"It is a rebellion": Alfred Delp's Timeless Message Against Euthanasia | Ignatius Insight | May 4, 2009"It is a rebellion": Alfred Delp's Timeless Message Against Euthanasia | Ignatius Insight | May 4, 2009


In October 1941, Father Alfred Delp, S.J., gave an important talk at the Fulda meeting for Catholic Men's Apostolate. Three bishops were in attendance, and one of them thanked the young Jesuit afterwards for the "very tactful, but extremely candid examination of conscience" his talk had initiated. [1] Likewise, in Munich, Father Delp was known for challenging his parishioners with words that also could be a call to our own consciences today. For example, from Advent of the Heart (Ignatius Press 2006):
"Shall it continue that we look at thousands and thousands of things and know about them? That we know about those things that we don't like—about things which we know should not be and must not be—and that we accustom ourselves to all of it? What have we already accustomed ourselves to, in the course of the year, in the course of the weeks and months? And we stand here unshaken, untouched, inwardly unmoved!" [2]
Father Delp's listeners knew well the events to which he referred, and it was clear to them that the young Jesuit was anything but "accustomed" or "unmoved" himself. [3] Those who worried about his safety were right – he would be with them only three years before his arrest and eventual martyrdom. They would remember him as a "voice calling in the wilderness", a "prophet" whose message was timeless. His powerful message against euthanasia has never been published in English, and is certainly of interest today, so we present it here for the first time.

Sermon for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost [4] | Alfred Delp, S.J. | Preached in Munich on November 2, 1941

(From the German: Alfred Delp: Gesammelte Schriften. Band III: Predigten und Ansprachen. Hg. von Roman Bleistein Verlag Josef Knecht. Frankfurt am Main. 2. Auflage 1985. pp. 264-269. Used with permission. Translation: Abtei St. Walburg [slightly edited for length])

"Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven." (Mt. 5:12)

... Tomorrow we will celebrate All Souls' Day, and the meaning of that day is the spiritual companionship of human beings and all humanity to each other, all the way beyond the stars. It is not a camaraderie, however, that simply shields man, and acquiesces to everything and permits things to happen. Rather it is a camaraderie among those doing penance and reparation, and having the desire to help one other to attain salvation and perfection.

And just yesterday, we celebrated All Saints' Day, whose meaning expressed the goal, the interior purpose of man ... As I was reading the Gospel for All Saints' Day yesterday, and reading the eight repetitions: "Beati estis, blessed are you when..." (Mt. 5:3ff – Sermon on the Mount, Gospel for the Feast of All Saints), I asked the question: What is meant by this word "blessed"? What is meant by this happiness that is promised to people here? ... Beati estis – eight times we proclaimed those words to mankind for All Saints' Day yesterday.

This past week I went to see a film here in Munich, a film that, day after day, for weeks now, has been giving people a sermon about human happiness, too. In this film, too, there is much talk of happiness and redemption and the meaning of existence...I am talking about the film, I Accuse. [5] Many of you will have heard of it. It has do with a happy family life: two people made for each other; an intimate life together; growing together from one success to the next. A happy life and happy atmosphere and happy hearts. And then like a bolt from the blue in the midst of this, comes the wife's illness, the incurable, progressive paralysis. First of all, the couple's rebellious reaction and their attempt, by any means possible, to defeat this demon. However, they reach the limits of their strength, and then comes just the right solution: To "let her go". You cannot do this to a person, cannot let her suffer like that, so you—let her go. This human being dies before bearing out the term of her suffering.

That, too, is a message about happy people. Here, too, a "beatus" is expressed, a beatus, not as a promise, but as an end in itself: Man should be happy and make others happy. When he can no longer do this, then life begins to lose its meaning; and what is meaningless is basically untenable and unjustifiable, and it dies.

We have to inwardly confront these things from our viewpoint of the value of human life, and of the eight repetitions of "beati". This has to do with the ultimate foundations. This really concerns the ultimate attitudes and decisions and, with them, there is no such thing as an interim solution. "I Accuse!" This film accuses an order of life that "forces" people to go on living and—through every pore—it accuses a God who lets something like this happen.

What do we have to say to these proposals, from our holy mountain, from the viewpoint of our holy message? The details of the film are not so important to us; lots of films are shown that are trash. But here, there is an intention and an attitude behind it. And this whole attitude is, first of all, deception. Deception is the prerequisite, the space, in which the monstrous illness breaks in. This cultivated happiness, people wandering from one joyous moment to the next... Actors can play it, but look and see if life is really like that. The deception that you should spot in the background is the idea that without the monstrous illness, this life would always be on the way to this seductive total happiness here in this world. That is the first deception, and with it, the prerequisite itself is wrong on which the whole discussion is based. And the second deception is the manner and method in which – pardon the expression – a soothing appeal is made to the tear ducts of the audience, so that sympathy removes the strength to seriously question these things. That is the second deception. The third deception is the endless discussion of love and letting go, the eternal termination of all difficulties and precepts and everything lasting, for the benefit of – indeed, for the benefit of whom? Basically, for the benefit of the more comfortable solution...

A community that gets rid of someone—a community that is allowed to, and can, and wants to get rid of someone when he no longer is able to run around as the same attractive or useful member—has thoroughly misunderstood itself. Even if all of a person's organs have given out, and he no longer can speak for himself, he nevertheless remains a human being. Moreover, to those who live around him, he remains an ongoing appeal to their inner nobility, to their inner capacity to love, and to their sacrificial strength. Take away people's capacity to care for their sick and to heal them, and you make the human being into a predator, an egotistical predator that really only thinks of his own nice existence.

