Dietrich Bonhoeffer Biography (Wikipedia)


Dietrich Bonhoeffer

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
BornFebruary 4, 1906 (1906-02-04)
in Breslau, Germany
DiedApril 9, 1945 (1945-04-10) (age 39) in Flossenbürg concentration camp
ChurchEvangelical Church of the old-Prussian Union
Confessing Church
EducationDoctorate in theology
WritingsAuthor of several books and articles (see below)
Congregations servedZion's Church congregation, Berlin
German-speaking congregations of St. Paul's and Sydenham, London
Offices heldAssociate lecturer at Frederick William University of Berlin (1931-1936)
Student pastor at Technical College, Berlin (1931-1933)
Lecturer of Confessing Church candidates of pastorate in Finkenwalde (1935-1937)
TitleOrdained Pastor
P christianity.svg Christianity Portal

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German pronunciation: [ˈdiːtʁɪç ˈboːnhœfɐ];[1] February 4, 1906 – April 9, 1945) was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian. He was also a participant in the German Resistance movement against Nazism, a founding member of the Confessing Church. His involvement in plans by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler resulted in his arrest in April 1943 and his subsequent execution by hanging in April 1945, shortly before the war's end. His view of Christianity's role in the secular world has become very influential.[2]



[edit] Academic training

Bonhoeffer attended Tübingen University for a year and visited Rome, where he became conscious of the universality of the church, before he matriculated at the University of Berlin in 1924, then a centre of liberal theology under theologians such as Adolf von Harnack. Around this time, he discovered the writings of Karl Barth, an eminent Swiss theologian whose pioneering work in neo-orthodoxy was a reaction against liberal theology. Barth believed that "liberal theology" (understood as emphasizing personal experience and societal development) minimized Scripture, reducing it to a mere textbook of metaphysics while sanctioning the deification of human culture. Harnack cautioned Bonhoeffer against dangers posed by Barth's "contempt for scientific theology", but young Bonhoeffer, becoming increasingly critical of liberal theology as too constraining and responsible for the lack of relevance in the church, was won over to Barth's dialectical theology.[3] Bonhoeffer was nevertheless not beyond criticizing Barth, and the confluence of Barth's Christocentrism and Harnack's concern to show the relevance of Christianity to the modern world had indelible effect on Bonhoeffer's approach to theology.[4]

Bonhoeffer graduated summa cum laude from the University of Berlin in 1927 and earned his doctorate in theology at the age of 21 with a brilliant and ground-breaking doctoral thesis, Sanctorum Communio (Communion of Saints), which presented a significantly new way of looking at the nature of the Christian church and was praised by Barth as a "theological miracle." [5]

In order to become a pastor, Bonhoeffer spent a year in 1928-1929 as a curate in a parish of German community in Barcelona, Spain, where he incidentally came to appreciate bull-fighting. At this time, Bonhoeffer witnessed social chaos and decline of traditional values amid international financial crisis and became critical of the church as being insensitive to evident needs of the world around it and instead burying Christ in the heap of religiosity.

In 1929, Bonhoeffer then returned to the University of Berlin to work on habilitation thesis titled Act and Being, in which he traced the influence of transcendental philosophy on Protestant and Catholic theologies.

[edit] Bonhoeffer in Harlem

Still too young to be ordained, Bonhoeffer went to the United States in 1930 for postgraduate study and a teaching fellowship at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Bonhoeffer found the American seminary not up to his exacting German standards ("There is no theology here.")[4], but he had life-changing experiences and friendships. He studied under Reinhold Niebuhr and met Frank Fisher, a black fellow seminarian who introduced him to Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, where he taught a Sunday school and formed a life-long love for African-American spiritual, a collection of which he took back to Germany. He heard Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. preach the Gospel of Social Justice and became sensitive to social injustices experienced by minorities and the ineptness of the church to bring about integration.[6] He began to see things "from below", from the perspective of those who suffer oppression. He observed, "Here one can truly speak and hear about sin and grace and the love of God...the Black Christ is preached with rapturous passion and vision." Later Bonhoeffer was to refer to his impressions abroad as the point at which "I turned from phraseology to reality." [4] He also learned to drive an automobile although he failed the driving test three times.[7] He traveled by car through the United States to Mexico, where he was invited to speak on the subject of peace. His early visits to Italy, Libya, Spain, United States, Mexico, and Cuba opened Bonhoeffer to ecumenism.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on a weekend getaway with confirmands of Zion's Church congregation (1932)[8]

