Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Wikipedia)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Born February 4, 1906
Died April 9, 1945 (age 39)
Flossenbürg concentration camp
Nationality German
Education Doctorate in theology
Occupation Pastor, professor


Dietrich Bonhoeffer (February 4, 1906 – April 9, 1945) was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, participant in the German Resistance movement against Nazism, and a founding member of the Confessing Church. He was involved in plots planned by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He was arrested in March 1943, imprisoned, and eventually hanged just before the end of the World War II in Europe.

Family and youth

Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau, Silesia. He and his sister Sabine were twins and the sixth and seventh of eight children. His brother Walter was killed during World War I. His sister was married to Hans von Dohnanyi and was mother of the conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi and the later mayor of Hamburg, Klaus von Dohnanyi. His father, Karl Bonhoeffer, was a prominent German psychiatrist in Berlin; his mother, Paula, home-schooled the children. Though he was initially expected to follow his father into the field of psychology, Dietrich decided at an early age to become a Christian pastor. His parents supported his decision. He attended college in Tübingen and later at the University of Berlin, where he received his doctorate in theology at the age of only 21. As Dietrich was under 25 at the time [per church regulations], he was unable to be ordained. This, however, gave Dietrich the opportunity to go abroad. He then spent a post-graduate year abroad studying at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. During this time, he would often visit the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, where he became acquainted with the musical form that ethnomusicologists call the African-American Spiritual. He amassed a substantial collection of these spirituals, which he took with him when he went back to Germany.


Return to Germany

Bonhoeffer returned to Germany in 1931, where he lectured on theology in Berlin and wrote several books. A strong opponent of Nazism, he was involved, together with Martin Niemöller, Karl Barth and others, in establishing the Confessing Church. In August 1933, he co-authored the Bethel Confession with Hermann Sasse and others. Between late 1933 and 1935, he served as pastor of two German-speaking Protestant churches in London: St. Paul's and Sydenham. While Bonhoeffer desired a trip to India to discover non-violent resistance with Gandhi, he returned to Germany to head a seminary for Confessing Church pastors which had been made illegal by the Nazi regime, first in Finkenwalde and then at the von Blumenthal estate of Gross Schlönwitz, which was closed at the outbreak of World War II. The Gestapo also banned him from preaching; then teaching; and finally any kind of public speaking. During this time, Bonhoeffer worked closely with numerous opponents of Adolf Hitler.

During World War II, Bonhoeffer played a key leadership role in the Confessing Church, which opposed the anti-semitic policies of Adolf Hitler. He was among those who called for wider church resistance to Hitler's treatment of the Jews. While the Confessing Church was not large, it represented a major source of Christian opposition to the Nazi government in Germany.

In 1939, Bonhoeffer joined a secret group of high-ranking military officers based in the Abwehr, or Military intelligence Office, who wanted to overthrow the National Socialist regime by killing Hitler. He was arrested in April 1943 after money used to help Jews escape to Switzerland was traced to him. He was charged with conspiracy and imprisoned in Berlin for a year and a half. After the unsuccessful July 20 Plot in 1944, Bonhoeffer's connections with the conspirators were discovered. He was moved to a series of prisons and concentration camps ending at Flossenbürg. Here, he was executed by hanging at dawn on 9 April 1945, just three weeks before the liberation of the city. Also hanged for their parts in the conspiracy were his brother Klaus and his brothers-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi and Rüdiger Schleicher.



From the Gallery of 20th Century Martyrs at Westminster Abbey — l. to r. Mother Elizabeth of Russia, the Revd Martin Luther King, Archbishop Oscar Romero and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer From the Gallery of 20th Century Martyrs at Westminster Abbey — l. to r. Mother Elizabeth of Russia, the Revd Martin Luther King, Archbishop Oscar Romero and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer is commemorated as a theologian and martyr by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Church of England and the Church in Wales on April 9.

