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Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a circular letter to his former Finkenwalde Seminary students on August 15, May 22, 1941.  In this letter, Bonhoeffer is very pastoral in his statements. Towards the end of the letter, he wrote…

Let me close with a request. I know that some of you both on the front and at home are plagued with thoughts about your professional. Lay those thought to rest for a while. Up to this point you have been allowed to provide a good witness to our church for which our brothers are also suffering. Let us not obscure anything at this point. We need this little bit of earthly light, and we will come to need it even more. Who could possible overlook that with this war we have been given a decisive break, which we are truly not able to reconcile with our thoughts. Thus let us wait in peace.

Every letter and sign of life from you, of course, gives me and many others with me heartfelt joy…

I commend all you to the One who can protect you day and night, who can give you power in your service, who can lead you and us into his kingdom.

Greetings from your faitful

D. B.

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works: Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945, 208-209).

One such letter, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote on August 15, 1941. He began the letter by stating that some of their brothers in Christ have lost their lives fighting for Germany:

Today I must inform you that our brothers Konrad Bojak, F.A. Preub, Ulrich Nithack, and Gerhard Schulze have been killed on the eastern front.

Each man was a former student in the Finkenwalde Seminary. Later in the letter, Bonhoeffer wrote how death in life is related to the daily dying in Jesus:

In life with Jesus Christ, death as a general fate approaching us from without is confronted by death from within, one’s own death, the free death of daily dying with Jesus Christ. Those who live with Christ die daily to their own will. Christ in us gives us over to death so that he can lived within us. Thus our inner dying grows to meet that death from without. Christians receive their own death in this way, and in this way our physical death very truly becomes not the end but rather the fulfillment of our life with Jesus Christ. Here we enter into community with the One who at his own death was able to say, “It is finished.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works: Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945, 205, 208)

I will share more of this letter in my next post.

In this letter, Dietrich Bonhoeffer shared the fact that he had been banned to write and publish…

Along with several others I have now received a ban on doing any writing for publication. I now hope to be able to return to your area at the end of the summer for a few weeks to work and write there. Much encouraged by my trip, I have recently been making excellent progress in my work.

Yet it is difficult to concentrate, and soon I would like to be able to discuss with you, at some length, certain questions concerning my work…

With all good wishes for your work, in fellowship

Your Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works: Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945, 190).

On April 22, 1941, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to the Reich Chamber of Literature. In it, he protested the ban and the fine of thirty marks! Bonhoeffer received a reply that was dated May 22, 1941.  The good news was that the thirty marks was reimbursed to him. However, he still was not accepted into “Authors’ Group of the Reich Chamber of Literature”. The following statements were included…

…only those theologians who are occupants of chairs at state colleges and universities are exempted from membership in my Chamber–Authors’ Group. Furthermore, because of their overwhelming dogmatic allegiance. I cannot readily acknowledge clergy as scholars in this sense. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works: Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945, 189-190).

I think there was more to it!

Bonhoeffer’s Love Letters

The contemporary fame of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the anti-Nazi German Protestant theologian who was executed in 1945 for taking part in the plots against Hitler, rests primarily on the Letters and Papers from Prison he wrote to friends and family. In these cryptic messages, most of them smuggled out of his cell in Berlin’s Tegel Prison, Bonhoeffer outlined a new kind of secular theology for a “world come of age” that has become the axiomatic premise for post-Christian thought.

Last week a new cache of Bonhoeffer letters came to light—revealed by the woman to whom he was once engaged. She is auburn-haired Maria von Wedemeyer-Weller, 43, who came to the U.S. in 1948 on a graduate fellowship in mathematics at Bryn Mawr, and now lives near Boston, where she works as a computer systems analyst. In all, she received more than 40 letters from Bonhoeffer while he was in prison; the 38 she was able to keep when she fled East Germany during the Russian invasion have been given to Harvard’s Houghton Library, with the stipulation that they not be published without her permission during her lifetime.

In an article about Bonhoeffer in the current issue of the Union Theological Seminary quarterly review, she quotes at length from several of the letters. What they reveal is not more of Bonhoeffer the theologian but of Bonhoeffer the man—who was, Mrs. von Wedemeyer-Weller notes, “deeply in love during this important period” of his intellectual ferment.

For the rest of the article…

Actually, the exact quote was “the tyrannical despiser of men” (From Ethics, 73).

Larry L. Rasmussen wrote:

Bonhoeffer saw in Hitler’s cynicism and contempt for mankind a degradation that would ultimately would destroy civilized society itself; he saw a world view whose triumph would threaten every even minimally decent life with the same corruption that rotted the rulers (Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Reality and Resistance, 135).

On April 22, 1941, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to the Reich Chamber of Literature. In it, he protested the ban and the fine of thirty marks! In doing so, he gave reasons why the ban was not warranted. He argued, quite successfully that his writings do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Reich Chamber of Literature because scholars who write and publish in their field of expertise are exempt from registering with the Reich Chamber.

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works: Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945, 186-188).

Well, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a case in point.  When Reich Chamber of Literature banned him from writing and publishing, he received the following letter from MBK Publishers (Menshen begegbed–Bibel entdecen–Kirche gestalten meaning “Encountering human beings–discovering the Bible–shaping the church”):

Dear Pastor Bonhoeffer:

The Leizig Reich Chamber of Literature has communicated with us in a letter of March 29, 1941, that with our publication of your volume Prayerbook of the Bible, we have violated the Chamber decree, since you are not a member of the Chamber nor have you requested a certification of exemption from it.

So that you may be informed about this correspondence, we are enclosing for you: 1) the decree as to Chamber membership, i.e., official notice no. 88; and 2) our return correspondence to the Chamber, dated today. Regarding our publication of your volume, the situation appears to us to be quite clear; this is what we articulated to the chamber as well. Thus there has been no infraction committed here.

You do not need to return either the carbon copy of the letter or the official notice to us.


MBK Publishers, signed Elfriede Rattig

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works: Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945, 185-186).

Will the church in America be ready if a ban on Christian writers was ever put into law?

In a letter written to Walter Schmidt on March 31, 1941, Bonhoeffer wrote…

…On the basis of the ban on public speaking, they have now also imposed on me a ban on writing, so there is very little left of my ministry. Then one thinks particularly of those times when it was still possible to work fully, and wonders whether many possibilities were left untapped, and rejoices for all those who still carry on their work relatively unimpeded.

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works: Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945, 184).

In the last 30 minutes I have freely written on two blog sites. I have plans to get my thesis on Bonhoeffer published someday. This morning, I worked on the sermon I plan to preach this Sunday.

At least in America, for now, there is the freedom for a follower of Jesus to write and speak publicly.


In yesterday’s post, I include the statements below that tell us that the Nazis banned German pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer from speaking and writing.

I have determined that on August 22, 1940, the state police imposed on you a ban on public speaking as a result of your activity subverting the people…On the basis of the present decision you are forbidden every activity as a writer (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works: Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945, 181-182).

Can we even imagine, in America, this such a scenario taking place against Christians and pastors and theologians?  Well, it may take place some day? Will we be ready to stand up for Christ and the Word of God?

February 2011


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