After his return from America in 1931, Bonhoeffer became a lecturer of systematic theology at the University of Berlin. Deeply interested in ecumenism, he was appointed by the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches (a forerunner of the World Council of Churches) as one of their three European youth secretaries. At this time he seems to have undergone something of a personal conversion from a theologian primarily attracted to the intellectual side of Christianity to a dedicated man of faith, resolved to carry out the teaching of Christ as he found it revealed in the Gospels.[5] In November 15, 1931, he was ordained at the old-Prussian united St. Matthew's Church (German: St. Matthäikirche) in Berlin at the age of 25.

[edit] Confessing Church

Bonhoeffer's promising academic and ecclesiastical career was dramatically altered with Nazi ascension to power on January 30, 1933. He was a determined opponent of the regime from its first days. Two days after Hitler was installed as Chancellor, Bonhoeffer delivered a radio address attacking Hitler, in which he warned Germany against slipping into an idolatrous cult of the Führer (leader), who could very well turn out to be Verführer (mis-leader, or seducer). He was cut off the air in the middle of a sentence.[9] In April, he raised the first and virtually lone voice for church resistance to Hitler's persecution of Jews when he declared that the church must not simply "bandage the victims under the wheel, but jam the spoke in the wheel itself." [10] Bonhoeffer then put all his efforts in campaigning for the election of presbyters and synodals in July, which Hitler had unconstitutionally imposed onto all German Protestant church bodies.

Even before Nazi seizure of power, there had been struggle within the Evangelical Church of the old Prussian Church between nationalistic German Christian movement and Young Reformers in the constitutional church election in November 1932, which now threatened to explode into schism. Despite Bonhoeffer's efforts, an overwhelming majority of Nazi-supported German Christians won key church positions in the rigged July election.[11] The German Christians won a majority within the general synod of the Evangelical Church of the old-Prussian Union and within its provincial synods - except of the one of Westphalia - as well as in many synods of other Protestant church bodies, except of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria right of the river Rhine, the Evangelical Lutheran State Church of Hanover, and the Lutheran Evangelical State Church in Württemberg, which the opposition thus regarded as uncorrupted "intact churches", as opposed to the other than so-called "destroyed churches".

Bonhoeffer urged an interdict upon all pastoral services (baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc.) in opposition to Nazification, but Barth and others advised against such a radical proposal.[12]

In August 1933, Bonhoeffer and Hermann Sasse were deputed by opposition church leaders to draft the Bethel Confession, a new statement of faith in opposition to the German Christians. Notable for affirming God's faithfulness to Jews as His chosen people, the Bethel Confession was however so watered down to make it more palatable that later Bonhoeffer himself refused to sign. In September 1933, Bonhoeffer helped form the Pfarrernotbund with his colleague Martin Niemöller, a forerunner to the Confessing Church that was to be organized in May 1934 at Barmen in opposition to the Nazi-supported German Christian movement.[13]

The Confessing Church was not large, but it represented a major source of Christian opposition to the Nazi government. The Barmen Declaration, drafted by Karl Barth and adopted by the Confessing Church, insisted that Christ, not the Führer, was the head of the church. However, most streamlined Protestant church bodies and the newly established Nazi-submissive German Evangelical Church, shaped by long traditions of nationalism and obedience to state authority in their functions as state churches (until 1918), for the most part acquiesced to Nazification of the church. In September 1933, the church Aryan paragraph prohibiting non-Aryans from taking parish posts was approved by the national church synod at Wittenberg. When Bonhoeffer was offered such a post in eastern Berlin, he refused it in protest of the racist policy.[14]

