Dietrich Bonhoeffer Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bethge, Eberhard. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Man of Vision, Man of Courage. New York: Harper & Row, 1970. The definitive biography by Bonhoeffer’s friend and executor of his estate.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Witness to Jesus Christ. Edited by John W. De Gruchy. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1991. A compilation of Bonhoeffer’s most important writings in chronological order with a valuable introduction to the development of Bonhoeffer’s thought written by De Gruchy.

Bosanquet, Mary. The Life and Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. New York: Harper & Row, 1968. Perhaps the clearest and most objective biography. Much information is from Bonhoeffer’s twin sister and from Eberhard Bethge.

Huntemann, Georg. The Other Bonhoeffer: An Evangelical Reassessment of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Translated by Todd Huizinga. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1993. Discusses Bonhoeffer’s contributions to theology.

Marsh, Charles. Reclaiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Promise of His Theology. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1994. An evaluation of Bonhoeffer’s writings in the context of modern German philosophy, especially post-Kantian notions of self. A useful examination of the theological interchange between Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth.

Morris, Kenneth Earl. Bonhoeffer’s Ethic of Discipleship: A Study in Social Psychology, Political Thought, and Religion. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1986. A study of faith and politics in the modern world. Morris examines the influence that family played in the determination of Bonhoeffer’s psychological makeup relative to the influence of religion and politics.

Ott, Heinrich. Reality and Faith: The Theological Legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Translated by Alex A. Morrison. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972. An exhaustive study of Bonhoeffer’s theology and its impact.

Rasmussen, Larry. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Reality and Resistance. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1972. A good summary of how Bonhoeffer’s theology shaped his political ethics and led him into the resistance.

Robertson, Edwin. The Shame and the Sacrifice: The Life and Martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. New York: Macmillan, 1988. An excellent evaluation of Bonhoeffer’s influence. It includes some interesting insights into the resistance and those who survived.

Weikart, Richard. The Myth of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Is His Theology Evangelical? San Francisco: International Scholars, 1997. This books tries to debunk the questions surrounding Bonhoeffer’s theology.

Young, Josiah U. No Difference in the Fare: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Problem of Racism. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998. An examination of Bonhoeffer’s contribution to the theology of race relations. Contains a bibliography and an index.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (BAWN-huhf-ur) is one of the most influential Protestant theologians of the twentieth century. Born in Breslau, Germany, the sixth in a line of eight children, he was reared in Berlin in an academic atmosphere. His father, a distinguished professor of psychiatry and neurology, taught at the University of Berlin. Bonhoeffer naturally gravitated toward a university career, but unlike his father he was more interested in theology than in the natural sciences. Influenced by the historical theologians Karl Holl, Adolf von Harnack, and Rheinhold Seeberg, and deeply affected by the writings of Karl Barth, Bonhoeffer attempted to combine a theological and sociological understanding of the church in his doctoral dissertation, entitled The Communion of Saints. He was granted a Ph.D. in 1930; during the same year, he also studied in New York at the Union Theological Seminary with Reinhold Niebuhr.

In 1931, Bonhoeffer returned to Germany and accepted an appointment at the University of Berlin as a lecturer in systematic theology. Not long afterward, he published Act and Being, a work in which he argued that Christianity is reducible to neither a philosophy of transcendence (Akt) nor a philosophy of being (Sein); also, it could not be explained without reference to philosophical concerns. Thus, according to Bonhoeffer, philosophical attempts to account for the meaning of Christian revelation are not exhaustive, yet all Protestant and Catholic theologies have nevertheless been influenced by transcendental metaphysics and ontology, and theories of being and of knowledge. Bonhoeffer’s point, which characterizes all his subsequent writings, is that it is not possible to make meaningful statements about God apart from the notion of revelation in Jesus Christ. In fact, to understand Christian revelation one must always examine the concrete and historical aspect of revelation in Christ as opposed to any philosophical explication.

Bonhoeffer resisted the persecution of the Jews and the Nazification of the church from the time Adolf Hitler first seized power in 1933. Frustrated and sorely disappointed by the passivity and lack of resistance among the churches in Germany at that time, he accepted a pastorate for Germans in London from 1933 to 1935. When the Confessing Church (formed by Christians who actively resisted Nazi domination) established its own seminary in Finkenwald, he returned to Germany and served as its director. He continued to prepare young men for ordination clandestinely until 1940, even though the state authorities had closed the school in 1937. It was here that Bonhoeffer wrote Life Together, a book on...

