Dietrich Boenhoffer (February 4, 1906- April 9, 1945) was a Lutheran pastor, university professor and doctor of theology, a pioneer of the ecumenical movement, a professional writer, a poet and a central figure in the fight against the Nazi regime. He was born with his twin sister, Sabine, in Breslau (then belonged to Germany, now Wroclaw, Poland), the sixth of eight children of Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer. His father was a prominent professor of psychiatry and neurology, while his mother was one of the few women of her generation to obtain a university degree. After he had completed his theological studies in 1927 in Berlin, Boenhoffer began to work as a pastor in Barcelona, in a German church in 1928. In 1930 he went to New York to study in the Union Theological Seminary there; In 1931 he started to work as a teacher in the Theological Faculty of Berlin and was also ordained as a pastor. At this time he started to be engaged with ecumenical relations.

In 1931 he was elected Youth Secretary of the World Federation for cooperation between the churches; from 1933 he became a member of a Christian network, “Life and Work” (a forerunner of the World Council of Churches). With Hitler ascension to power on January, 1933, a new hard and delicate time started for the protestant churches in Germany, also for Boenhoffer. Many German Protestants welcomed the rise of Nazism; especially the group of “Deutsche Christen” (German Christians), who became the voice of Nazi ideology within the Evangelical Church, even advocating the removal of the Old Testament from the Bible; In the summer of 1933, inspired by the national race laws, the Deutsche Christians proposed a church “Aryan pharagraph” to prevent “non-Aryans” from becoming ministers or teacher of religion.The ensuing debate led to a deep split in the Church: The idea of ​​”Jewish mission” was indeed widespread, but now the German Christians claimed that Jews, as a “separate race” could not become members of an “Aryan” German Church, not even through baptism – and this is a clear repudiation of the validity of Gospel teachings. Bonhoeffer came with vehemence against the Aryan paragraph, arguing that its ratification surrounded Christians precepts to political ideology; if “non-Aryans” were banned from the ministry, he argued, then their colleagues should resign in solidarity, even if this meant the establishment of a new church, that would remain free of Nazi influence. Boenhoeffer’s essay “The Church and the Jewish Question” from April 1933, was the first to address the problems the church faced under the Nazi dictatorship, reaffirming clearly his view that the Church would be obliged to oppose political despotism.

 

When the Aryan clause was adopted in September 1933 by the national synod of the Protestant Church, Bonhoeffer advocated that the international ecumenical movement would be informed and aware of the importance of this issue. He also refused a job as a pastor in Berlin, out of solidarity with those who were excluded on racial grounds from the church office and decided to move to a German-speaking community in London. In May 1934, was initiated by a minority within the German Evangelical Church called the Confessing Church, which National Socialism Barmener the declaration adopted in opposition. In April 1935, Bonhoeffer returned to Germany to take over the management of a Seminary in the underground for the Confessing Church, first in Zingst, and later in Finkenwalde.

 

Himmler declared the pastor training within the Confessing Church by decree as illegal. In September, the seminar Finkenwalde by the Gestapo was resolved in the next two years, Bonhoeffer secretly continued his work as a teacher; In January 1938, the Gestapo banned him from Berlin and in September 1940, they forbade him to speak in public. In 1939, Bonhoeffer approached in a conspiracy and resistance group against Hitler, which had formed around his brother, the lawyer Hans von Dohnanyi, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris and General Hans Oster and more. The theologian was an important link between the international ecumenical movement and the German conspirators against Hitler.

His assistance in the escape of a group of Jews led to his arrest in April 1943. During the two years in captivity that preceded his death, Bonhoeffer fathomed the meaning of the Christian faith in an “age world” and asks in his letters to his friend, Eberhard Bethge: “Who is Christ for us today?” Christianity is too often fled from the world, have tried to find a last refuge in God in a “religious” angle, safe from science and critical questions. But Bonhoeffer claims that it is this humanity is precisely in their strength and maturity that God claims and transformed in Jesus Christ, the “man who is to others” After the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler on 20 July 1944 Bonhoeffer was moved to a prison in Berlin, and later to Buchenwald concentration camp, and finally to the concentration camp Flossenbiirg, where he hanged together with other conspirators. During his life, Bonhoeffer published Sanctorum communio (1930), Act and Being (1931), Succession (1937) and Life Together (1938). The notes and letters he wrote during his imprisonment for his friend Eberhard Bethge, were published posthumously in 1951 as Letters and Papers from Prison, with other letters of Bonhoeffer to his parents and some poems also. After his death, his works constitute his greatest achievement: Ethics (1949), Temptation (1953) and the World Come of Age (1955-66).

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