[edit] London ministry

Disheartened by the German Churches' complacency with the Nazi regime, 27-year-old Bonhoeffer accepted in the autumn of 1933 a two-year appointment as a pastor of two German-speaking Protestant churches in London, St. Paul's and Sydenham. He explained to Barth that he found little support for his views, even among friends, and that "it was about time to go for a while into the desert", but Barth regarded this as running away from real battle. He sharply rebuked Bonhoeffer that "I can only reply to all the reasons and excuses which you put forward: 'And what of the German Church?'" Barth accused him of abandoning his post and wasting his "splendid theological armory" while "the house of your church is on fire" and chided him to return to Berlin "by the next ship." [15] Bonhoeffer however did not go to England simply to avoid trouble at home, but he hoped to use ecumenical movement in the interest of the Confessing Church. He continued his involvement with Confessing Church, running up a staggeringly high telephone bill to maintain his contact with Niemöller. In the international gatherings, he rallied people to an opposition to German Christian movement and its attempt to amalgamate Nazi racism with the Christian gospel. Bishop Theodor Heckel, the official in charge of German Evangelical Church foreign affairs, traveled to London to warn Bonhoeffer to abstain from any ecumenical activity not directly authorized by Berlin. Bonhoeffer refused.[16]

[edit] Finkenwalde Seminary

In 1935, Bonhoeffer was presented with a much-sought after opportunity to study non-violent resistance under Gandhi in his ashram, but perhaps remembering Barth's rebuke, he decided to return to Germany in order to head an underground seminary for training Confessing Church pastors in Finkenwalde. As the Nazi suppression of the Confessing Church intensified, Barth was driven back to Switzerland in 1935, Martin Niemöller was arrested in July 1937 and Bonhoeffer's authorization to teach at the University of Berlin was revoked in August 1936 after he was denounced as "pacifist and enemy of the state" by Theodor Heckel.

Bonhoeffer's efforts for the underground seminaries included securing necessary funds, and he found a great benefactor in Ruth von Kleist-Retzow. In times of trouble, his former students and their wives would take refuge in her Pomeranian estate and Bonhoeffer himself was a frequent guest. Later he would fall in love with Kleist-Retzow's granddaughter Maria von Wedemeyer, to whom he was engaged three months before his arrest. By August 1937, Himmler decreed the education and examination of Confessing ministry candidates illegal. In September 1937, the Gestapo closed the seminary at Finkenwalde and by November arrested 27 pastors and former students. It was around this time that Bonhoeffer published his best-known book, The Cost of Discipleship, a study on the Sermon on the Mount in which he attacked "cheap grace" as a cover for ethical laxity and preached "costly grace".

Bonhoeffer spent the next two years secretly travelling from one eastern German village to another to conduct "seminary on the run" supervising of his students, most of whom were working illegally in small parishes. The von Blumenthal family hosted the seminary in its estate of Gross Schlönwitz). The pastors of Groß Schlönwitz and neighbouring villages supported the education by employing and housing the students as vicars in their congregations.[17]

In summer 1939 the seminary could move to Sigurdshof, an outlying estate (Vorwerk) of von Kleist family in Wendisch Tychow. There the Gestapo shut down the seminary after the outbreak of World War II in March 1940.[17] His monastic communal life and teaching at Finkenwalde seminary formed the basis of his books The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together. In 1938, the Gestapo banned him from Berlin.

