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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • Pastor
  • Pacifist
  • Martyr
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) penned some of the most thoughtful spiritual writings of the last century. He grew up in a middleclass household with strong values. When he was seventeen, he began his study of theology at the University of Tübingen, later transferring to the University of Berlin. Bonhoeffer then spent a year as vicar of a church in Germany, before travelling to New York for another year of study at Union Theological Seminary in 1930. Although not overly impressed with the courses he took, the civil rights struggle of black Americans left an indelible impression on him and established for him the ties between Christianity and human rights and the responsibility of a Christian in the face of injustice. His contact with the French pastor Jean Lasserre also instilled in him the unshakable belief that the Sermon on the Mount is a fundamental guide for Christians. In 1931, Bonhoeffer returned to Germany and became an ordained minister.  Read Full Biography

Bonhoeffer became an active part of the open opposition towards Hitler and the National Socialists’ attempts to dilute the teachings of the Bible and the church. He helped found the Pastor’s Emergency League to support affected ministers. In 1933 Bonhoeffer travelled to London, where he played a fundamental role in communicating the trials that the German churches were facing to English church leaders. A year later, he returned to Germany to found a communal underground seminary, which was eventually closed down by Gestapo in 1940. Before its close, Bonhoeffer once again travelled to America at the insistence of friends who wanted to rescue him. However, Bonhoeffer’s conscience would not let him desert his people, so he returned to Germany.

Bonhoeffer was arrested in 1943 and spent the last two years of his life in several prisons and concentration camps. Many of his letters and writings were written while he was in prison and smuggled out by guards whose respect and friendship he earned. He was executed on April 9, 1945 at the age of thirty-nine, just a month before Germany’s capitulation to the Allies, for his ties to a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.

Further Reading:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Man of Conscience by Malcolm Muggeridge
Was Bonhoeffer Willing to Kill? by Charles Moore

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