He was all of these things, and more. The life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer provides us with an amazingly clear glimpse into the mind of a Christian who was faced with an impossible decision: to whom is loyalty due, Fuhrer or Christ?
Bonhoeffer watched as fellow pastors and theologians bent their knees and proclaimed absolute loyalty to Adolph Hitler, and as the resistance of the church to the Reich in Germany gradually eroded, Bonhoeffer realized he could not stand by and do nothing. Given the opportunity by a brother-in-law who was an officer of the German military intelligence, the Abwehr, Bonhoeffer agreed to participate in the conspiracy that attempted multiple assassination and coup plots against Hitler.
Ultimately, Bonhoeffer never attempted to justify his actions or the violence that the conspiracy planned. Instead, he accepted that his actions were condemned and only the grace of God could ever undue their power. He accepted the possibility of his own damnation in the hopes that millions could be spared the wrath of the mad dictator at the helm of his country.
In the end, the plots failed and Bonhoeffer was imprisoned. For two and a half years he stayed in a series of Gestapo prisons and concentration camps awaiting the final verdict until that fateful April morning when he was marched naked to the gallows and executed.
Bonhoeffer was many things, but his legacy continues to this day. His life and theology unlocks a dimension of Christianity that many assumed had been forgotten to the ancient past: martyrdom. Yet he was not simply a passive martyr that unquestioningly accepted his fate; he stood up for what he felt was right even though he could not justify his own actions.