His sister Sabine, her Jewish-classified husband Gerhard Leibholz, and two daughters escaped to England by way of Switzerland in September.[18]

[edit] Return to the United States

In February 1938, Bonhoeffer made an initial contact with members of German Resistance when his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi introduced him to a group seeking Hitler's overthrow at Abwehr, German military intelligence. Bonhoeffer also learned from Dohnanyi that war was imminent. He was particularly troubled by the prospect of his call-up. As a committed pacifist opposed to Nazi regime, he could never swear an oath to Hitler and fight in his army, which was potentially a capital offence. Yet he was also worried about consequence of refusing military service for Confessing Church, a move that would be frowned upon by most Christians and their churches at the time.[16]

It was at this juncture that Bonhoeffer left for the United States in June 1939 at the invitation of Union Theological Seminary in New York. Amid much inner turmoil, he soon regretted his decision despite strong pressures from his friends to stay in the U.S. He wrote to Reinhold Niebuhr: "I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people... Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security." [19] He returned to Germany on the last scheduled steamer to cross the Atlantic.[20]

[edit] Double agent of Abwehr

Back in Germany, Bonhoeffer was further harassed by the Nazi authorities as he was forbidden to speak in public and was required to regularly report his activities to the police in 1940. In 1941, he was forbidden to print or to publish. In the meantime, Bonhoeffer, an avowed pacifist and pastor, joined the Abwehr (a German military intelligence organization) which was also the center of the anti-Hitler resistance. Bonhoeffer advocated Hitler's assassination and knew about various 1943 plots against Hitler through Dohnanyi, who was actively involved in the planning. In the face of Nazi atrocities, the full scale of which he learned through the Abwehr, Bonhoeffer concluded that "the ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live." [21] He did not justify his action but accepted that he was taking guilt upon himself as he wrote "when a man takes guilt upon himself in responsibility, he imputes his guilt to himself and no one else. He answers for it...Before other men he is justified by dire necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience, but before God he hopes only for grace." [22] (In this connection, it is worthwhile to recall his 1932 sermon, in which he said: “the blood of martyrs might once again be demanded, but this blood, if we really have the courage and loyalty to shed it, will not be innocent, shining like that of the first witnesses for the faith. On our blood lies heavy guilt, the guilt of the unprofitable servant who is cast into outer darkness.” [23])

Under cover of Abwehr, he served as a courier for the German resistance movement to reveal its existence and intentions and secure possible peace terms for post-Hitler government with the Allies through his ecumenical contacts abroad. His visits to Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland were camouflaged as legitimate intelligence activities for Abwehr. In May 1942, he met Anglican Bishop George Bell of Chichester, member of the House of Lords and ally of Confessing Church, consulted by Bonhoeffer's exiled brother-in-law Leibholz, through whom feelers were sent to Anthony Eden, then British foreign minister. However, British government ignored these, like all other approaches from German resistance[24]. Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer were also involved in Abwehr operation to help German Jews escape to Switzerland. It was during this time that Bonhoeffer worked on Ethics and wrote letters to keep up the spirits of his former students. He intended Ethics as his magnum opus, but it remained unfinished due to his arrest.

[edit] Arrest

On April 6, 1943, Bonhoeffer and Dohnanyi were arrested not because of their conspiracy but because of long-standing rivalry between SS and Abwehr for intelligence fiefdom. One of the informers of Abwehr, Wilhelm Schmidhuber, was arrested by the Gestapo for involvement in a private currency affair. In the subsequent investigations the Gestapo uncovered Dohnanyi's operation in which 14 Jews were sent to Switzerland ostensibly as Abwehr agents and large sums in foreign currency were paid to them as compensation for confiscated properties. The Gestapo, which had been looking for any dirt to discredit Abwehr, sensed that they had a corruption case against Dohnanyi and searched his office at Abwehr, where they discovered notes revealing Bonhoeffer's foreign contacts and other documents related to the anti-Hitler conspiracy. One of them was a note that discussed plans for a journey by Bonhoeffer to Rome, where he would explain to church leaders why the assassination attempts on Hitler in March 1943 had failed.[25] Nevertheless, Bonhoeffer's involvement in assassination plots was not known by the Gestapo as Abwehr succeeded in explaining away the most damning documents as official coded Military Intelligence materials. Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer were, however, suspected of subverting Nazi policy toward Jews and misusing Abwehr for inappropriate purposes. Bonhoeffer was, for instance, suspected of evading military call-up, using Abwehr to circumvent Gestapo injunction against public speaking and staying in Berlin, using Abwehr to further Confessing Church works, etc.

