Advent 1935

Werner Jeanrond in “From Resistance to Liberation Theology: German Theologians and the Non/Resistance to the Nationalist Socialist Regime” [The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 64, 1992] claims that the largely spiritual Barthian understanding of the Christian faith offered no coherent structural resources needed to resist the emerging policies of the Nazis. Concurrently the highly institutional and legalistic understanding of the Christian faith in the practice of Pacelli’s Roman Catholicism was unable to inspire a political theology that could meet the Nazis in the German public forum. As a result, the Christian struggle against Nazism and its attempt to co-opt faith into nationalism and race was left in the hands of a few individuals, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Alfred Delp.

The following is a sermon written by Alfred Delp in 1935 for the weekly homiletic publication Chrysologus. In fact, the editor of the journal entrusted Delp in 1936 with the charge of organizing critical sermons on the emerging Aryan theology within German society.

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[This sermon can be found in Alfred Delp: Advent of the Heart, Ignatius Press, 2006]

For the believer, the season of Advent is always a time of reflection and interior turning toward God, who is the homeland of our hearts. At the beginning of Advent, we want to provide our people with a clear view of the actual religious and Church situation.

The believing Christian celebrates an Advent with multiple meanings. Each of these meanings ultimately leads to generally applicable religious principles and problems. Therefore Advent is precisely the liturgical season in which the interior religious tension of our time is most conspicuously revealed.

The season of Advent is, first of all, the time of man’s original religious instinct. Never will we experience our primeval homesick yearning for God more actively and alertly than in this season of Rogation Masses and Advent wreaths. Advent is the time of the God-seeker. The original longing within every human heart is a great impulse toward the hidden and distant God, a longing to wander in that far-off, forgotten homeland of the soul. That longing is what the Church expresses, both in her inner attitude and in the liturgy of the season.

Beyond this general human meaning, Advent has great historical meaning to the believer, the grateful remembrance of the millennia of God’s gracious care that has led man to the fulfillment of this longing for Him. Thus the season of Advent clearly reveals the basic meaning of all human events and historical development: man’s way to God, guidance by God, fulfillment in Christ.

The believing Christian celebrates Advent in the context of the liturgy. By taking part in the inner life of the Church, he expresses within himself, within his life, the original religious and historical meaning of Advent. He lets himself be caught up in that ‘fullness of time’, which is both actually present and always returning, with the Church of Christ.

The threefold meaning of Advent basically expresses the entire intrinsic meaning of Christianity: the relation and vocation of all people to God, as well as guidance and providential direction through God; the redeeming fulfillment in Christ; and the continuation and application of the redemption through the Church of Christ.

Our present time is, in its fundamental principle, aloof from every human Advent attitude.

The original religious meaning of Advent is rejected. People believe they no longer need a divine homeland to which to immigrate. God is within them; they are ultimately God themselves; and there is no God above them.

“The objective power to which we bow, the religious leader to whom we offer obedience, is the religious primeval will of the German people…. We have no other creed than the duty to this religious primeval will… To this primeval will, we are unconditionally committed. (Hauer, Was will die deutsche Glaubensbewegung? p. 19)

“This religious primeval will, which is absolutely valid and binding, is nothing other than the singularity of the German people, according to their race and blood. (Hauer, Deutsche Gottschau, p. 45)

For German faith, human events are the same as acts of God. Uniting as a people is the same as the embodiment of the will of God. (Hauer, Deutsche Gottschau, p. 65)

These citations do not intend to say that a God from beyond created this world. Here, God is the final content of all being, and there is no ultimate difference between God and the ‘created world’. God is the ‘eternal self’ that lives within all things. Moreover, these things neither exist above and beyond this self, nor is the self above and beyond all things. “The Aryan view of the world does not differentiate between this world and the next” (Reventlow, Wo ist Gott? p. 310). Both man and the German people who subscribes to this faith, no Advent bells are ringing, and no homeland-garden of God is calling him to set out on a journey.

The historical meaning of the Christian Advent is rejected. That ancient history of mankind has nothing to do with the German people. That idea of waiting for Christ does not touch us. The coming of Christ, the ‘fullness of time’, is perhaps, in itself, a religious event for other people—but not for us, under any circumstances. The ancient history of religion, faith in revelation, salvation of the world: all these are conclusions drawn from a world essentially foreign to us; products of Syrian-Semitic faith and the oriental races (Gottschau, pp. 4ff.). Only the Middle-Easterner is a “person of the redemption”—a German does not have such needs.

The liturgical meaning of the Christian Advent is rejected. It makes no sense to desire to come closer to God through participation in the inner life of the Church. The entire life of the Church is Etruscan-Syrian fiction. Even there where the Church is granted a religious value in itself and for other people and races, this value for the German people is denied.

“There is for us no higher revelation of eternal reality than within the German sphere and from the German soul. The religious primeval will of the German people is to us the will of eternal reality that comes to us in the form of the faith, in the measure appropriate to our being. Our highest destiny is to live within and embody this form, which for the sake of the will of the people, we have to fulfill them” (Hauer, Was will die deustche Glaubenbewegung? p. 22).

The German faith knows no articulated Creed, no dogma, no form, it cannot be “enclosed within any church” (ibid., p. 18)

“The Idea of the Church has nothing to do with the German people, nor the Aryan people, insofar as they have kept themselves pure. It stands in opposition to their traditions, as well as their identity” (Reventlow, Wo ist Gott? p. 43).

Even where they accept a real connection between the historical Christ and His Church, where the Church is seen not merely as the result of a priestly will for power, the Church institutions and establishments are viewed as inappropriate for the German people: Christ is no more capable than we are of overstepping the bounds of sphere and race. It makes no sense for the German to let himself be seized by some inner life of the Church of Christ, to let himself be led by the Church to the source of all eternal life. The Advent bells from our church towers are seductive voices. The ‘Rorate Celi’ hymn is a confession of individual helplessness, something that never comes into question for the ‘Ayran’.

The Advent church bells ringing in the midst of this situation are, more than ever, an invitation as well as a call to consciousness and inner recollection. Above and beyond that, they are a call for individual decision. Each one of us is confronted with the new religious idea in one form or another. It is not enough to be faithful within the privacy of your own heart or home. This is the moment for public, serious, and faithful profession of our faith.

This series of sermons we are beginning is intended to educate, strengthen, and prepare people for this decision. One by one, the basic truths of Christianity and a Christian life will be discussed. One by one, the terminology of the new attempt at religion will be examined. The meaning of the whole, however, is what we want to make a genuine religious decision, and we want to maintain our religious loyalty courageously.

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