Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Gregorian chant

On April 9, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran pastor and theologian was put to death by the Nazis for his opposition to Hitler.

His story and his theology are an inspiration to many. His notion of costly grace is a great antidote to the cheap grace being sold to much of Christianity.

His was a theology that saw the need to be BOTH transcendent and imminent – looking beyond this world, but also totally submerged in the reality of the world we live in. As he wrote from prison to his betrothed, “I am afraid that Christians who dare to stand with only one leg on earth, stand with only one leg in heaven.”

But a quote of his from about 1938 has affected me deeply:

“Only he who cries [out] for the Jews may sing Gregorian chant.”

That makes sense to me. The failure of much of the churches to speak clearly and openly against the persecution of Jews is a blot on the church. I know some religious  leaders did speak up. Others quietly rescued Jews. But there was much “prudential” silence.

Enlarging the context of the quote I think we might say today that only the person who cries [out] for the persecuted and suffering may sing Gregorian chant.

I love chant.

I remember the occasion in 2004 when I sang a chant, the Regina Coeli, the Easter hymn to Mary, in the church of St. Ann in Jerusalem. The church has the most incredible reverberation and I decided to sing. I was inspired to sing that beautiful chant.

As I reflected later I realized that I needed to cry not only for the Jews, but also for the Palestinians.

Today, I’d also say we need to cry out for the Iraqis, Afghanis, Hondurans, and many others. Then we can sing Gregorian chant.

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2 responses to “Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Gregorian chant

  1. susan weisberg

    who wrote this incredible piece? Attribution please and thank you. I too sing chant. I am Jewish but sing with a catholic choir. Thank you for this exquisite piece.

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