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“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear … Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now.”

“I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.”

by Wendy Murray | 14 Feb 2017 

Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging, at age 39, in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945. He and a small but fierce contingent of devoted Protestants actively resisted the Nazi encroachment on both church and state.

His writings have influenced subsequent generations who struggle with the role of Christian devotion in a hostile culture. “The Cost of Discipleship,” a modern classic, is widely known for Bonhoeffer’s haunting statement: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die.”

“When Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die.”

What is not as readily known is that he possessed an amorous side, loving a woman named Maria von Wedemeyer to whom he became engaged in January 1943, when Bonhoeffer was 36 years old (and von Wedemeyer 18). He would be arrested by the Gestapo three months later.

During the two short years of his engagement to von Wedemeyer, and what ended up being the last two years of his life (1943-1945), the two exchanged letters that were both amorous and wrenching. Published for the first time in 1995 as “Love Letters from Cell 92” and edited by Ruth-Alice von Bismarck and Ulrich Kabitz (Abingdon), this intimate correspondence revealed a side of Bonhoeffer that is generally not known:

“Wait with me, I beg you! Let me embrace you long and tenderly, let me kiss you and love you and stroke the sorrow from your brow.”

These sentiments — and more sentiments like them — highlight the little-known, amorous side of Bonhoeffer’s testimony. He loved this young woman and longed for her, and she for him. The tenderness and optimism behind this collection of letters causes the reader to languish with the pair as week after week, into months, into years, the couple anticipates the time when they will sit together on the couch at Patzig (her family’s estate) and hold hands.

The reader also knows the tragic ending to this tale, while the writers themselves do not. (Bonhoeffer would be executed in April 1945, only weeks before Hitler killed himself and the Germans surrendered.) A constant theme echoes throughout: “Don’t get tired and depressed, my dearest Dietrich, it won’t be much longer now.”

Maria von Wedemeyer entrusted this collection of letters to her sister, Ruth-Alice von Bismarck, just before her death in 1977. For years before that, von Wedemeyer would not allow the letters to be published. Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer’s close friend and biographer, wrote in the postscript: “I had resigned myself to never seeing this correspondence.”

For the rest of the post…

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After his death (Grandfather Karl Alfred von Hase), Hans von Hase (1873-1958), the elder brother of Bonhoeffer’s mother, officiated as family pastor as occasions like weddings and baptisms. The parsonages where he lived, first in Silesia and then in the eastern countryside of Brandenburg, the so-called Mark-Brandenburg, now part of Poland, made the church and its ministry come alive for young Dietrich. Because of the numerous cousins and its farm, the rural parsonage was a paradise for holidays during and after the First World War.

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 8.

Grandfather Karl Alfred von Hase died on New Year’s Day 1914. The Bonhoeffers no longer lived in Breslau, but the progressive stages of his cancer were not hidden from the grandchildren. The reports that their grandfather had continued his work until it was not longer possible left a last impression on them.

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 8.

Karl August von Hase (Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s grandfather) was interested in the early dialectical theologian Christoph Blumhardt and visited him at Bad Boll.

(Christoph Blumhardt)

Following the invasion of France in the years 1870-1871, he became a division chaplain in Hannover and, in 1876, was made senior military chaplain in Königsberg.

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 7.

Today, I attended a “Iron Sharpens Iron” men’s conference in Bellevue, Nebraska. It was a great day! And one of the speakers quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Sin demands to have a man by himself. …The more isolated a person is, the more destructive…the power of sin [is] over him…”

The great-grandfather (Karl August von Hase) was a very successful theological teacher and writer; his books went through many edition. Hutterus Redivivus, a textbook on the history of dogma, was still a respected examination aid during Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s time as a student. 

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 6.

The social life in the Bonhoeffer home left its mark in the lively style to which Clara von Hase (Dietrich’s grandmother on his mother’s side) accustomed Dietrich’s mother. The Thuringian branch of the family was amazed at the staff of servants that was necessary when Clara and her daughters came to visit. Her children learned to enhance parties with effortless performances.

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 4. 

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