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The Bonhoeffers had immigrated from Holland (van den Boenhoff from Nimwegen) in 1513 and settled as goldsmiths in Schwäbisch Hall. After the seventeenth century they became pastors, doctors, city council members and mayors. 

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 9.

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.

The twins Dietrich and Sabine were born on February 4, 1906, the sixth and seventh of eight children. Their parents, Karl Bonhoeffer, professor of psychiatry and neurology, and his wife Paula, nee von Hase, lived in Breslau at the time. The family roots, however, were not in Silesia, but in Swabia, Thuringia, and Prussia.

…Through this grandmother (Clara von Hase, nee Countess Kalckreuth), Bonhoeffer developed an early sense for music and the fine arts.

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 3. 

In short: throughout his brief full life, he dealt with whatever happened and was demanded of him.

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Portrait (1970), xviii

It was said that Bonhoeffer was a particularly intense child. He remained intense in the way he set about everything: reading, writing, making decisions, and giving the reasons for them, helping people or warning them. 

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Portrait (1970), xviii

He liked talking to children and took them seriously. He would throw chocolates from his window to his nephews and nieces who were doing their schoolwork in the garden of the house next door!!

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Portrait (1970), xviii

 30 September 2016 | Ronald Osborn

In the final two years of his life, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote several letters from Tegel prison to his friend Eberhard Bethge in which he spoke of the need for what he referred to as a “religionless Christianity.” “I shall not come out of here a homo religiosus!,” he declared vehemently in a note dated November 21, 1943.  “My fear and distrust of ‘religiosity’ have become greater than ever here.  The fact that the Israelites never uttered the name of God always makes me think, and I can understand it better as I go on.”  On April 30, 1944, Bonhoeffer offered one of his most famous and controversial statements on the meaning of discipleship in what he elsewhere called a “world come of age.”  “What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today,” he wrote. “We are moving towards a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious anymore.”

Piety and religiosity had not vanished from German society in Bonhoeffer’s day (any more than they have from American society in the present, confounding the secularization theories of several generations of sociologists of religion).  Yet this very fact, Bonhoeffer concluded, was itself ironically symptomatic of the irrelevance of religion to the problems facing most men and women. Even those who honestly describe themselves as ‘religious’ do not in the least act up to it,” he wrote, “and so they presumably mean something quite different by ‘religious.’” Under these circumstances, what did it mean to be a follower of Christ?  In the aftermath of the failure of the institutionalized churches and self-professing believers in Europe to withstand the onslaught of totalitarian ideologies—indeed, in the light of the church’s own authoritarianism and its ability to carry on uninterrupted even as the ground fell out from under it, with hymns being sung and sermons preached without pause amid the march to war—the question that now confronted Christians was one of first things.

Did the very language of spiritual inwardness, of evangelism, of apologetics, and of churchly authority that had marked Western Christianity from its beginning still make any sense? Was it the task of believers to somehow refill the vessels of a failed Christendom project that had been thoroughly corrupted by political evil with lost or forgotten meanings?  Or were believers now called to bear witness to Christ in a secular age in radically new ways, and not as “religious” persons at all?  Did “religion” itself need to be left behind as a historical stage, a human construct and sociological phenomenon, that was in no sense synonymous with the presence of the living Christ in the world and in history?  But if so, what would such a “religionless Christianity” even begin to look like?

“Man is summoned to share in God’s sufferings at the hands of a godless world,” Bonhoeffer wrote to Bethge on July 18, 1944.  Three days later, after learning of the failure of the Officer’s Plot to assassinate Hitler—a plot in which he had been complicit and for which he would be executed at the age of 39 when his role was uncovered by the Gestapo—Bonhoeffer wrote of the “this-worldliness” of the Christian faith:

“During the last year or so I’ve come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity.  The Christian is not ahomo religiosus, but simply a man, as Jesus was a man…I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!) a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one.  By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities.  In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world—watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian.”

We do not know how Bonhoeffer might have developed these highly allusive ideas had his life not been cut short. His enigmatic and provocative words have often been pressed into the service of agendas Bonhoeffer himself would have resisted, from liberal death-of-God theologies to highly conservative forms of evangelical Protestantism. Yet there are perhaps a few lessons we can learn from Bonhoeffer’s witness as we face the abuses of power, the smallness of heart and mind, and the betrayals of leadership that have led to mounting crises in our own day—both inside and outside of the church.

How can we be faithful disciples of Jesus in the midst of unsettling new realities, in which by faith we trust that God is still at work? How can we be certain of Christ and speak meaning into the lives of our fellow human beings when we can no longer put our trust in church officialdom or attach our confidence in the Holy Spirit to the outworn habits of religious thinking and speech that mark our church structures?  How can we testify to the living Christ when “religion” itself turns the Word of God into a dead letter and takes on the marks of dehumanizing “kingly authority”?

For Bonhoeffer, the answers to these questions lie not in any nostalgic retreat to the past.  He ultimately refused the path of shoring up decaying institutions and exhausted forms of piety.  Rather, Bonhoeffer insisted, believers must now repent of the power and control game that they have been playing for far too long.  They must instead enter with fear and trembling into the dangerous drama of Christ’s kenosis—his self-emptying and co-suffering identification with all of humankind.

For te rest of the post…

Even during the most hectic periods of his life, he never abandoned his recreational breaks.

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Portrait (1970), xviii.

I like that!

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was able to work with concentration. He did whatever work had to be done without hesitation. Yet this ability was accompanied by a willingness to be interrupted, and even a craving for company when playing music. He loved chess, bridge, and guessing games, and demanded the same competiveness of his fellow players, but he always gave his opponents the benefit of the doubt. 

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Portrait (1970), xviii.

They (the Bonhoeffer family) had a very strong sense of what was proper; they also had the quality, often ascribed to the British, of treating daily routines of life very seriously, whereas the really disturbing matters, where all was at stake, were treated as if they were quite ordinary. The stronger the emotions, the more necessary it was to dress them in insignificant words and gestures.

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Portrait (1970), xviii.

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