Bonhoeffer on the fall of Rome

“‘Another angel, a second followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, who made all nations drink the wine of its impure passion”‘ [Rev 14.8]. That is what John saw–but he also saw something else namely, that Babylon was still great, powerful, and full of strength, that Babylon still stood there invincible in the world with all people trembling and throwing themselves down before it–Babylon, the enemy of god–the city which does not cease building its tower up into the heavens–Babylon, which willfully defies Christ the crucified Lord, which intoxicates the world with its glittering and enticing vices, as prostitutes intoxicate their lovers with heavy wine–which transforms and corrupts and woos the world with every kind of pomp and godless splendor–Babylon, whom the world loves, with whom the world is infatuated, running blindly into its nets–Babylon, which demands nothing else from its worshippers than blind love and intoxication–which gives them liberally and prodigally all that their hearts and wild desires crave–who would dare say of this Babylon, it is not eternal, it will have a great fall? With what anxiety does the Christian congregation, which neither can nor desires to be a citizen of this city which must live and suffer on the margin, outside the city; with what anxiety must it view that city; with how many prayers must it intercede for it? with how many prayers have we longed for its fall to come! Who is Babylon? Was it Rome? Where is it today? Today, we dare not yet say–not because we fear the world! Rather because the Christian community does not know yet–but we see terrible things and revelations drawing near.

“And now–the voice from heaven, the joyful news for the community of the faithful: it is fallen, Babylon the great! Everything is already done; the judgment has already been handed down by God, Babylon is already condemned–Babylon cannot remain standing, because it cannot stand in the sight of God. Therefore, do not fear Babylon; it can do nothing against you–it is already condemned! It is nothing, like dust and gloom and rubble. Don’t take it seriously, so deadly seriously; don’t be consumed in your hatred or zeal, for it is all so temporary; so temporary–it is no longer the least bit important; but entirely different things are important–remain steadfast in faith, cling to Christ, listen to the voice of God the omnipotent, who says: remain untouched by Babylon; stay sober, and don’t let fear overcome you; it is fallen, Babylon the great. That alone is important, that alone leads to life. We who become Babylon’s slave, however, we become slave to death and judgment. Babylon is fallen; let the congregation of the faithful rejoice!”

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from ‘Learning to Die,’ a sermon preached on 24 Nov 1935


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