The Prison Correspondence, 1944–45
by freya and helmuth james von moltke
translated by shelley frisch
new york review books classics, 432 pages, $18.95
In September 1944, Helmuth von Moltke sat in Berlin’s Tegel prison, awaiting execution. The Nazis had arrested him for organizing the Kreisau Circle, a resistance group formed to plan a more democratic future Germany. Helmuth’s death drew near, yet, as his wife Freya wrote to him, “The best way to die is the one you’re now facing. . . . It’s uninteresting in the extreme that you might have gone on to become a ‘great’ man.” He replied with a line from Romans: “Whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.”
Romans 14:8 became the couple’s constant refrain over the next four months, during which they were able to keep up a secret correspondence uncensored by Nazi scissors. Harald Poelchau, the prison chaplain, risked his own life daily to smuggle letters between them until Helmuth’s hanging in January 1945. The result is Last Letters, less an anti-fascist testament than a portrait of a remarkable Christian marriage. Surprisingly, Freya and Helmuth don’t discuss the Third Reich much; rather, they spend their final precious pages examining their own failures (“We belong to the Pharisees,” Freya confesses), praying together, reading hymns, discussing philosophy, and comforting each other with the gospel. “We have to know,” Helmuth writes, “that objectively we have become God’s children through baptism, that objectively Christ died for us and that this is how it is, even if we don’t feel it.”
More moving than their epistolary communion is their burning desire to receive the Sacrament together in Helmuth’s prison cell before his execution—something they managed, thanks to Chaplain Poelchau, in November. What Freya wrote to Helmuth afterward captures the spirit of Last Letters: “We have had our union sealed beyond death, and come what may, this seal will always remain with us.”
Christ the Heart of Creation
by rowan williams
bloomsbury, 304 pages, $42.99
Many contemporary theologians argue that we need to rethink the classical account of God, since the divine perfections (impassibility, immutability, etc.) are foreign to Scripture and keep God at a distance from our suffering. Against this view, Rowan Williams argues that orthodox Christology provides the fullest justification for the divine perfections. In Christ the Heart of Creation, he shows how the classical conception of God delivers us from a theology in which God is merely another agent in the universe competing with human agency. Williams traces the development of Christology from the New Testament, through the ecumenical councils and works of later thinkers such as Maximus the Confessor and John Damascene, to Thomas Aquinas. He also examines Protestants such as Calvin, Barth, and Bonhoeffer before concluding with Przywara and Wittgenstein.
Williams believes that the Christological debates are not arcane problems of vocabulary but attempts to articulate the relationship between God and creation. The finite, mortal, and suffering Jesus, “in releasing into the world the act of the Creator, in new forms of relation and possibility, makes clear once and for all that creation’s wholeness and fulfilment are realized . . . by the bringing into being within creation of the relatedness of the Word to the Father which is the eternal ground of all finite existence.”
The union of God and man in Jesus is something greater than the initial relation that existed between Creator and creature. It allows Christians to reconcile with God and to participate in Christ’s work of drawing all things to the Father through himself. This is Christology not as a set of arguments, but as a way of life. A Christology founded on a metaphysic of participated being is not detached from the life of Christian discipleship, but its richest rationale.
How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics
by mary eberstadt, with commentary by rod dreher, mark lilla, and peter thiel
templeton, 192 pages, $24.95
In Primal Screams, Mary Eberstadt hunts down the cause of identity politics and uncovers a surprising culprit. Identity politics stems not from the great Civil Rights movement, she argues, but from the sexual revolution.
Social bonds—particularly romantic and brotherly love—have suffered in the wake of the sixties. Single parents and children without siblings are increasingly common. And as hookup culture becomes pervasive, many people find themselves unable to approach the opposite sex in a wholesome manner, leading to scandals like those that triggered the #MeToo movement. People are becoming more isolated. Lacking families, they desperately cling to unsatisfying identity politics for a sense of community and belonging. Our society should instead focus on building strong family life, Eberstadt argues. And not just nuclear families, but multigenerational clans in which the oldest and youngest dependents are provided for, and all members benefit from emotional stability and support.
Eberstadt does not offer many specific policy prescriptions. And at the end of the book, commentary chapters from Lilla and Thiel argue that Eberstadt gives insufficient attention to the economic factors making family formation difficult. But all agree: Unless we restore strong families, Americans will remain lonely, hopeless people—whose only solace is in identity groups locked in a zero-sum game.