- Bonhoeffer, Dietrich
- ( 19 0 6-1945 )theologian and martyr of the NazisGerman Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer became an inspiration to many Christian activists in the later 20th century through his resistance to the Nazi regime in Germany and his eventual martyrdom. He was born in Berlin on February 4, 1906, one of fraternal twins. His father, Karl, was an outstanding professor of psychiatry and neurology at Berlin University.Bonhoeffer also attended Berlin University, where he lectured and earned his doctorate in 1927. He was ordained as a Lutheran minister in 1931, and subsequently lectured in theology at the university. In 1933, he moved to London, where for two years he served as pastor of two German Lutheran churches.In 1934, a large group of Lutheran pastors organized what became known as the Confessing Church in opposition to the state church, which had been taken over by the Nazis. Upon his return to Germany, Bonhoeffer became head of the Confessing Church seminary at Finkenwalde. When the government closed the seminary in 1937, he became more active in the anti-Nazi cause. In 1940, shortly after World War II began, he was recruited to the resistance.Bonhoeffer took part in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Fellow conspirators included Bonhoeffer's brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi, special projects chief in German military intelligence, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, and General Hans Oster. The bomb plot of July 20, 1944, failed, and the major conspirators, including Bonhoeffer, were arrested.If the plot had been successful, Bonhoeffer's role was to go to England, activate his network of friends and acquaintances, and assist the process of suing for peace. During his months in jail, Bonhoeffer kept notes and corresponded with friends, the papers later becoming the property of his friend Eberhard Bethge. Much of Bon-hoeffer's postwar fame resulted from the publication of his Letters and Papers from Prison by Bethge.On April 9, 1945, Bonhoeffer, Canaris, Oster, and von Dohnanyi were executed. Several weeks later, Bonhoeffer's brother, Klaus, and brother-in-law Rudiger Schleicher were also executed.Bonhoeffer was just getting started on his theological career when he became involved in the resistance. His major writing during this period is his work on ethics. His revised ethical system was remarkably similar to what would in the 1970s become known as situational or contextual ethics. A major issue was the role of the ethical person in extreme circumstances, where the ethical thing to do might be breaking the law - as in assassinating Hitler.See also Evangelical Church in Germany.Further reading:■ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Minneapolis, Minn.: 1999)■ Dietrick Bonhoeffer, Ethics, ed. by Eberhard Bethge. (New York: Macmillan, 1955)■ ----, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. by Eberhard Bethge (New York: Macmillan, 1968)■ Theodore A. Gill, Memo for a Movie: A Short Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (New York: Macmillan, 1971)■ Charles Marsh, Reclaiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Promise of His Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.