Dietrich Bonhoeffer: An unlikely hero

Dietrich BonhoefferDietrich Bonhoeffer: an unlikely hero.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), a German theologian who rejected theology, was an unlikely hero. Murdered by the Nazis for his participation in the plot to assassinate Hitler, one would never have guessed his ending from his beginning. 

His father was the most important neurologist in the most important hospital in Germany.  His twin sister Sabine was tutored by the daughter of Thedor Mommsen, Nobel prizewinner and classicist.  As a student he commuted to the Humboldt University of Berlin with his neighbor, Adolf von Harnack, the most distinguished scholar of the German Protestant Church.  Put simply, Bonhoeffer belonged to the Protestant elite. (p 45)

Bonhoeffer was financially dependent on his family almost his entire life.  When he wasn’t traveling, he generally lived at home.  Throughout his life he would mail his dirty laundry home, to be washed by servants, and returned by Deutsch Post.  When he was running an underground seminary during the Hitler era, his parents gave him an Audi convertible so he could more easily come home on weekends.  Not your average revolutionary. 

He would never disown the advantages of birth or pretend to have surpassed them. It was an aristocratic confidence, he would insist, that helped him see through propaganda and resist mediocrity. (p 74)

The statement is, I believe, absolutely correct.

A theologian at 15

At the age of 15 he read a two-volume book on the beginnings of Christianity, and began signing his name “Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theol.” (p 17)  By the end of his life he would reject both theology and the university.  He was blessed with a large family and many friends, but never had a girlfriend.  Finally, at the age of 36, he became engaged to his 17-year-old niece, whose mother insisted they wait.  They never married; three months after his engagement he was jailed.  He met Eberhard Bethge, his first real friend, when he was twenty-nine, ten years before his death.  They were exceptionally close.  Bethge married another of Bonhoeffer’s nieces while Bonhoeffer was in prison.  Their first child was named after Dietrich. 

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