The arguments in the film go like this: "This woman is no longer the same as the beautiful wife whom I loved." And from the wife's side: "My husband cannot love me anymore if I am ill and ugly; tired and wasting away." What kind of a marriage vow was it that applied only to sparkling eyes and beautiful cheeks, but did not apply to the loneliness, to the distress, to standing together all the way to the finish! Some like to call these arguments "the greater love": Rather, it would be the greater cowardice that pulled back here. Pulled back to escape from the responsibility, from the innermost attitude of commitment to another human being. It is escape. It takes away from man the last chance of his existence.

W. Corsari has written a book, The Man without a Uniform, [6] which tackles the same problems: Doctor or human being? Is it permissible for a doctor to "let someone go" someone by killing them? The doctor does it and is ruined by it. One patient escapes him. After fifteen years, he meets her again, crippled, ruined, sclerotic. "Well," he asks her, "would you have wanted to die, at that time?"

"Yes, perhaps, at that time. But not today. Not anymore. What these fifteen years of conscious suffering have revealed to me about inner values, and what I have learned to understand and to comprehend, that makes up for everything else."

Because one is fleeing from what is hard, one takes away a human being's last chance of maturing, of persevering, of proving himself. That is why the whole thing is not only a lie and an escape. It is a rebellion. It is an outrage. It is an encroachment on rights that must stand inviolable if the entire cosmos is not to fall apart. It is an outrage against the Kyrios, the one and only Lord of life. Where God, the Lord, has not set aside the right to existence, that right stands inviolably under His love, under His fidelity, and under His punishment. A nation that lets a human being die, even a human being in the most extreme situation, will die itself. It is an outrage against the human being who, through his birth and his existence alone, already has rights that no one can take from him, and that no one can touch without disgracing humanity, and disgracing himself, and despising himself.

That is the view of life from our holy mountain. When we hear "beati estis, blessed are you", then it is always connected to a promise, to a trial: When you hunger and thirst...When you suffer persecution...When you persevere...When you remain in [God's] order...When you stay faithful...When you carry on with life as it stands, rather than wanting to remodel it out of personal right, and personal might, and personal authority ... As His own image and likeness, God released man into life and promised: "Your reward will be great and glorious in Heaven."


[1] On November 5, 1941, Father Delp's Provincial, Father Augustin Rsch, mentioned Delp in his report to the Father General in Rome, Father Wladimir Ledochowski. "In Fulda there was a major conference on Pastoral Services to Men ...I had designated Father Delp for one of the most important presentations ... With great candor, he handled what, in our times, is an extremely sensitive topic so well and so adroitly – there were three bishops present – that one of the bishops especially thanked him ... As a result, he was also appointed by the same bishops to the 'Committee of Five' that will prepare the next conference." (Roman Bleistein, S.J.: Augustine Rsch: Kampf Gegen Den Nationalsozialismus, Frankfurt 1985, p.110.) The topic of Delp's 1941 presentation had been "Trust in the Church", and featured his much quoted statement, "We have become a mission territory," citing the non-Christian environment, the steady decline in Church membership, and general lack of interest in the Church. He placed some responsibility for the crisis of trust in the Church upon Church leadership, and called especially for Church leaders to come out with clear advice and instructions rather than making vague general statements. (Cf. Alfred Delp: Gesammelte Schriften, vol. I, Geistliche Schriften, ed. R. Bleistein. Frankfurt 1985, 2nd ed., pp. 263-283.)

[2] Alfred Delp, Advent of the Heart, Ignatius Press 2006, p. 63.

[3] Concerns weighing on his mind during that year would have included the war, the persecution of the Jews (deportations were ongoing and Father Delp was secretly helping people to flee the country), government seizures of Church properties including the buildings where Father Delp had lived and worked, abridgment of civil rights, as well as the state-ordered euthanasia program, which by August 1941 had killed more than 70,000 disabled Germans (cf. Delp, Advent, pp. 182-184).

[4] Because of the Gospel "beatus est", this text has been mistakenly identified as a sermon for All Saints' Day. However, Father Delp clearly refers to All Saint's Day as "yesterday" and All Souls' Day as "tomorrow". That establishes the date as November 2, 1941, a Sunday. According to the liturgical norms of the time All Souls Day was not observed on Sunday, but was moved to Monday, November 3.

[5] "Ich klage an" (I accuse) premiered on August 29, 1941. This propaganda film was produced by a major German film studio and became a commercial success. It presented an emotionally sympathetic portrayal of euthanasia, based on the novel Sendung Und Gewissen (Mission and Conscience), by Dr. Helmut Unger (Berlin:1936 and 1941, 2nd rev ed). Dr. Unger was a leading figure in the secret state program for euthanizing infants and children with disabilities, which killed an estimated 5,000-8,000 German children between 1939 and 1945.

[6] Willy Corsari [Wilhelmina Angela Douwens], Der Mann Ohne Uniform (translation of De man zonder uniform, Holland 1933.) German translation by Eva Schumann, Berlin 1938.

Related Articles, Interviews, and Links:

The Mystery Made Present To Us | Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J.
Remembering Father Alfred Delp, S.J., Priest and Martyr | A Conversation with Father Karl Adolf Kreuser, S.J.
Remembering a Priest and Martyr: On the Ordination Anniversary of Alfred Delp, S.J. | Abtei St. Walburg
Faithful Even Unto Death: The Witness of Alfred Delp, S.J. | Fr. Albert Mnch
Alfred Delp Society website (German language only)

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