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A New Year and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (From Brett’s Blog a Year Ago)

January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

In the last week, I’ve been introduced to Dietrich Bonhoeffer two different times. First, I enjoyed Public Radio’s interview with documentary filmmaker Martin Doblmeier. He explored Bonhoeffer’s legacy as a theologian–a legacy that took on another dimension when he was imprisoned and executed for participating in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

Then, my girlfriend’s brother and sister-in-law got me a compilation of his writings for Christmas.

I appreciate Bonhoeffer’s unshaken voice of faith and optimism in spite of the holocaust that surrounded him and the execution that awaited him.

And so I’ll end 2007 with these words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Surrounded by good powers, faithful and still,
wonderfully protected and comforted–
in this way I want to live these days with you
and go with you into a new year…

Wonderfully secured by good powers,
we confidently await what may come.
God is with us in the evening and the morning,
and most certainly in each new day.

Let’s continue the subject of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Valkyrie. This is from the Jewish Virtual Library

Operation Valkyrie and the July Plot to Assassinate Hitler

(July 20, 1944)

At the end of 1943 the Schutz Staffeinel (SS) and the Gestapo managed to arrest several Germans involved in plotting to overthrow Adolf Hitler. This included Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Klaus Bonhoeffer, Josef Mueller and Hans Dohnanyi. Others under suspicion like Wilhelm Canaris and Hans Oster were dismissed from office in January, 1944.

Major Claus von Stauffenberg now emerged as the leader of the group opposed to Nazi rule. In 1942, he decided to kill Adolf Hitler. He was joined by Wilhelm Canaris,Carl Goerdeler, Julius Leber, Ulrich Hassell, Hans Oster, Peter von Wartenburg, Henning von Tresckow, Friedrich Olbricht, Werner von Haeften, Fabian Schlabrendorft, Ludwig Beck and Erwin von Witzleben.

The plot was developed as a modification of Operation Valkyrie (Unternehmen Walküre), which was approved by Hitler for use if Allied bombing of German cities or an uprising of forced laborers from occupied countries working in German factories resulted in a breakdown in law and order. Members of the Reserve Army, including members of the Kreisau Circle, modified the plan and decided to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler. Afterward, they planned for troops in Berlin to seize key government buildings, telephone and signal centers and radio stations. Hitler’s death was required to free German soldiers from their oath of loyalty to him. Operation Valkyrie was meant to give the plotters control over the government so they could make peace with the Allies and end the war.

At least six attempts were aborted before Claus von Stauffenberg decided on trying again during a conference attended by Hitler on July 20, 1944. It was decided to drop plans to kill Goering and Himmler at the same time. Stauffenberg, who had never met Hitler before, carried the bomb in a briefcase and placed it on the floor while he left to make a phone-call. The bomb exploded killing four men in the hut. Hitler’s right arm was badly injured but he survived the bomb blast.

The plan was for Ludwig Beck, Erwin von Witzleben and Friedrich Fromm to take control of the German Army. The coup failed in part because they delayed implementing the plan until official confirmation of Hitler’s death could be received. When they learned that Hitler had survived, Valkyrie was not put in effect.

In an attempt to protect himself, Fromm organized the execution of Claus von Stauffenberg along with two other conspirators, Friedrich Olbricht and Werner von Haeften, in the courtyard of the War Ministry. It was later reported the Stauffenberg died shouting “Long live holy Germany”.

As a result of the July Plot, the new chief of staff, Heinz Guderian demanded the resignation of any officer who did not fully support the ideals of the Nazi Party. Over the next few months Guderian sat with Gerd von Rundstedt and Wilhelm Keitel on the Army Court of Honor that expelled hundreds of officers suspected of being opposed to the policies of Adolf Hitler. This removed them from court martial jurisdiction and turned them over to Roland Freisler and his People’s Court.

