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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

From 1906 to 1945

Born on February 4, 1906, in Breslau, then part of Imperial Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer began his theological education in 1923 at the University of Tübingen. He later trained under liberal theologians Adolf von Harnack and Reinhold Seeburg.

Following what he would later call a conversion experience, Bonhoeffer intensified his focus on contemporary theological problems facing the church. With the ascendancy of the Nazi party in Germany, Bonhoeffer was among the first of the German theologians to perceive the pervasiveness and significance of the looming Nazi threat.

When the pro-Nazi German Christian party won the church elections in the summer of 1933, Bonhoeffer quickly opposed the anti-Semitism of the Nazis in an important article, “The Church and the Jewish Question.” In this piece Bonhoeffer provided a seminal overview of his perspective of the church’s relationship to the state.

His framework was based on a view of the normative worldly authorities, first articulated in his doctrine of “preservation orders” in his early academic lectures and later developed in mature form in his ethics manuscripts of the early 1940s. In these latter documents, Bonhoeffer speaks of four unique and divinely instituted mandates in the world: work (or labor), marriage (or family), government, and church.

The recognition of the legitimate but limited role of government in human affairs enabled Bonhoeffer to oppose the perversion of the state represented by the National Socialists.

 Marriage is not made by the government, but is affirmed by the government. The great spheres of work are not themselves undertaken by the government, but they are subject to its supervision within certain limits—later to be described—to governmental direction. Government should never seek to become the agent of these areas of work, for this would seriously endanger their divine mandate along with its own.

Bonhoeffer’s resistance to the Nazi regime included his support for and pastoral participation in the Confessing Church along with other prominent Protestant theologians like Karl Barth and Martin Niemöller, as well as his intricate association with the broader ecumenical movement.

For the rest of the post…

On April 9, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging at the Flossenburg concentration camp.

His last recorded words were: “This is the end–for me the beginning of life.”

Bonhoeffer’s impact continues well into the twenty-first century. There are countless resources about his life and works and influence. It is never too late to learn about his life and influence. 

(A wall at Flossenburg. Perhaps Bonhoeffer was hung near it)

Now Playing | Hitler Seethes Over Germany’s Slapdown

As a vanquished foe, Germany is punished severely by the Allies at the Treaty of Versailles and undergoes a radical political shift which only intensifies Hitler’s anger and his resolve to make Germany powerful again.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer inspires his biographer to speak out for religious freedom

Posted: Saturday, February 22, 2014 6:00 am

By JO-ANN GREENE | Books Editor

Dietrich Bonhoeffer held that “silence in the face of evil is itself evil. … Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

The German theologian, martyred trying to stop Hitler, scorned “cheap grace” — faith that requires no sacrifice.

The ideals Bonhoeffer acted on profoundly impressed his biographer, a Yale-educated Manhattanite who attends an Episcopal church.

After researching Bonhoeffer’s life and times, “I found myself forced to speak out for religious freedom,” Eric Metaxas said in a telephone interview last week as he prepared for a March 12 Lancaster Literary Guild lecture.

Metaxas identifies two “hot-button issues” that he believes threaten one of this country’s most important founding principles.

One issue is the government requirement that employers pay for birth control under its new health care plan. (The Mennonite-owned Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., East Earl, challenge to the Obamacare provision, which includes abortifacients, is scheduled for a U.S. Supreme Court hearing March 25.)

“The government doesn’t care what you think about contraception: You must pay,” Metaxas says he hears the administration telling those whose religious principles ban the practice.

“That’s very creepy to me,” he adds, calling it “a dangerous precedent.”

The other issue is government action legally redefining marriage to allow for same-sex unions.

Metaxas questions whether government will allow dissent by Orthodox Jews, Muslims and conservative Christians whose religions define marriage in the traditional way.

“From what I’ve read, it’s not encouraging,” he says.

Right out of ‘Bonhoeffer’

“It’s right out of ‘Bonhoeffer,’ ” Metaxas says, referring to his book published by Thomas Nelson and subtitled “Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.” It is set in a time when “the church was bullied by the Nazis,” he notes.

For the rest of the article…

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Marion Countess Yorck Von Wartenburg, who died April 13 in Berlin at 102, was among the last survivors of the Kreisau Circle, the group of intellectuals opposed to Adolf Hitler from which sprang the attempt to kill him with a bomb in July 1944.

February 5, 2014 By 

Maria von Wedemeyer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

By Wendy Murray

Yesterday, February 4, what would have been Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s 108 birthday. A Lutheran pastor and theologian, Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging, age 39, in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945. He and small-but-fierce contingent of devoted Protestants actively resisted the Nazi encroachment in both church and state. They founded the Confessing Church movement to mount active resistance to government-sponsored efforts to nazify German Protestantism. 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.”

He was engaged in January 1943, at age 36, to Maria von Wedemeyer only to be arrested by the Gestapo three months later in consequence of his involvement in plans to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer was executed (April 1945) while imprisoned at Flossenbürg concentration camp only weeks before Hitler killed himself and the German surrender.

During the two short of years of his engagement to von Wedemeyer (and what ended up to be the last two years of his life, 1943 – 1945), the two exchanged letters that were amorous and wrenching. Published for the first time in 1995 as Love Letters From Cell 92, edited by Ruth-Alice von Bismarck and Ulrich Kabitz (Abingdon), this intimate correspondence reveals a side of Bonhoeffer that is generally not known. I reviewed the book for Christianity Today magazine when it was released. I include a portion below :

“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.” This is not an excerpt from a Harlequin romance but the impassioned longings of the champion of radical discipleship.

