Archbishop Janani Luwum in the 1970s.

The brutal and erratic Idi Amin had seized control of the country in 1971, and was bent on keeping control. To that end, he had many of his critics arrested and killed.

In 1974, Archbishop Erica Sabiti retired due to poor health, and Janani Luwum was chosen as his successor. Despite the danger, Luwum quickly established himself as an outspoken critic of Idi Amin.

Luwum knew that the stakes were high, and that he was likely to pay with his life. "I am prepared to die in the army of Jesus. Whie the opportunity is there, I preach the Gospel with all my might, and my conscience is clear before God that I have not sided with the present government, which is utterly self-seeking."

In January of 1977, an unsuccessful coup attempt left seven Ugandan citizens dead. Amin would react with another round of arrests and executions. On the last Sunday of that month, Bishop Festo Kivengere gave a sermon titled "The Preciousness of Life," in which he said that Idi Amin was abusing the authority God had given him. Amin retaliated with a raid on the home of Janani Luwum the following Saturday morning, looking for weapons.

Luwum wrote a message protesting the arbitrary killings and a series of disappearances, and attempted to deliver it personally to Amin. Amin publicly accused Luwum of treason.

On February 16, Luwum was arrested along with Charles Oboth-Ofumbi and Erinayo Oryema, two of Amin's Cabinet members who were known to be Christians. Amin convened a rally in Uganda's capital Kampala, where he brought forth a string of witnesses who claimed the three men were plotting insurrection. Amin announced that there would be a "proper military trial," and sent the three off in the back of a Land Rover. They were not seen alive again.

According to the official report, Luwum, Oboth-Ofumbi, and Oryema died when they tried to seize control of the vehicle and sent it into the path of another car. The bodies were placed in sealed caskets, returned to their native villages, and buried while Amin's soldiers watched.

In June of that year, Uganda's Christians gathered for the 100th anniversary celebration of the first preaching of the Gospel in their country. Among those in attendance were many lapsed Christians who had returned to the faith, inspired by the courage of the martyrs.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

no greater love: marcus and narcissa whitman

Narcissa Prentiss was born in 1808, the third of nine children of Stephen and Clarissa Prentiss of Prattsburg, New York. At the age of 16, she was inspired to become a missionary after reading a biography of Harriet Boardman, a missionary to India. She trained at the Franklin Academy in Prattsburg and then at a women's teaching school in Troy, NY, and became a kindergarten teacher. In 1834 she heard Reverend Samuel Parker speak of the need for missionaries in the Oregon territory. Narcissa volunteered to go, and Rev. Parker agreed to contact the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) on her behalf.

Marcus Whitman was born in 1802 to Beza and Alice Whitman of Rushville, New York. When he was seven, his father died, and young Marcus was sent to Massachusetts to live with his uncle. As a teenager, he had a conversion experience some time during a series of revivals. He felt called to be a minister, but his family could not afford to send him to seminary. Instead, he apprenticed with the town physician in Rushville, and became a medical doctor. He began practicing medicine in 1825, but he still believed his calling was to be a minister. He enrolled in seminary, but became ill and was forced to abandon his studies.

In 1831 he enrolled in the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Fairfield, NY, to get an M.D. degree. After getting his degree, he moved to Wheeler, NY, where he became active in the Wheeler Presbyterian Church. In 1834 he applied to the ABCFM to become a medical missionary, but was told that the board only accepted married couples.

Marcus and Narcissa were introduced to each other in early 1835, and were soon engaged. They were married on February 18, 1836, and left for Oregon Country in the spring of that year with a group of ABCFM missionaries.

They established a mission at Waiilatpu, near what is now the Washington-Oregon border, where they ministered to the Cayuse.

Like many 19th century missionaries, the Whitmans failed to understand the culture gap, and tried to turn the nomadic Cayuse into farmers. This led to a tense relationship from the start.

The mission soon became a stopping point for white settlers traveling on the Oregon Trail. This only increased the tension, especially because the settlers brought with them diseases to which the natives had no immunity.

Still, the Whitmans tried to be faithful to their calling to minister to the Cayuse. Marcus practiced medicine and preached; Narcissa established a school and an orphanage. The Cayuse remained wary.

A measles outbreak in the fall of 1847 brought the pent-up resentment into the open. The Cayuse could see that Cayuse children were dying in much greater numbers than white children. In Cayuse culture, a medicine man who is unable to cure diseases can be held responsible for the deaths. A half-white, half-native settler named Joe Lewis stirred up the resentment of the Cayuse by suggesting that Dr. Whitman was deliberately poisoning Cayuse children.

