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Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–45)

John W. de Gruchy

Subject Religion » Christianity

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics theology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405135078.2009.00055.x


Dietrich Bonhoeffer is probably better known beyond the confines of the church than any other twentieth-century Christian theologian. Two reasons immediately come to mind. The first is his participation in the German conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and his subsequent murder at the hands of the Gestapo. The second is the extent to which his fragmentary theological reflections published posthumously in his Letters and Papers from Prison have attracted attention. Within the broader sphere of ecumenical Christianity Bonhoeffer has achieved unofficial canonization as a result of his role in the church struggle against Nazism and his martyrdom ( Slane, 2004 ). Several documentary films have been produced on his life, 1 his poetry has been set to music, 11 and he is the subject of an opera. 111 Few theologians, if any, have attracted such attention. Yet his status as a latter-day Protestant saint has not been uncontested. Indicative of the controversy over Bonhoeffer was the bizarre declaration by the German government in August 1996 that he was no longer regarded as a traitor. This might say more about Germany's legal conservatism than about Bonhoeffer's status. But it also reminds us that the reception of Bonhoeffer in his native land has by no means always been positive. Some who applaud his role in resisting Nazi ideology during the church struggle ( Kirchenkampf) draw back ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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