[edit] Imprisonment

For a year and a half, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned at Tegel military prison while awaiting trial. There he continued his work in religious outreach among his fellow prisoners and guards. Sympathetic guards helped smuggle his letters out of prison to Eberhard Bethge and others, and these uncensored letters were posthumously published in Letters and Papers from Prison. A guard named Corporal Knobloch even offered to help him escape from the prison and "disappear" with him, and plans were made for that end. But Bonhoeffer declined it fearing Nazi retribution on his family, especially his brother and brother-in-law, who were then also imprisoned.[26]

Flossenbürg concentration camp, Arrestblock-Hof: Memorial to members of German resistance executed on April 9, 1945

After the failure of the July 20 Plot on Hitler's life in 1944 and the discovery of secret Abwehr documents relating to the conspiracy by the Gestapo in September 1944, Bonhoeffer's connections with the conspirators were discovered. He was transferred from the military prison in Berlin Tegel, where he had been held for 18 months, to the detention cellar of the house prison of the Reich Security Head Office, the Gestapo's high security prison. In February 1945, he was secretly moved to Buchenwald concentration camp, and finally to Flossenbürg.[27]

On April 4, 1945, the diaries of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of Abwehr, were discovered and in a rage upon reading them Hitler ordered that the Abwehr conspirators be destroyed.[28] Bonhoeffer was led away just as he concluded his final Sunday service and asked an English prisoner Payne Best to remember him to Bishop George Bell of Chichester if he should ever reach his home: "This is the end — for me the beginning of life." [29]

[edit] Execution

Bonhoeffer was condemned to death on April 8, 1945, by SS judge Otto Thorbeck at a drumhead court-martial without witnesses, records of proceedings or a defence in Flossenbürg concentration camp.[30] He was executed there by hanging at dawn on April 9, 1945, just three weeks before the Soviet capture of Berlin and a month before the capitulation of Nazi Germany. Like other executions associated with the July 20 Plot, the execution was particularly brutal. Bonhoeffer was stripped of his clothing and led naked into the execution yard, where he was hanged with thin wire for strangulation. Hanged with Bonhoeffer were fellow conspirators Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Canaris' deputy General Hans Oster, military jurist General Karl Sack, General Friedrich von Rabenau[31], businessman Theodor Strünck, and German resistance (anti-Nazi) fighter Ludwig Gehre. Bonhoeffer's brother, Klaus Bonhoeffer, and his brothers-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi and Rüdiger Schleicher were executed elsewhere later in the month.

The camp doctor who witnessed the execution wrote: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer ... kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” [29]

[edit] Legacy

Gallery of 20th Century Martyrs at Westminster Abbey. From left, Mother Elizabeth of Russia, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero and Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer is commemorated as a theologian and martyr by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Church of England, the Church in Wales and the Episcopal Church (USA).

Bonhoeffer's life as a pastor and theologian of great intellect and spirituality who lived as he preached and his martyrdom in opposition to Nazism exerted great influence and inspiration for Christians across broad denominations and ideologies including figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Overshadowed by his life and death, his theology has nevertheless remained very influential although interpretations are necessarily often based on speculations and projections. Because of its unsystematic and fragmentary nature due to his early death, his theology was subject to diverse and often contradictory interpretations. His Christocentric approach appealed to conservative, confession-minded Protestants while his commitment to social justice as a cardinal responsibility of Christianity appealed to liberal Protestants.

Central to his theology is Christ, in whom God and the world are reconciled. Bonhoeffer's God is a suffering God, whose manifestation is found in this-worldliness. He believed that the Incarnation of God in flesh made it unacceptable to speak of God and the world "in terms of two spheres," an implicit attack upon Luther's doctrine of the two kingdoms. Bonhoeffer stressed personal and collective piety and revived the idea of imitation of Christ. He argued that Christians should not retreat from the world, but have a duty to act within it. He believed that two elements were constitutive of faith: the implementation of justice and the acceptance of divine suffering.[32] He insisted that the church, like the Christians, "had to share in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world" if it were to be a true church of Christ.

