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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

1906-1945. German pastor and ecumenist. Son of a famous neurologist, he studied philosophy and theology at Tübingen and Berlin, coming under the influence of such men as Deissmann,* Harnack,* Lietzmann,* Seeberg, and Karl Barth.* Ordained as a Lutheran pastor, he ministered to German congregations in Barcelona and London and became acquainted with G.K.A. Bell,* bishop of Chichester, with whom he shared his concern about the Nazification of the German Church. He took a leading part in drafting the Barmen Declaration* and thus became a leader of the Confessing Church* which refused the notorious Aryan Clauses (1933) imposed by the Nazi ideology. The seminary which he founded for training pastors for the Confessing Church was short-lived; his license to teach was revoked in 1936; Himmler closed the seminary in 1937. Bonhoeffer traveled much to inspire concern for the plight of the German Church. His opposition to Hitlerism involved him in the Resistance movement and led to his arrest by the Gestapo in April 1943. He was executed, on a charge of treason, at Flossenbürg on 9 April 1945; a simple tablet in the village church is inscribed: “Dietrich Bonhoeffer a witness of Jesus Christ among his brethren.”

His later works which have been translated into English include The Cost of Discipleship (1948); Letters and Papers from Prison (1953); Life Together (1954); Creation and Fall (1959); No Rusty Swords (1965); Christology (1966: in USA Christ the Center); and Way to Freedom (1966). So varied and opposing are the theories deriving from his writings that a meaningful sketch of his ideas presents difficulty. Among his most fruitful insights were his total rejection of natural theology, and of a “religious apriori” in man; the reality of God's absolute self- disclosure in Christ; the historical and present Christ as God revealed incognito; Christ interpreted in terms of “the-man-for- others”; and particularly, his much discussed and misunderstood concepts of “religionless” and “worldly Christianity,” and “man come of age.”

J.D. Godsey, The Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1960); M.E. Marty (ed.), The Place of Bonhoeffer: Problems and Possibilities in His Thought (1962); E.H. Robertson, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1966); W.-D. Zimmerman and R.G. Smith (eds.), I Knew Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1966); J. Moltmann and J. Weissbach, Two Studies in the Theology of Bonhoeffer (1967); M. Bosanquet, The Life and Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1968); E. Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Man of Vision, Man of Courage (1970).