Over the next few months most of the group, including Wilhelm Canaris, Carl Goerdeler, Julius Leber, Ulrich Hassell, Hans Oster, Peter von Wartenburg, Henning von Tresckow, Ludwig Beck, Erwin von Witzleben and Friedrich Fromm, were either executed or committed suicide.

It is etimated that 4,980 Germans were executed after the July Plot. Hitler decided that the leaders should have a slow death. They were hung with piano wire from meat-hooks. Their executions were filmed and later shown to senior members of both the NSDAP and the armed forces.

Sources: Spartacus Educational; Wikipedia

Though there’s no mention of Bonhoeffer’s part in the plot to kill Hitler, it’s a well acted movie and shows, quite truthfully, that some very high placed Germans were not Hitler-ites.  Yes, go see it.

See Post

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Man of Vision, Man of Courage
By Eberhard Bethge
Translated from the German by Eric Mosbacher, Peter and Betty Ross, Frank Clarke, William Glen-Doepel
Edited by Edwin Robertson
867 pp. New York, Harper and Row, 1970. $17.95.

Here, at last, is Bethge’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer in English. It is definitive, comprehensive, gripping, and comprehensible–or as close as one

486 – Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Man of Vision, Man of Courage

can get to comprehending that incomprehensible time and this man’s life and work in it.

As Bonhoeffer’s student, friend, kinsman, ally, and posthumous editor, Bethge was, of course, uniquely qualified to write about him-and yet one must marvel at his ability to re-create circumstances, events, atmosphere, people, and the drama of it all. He has, in this tome, written one of the best books about the period, as well as the authoritative biography of Bonhoeffer.

It is a long book and has taken three years and five translators and an editor to produce. Since abridgment has been made, and the editor should surely have stated this somewhere, as well as the principles on which cuts and condensations were made-ideally, of course, also where, for only this information would signal to a user who might want to do so where to look for missing matter in the original.

Take some minor omissions: for example, the young Bonhoeffer’s diary entry after attending a Mass at Montmartre (p. 132 of the German original, missing from p. 70 of the English version), or the episode of the highly political sermon on the Golden Calf and the “church of Aaron” (p. 333 in the original and nothing, not even a reference to the text in the Gesammelte Schriften, on p. 215 of the English version), or Bethge’s terse but telling comment on the syllabus at the Finkenwalde seminary (about which the English version merely tells us that Bonhoeffer drew it up “to meet the demands of the moment” [p. 428, cf. the German p. 588]). It is in such small cuts that the reader is deprived of clues to Bonhoeffer’s theology, his preaching, and his teaching.

It is a pity, for this is, after all, a book for serious readers; and they also need to know that the translation, though not bad by prevailing standards, is not always reliable. The lapses range from the relatively harmless (though irritating) to the misleading, even to reversals of meaning. Any serious user of the book should try to check back to the original, especially in cases of quotation. Lots of “little” things are apt to go wrong.

Even an apparently quite minor deviation in the English may misinform the reader, for instance, on an aspect of the family constellation the background of young Dietrich’s decision to become a theologian, and of his abiding interest in unbelievers. When the mother and children celebrated occasions like Christmas and New Year’s Eve with Bible and hymn, the father, an open-minded agnostic (and an eminent psychiatrist), was always present, “as usual setting an example of how the feelings of others should be shared and respected,” Bethge writes, and the translation continues, “When his father said, ‘I understand nothing of that,’ he might do so in a tone of condescending humour, but he always betrayed a trace

487 – Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Man of Vision, Man of Courage

of his awareness of the inadequacy of human reason-and thus revealed a slightly shamefaced solidarity” (p. 21). “Shamefaced solidarity?” On the contrary: “etwas beschämend Solidarisches” (p. 60 of the original); that is, the father, by his respect, sympathy, and solidarity, shamed these Christians into reciprocity. Unfortunately a detailed description of the father at work is among the unannounced cuts (pp. 638-9 of the German original).

