Alfred Delp: biography of this Jesuit philosopher.
A biography of Alfred Delp, philosopher and member of the resistance against the Nazis.
The period of the Second World War is one of the most turbulent that humanity has known in all its history.
This period has left a multitude of figures for posterity, and Alfred Delp is one of them. With these lines we will be able to delve into his life and discover what was his relevance throughout this conflict, as well as in the other stages of his life, which we will also review. Here you will find a biography of Alfred Delp in summarized format.
Brief biography of Alfred Delp
Alfred Delp was born in the year 1907, in the city of Mannheim, within the Grand Duchy of Badenwhich at that time was part of the German Empire, in the southwestern part of the German Empire. His father was a Protestant, while his mother was Catholic. This was a relative conflict, as he was baptized a Catholic, but was also confirmed as a Protestant.
However, after an incident with the Lutheran pastor of his church, he decided once and for all to accept the Catholic confession, receiving the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation. It was precisely the priest of this church who noticed Alfred Delp's aptitude for learning and arranged for his admission to the Goethe Schule in Dieburg.
The fact that he belonged to both branches of Christianity, i.e. Catholicism and Protestantism, made him a key figure in the mediation between the two positions.which at some points in history has become very tense.
Alfred Delp's life at the Goethe Schule continued to have a strong Catholic religious influence, this time exercised by the Jugendbund Neudeutschland, a group of students of that denomination. He remained at this school until he completed his studies, coming first in his class. It was then that he decided to take a further step in his religious involvement, joining the Society of Jesus, i.e. the Jesuits.
At the same time, he enrolled for a degree in philosophy at the University of Pullach.. As soon as he finished his studies, he began to work as a sports teacher and prefect for the Jesuit school Stella Matutina Kolleg, located in Feldkirch, in Austrian territory. The year was 1933, the year when the National Socialist regime came to power in Austria.
The arrival of the Nazi regime caused many students to decide to leave the country.. A large number of students from the Stella Matutina Kolleg, together with various teachers and Alfred Delp himself, decided to move to the Black Forest region, where they founded a new school, Kolleg St. Blasien. This institution took in three hundred students who had left Austria.
Alfred Delp decided, after these events, to train in theology. For this purpose he moved to Valkenburg aan de Geul, in Limburg, belonging to the Netherlands, and later to Frankfurt, again in Germany, where he was able to finish his theological studies.
Career as a priest
Already trained as a philosopher and theologian, Alfred Delp published his first work, "Tragic Existence", in 1935.in 1935. This volume is of a humanist and religious nature, and updates the principles of the existentialist doctrine proposed by Martin Heidegger.
In 1937, another milestone in the life of this author took place: he was ordained a priest. The rite took place in the German city of Munich. Precisely in the university of this city, he applied for access to study for a doctorate in philosophy. However, enrollment was denied because of a political conflict.
By 1939, Alfred Delp was busy publishing articles for the journal Stimmen der Zeit, or "Voices of the Times". It was a publication affiliated with the Society of Jesus. But this was the year in which, with the Nazi regime already in control of Germany and Austria, World War II broke out.
In 1941, the National Socialist authorities decided to close the magazine, and his work as editor came to an end. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed rector of the church of Saint Georg and the parish of Heilig Blut in Munich. It was in his priestly work in these churches that he began his most important work: that of resistance against Nazi barbarism..
The Kreisau Circle
Alfred Delp began working secretly to help Jewish people who came to his parishes in search of a way to leave German territory. Delp was one of the participants in achieving that goal, through different parts of the Swiss border. The Jesuits were openly one of the bastions of resistance against the Nazi government.
So much so, that it meant the reprisals of the regime against priests and other members of the organization, as we will see later that it would happen to Alfred Delp himself. The Nazis took over the religious temples, plundering them. In addition, they began to keep a close watch on all Jesuits, restricting their activity so that they could not participate in the Resistance..
Even so, there were many who continued to work underground. One of them was Augustin Rösch, head of the province of the Jesuit congregation, to whom Alfred Delp reported. It was Augustin who discovered the so-called Kreisau Circle, a movement organized to conspire against the Nazi government.
It was led by Helmuth James von Moltke, and consisted of twenty-five members, mostly nobles or religious. This group of people tried to devise an alternative government to National Socialism and to prepare for this change, without resorting to violent tactics to achieve this goal. The year was 1942.
Alfred Delp's importance within the Kreisau Circle was to teach the doctrine of Catholic social teaching.. Likewise, he was the link between this group and some of the authorities of Catholicism who also had an interest in overthrowing the Nazi government. Some of them were Johannes Dietz, bishop of Fulda, or Konrad von Preysing, archbishop of Berlin.
But on July 20, 1944, an attempt was made by a group of conspirators to assassinate Adolf Hitler. This failed act provoked the Gestapo, the regime's police, to act ruthlessly against any hint of resistance. Thus, several members of the Kreisau Circle, including Alfred Delp, were arrested.
Arrest and last days
Alfred Delp was arrested on July 28, just one week after the attack.. Delp was not one of the conspirators involved in the assassination attempt, but that did not matter. He was incarcerated in Tegel prison, located in Berlin, the German capital. This did not cause him to stop his religious activity. On the contrary, he began to say mass inside the institution.
During his stay in Tegel prison, he also began a period of reflection on various religious questions. He also wrote various epistles. He managed to send all these works to a safe place before the trial at which his sentence was to be announced.
At the end of 1944, he had a very special visitor in prison. Franz von Tattenbach, through Augustin Rösch, went to see Alfred Delp so that he could give him the perpetual vows of the Jesuits, an act that filled him with joy, as he later wrote. This religious act was not allowed, but the prison guards did not perceive what was happening.
In the first days of January 1945, the court trial took place in which the case of Alfred Delp and other detainees, accused of conspiracy and resistance, was examined.. Among them was Helmuth James von Moltke himself, leader of the Kreisau Circle. All these persons were found guilty of high treason. The sentence for all of them was the harshest possible: death.
Although it had been established that Alfred Delp had nothing to do with the attempt on the Führer's life, he was nevertheless considered a traitor He was a member of the conspiratorial movement of the Kreisau Circle and a religious Jesuit, and was therefore found guilty and condemned to death, along with the rest of his companions.
He was offered a deal: freedom in exchange for leaving the religious congregation of the Society of Jesus. Delp refused. He preferred to die rather than give in to Nazi pressure. Finally, on February 2, 1945, Alfred Delp, like the rest of the condemned, died by hanging in Berlin's Plötzensee prison. His body was cremated and the ashes were thrown into the sewer.
- Delp, A. (2006). Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings 1941-1944. Ignatius Press. San Francisco.
- Holland, C. (1962). The role of the Kreisau Circle in the German opposition against Hitler. Lehigh Preserve Institutional Repository.
- Phayer, M. (1993). The catholic resistance circle in Berlin and German catholic bishops during the Holocaust. Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
- Pörnbacher, H. (1990). The Kreisau Circle. Portrait of a Resistance Group. Philosophy and History.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)