Motivations of a Martyr

The unveiling of a new sculpture of Dietrich Bonhoeffer over the West Front of Westminster Abbey in July 1998 underscores the legacy of this German pastor, teacher, theologian, and author. Joined with nine other Christian martyrs of the 20th century, he represents those who have died in circumstances of persecution and oppression during this battered century.

The life of Bonhoeffer, brutally ended at the age of 39 in the Nazi concentration camp of Flossenburg, continues to fascinate. A recent contribution to the body of literature on his life and influence is Denise Giardina’s historical novel, Saints and Villains.

The author, a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal church and teacher at West Virginia State College, has written three previous novels-Good King Harry, Storming Heaven, and The Unquiet Earth. The unusual title for this volume comes from Bonhoeffer’s Ethics, the manuscript on which he was working during his "secret agent" years as a civilian member of the Abwehr, Nazi Germany’s counterintelligence agency of the armed forces:

Today there are once more saints and villains. Instead of the uniform grayness of the rainy day, we have the black storm cloud and brilliant lightning flash. Outlines stand out with exaggerated sharpness. Shakespeare’s characters walk among us. The villain and the saint emerge from primeval depths and by their appearance they tear open the infernal or the divine abyss from which they come and enable us to see for a moment into mysteries of which we had never dreamed.

Giardina’s novel catches some of the mysteries of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a lover of classical music throughout his life, nurtured by the strong attachment of his whole clan to the heritage of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schubert, as well as the great hymns of the Christian faith throughout the ages.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1998
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