Joshua Penn

Professor Stacy Thorne

English 1301


Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Martyr

            On April 9th 1945 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hung for his part in the Abweher, a government group that’s purpose was to overthrow Adolf 
Hitler, even if it meant his assassination.  Bonhoeffer was a man who stood against everything that Hitler and Nazi Germany had come to stand for.  The difference between him and other freedom fighters at the time though, was that Bonhoeffer found his reasoning in his faith in God.  Bonhoeffer was a man defined by his faith.  One of his more enduring quotes encases how he approached life “When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.” (Bonhoeffer 171).  Bonhoeffer was martyred for his faith and stands as an example for how we should live our lives even in today’s society.  Bonhoeffer has been one of the biggest inspirations in my life.  Though I doubt I can ever live up to the example he set forth for us as Christians, I live everyday trying to be half the man that he was.

            Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on February 4, 1906 in Breslau, Germany.  He was born to studious, middles class family.  His father was a well-known neurologist. His family was not very religious; however Bonhoeffer found a passion for the gospel and decided to study theology instead of following in his father’s footsteps.  Bonhoeffer would graduate from the University of Berlin with his doctorate in theology at the age of 21. Karl Barth, one of Bonhoffer’s influences stated that Bonhoffer’s doctoral thesis was a “"theological miracle." (Balfour 216).

            Bonhoeffer’s life was altered forever by the rise of Hitler.  Hitler was afraid of the church and the men running it, for fear that only they could halt his rise to power and rally the people against his beliefs.  Bonhoeffer became the only vocal voice attacking Hitler stating the church should not just "bandage the victims under the wheel, but jam the spoke in the wheel itself." (Miller 38).  It was from this start came the Confessing Church, a group founded by Bonhoeffer and fellow church leaders to oppose the Nazi regime.

            By 1938 war was eminent, and Bonhoeffer became conflicted.   Because of his faith and belief in God, he could never swear an oath to Hitler.  He was also a pacifist and was afraid of how his stance would be reacted to by members of the church.  It was at this time that he was offered a position at Union Theological Seminary in New York.  Bonhoeffer made the tough decision to leave Germany for America.  Upon arrival, he immediately realized he had made a mistake.  In a letter to Reinhold Niebuhr, Bonhoeffer wrote ”I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people…” (Metaxas 321).  Shortly after this conversation, Bonhoeffer returned to Germany.

            Living for Christ was paramount to Bonhoeffer.  By following Christ we must have an attitude of peace and love towards the secular world.  When giving a sermon about the Sermon on the Mount, Bonhoeffer stated “The followers of Jesus have been called to peace.  When he called them they found their peace, for he is their peace.  But now they are told that they must not only have peace but make it.  And to that end they renounce all violence and tumult.” (Bonhoeffer 112).

            Following Christ though is not always an easy journey.  It is one that is fraught with trials and tribulations.  It was Bonhoeffer’s belief that we must suffer in order to have a great understanding of Jesus.  “To endure the cross is not tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ” (Bonhoeffer 88).

            Bonhoeffer was arrested on April 6, 1943 by the Gestapo for his involvement with the Abweher.  During his two year imprisonment he continued to preach, only now to the prisoners and the guards.  He also wrote letters and poetry to people on the outside encouraging them to keep up the cause.  These letters were smuggled out by sympathetic guards. He was sentenced to hang on April 8, 1945.  His last words during his final sermon were “This is the end…For me the beginning of life.” (Metaxas 517).  The camp doctor noted “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer ... kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” (Metaxas 532).

            Bonhoeffer was a man of God.  He was a man who stood up for what he believed in and paid the ultimate price.  This death was not a death that he mourned though, but the bringing of new life.  It was not feared, but welcomed.  From The Cost of Discipleship, “As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death-we give our lives to death….When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”(89).    


Works Cited

Balfour, Michael Leonard Graham. Withstanding Hitler in Germany, 1933-45. London: Routledge, 1988. Print.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Touchstone, 1995. Print.

Miller, Ed L., and Stanley J. Grenz. Fortress Introduction to Contemporary Theologies. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998. Print.

Metaxas, Eric. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy : A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011. Print.



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