On November 29, 1847, a band of Cayuse warriors accompanied by Joe Lewis attacked the mission. Marcus heard a knock at the kitchen door, and was stabbed repeatedly with tomahawks when he answered it. Narcissa was shot in the shoulder as she looked out the window. Lewis entered the building and helped Narcissa onto a couch, then helped carry the couch out the door. Once outside, Lewis dropped his end of the couch and stepped away. This was a signal to the Cayuse to begin firing at her. They continued shooting until they were sure she was dead. Marcus eventually lost consciousness in the kitchen, and died.

By the time the attack was over, the Cayuse had killed eleven others who were associated with the mission. A handful of mission residents escaped, but 53 women and children were held hostage for a month. After their release the mission was abandoned, and was subsequently burned by the Cayuse.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

no greater love: esther john

Esther John was born in a Muslim family in India in 1929. He given name was Qamar Zia, and she was one of seven children. At age 17 she was sent to a Christian school, and was impressed by the faith of one of her teachers. Inspired to learn more about this faith, Qamar began reading the Bible. While reading the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, she converted to Christianity.

A short time later, Qamar's family moved to the newly created Pakistan. Qamar obtained a New Testament from missionary Marian Laugesen in Karachi, and read it in private.

Seven years later, facing the prospect of an arranged marriage, Qamar ran away from home. She returned to Karachi, where she took the name Esther John and began work in an orphanage with Marian Laugesen. On June 30, 1955, she boarded a train for Sahiwal in the Punjab, where she began work at a missionary hospital. In December of that year she celebrated her first Christmas.

The following year, discerning a calling to be a teacher, Esther began studies at the United Bible Training Centre in Gujranwala. When she completed her studies in 1959, she moved to Chichawatni, where she traveled among villages on a bicycle, evangelizing and teaching women to read.

Her career as an evangelist and teacher lasted less than a year. Some time during the night of February 1 or the early morning of February 2 of 1960, she was brutally murdered while she slept. No arrests have ever been made in the case, but it is widely believed that she was killed by her brothers.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

no greater love: oscar romero

You can tell the people that if they succeed in killing me, that I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully, they will realize they are wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the church of God, which is the people, will never perish.

- Oscar Romero

Oscar Romero was a Catholic bishop in El Salvador during a time of upheaval. As bishop, he was known for his conservative theology. Romero believed that an orderly society benefitted everyone, and spoke out against younger priests who were beginning to embrace liberation theology and political activism. He nonetheless was open to dialogue with them, and was close personal friends with Father Rutilio Grande, one of El Salvador's leading proponents of the new theology.

Romero's views began to soften when he was appointed bishop of Santiago de Maria in 1975, where he saw firsthand the poverty of the landless laborers, and the brutality of those in power.

On February 23, 1977, he was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador, replacing the aging Luis Chavez. Romero was seen as a safe choice by the Vatican, and a disappointment to the politically active younger clergy of El Salvador. Seventeen days later, his friend Rutilio Grande was assassinated while driving to Mass.

Romero demanded that the government investigate the killing, but the government took no action. Romero then announced that he would end the cozy relationship the state had enjoyed with the church. He refused to attend any state functions, lest his presence lend them an air of credibility. He was aware that his actions were making some dangerous enemies, but he stood his ground: "When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought 'if they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path'".

Five more priests would be assassinated during Romero's tenure as Archbishop, and none of the deaths would be investigated.

When a left-wing junta ousted President Carlos Humberto Romero (no relation) in October 1979, Oscar Romero initially hoped that they would inaugurate a more just society. His hopes were soon dashed as the junta proved to be just as oppressive as the previous government.

Romero's outspoken criticism of the El Salvadoran government began to attract international attention, and in February 1980 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. In his acceptance speech he tried to bring further attention to what was happening in his country: "In less than three years, more than fifty priests have been attacked, threatened and slandered. Six of them are martyrs, having been assassinated; various others have been tortured, and others expelled from the country. Religious women have also been the object of persecution."

About a month later, on March 24, 1980, a group of soldiers entered the church where Romero was presiding over Mass. During the celebration of the Eucharist, Romero was shot in the heart. His blood spilled onto the altar as he died.

A church that suffers no persecution but enjoys the privileges and support of the things of the earth - beware! - is not the true church of Jesus Christ. A preaching that does not point out sin is not the preaching of the gospel. A preaching that makes sinners feel good, so that they are secured in their sinful state, betrays the gospel's call.

- Oscar Romero


Sunday, February 22, 2009

no greater love: introduction

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.

- John 15:13

Throughout the centuries, many people have laid down their lives for the Christian faith. During the Lenten season (and perhaps beyond) I'm going to give a short biography of one or more martyrs every week. Look for the first this Wednesday.