Dietrich Bonhoeffer Biography


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...

(The entire section is 389 words.)


(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.)