Prison Writings

Item Number: 21203

Catalog Code: 9781570755248

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Book Description
Classic reflections on the Gospel by a 20th century martyr."

Alfred Delp (1907-1945) was a German Jesuit condemned to death by the Nazis for anti-Hitler activities. While awaiting execution Delp composed this series of meditations on Advent, the Lord's Prayer, the tasks of the future, the meaning of happiness, and other spiritual themes.

Written on the edge of eternity Delp's reflections continue to bear a special power and poignancy. His words snow the ongoing relevance of the Gospel in an age of idolatrous power and capricious violence.

"These are the thoughts of a man who, caught in a well-laid trap of political lies, clung desperately to a truth revealed to him in solitude, helplessness, emptiness, and desperation . . . ."--Thomas Merton

Review of this book -

"Alfred Delp SJ, 1907-45, was a German Jesuit hanged by the Nazis on 2 February 1945 at Berlin-Plotzensee prison. He had been arrested the previous August, charged with being involved in the July Plot against Hitler. Although Delp was friends with members of the Kreisau Circle, which included some of the plotters, the charges against him were flimsy and he had hopes of being exonerated. However his judge, Roland Freisler, was notorious for his hatred of priests, especially Jesuits, so the outcome of his trial became a foregone conclusion. His execution, ironically, took place shortly before the collapse of the Third Reich itself.

These writings include two short diary extracts, meditations on Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, brief essays on the Our Father and on the Holy Spirit and a last, poignant, ‘Letter to the Brethren’, in which he asked their pardon and that ‘care may be given to my aged sick parents.’ Why are these writings so memorable? They are charged with honesty about himself, urgency and originality, written with the knowledge that his life was about to end ignominiously and too soon. In his diary extracts Delp reflected on his ‘vanity, arrogance and self-esteem’, his need for steadfastness and the loneliness of solitary confinement. Stripped of all human consolations apart from the loyalty of friends who smuggled out his writings with his laundry, reliant on prayer and the Masses he secretly celebrated with hidden hosts and wine when his handcuffs were loosened, he could write with conviction, “ ‘God alone suffices’ is literally and absolutely true.”

Alfred Delp had lived through the whole period of National Socialism and witnessed its barbarism. Many of his Advent meditations commented on Germany’s shameful degradation and they recognised that only a spiritual rebirth could save his country – ‘Only in God are we capable of living fully.’ His writings have the prophetic intensity of a man who had learnt to live ‘with every fibre’ of his being in the weeks preceding death. Deprived of freedom he noted that the world is ‘full of miracles’, though he still had struggles with loneliness (‘most terrible of all human maladies’), fear and depression ‘that sometimes almost defeats me’. He recognised that he was being tested in the ‘wilderness’; yet again and again his spirits rose, fortified by the Holy Spirit – ‘God’s passion for himself’ - whose nearness was a consolation. In those long, tedious months of imprisonment Delp abandoned himself to ‘the silence of God, the greatest abandonment of all.’ Not knowing the day nor the hour of his death after the court’s verdict had been pronounced produced its own torments, but in imagination and prayer he could still soar, describing heaven as ‘the great jubilation of the Trinity, the torrential life of God.’ His last, joking words to the prison chaplain before his execution were, ‘In half and hour I will know more than you do’. Delp knew he was ‘desperately short of time’(and paper) and his writings often move one to the core; it is always salutary to share the vision of someone standing so bravely at the edge of eternity.

The one false note is the Introduction to this volume, written by Thomas Merton in 1962. It seeks to politicise what is a profoundly spiritual message and in its allusions to Communism and nuclear war it seems very dated today when fundamentalism and terrorism are the real threats to peace." by Francis Philips of


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  1. Advent of the Heart
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  2. With Bound Hands
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