The following are English translations of Bonhoeffer's works, which were all originally written in German:

The first volume in the Fortress Press critical edition of Bonhoeffer's work gathers his one hundred earliest letters and journals from after the First World War through his graduation from Berlin University. It also contains his early theological writings up to his dissertation. The seventeen essays include works on the patristic period for Adolf von Harnack, on Luther's moods for Karl Holl, on biblical interpretation for Professor Reinhold Seeberg, as well as essays on the church and eschatology, reason and revelation, Job, John, and even joy. Rounding out this picture of Bonhoeffer's nascent theology are his sermons from the period, along with his lectures on homiletics, catechesis, and practical theology.
  • Barcelona, Berlin, New York: 1928–1931, translation of Barcelona, Berlin, Amerika: 1928–1931. Fortress Press: not yet released.
  • Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church Clifford Green (editor); Reinhard Krauss (translator); Nancy Lukens (translator). Fortress Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8006-8301-3.
Bonhoeffer's dissertation, completed in 1927 and first published in 1930 as Sanctorum Communio: eine Dogmatische Untersuchung zur Soziologie der Kirche. In it he attempts to work out a theology of the person in society, and then, particularly, in the church. Along with enlightening us about his early positions on sin, evil, solidarity, collective spirit, and collective guilt, the volume unfolds a systematic theology of the Spirit at work in the church and what this implies for questions of authority, freedom, ritual, and eschatology.
  • Act and Being Clifford Green (editor); Reinhard Krauss (translator); Nancy Lukens (translator). Fortress Press, 1996. ISBN 0-8006-8302-1
Bonhoeffer’s second dissertation, written in 1929–30 and published in 1931 as Akt und Sein, deals with the questions of consciousness and conscience in theology from the perspective of the Reformation insight about the origin of human sinfulness in the “heart turned in upon itself and thus open neither to the revelation of God nor to the encounter with the neighbor.” Here are Bonhoeffer’s thoughts about power, revelation, Otherness, theological method, and theological anthropology.
  • Ecumenical, Academic and Pastoral Work: 1931–1932, translation of Ökumene, Universität, Pfarramt: 1931–1932. Fortress Press: not yet released.
  • Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3 John W. de Gruchy (Editor); Douglas Stephen Bax (Translator). Fortress Press, November 20, 1997. ISBN 0-8006-8303-X.
Creation and Fall originated in lectures given by Bonhoeffer at the University of Berlin in the winter semester of 1932–33 during the demise of the Weimar Republic and the birth of the Third Reich. In the book published in 1933 as Schöpfung und Fall, Bonhoeffer called his students to focus their attention on the word of God the word of truth in a time of turmoil.
  • Christology (1966) London: William Collins and New York: Harper and Row. translation of lectures given in Berlin in 1933, from vol. 3 of Gesammelte Schriften, Christian Kaiser Verlag, 1960. retitled as Christ the Center, Harper SanFrancisco 1978 paperback: ISBN 0-06-060811-0
  • London: 1933–1935, translation of London: 1933–1935. Fortress Press: not yet released.
  • The Cost of Discipleship (1948 in English). Touchstone edition with introduction by Bishop George Bell and memoir by G. Leibholz, 1995 paperback: ISBN 0-684-81500-1. Critical edition published under its original title Discipleship: John D. Godsey (editor); Geffrey B. Kelly (editor). Fortress Press, 2000. ISBN 0-8006-8324-2
Bonhoeffer's most widely read book begins, "Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle today is for costly grace." That was a sharp warning to his own church, which was engaged in bitter conflict with the official nazified state church, The book was first published in 1937 as Nachfolge (Discipleship). It soon became a classic exposition of what it means to follow Christ in a modern world beset by a dangerous and criminal government. At its center stands an interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount: what Jesus demanded of his followers—and how the life of discipleship is to be continued in all ages of the post- resurrection church.
  • Theological Education at Finkenwalde: 1935–1937, translation of Illegale Theologenausbildung: 1935–1937. Fortress Press: not yet released.
  • Theological Education Underground: 1937–1940, translation of Illegale Theologenausbildung: 1937–1940. Fortress Press: not yet released.
  • Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible James H. Burtness (coauthor); Geffrey B. Kelly (editor); Daniel W. Bloesch (translator). Fortress Press: 1995. ISBN 0-8006-8305-6.