In his prison letters, Bonhoeffer also raised tantalizing questions about the role of Christianity and the church in a "world come of age", where human beings no longer need a metaphysical God as a stop-gap to human limitations, and mused about the emergence of a "religionless Christianity", where God would be unclouded from metaphysical constructions of the last 1900 years. Influenced by Barth's distinction between faith and religion, he had a critical view of the phenomenon of religion and asserted that revelation abolished religion (which he called the "garment" of faith). Bonhoeffer, who witnessed the complete failure of the German Protestant church as an institution in the face of Nazism, saw this challenge as an opportunity of renewal for Christianity.

Years after Bonhoeffer's death, some Protestant thinkers developed his critique into a thoroughgoing attack against traditional Christianity in the "Death of God" movement, which briefly attracted the attention of the mainstream culture in the mid-1960s. However, some critics, such as Jacques Ellul and others, have charged that those radical interpretations of Bonhoeffer's insights amount to a grave distortion, that Bonhoeffer did not mean to say that God no longer had anything to do with humanity and had become a mere cultural artifact. More recent Bonhoeffer interpretation is more cautious in this regard, respecting the parameters of the neo-orthodox school to which he belonged.

[edit] Works by Bonhoeffer

English translations of Bonhoeffer's works, most of which were originally written in German, are available:

This first volume in the Fortress Press critical edition of Bonhoeffer's work gathers his earliest letters and journals 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, a 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 particularly in the church. Along with explaining his early positions on sin, evil, solidarity, collective spirit, and collective guilt, it unfolds a systematic theology of the Spirit at work in the church and what it implies for questions on authority, freedom, ritual, and eschatology.
Bonhoeffer’s second dissertation, written in 1929–30 and published in 1931 as Akt und Sein, deals with the consciousness and conscience in theology from the perspective of the Reformation's insight into the origin sinfulness in the “heart turned in upon itself and thus open neither to the revelation of God nor to the encounter with the neighbor.” Bonhoeffer’s thoughts about power, revelation, Otherness, theological method, and theological anthropology are explained.
  • 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, lectures given at the University of Berlin in 1932–33 during the demise of the Weimar Republic and the birth of the Third Reich. In a 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 San Francisco 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 San Francisco 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.
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.
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). Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson, editors. Harper San Francisco 1995 2nd edition, paperback: ISBN 0-06-064214-9
  • Von guten Mächten: "By Gracious Powers," a prayer he wrote shortly before his death. Various English translations. [2]

[edit] Works about Bonhoeffer

  • Books
    • Non-fiction
      • Gillian Court, Heart of Flesh: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a study in Christian prophecy (Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, 2007). ISBN 0-85169-330-x
      • Keith Clements, Bonhoeffer and Britain (Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, 2006). ISBN 0 85169 307 5
      • Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologian, Christian, Man for His Times: A Biography Rev. ed. (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2000).
      • Craig J. Slane, Bonhoeffer as Martyr: Social Responsibility and Modern Christian Commitment (Brazos Press, 2004).
      • 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
      • Audrey Constant, No Compromise: The story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Faith in action series. ISBN 0 08-029272-0 (non net) ISBN 0 08-029273-9 (net)
    • Fiction
      • Daniel Jándula, El Reo (Tarragona: Ediciones Noufront, 2009). ISBN 13-978-84-937017-0-3
      • Denise Giardina, Saints and Villains (Ballantine Books, 1999). ISBN 0-449-00427-9. A Fictional Account of Bonhoeffer's life.
      • Mary Glazener, The Cup of Wrath: A Novel Based on Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Resistance to Hitler (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 1996). ISBN 1-57312-019-7.
      • George Mackay Brown, Magnus (Hogarth Press, 1973) A novel in which the imprisoned 10th century Orcadian saint Magnus Erlendsson is transformed into Bonhoeffer.
  • Films
  • Plays
    • Bonhoeffer - a Finnish monologue play written and performed by Timo Kankainen and directed by Eija-Irmeli Lahti, premiered in January 2008 at the Seinäjoki city theatre.
    • Personal Honor: Suggested by the Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer - written by Nancy Axelrad and performed by the Ricks-Weil Theatre Company (directed by Thom Johnson), premiered May 1, 2009 at the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts in Greenfield, Indiana.
  • Audio Drama
    • Focus on the Family Radio Theatre created an audio drama on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1997.[33] Titled "Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Freedom", this three-hour series was highly acclaimed and received a Peabody award for broadcast excellence in 1998. (Tyndale, 1997, 1999, 2007)
  • Verse about Bonhoeffer
  • Opera
  • Art (Iconography)

