Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 14, 2004
One refuses to succumb to evil
Church teaching inspired dreams in Jesuit for Germany
With Bound Hands, A Jesuit in Nazi Germany: The Life and Selected Prison Letters of Alfred Delp, by Mary Frances Coady. Loyola Press, Chicago, 2003. 221 pages.
Review by DEAN SARNECKI
Special to the WCR
There holds in the mind of many, me included, a certain fascination with Nazi Germany. How could a nation, upon reflection, have succumbed to the charisma of Hitler and the National Socialist movement? How was everyone deceived by the evil being wrought upon their own nation?
As I read more I have come to realize that not all were enamoured with the policies and structures in place and, looking in hindsight, many were simply deceived by a wish for a better life. There was a sizable number of people who opposed the Nazis and actively worked to remove and replace this government.
One of the groups opposed to the Nazis was the Kreisau Circle led by Count Helmuth von Moltke. It was through this association that the Jesuit priest, Alfred Delp was arrested, condemned and executed due to fallout of the July 20, 1944 assassination attempt on the life of Adolph Hitler.
Alfred Delp was born in Mannheim to Catholic and Protestant parents, and at the age of 14 with positive encounters and meeting good people in both churches decides to commit to the Catholic Church.
The Catholic youth movement in Germany decisively influenced his spiritual development and he decided to become a Jesuit. This desire for ordination springs from his need to break out of what he felt were outdated social and religious structures and to consciously devote himself to serving his neighbours.
Delp's loved history, economics, and sociology and his theological studies focused mainly on the Church's teachings on social justice. He was considered an expert on the encyclicals in this field starting with Rerum Novarum (1891) and especially Quadragesimo Anno (1931), Pius XI's follow up to Rerum Novarum.
After studying philosophy and theology, Delp served as a youth worker and was ordained as a priest in 1937. Having been accepted to do doctoral work in Rome, he was denied permission by the Nazis to leave the country and so was made the editor of a Catholic Jesuit periodical until it was closed by the Nazis in 1941. He was assigned to parish work for the first time in his life after this and devoted his energy to his duties as a parish priest in Munich till his arrest in 1944.
According to Mary Frances Coady, author of With Bound Hands, Delp was not the easiest person to get along with; he was incredibly intelligent, serious, and could be arrogant toward others. He held high expectations for those he worked with and ministered to. He did not put up with incompetence and fools long.
Despite this attitude, he was attractive to and enjoyed the company of teens and young adults. He loved retreat work and enjoyed the outdoors, spending much of his free time hiking and sailing with friends.
It was Delp's work in the area of sociology and social justice that eventually brought him to the attention of those in the underground movement. He was introduced to members of the Kreisau Circle as an authority in the area of economics and social order. Delp's writings focused on the need to look beyond capitalism and socialism as the only economic structures and he wrote about a "third idea" that would supplant both these economic and accompanying political systems.
The Kreisau Circle was a diverse group that included military officers, economists, politicians, land and business owners, and clergy from both Catholic and Protestant churches that were looking at creating a postwar Germany. They would meet for weekends at Moltke's Kreisau Estate where papers would be presented and discussed inviting suggestions and dreams for a new Germany.
The Kreisau Circle itself was a small group that was connected to an informal group of Nazi dissenters. It was members of another group that carried out the assassination attempt on Hitler but drew Delp into the matter simply by association. It was his informal connection with these people that eventually led to his execution on Feb. 2, 1945.
With Bound Hands documents the life and writings of Father Alfred Delp with passion and detail. Coady uses Delp's personal writings, both published and personal, to express Delp's dream of a Christian Germany. A state dedicated to people and their needs rather than those of the state or material needs of the capitalist.
Knowing that he was going to be tried and executed for his relationships with those who organized the plot to which he was lately tied, he wrote letters from his cell to everyone he could. He managed, with the help of friends, to make contacts within the prison and with sympathetic guards who enabled him to smuggle out letters which have been since the war compiled and published. These letters provide a great insight into the man and the German mindset during these years.
The writings of Delp and the work of others is a great inspiration to the human spirit and a legacy of those who refuse to succumb to those who live in evil. Delp demonstrates through his life and writings a concern for humanity that is a lesson humanity needs to relearn each successive generation.
(Dean Sarnecki teaches social studies and religious education at Archbishop Jordan high School in Sherwood Park.)