(The entire section is 1100 words.)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Biography

(Survey of World Philosophers)

Article abstract: Bonhoeffer defined the concept of Christian discipleship, especially as it related to the Lutheran Church in Germany during the 1930’s. He provided a unique combination of theology and political ethics that made him a leader in German resistance to Adolf Hitler and also led to his untimely death in 1945.

Early Life

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau, Germany (now Wrocław, Poland), on February 4, 1906. His father was Karl Bonhoeffer, a well-known physician and psychiatrist. There were eight children in the family, of whom Dietrich and his twin sister, Sabine, were the sixth and seventh, respectively. The family soon moved to Berlin, where Karl Bonhoeffer became professor of psychiatry at the University of Berlin. It was there that Dietrich spent his childhood.

The realism that later characterized the philosophy and theology of Bonhoeffer was imparted to him by his father and through the influence of his mother, who was from one of the leading intellectual families in Germany. The family home became a meeting place for friends and neighbors representing some of the most brilliant minds of the day. Among the visitors were Adolf von Harnack, an eminent historian of Christian doctrine, and Ernst Troeltsch, a philosopher and theologian. The influence of these men helped place Bonhoeffer in the liberal spectrum of Christian theology as well as at the forefront of the ecumenical movement.

At the age of sixteen, Bonhoeffer dedicated his life to the study of theology and to service in the Lutheran Church. He entered the University of Tübingen in 1923 and was matriculated at the University of Berlin the following year. He remained in Berlin for the completion of his formal education. During his years at the university, Bonhoeffer became a follower of the post-World War I theology of Karl Barth, soon to become known as Neoorthodoxy. These ideas enhanced Bonhoeffer’s realism and helped him to accept the tremendous suffering and destruction of the recent conflagration, as well as Germany’s lowered status in the community of nations.

When Bonhoeffer was twenty-one, he presented his doctoral dissertation to the faculty at Berlin. The dissertation, The Communion of Saints, published in 1930, was praised by many, including Barth.

Bonhoeffer left Berlin in 1927 to serve two years as an assistant minister to a German-speaking congregation in Barcelona, Spain. He proved to be a tremendous help and encouragement to the church and its elderly pastor. Back in Berlin in 1929, Bonhoeffer soon became a lecturer in systematic theology at the university. Before settling into the routine, however, he went to the United States for a year of additional study at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Somewhat surprised by the lack of interest in serious theology on the part of American students at the seminary, Bonhoeffer was impressed by their social concern for the poor and needy. Bonhoeffer was well prepared for his life’s work when he returned to Berlin in 1931. He was ready to face the challenges to Germany and the world in the person of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

Life’s Work

By the time Bonhoeffer began lecturing full-time, he was identified with the ecumenical movement, which sought to unite Christians around the world, and also with the ideas of Barth, whom Bonhoeffer soon met at a seminar in Bonn. The students at the university were at first skeptical about the youthful professor but were soon drawn to him by the depth and relevance of his views.

Bonhoeffer’s rising popularity in Berlin coincided with the rising popularity of the National Socialist German Workers’ (Nazi) Party throughout the country. The Bonhoeffer family had been deeply affected by the defeat of Germany in 1918 and by the humiliation of the nation in the Treaty of Versailles, but they strongly opposed the ultranationalistic philosophy and the superior race ideology of the Nazi Party. Even while outside the country, Dietrich was kept informed about the growing Nazi influence, particularly as it related to the Jews. His twin sister, Sabine, was married to Gerhard Leibholz, whose father was a Jew, although Gerhard had been baptized as a Lutheran.

Bonhoeffer was soon dismayed by the paralysis of the German Christians regarding Nazi ideology. His realism, as well as his theology, compelled him to speak out against that ideology. On February 1, 1933, two days after Hitler had become chancellor of Germany, Bonhoeffer addressed the German public on radio and urged them not to adopt an ultranationalistic leader who could easily become a...

(The entire section is 1908 words.)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Biography

(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Author Profile

Bonhoeffer’s ethical thought was forged in the furnace of Nazi Germany. As one of the founders of the Confessing Church, which refused to submit to Nazi ideology, and a member of the resistance movement inside Germany, Bonhoeffer was compelled by the conviction that Christian ethics consist not in trying to do good but in assuming responsibility for the future. His ethical theology is, therefore, “teleological” or “consequentialist.” The focus is not upon motives (for example, adhering to some set of moral rules labeled “Christian”) but upon living in light of the reality that in Jesus Christ God has reconciled the world to Himself. By rooting ethics in the person of Jesus Christ, the...

(The entire section is 1316 words.)