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ very roughly, DEE-trish BOAN-Heffer
  2. ^ "Dietrich Bonhoeffer Biography". Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  3. ^ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Testament to Freedom, ed. Geffrey B. Kelly, p6
  4. ^ a b c David Ford, The Modern Theologians, p45
  5. ^ a b Michael Balfour, Withstanding Hitler, p216
  6. ^ PBS: Bonhoeffer Timeline
  7. ^ Christian History, Issue 32, "Bonhoeffer: Did You Know?"
  8. ^ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pfarrer, Berlin-Charlottenburg 9, Marienburger Allee 43: Begleitheft zur Ausstellung, corr. a. ext. ed., Kuratorium Bonhoeffer Haus (ed.), Berlin: Erinnerungs- und Begegnungsstätte Bonhoeffer Haus, ²1996, pp. 31 and 33. No ISBN.
  9. ^ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Testament to Freedom, ed. Geffrey B. Kelly, p5
  10. ^ David Ford, The Modern Theologians, p38
  11. ^ Elizabeth Raum, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p72
  12. ^ Faith and Theology: Ten theses on Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  13. ^ David Ford, The Modern Theologians, p47
  14. ^ United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, "Dietrich Bonhoeffer"
  15. ^ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works: London 1933-1935, p40
  16. ^ a b Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Testament to Freedom, ed. Geffrey B. Kelly, p19
  17. ^ a b Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pfarrer, Berlin-Charlottenburg 9, Marienburger Allee 43: Begleitheft zur Ausstellung, corr. a. ext. ed., Kuratorium Bonhoeffer Haus (ed.), Berlin: Erinnerungs- und Begegnungsstätte Bonhoeffer Haus, ²1996, p. 51. No ISBN.
  18. ^ PBS Bonhoeffer: Timeline
  19. ^ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Eine Biographie, p736
  20. ^ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Testament to Freedom, ed. Geffrey B. Kelly, p35
  21. ^ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "After Ten Years"
  22. ^ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, p244
  23. ^ Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography, 1975, p155
  24. ^ Slack, "George Bell", SCM, 1971, pp 93-4
  25. ^ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works: Conspiracy and Imprisonment, p14
  26. ^ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Testament to Freedom, ed. Geffrey B. Kelly, p43
  27. ^ Photographs of the Flossenbürg concentration camp in April 1945 are available at,, and
  28. ^ Joachim Fest (1994). Plotting Hitler's Death: The German Resistance to Hitler, 1933-1945. Weidenfield & Nicholson. ISBN 0-297-81774-4. 
  29. ^ a b Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography, p. 927
  30. ^ Peter Hoffman (1996). The History of the German Resistance, 1933-1945. McGill-Queen’s Press. ISBN 0-77-3515313. 
  31. ^ [1]
  32. ^ Edward Craig, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, p835
  33. ^ - Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Freedom - Home

[edit] External links

NAMEBonhoeffer, Dietrich
SHORT DESCRIPTIONGerman theologian, pacifist
DATE OF BIRTHFebruary 4, 1906
DATE OF DEATHApril 9, 1945
PLACE OF DEATHFlossenbürg concentration camp


Faith (for Content): 
Other Tags: