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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: May 2006

2 - The life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

from Part one - Bonhoeffer's Life and Legacy


Shortly after Dietrich Bonhoeffer's abrupt and tragic death on 9 April 1945, one of his long-standing friends, Reinhold Niebuhr, paid him the ultimate tribute in an article entitled The Death of a Martyr'. The story of Bonhoeffer', Niebuhr wrote, 'is worth recording. It belongs to the modern acts of the apostles.' Niebuhr went on to predict that

Bonhoeffer, less known than Martin Niemoller, will become better known. Not only his martyr's death, but also his actions and precepts contain within them the hope of a revitalised Protestant faith in Germany. It will be a faith, religiously more profound than that of many of its critics; but it will have learned to overcome the one fateful error of German Protestantism, the complete dichotomy between faith and political life.

In the past half-century this prediction has become true not only within the boundaries of Bonhoeffer's native Germany, but also far beyond.

Bonhoeffer's life is a story of family solidarity, of faith and faithfulness, of courage and compassion and of true patriotism. Moreover, Bonhoeffer's life is a necessary key to understanding his theology. The numerous writings which flowed from his creative pen can most effectively be interpreted when seen in the unfolding context of his life and times. In sum, biography inevitably sheds light on the foundational themes of his theology and is an interpretative key in reaching the depths of meaning in his writing.