Dietrich Bonhoeffer Biography
Dietrich Bonhoeffer Biography & Chronology
1906 - 1945
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a theologian, a pastor, a spiritual writer, a musician, and an author of fiction and poetry. The integrity of his Christian faith and life, and the international appeal of his writings, have received broad recognition and admiration, all of which has led to a consensus that he is one of the theologians of his time whose theological reflections might lead future generations of Christians into creating a new more spiritual and responsible millennium.
Feb. 4, 1906 - Dietrich and twin sister Sabine born in Breslau, Germany; the sixth child of Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer; his father a prominent professor of psychiatry and neurology; his mother one of the few women of her generation to obtain a university degree.
1923 - Began theological study at Tubingen University; studied under such prominent theologians as Adolf von Harnack, Hans Lietzmann, and Reinhold Seeberg
1924 - Visited Rome with brother Klaus; began to formulate ideas on church and community
1927 - Dissertation Sanctorum Communio under Reinhold Seeberg accepted and published; traveled to Barcelona, Spain and pastored to German expatriates
1930-1931 - Awarded Sloane Fellowship which allowed him to attend Union Theological Seminary in New York; began lifelong friendships with Erwin Sutz (from Switzerland), Jean Lasserre (from France), and Paul Lehmann (from the United States); another of the friends at the Seminary was a young African American theology student from Alabama, Frank Fisher, who invited Bonhoeffer to visit church services in Harlem; Bonhoeffer spent much of his time in Harlem, teaching and interacting with the congregation; on returning to Germany, he took phonograph records of the same spirituals he heard in Harlem; traveled to Cuba and Mexico
Aug. 1, 1931 - Becomes lecturer in Theology at the University of Berlin; invited to lecture at the University of Berlin; in thee two years in Berlin, Bonhoeffer attended a number of ecumenical conferences and at one met the Christian theologian Rev. George Bell from England
1931 - Appointed youth secretary of the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches
November 1931 - Ordination at St. Matthias Church, Berlin
1931-1932 - Presented the lectures that were published as Creation and Fall
January 1933 - Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany and later took control as dictator; he ordered the arrest and execution of several of the people who helped him gain power and further intensified persecution of Jews
April 1933 - Bonhoeffer's essay "The Church and the Jewish Question," was the first to address the new problems the church faced under the Nazi dictatorship; his defense of the Jews was marked by Christian supersessionism - the Christian belief that Christianity had superseded Judaism, in history and in the eyes of God; the real question, he argued, was how the church would judge and respond to the Nazi state's actions against the Jews; essay completed in the days following the April 1, 1933, boycott of Jewish businesses; some scholars believe Bonhoeffer was influenced on this issue by his close friendship at Union Seminary with his African American colleague, Frank Fisher, and his direct observation of Fisher's experiences under racism
Summer1933 - Many Protestants welcomed the rise of Nazism; a group called the Deutsche Christen ("German Christians") became the voice of Nazi ideology within the Evangelical Church, even advocating the removal of the Old Testament from the Bible; the Deutsche Christians cited the state Aryan laws that barred all "non-Aryans" from the civil service, they also proposed a church "Aryan paragraph" to prevent "non-Aryans" from becoming ministers or religious teachers; the Deutsche Christen claimed that Jews, as a "separate race," could not become members of an "Aryan" German church even through baptism a clear repudiation of the validity of Gospel teachings
1933 (summer) - Bonhoeffer published final lecture courses at Berlin as Christ the Center - along with a seminar taught on the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel
September 1933 - Help to organize the Pastors' Emergency League; after which he assumed the pastorate of the German Evangelical Church, Sydenham, and the Reformed Church of St. Paul in London; during sojourn in England, he became a close friend and confidant of the influential Anglican Bishop, George Bell
Fall 1933 - The Deutsche Christen gained control of many Protestant church governments throughout Germany; their policy of excluding those with "Jewish blood" from the ministry was approved, September 1933, by the national church synod at Wittenberg.
May 1934 - The anti-Nazi Confessing Church was organized Barmen, Germany; Bonhoeffer bitterly opposed the Aryan paragraph, arguing that its ratification surrendered Christian 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 - a "confessing" church that would remain free of Nazi influence.
1934 - Became a member of the Universal Christian Council for Life and Work
Apr. 26, 1935 - Establishes underground seminary for the anti-Nazi Confessing Church at Zingst by the Baltic Sea, which in June moves to Finkenwalde in Pomerania
Aug. 5, 1936 - Forbidden to lecture at the University of Berlin
1937 - Finkenwalde Seminary closed by Gestapo; 27 former Finkenwalde students imprisoned; out of the experiences at Finkenwalde emerged his two well-known books, The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, as well as his lesser known writings on pastoral ministry such as Spiritual Care; continued to prepare pastors in the Confessing Church all the way to 1939
Feb. 1938 - Makes first contact with conspirators in connection with political resistance against Hitler
Jun. 2, 1939 - Leaves for New York City
Jul. 27, 1939 - Returns to Germany and joins the political resistance
Mar. 27, 1941 - Forbidden to print or publish
Sep. 1941 - Becomes part of Jewish rescue action (Operation 7)
Jan. 1943 - At age 36 engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer
Apr. 5, 1943 - At age 37 arrested and taken to Tegel Prison, Berlin; Dohnanyi and Dietrich's sister, Christine, also arrested
Feb. 7, 1945 - Moved to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp
Apr. 1945 - Discovery of Admiral Canaris' diary; Hitler orders annihilation of the Canaris group which includes Bonhoeffer
Apr. 9, 1945 - Bonhoeffer (age 39) hanged at Flossenburg; Dohnanyi killed at the Sachsenhausen Camp; one of four members of his immediate family to die at the hands of the Nazi regime for their participation in the small Protestant resistance movement - two sons (Dietrich and Klaus) and two sons-in-law (Hans von Dohnanyi and Rudiger Schleicher).
The letters he wrote during these final two years of his life were posthumously published by his student and friend, Eberhard Bethge, as Letters and Papers from Prison.
See also Deitrich Bonhoeffer Works