Dietrich Bonhoeffer Biography (Theopedia)

from Theopedia


Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945) was a German Lutheran theologian and pastor. He was also a participant in the resistance movement against Nazism. Bonhoeffer was involved in various schemes formulated by members of the German Military Intelligence Office to assassinate Adolf Hitler and in March 1943 was arrested, imprisoned and ultimately hanged just before the end of the Second World War in Europe.


Bonhoeffer attended college in Tübingen, received his doctorate in theology from the University of Berlin and was ordained in the Lutheran church. He then spent a post-graduate year abroad studying at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.


Bonhoeffer's legacy

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is considered a martyr for his faith. In the mid-1990s, the German Government officially absolved him of any "crimes" he might have committed pursuant to the positive law of the National Socialist regime. The calendars of the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America commemorate him on April 9, the date on which he was hanged in 1945. An oft-quoted line from one of his more widely read books, The Cost of Discipleship (1937), foreshadowed his death. "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." His books Ethics (1949) and Letters and Papers from Prison (1953) were published posthumously. The theological and political reasons behind his shift from Christian pacifism, which he espoused in the mid-1930s, to participation in planning the assassination of Hitler are much debated.

Bonhoeffer's last writings, as found in his fragmentary Letters and Papers from Prison, continue to intrigue theologians. In them he introduced the concepts of "religionless Christianity" and "a world come of age", which in turn became incorporated into both John A. T. Robinson’s controversial 1963 book "Honest to God" and the "Death of God" movement. Bonhoeffer is one of the few theologians embraced by both liberal and conservative Christians, but each group interprets his prison theology differently. Conservatives see those writings as simply another expression of his earlier traditional theology, although in an updated language. Liberals interpret his prison writings as a radical new expression of a much more secular understanding of the basic Christian message. Before his death Bonhoeffer himself frequently commented on the radical nature of his late thought. His last words were: "This is the end - for me the beginning of life."

Bonhoeffer is one of the ten twentieth-century martyrs from across the world who are depicted in statues above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey, London.



  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Letters and Papers From Prison, New Greatly Enlarged Edition. ed. by Eberhard Bethge. New York: Touchstone Simon & Shuster (1997).
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke (18 Bände), ed. by Eberhard Bethge. Gütersloher Verlagshaus (1986-1999); English edition (as yet incomplete): Minneapolis: Fortress Press (1995-).
  • The Cost of Discipleship. Translated from the German Nachfolge first published 1937 by Chr. Kaiser Verlag München. New York: SCM Press Ltd. (1959).
  • Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community. Translated from the German Gemeinsames Leben. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. (1954).
  • Ethics. SCM (1955).



  • "Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate." - Costly Grace
  • " Such grace is costly because it call us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost the life of his Son: "ye were brought with a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God."- Costly Grace
  • Concerning Christ's command to cut off the hand and gouge out the eye that causes one to sin, "Surely, at this point we must make up our minds once and for all whether Jesus means his precepts to be taken literally or only figuratively, for here it is a matter of life or death... Jesus does not impose intolerable restriction on his disciples, he does not forbid them to look at anything, but bids them look on him." -Cost of Discipleship
  • "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." - Cost of Discipleship


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