"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.  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!"
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.  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  | 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
"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.  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
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,  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
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."
 On November 5, 1941, Father Delp's Provincial, Father
Augustin Ršsch, 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
Ršsch: 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.
 Alfred Delp, Advent of the Heart, Ignatius Press 2006, p. 63.
 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).
 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,
 "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.
 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 MŸnch
Alfred Delp Society website (German language only)
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