Contrapuntal love

Another gem from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this a letter to his friend Eberhard Bethge. Very Begbian, and fitting for a blog shooting to be about faith and music (emphases in bold are mine, links thrown in for your edification):

“Dear Eberhard,
Once again this letter is intended only for you…. I must say to begin with that everything that you told me has moved me so much that I couldn’t stop thinking of it all day yesterday and had a restless night; I’m infinitely grateful to you for it; for it was a confirmation of our friendship, and moreover reawakens the spirit for life and for battle, and makes it stubborn, clear and hard. But I can’t completely escape the feeling that there is a tension in you which you can’t get rid of completely, and so I would like to help you as a brother. Accept it as it is intended. If a man loves, he wants to live, to live above all, and hates everything that represents a threat to his life. You hate the recollection of the last weeks, you hate the blue sky, because it reminds you of them, you hate the planes, etc. You want to live with Renate and be happy, and you have a good right to that. And indeed you must live, for the sake of Renate and the little – and also the big – Dietrich. You haven’t the right to speak as your chief did recently. On the contrary, you couldn’t be responsible for that at all. Sometime you must argue it out with him quite quietly; it is obvious what is necessary, but you mustn’t act as a result of any personal emotion. There’s always a danger in all strong, erotic love that one may love what I might call the polyphony of life. What I mean is that God wants us to love him eternally with our whole hearts – not in such a way as to injure or weaken our earthly love, but to provide a kind of cantus firmus to which the other melodies of life provide the counterpoint. One of these contrapuntal themes (which have their own complete independence but are yet related to the cantus firmus) is earthly affection. Even in the Bible we have the Song of Songs; and really one can imagine no more ardent, passionate, sensual love than is portrayed there (see 7.6). It’s a good thing that the book is in the Bible, in face of all those who believe that the restraint of passion is Christian (where is there such restraint in the Old Testament?). Where the cantus firmus is clear and plain, the counterpoint can be developed to its limits. The two are ‘undivided and yet distinct’, in the words of the Chalcedonian Definition, like Christ in his divine and human natures. May not the attraction and importance of polyphony in music consist in its being a musical reflection of this Christological fact and therefore of our vita christiana? This thought didn’t occur to me till after your visit yesterday. Do you see what I’m driving at? I wanted to tell you to have a good, clear cantus firmus; that is the only way to a full and perfect sound, when the counterpoint has a firm support and can’t come adrift or get out of tune, while remaining a distinct whole in its own right. Only a polyphony of this kind can give life a wholeness and at the same time assure us that nothing calamitous can happen as long as the cantus firmus is kept going. Perhaps a good deal will be easier to bear in these days together, and possibly also in the days ahead when you’re separated. Please, Eberhard, do not fear and hate the separation, if it should come again with all its dangers, but rely on the cantus firmus. – I don’t know whether I’ve made myself clear now, but one so seldom speaks of such things…” [20 May 1944, from Tegel Prison; the rest of the letter is lost]

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Scott

Composer of music and sonic art. Percussionist, guitarist, computer musician. Composition/theory/electronic music professor. Husband and father. Catholic. Food and beer enthusiast. Perpetually dissatisfied with the contents of my sock drawer.

One thought on “Contrapuntal love”

  1. Hey – I’ve tagged you for “eight random things”. Check out my blog for the game and directions, if you want to play… You’re it! (from the feminarian)

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