Here is the book that must be the basis of all discussions of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and what he stood for and what he meant and what he may mean for our times-be it in theology or ethics or politics. From now on there will be no excuse for the misuse of the name of Bonhoeffer for the fanciful speculations, misinterpretations, and distortions of which there has been such a profusion. Now things can be seen clearly and in their context.

They are not simple things. To achieve clarity the book had to be contextual; it had to be long; and to get away from mythology it had to incur the suspicion of hagiography.

Is it hagiography? The book is rich and liberal in detail, most of it telling detail, none of it irrelevant. And who will say-whether Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a saint or not-what detail is dispensable? His washing facilities in Barcelona might have been sacrificed (p. 70) and the Parisian Mass retained instead. But on the whole the decisions on abridgment -if there had to be such-are sensible and the main complaint is that they have not been indicated.

But what riches are left! At last we have the book that enables all who will read it to get beyond entertainment and mythology. The Bonhoeffer myth has operated, like all myths, by impoverishment. Mythologizing always works by adding fancy and taking away fact. Here, now, are the facts.

There is even a 40-page essay on “the new theology” which, read with sufficient attention and seriousness (and, alas, once more with reference to the German original and its Appendix B, notably pp. 1065-6), is most helpful, especially on the secret or “arcane” discipline. This is indeed as Bethge says, the subject generally given the least consideration; he also says (though he does not, as does the English edition, give it as a reason but rather as a consequence) that it is the subject on which there isso far-the least certainty and the most one-sidedness or imbalance of interpretation. Unfortunately once more the translation contributes to it (cf. p. 784 in the English edition, especially footnote 239, with p. 989 and footnote 237 in the original).

This early reference to the arcane discipline and to action that must at first interpret itself, came in a lecture Bonhoeffer gave in 1932. His

488 – Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Man of Vision, Man of Courage

own later actions must be taken thus and at first had to, and must still, speak for themselves. There was conspiracy and theology, plot and prayer, and a continuing concern with communion, community, communication, and the church. The theology remained “fragmentary,” but Bethge has given the greatest possible help with clarification and contextualization. Bonhoeffer’s actions-and his death on the gallows must really be allowed to speak for themselves; that is, we must listen, attentively and carefully, not with the ears of those who know the answers, but of those who owe a response, for that is what Mündigkeit means: responsibility.

Beate Ruhm Von Oppen
Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey

Recommended Reading (found on The Bonhoefferian)

Below is our initial attempt at a thematic bibliography for Bonhoeffer study. This is by no means an exhaustive list but is limited to those books that we recommend for any given aspect of Bonhoeffer studies. Where the book title is hyperlinked this will take you to a review of the book on The Bonhoefferian. Further recommendations are welcomed.


Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologian, Christian, Man for his Times: A Biography, Rev ed. Fortress, (2000).

Renate Wind, A Spoke in the Wheel: Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, SCM, (1991).

Sabine Liebholz-Bonhoeffer, The Bonhoeffers: Portrait of a Family, Covenant, (1994)

Theological Introduction

Sabine Dramm, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: An Introduction to his Thought, Hendrickson, (2007)

Geffrey B Kelly, Liberating Faith: Bonhoeffer’s Message for Today, Wipf and Stock, (2002)

Stephen Plant, Bonhoeffer, Continuum, (2004)

John D Gruchy (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Cambridge University Press, (1999).

The Reception of Bonhoeffer

Stephen Haynes, The Bonhoeffer Phenomenon: Portraits of a Protestant Saint, Fortress, (2004)

Keith W Clements, What Freedom? The Persistent Challenge of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Bristol Baptist College, (1990).

Politics and Resistance

Craig Slane, Bonhoeffer as Martyr: Social Responsibility and Modern Christian Commitment, Brazos, ( 2004)

Larry Rasmussen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Reality and Resistance, WestminsterJohn Knox, 2nd Ed., (2005)


John A Phillips, The Form of Christ in the World: A Study of Bonhoeffer’s Christology, Collins, (1967).

