The pastoral side of Dietrich Bonhoeffer can be seen in his circular letters to his former Finkenwalde students. The Preacher’s Seminary of Finkenwalde was one of the five Confessing Church seminaries.[1] Bonhoeffer was the director of the Finkenwalde seminary from 1935 to 1937.[2] In September of 1937, all the Confessing Church seminaries were closed by the Gestapo.[3]

After the seminaries were closed down, Bonhoeffer continued to correspond with “his Finkenwalde seminarians, many of whom had been conscripted into the German military. The others were serving in a variety of contexts on behalf of the Confessing Church.”[4] Bonhoeffer not only sent letters to his former students. He also mailed books to them.[5] In December of 1940, Bonhoeffer sent out “ninety such packages and letters; it seems that he had to type the letter over many times, using carbon copies to make it a bit less draining.”[6]

Pastoral ministry does involve the ministry of the Word and prayer, but a true spiritual shepherd will invest time to the sheep under his care. Bonhoeffer committed much time to not only type out letters but also to address and stamp envelops and then mail them. Mark S. Broker, the editor of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment: 1940-1945 writes:

These seven Finkenwalde circular letters are some of the most moving writings and a testimony to his pastoral sensitivity. Here we witness him caring for his seminary students in a profound way as they struggle with the challenges of living a faithful life during the war, whether on the front lines or at home. At the beginning of several of these letters, he lists the names of those who have fallen in battle and offers heartfelt reflections on their life and ministry. Although the brothers were scattered and unable to gather, it was almost as if Bonhoeffer were speaking at a memorial service for each fallen brother.[7]  

In Volume 16 of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, the seven circular letters are included.[8] These letters clearly reveal the shepherd’s heart of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Eric Metaxas writes in Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy that Bonhoeffer’s “correspondence with so many is a testament to his faithfulness as a pastor.”[9]


[1] Mark S. Brocker, ed., Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16; Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Conspiracy and Imprisonment, 1940-1945 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006), 4.

[2] Brocker, ed., Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16; Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Conspiracy and Imprisonment, 1940-1945, 4.

[3] Brocker, ed., Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16; Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Conspiracy and Imprisonment, 1940-1945, 4.

[4] Brocker, ed., Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16; Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Conspiracy and Imprisonment, 1940-1945,  7.

[5] Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 373.

[6] Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, 379.

[7] Brocker, ed., Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16; Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Conspiracy and Imprisonment, 1940-1945, 7.

[8] Brocker, ed., Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16; Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Conspiracy and Imprisonment, 1940-1945, 7.

[9] Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, 384.