Prisoner for God: Letters and Papers from Prison

Prisoner for God: Letters and Papers from Prison

Prisoner for God: Letters and Papers from Prison

Prisoner for God: Letters and Papers from Prison

Excerpt

DIETRICH BONHOEFFER'S father was a great doctor, a psychiatrist teaching at Berlin University; his forebears included mayors and parsons. In Schwäbisch-Hall in Württemberg there are old tombstones in the church bearing the name of Bonhoeffer. His mother was a grand-daughter of Karl von Hase. He was a well-known Professor of Church History in Jena and he too had a taste of imprisonment in a fortress, a result of his zeal for the freedom of student corporations.

It was with such a background that Dietrich Bonhoeffer grew up as a member of a large family (he was born on 4th February 1906 in Breslau). In Berlin-Grunewald he played with the children of Adolf von Harnack, the universal theologian, and of Hans Delbrück, the well-known historian. In the summer of 1924 he commenced his studies at Berlin University, was made a licentiate in 1927 with a thesis on Communio Sanctorum. Though Harnack, Seeberg and Lietzmann, the most influential teachers in Berlin, thought very highly of the accomplished young theologian, he came more and more under the influence of Karl Barth, whom he had not yet heard lecturing. This influence is clearly seen in his later University thesis, Akt und Sein, in which he clearly acknowledges the importance of dialectical theology for the history of philosophy and theology.

After a brief period as pastor in Barcelona (1928-9), and a year of study at Union Theological Seminary, New York (1930), he commenced teaching in Berlin, where he continued, with some intervals, until finally forbidden to teach by the National-Socialist authorities in 1936. The most significant break in these years occurred when he took charge of the German congregations of St. Paul and Sydenham in London from 1933-5. The reason for this step was to make an unequiέ vocal protest against the incipient taint of the 'German Christians' in the Church in Germany. From this time he became . . .

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