The Word of God/Revelation

Frits De Lange, Waiting for the Word: Dietich Bonhoeffer on Speaking About God, Eerdmans, (2000)

Religionless Christianity

Ralph K Wustenberg, A Theology of Life: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Religionless Christianity, Eerdmans, (1998)

Bonhoeffer in Dialogue with Other Theologians

Andreas Pangritz, Karl Barth in the Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eerdmans, (2000)

War and Peace

Keith W Clements, A Patriotism for Today: Love of Country in Dialogue with the Witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Collins, (1986)

Stanley Hauerwas, Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence, Brazos, (2004). Also reviewed here.

Christian Ethics

Heinz Eduard Todt, Authentic Faith: Bonhoeffer’s Theological Ethics in Context, Eerdmans, (2007)

Geffrey B Kelly and F Burton Nelson, The Cost of Moral Leadership: The Spirituality of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eerdmans, (2003).

Josiah V Young, No Difference in the Fare: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Problem of Racism, Eerdmans, (1999).


Clifford Green, Bonhoeffer: Theology of Sociality, Eerdmans, (1999).

Bonhoeffer and Christian Anti-Semitism

Stephen R Haynes, The Bonhoeffer Legacy: Post-Holocaust Perspectives, Fortress, (2006).

Here is a page from Zondervan promoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas Sermons

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas Sermons
General Editor: Edwin H. Robertson
Format: Hardcover, Jacketed
List Price: $14.99 (USD)
Or buy from a Zondervan dealer

Here you will find the complete Advent sermons of one of the most important Christian thinkers of the 20th century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Far from presenting the usual “gentle Jesus meek and mild,” they challenge the reader to think seriously about the meaning of the incarnation.   Click for product description and details
ISBN: 031025955X, ISBN-13: 9780310259558

I found this post at Smithers. From a sermon Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached on December 2, 1928:

Celebrating Advent means learning how to wait…
Not all can wait – certainly not those who are satisfied, contented, and feel that they live in the best of all possible worlds! Those who learn to wait are uneasy about their way of life, but yet have seen a vision of greatness in the world of the future and are patiently expecting its fulfillment. The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come. For these, it is enough to wait in humble fear until the Holy One himself comes down to us, God in the child in the manager. God comes. The Lord Jesus comes. Christmas comes. Christians rejoice!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was convinced that our daily time with God should be first thing in the morning. His insights are found in Meditating on the Word

Before our daily bread should be the daily Word. Only thus will be bread be received with thanksgiving. Before our daily work should be morning prayer. Only thus will work be done as the fulfilment of God’s command. The morning must yield an hour of quiet time for prayer and common devotion. That is certainly not wasted time. How else could we prepare ourselves to face the tasks, cares, and temptations of the day? (39)

Why did God create days? Is there a purpose? Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers the following insights in his book, Meditating on the Word

Each morning os a beginning of our life. Each day is a finished whole. The present day marks the boundary of our cares and concerns (Matthew 6.34, James 4.14). It is long enough to find God or to lose him, to keep faith or fall into disgrace.

God created day and night for us so we need not wander without boundaries, but may see every morning the goal of the evening ahead. Just as the ancient sun rises anew every day, so the eternal mercy of God is new every morning (Lamentations 3.23).

Every morning God gives us the gift of comprehending anew his faithfulness of old; thus, in the midst of our life with God, we daily begin a new life with him (37).

There is the temptation during our times of Scripture meditation to meditate less and read more commentaries. However Dietrich Bonhoeffer warns us not to do that in his book, Meditating on the Word

Read the same passage again and again, write down your thoughts, learn the verse by heart (indeed, you will memorize any text which has been throughly meditated upon).

But in all this we soon learn to recognize the danger of fleeing once again from meditation to Bible scholarship or the like (35).

Let us stay in the Scriptures when we meditate.

December 2008


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