These sentiments—and more like them—present a new aspect of Bonhoeffer, showing him to be surprisingly amorous, but in a way altogether consistent with his theology of costly grace. His love for Maria was “costly” because Bonhoeffer was forced to relinquish it; it was “grace,” because after 37 years of heady bachelorhood, he tasted of the wellspring of romantic possibility. Bonhoeffer's Love Letters

Maria von Wedemeyer has been duly acknowledged as the true love of the gifted German theologian. But before the publication of this volume, Bonhoeffer’s devotees had not been given such a glimpse of the force of this relationship and the passion this man felt, and then sublimated during his hard years in prison.

He loved her, longed for her, and she for him. The tenderness and optimism behind this collection of letters causes the reader to languish with them as week after week, into months, into years, the couple anticipates the time when they will sit together on the couch at Patzig (Maria’s family estate) and hold hands. The reader also knows the tragic ending to this tale, while the writers themselves do not. A constant theme echoes throughout: “Don’t get tired and depressed, my dearest Dietrich, it won’t be much longer now.”

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

It took the subsequent 15 years for von Bismarck to complete the task of sequentially collating the correspondence with the aid of Ulrich Kabitz, who added the necessary footnotes and historical data. Consolidating such fragmented, at times incomplete, material into a coherent narrative was no simple task. But, overall, it works: the reader is pulled into the drama and tedium that these two lovers experienced during their years of waiting and hoping.

For the rest of the article…

On Hitler, Grace, the Cross, Our Cross, Church and Life Together

1930s, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, England and the United States

“Cheap grace [false, unBiblical perversions of God's word translated "Grace"] is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.

Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

“Costly grace, Biblical grace, is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble. It is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Bonhoeffer knew that twisting the Truth to sell it more effectively was inexcusable. For Bonhoeffer the challenge was to present the Truth as purely as possible without attempting to help it along or dress it up.”

-Eric Metaxas, Biographer

“Bonhoeffer’s church is a sect [a cult], in fact the worst sect to have ever set foot on the soil of German Protestantism”

June 1935 “Evangelical Theology Magazine”
-Hermann Sasse, prominent “religious leader” of the day

“Where the world despises other members of the Christian family, Christians will love and serve them. If the world does violence to them, Christians will help them and provide them relief. Where the world subjects them to dishonor and insult, Christians will sacrifice their own honor in exchange for their disgrace. Where the world seeks gain, Christians will renounce it; where it exploits, they will let go; where it oppresses, they will stoop down and lift up the oppressed. Where the world denies justice, Christians will practice compassion; where it hides behind lies, they will speak out for those who cannot speak, and testify for the truth. For the sake of brothers or sisters-be they Jew or Greek, slave or free, strong or weak, of noble or common birth-Christians will renounce all community with the world, for they serve the community of the body of Jesus Christ. Being a part of this community, Christians cannot remain hidden from the world. They have been called out of the world and follow Christ.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Bonhoeffer knew that something of this unwillingness [of the "christian churches"] to speak out with boldness [against Hitler or anything controversial] — had to do with… money. The state provided financial security for the pastors of Germany, and even pastors in the [more "fundamental" and somewhat dissenting] church would jeopardize their incomes only to a certain point.”

-Eric Metaxas, Biographer

“The Nazis did their best to portray Germany as a Christian nation. The Reich church erected a huge tent near the Olympic stadium. Foreigners would have no idea of the internecine battle between the German State-approved “church” and the [more "fundamental" and somewhat dissenting] church; it looked like there was an abundance of Christianity in the midst of Hitler’s Germany.”

-Eric Metaxas, Biographer

On December 11, as with most of his sermons, Bonhoeffer began provocatively, putting forth the notion that Christ had been exiled from the lives of most Christians.

“Of course,” he said, “we build him a temple, but we live in our own houses.”

Religion had been exiled to Sunday morning, to a place “into which one gladly withdraws for a couple of hours, but only to get to one’s place of work immediately afterward.” He said that one cannot give him only a “small compartment in our spiritual life,” but must give him everything or nothing. “The religion of Christ,” he said, “is not a tidbit after one’s bread; on the contrary, it is the bread or it is nothing. People should at least understand and concede this if they call themselves Christian.”

-Eric Metaxas, Biographer

“Then what’s the use of everyone’s theology?” Bonhoeffer asked. There were now an urgency and a seriousness to Bonhoeffer that had not been there before. Somehow he sensed he must warn people of what lay ahead. It was as if he could see that a mighty oak tree, in whose shade families were picnicking, and from whose branches children were swinging, was rotten inside, was about to fall down and kill them all. Others observed the change in him. For one thing, his sermons became more severe.

For the rest of the article…

Very few people were bothered by the fact that the Nazification of Church took place…

It would be misleading to give the impression that the persecution of Protestants and Catholics by the Nazi State tore the German people asunder or even greatly aroused the vast majority of them. It did not. A people who had so lightly given up their political and cultural and economic freedoms were not, except for a relatively few, going to die or even risk imprisonment to preserve freedom of worship. What really aroused the Germans in the Thirties were the glittering successes of Hitler in providing jobs, creating prosperity, restoring Germany’s military might, and moving from one triumph to another in his foreign policy (William L ShirerThe Rise and Fall of the Third Reich1960 ed., 331-332).

 

I am currently reading William L Shirer’s classic book, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960 ed.). Adolf Hitler and the Nazis put incredible pressure on Protestant pastors to submit to the Nazi ideology…

In the spring of 1938 Bishop Marahrens took the final step of ordering all pastors to in his diocese to swear a personal oath of allegiance to the Fuehrer. In a short time the vast majority of Protestant clergymen took the oath, thus binding themselves legally and morally to obey the commands of the dictator (331).

Of course, there were a few like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who were appalled at those who caved in to Hitler.

I have been a pastor for 30 years! I pray that I will always to be true to Jesus!

April 2014
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