    • The stimulus for the writing of Life Together was the closing of the preacher’s seminary at Finkenwalde. The treatise contains Bonhoeffer’s thoughts about the nature of Christian community based on the common life that he and his seminarians experienced at the seminary and in the “Brother’s House” there. Life Together was completed in 1938, published in 1939 as Gemeinsames Leben, and first translated into English in 1954. Harper SanFrancisco 1978 paperback: ISBN 0-06-060852-8
    • Prayerbook of the Bible is a classic of Christian spirituality. In this theological interpretation of the Psalms, Bonhoeffer describes the moods of an individual’s relationship with God and also the turns of love and heartbreak, of joy and sorrow, that are themselves the Christian community’s path to God.
  • Ethics (1955 in English by SCM Press). Touchstone edition, 1995 paperback: ISBN 0-684-81501-X. Fortress Press 2004 critical edition: Clifford Green (editor); Reinhard Krauss (translator); Douglas W. Stott (translator); Charles C. West (translator). ISBN 0-8006-8306-4.
Written in prison and published in 1943 as Ethik, this is the culmination of Bonhoeffer's theological and personal odyssey. Based on careful reconstruction of the manuscripts, freshly and expertly translated and annotated, the critical edition features an insightful introduction by Clifford Green and an afterword from the German edition's editors. Though caught up in the vortex of momentous forces in the Nazi period, Bonhoeffer systematically envisioned a radically Christocentric, incarnational ethic for a post-war world, purposefully recasting Christians' relation to history, politics, and public life.
  • Fiction from Tegel Prison Clifford Green (editor); Nancy Lukens (translator). Fortress Press: 1999. ISBN 0-8006-8307-2.
Writing fiction—an incomplete drama, a novel fragment, and a short story—occupied much of Bonhoeffer’s first year in Tegel prison, as well as writing to his family and his fiancée and dealing with his interrogation. “There is a good deal of autobiography mixed in with it,” he explained to his friend and biographer Eberhard Bethge. Richly annotated by German editors Renate Bethge and Ilse Todt and by Clifford Green, the writings in this book disclose a great deal of Bonhoeffer’s family context, social world, and cultural milieu. Events from his life are recounted in a way that illuminates his theology. Characters and situations that represent Nazi types and attitudes became a form of social criticism and help to explain Bonhoeffer’s participation in the resistance movement and the plot to kill Hitler.
  • Letter and Papers from Prison, (first English translation 1953 by SCM Press). This edition translated by Reginald H. Fuller and Frank Clark from Widerstand und Ergebung: Briefe und Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft. Munich: Christian Kaiser Verlag (1970). Touchstone 1997 paperback: ISBN 0-684-83827-3
  • Conspiracy and Imprisonment 1940–1945 Mark Brocker (editor). Fortress Press: 2006. ISBN 0-8006-8316-1
In hundreds of letters, including letters written to his fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer (selected from the complete correspondence, previously published as "Love Letters from Cell 92" Ruth-Alice von Bismarck and Ulrich Kabitz (editors), Abingdon Press (April 1995) ISBN 0-687-01098-5), as well as official documents, short original pieces, and a few final sermons, the volume sheds light on Bonhoeffer's active resistance to and increasing involvement in the conspiracy against the Hitler regime, his arrest, and his long imprisonment. Finally, Bonhoeffer's many exchanges with his family, fiancée, and closest friends, demonstrate the affection and solidarity that accompanied Bonhoeffer to his prison cell, concentration camp, and eventual death.
  • A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1990). Geoffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson, editors. Harper SanFrancisco 1995 2nd edition, paperback: ISBN 0-06-064214-9


Works about Bonhoeffer


  • Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologian, Christian, Man for His Times: A Biography Rev. ed. (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2000).
  • Denise Giardina, Saints and Villains (Ballantine Books, 1999). ISBN 0-449-00427-9. A Fictional Account of Bonhoeffer's life.
  • Stephen R. Haynes,The Bonhoeffer Legacy: Post-Holocaust Perspectives (Fortress Press, 2006). ISBN 0-8006-3815-8.
  • Stephen Plant, Bonhoeffer (Continuum International Publishing, 2004). ISBN 0-8264-5089-X.
  • Edwin Robertson, Bonhoeffer's Legacy: The Christian Way in a World Without Religion (Collier Books, 1989). ISBN 0-02-036372-9.
  • Edwin Robertson, The Shame and the Sacrifice: The life and teaching of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Hodder & Stoughton, 1987). ISBN 0-340-41063-9.
  • Dallas M. Roark, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Makers of the Modern Theological Mind. (Word PUBLISHING GROUP, 1972) ISBN: 0849929768

Verse about Bonhoeffer





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