Bonhoeffer Bio and Chronology

Bonhoeffer Bio and Chronology


ChickenBones: A Journal

for  Literary & Artistic African-American  Themes



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



Books by Bonheoffer

No Rusty Swords / The Cost of Discipleship / Letters and Papers from Prison  /  Sanctorum Communio

A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings  /  Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible Ethics  

No Difference in the Fare: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Problem of Racism

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bio & Chronology



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.

Bonhoeffer Chronology

Feb. 4, 1906–Dietrich and twin sister Sabine born in Breslau, Germany; the sixth child of Karl and Paula Bonheoffer; 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

1929-1930–Served as a curate for a German congregation in Barcelona 

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 Rüdiger 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. His correspondence with his fiancé, Maria von Wedermeyer, has been published as Love Letters from Cell92.

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Forged: Writing in the Name of God

Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

By Bart D. Ehrman

The evocative title tells it all and hints at the tone of sensationalism that pervades this book. Those familiar with the earlier work of Ehrman, a distinguished professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and author of more than 20 books including Misquoting Jesus, will not be surprised at the content of this one. Written in a manner accessible to nonspecialists, Ehrman argues that many books of the New Testament are not simply written by people other than the ones to whom they are attributed, but that they are deliberate forgeries. The word itself connotes scandal and crime, and it appears on nearly every page. Indeed, this book takes on an idea widely accepted by biblical scholars: that writing in someone else’s name was common practice and perfectly okay in ancient times. Ehrman argues that it was not even then considered acceptable—hence, a forgery. While many readers may wish for more evidence of the charge, Ehrman’s introduction to the arguments and debates among different religious communities during the first few centuries and among the early Christians themselves, though not the book’s main point, is especially valuable.—Publishers Weekly  / Forged Bart Ehrman’s New Salvo (Witherington)

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Santeria: The Beliefs and Rituals 

of a Growing Religion in America

By Miguel A. De La Torre

This book by Miguel De la Torre offers a fascinating guide to the history, beliefs, rituals, and culture of Santeria — a religious tradition that, despite persecution, suppression, and its own secretive nature, has close to a million adherents in the United States alone. Santeria is a religion with Afro-Cuban roots, rising out of the cultural clash between the Yoruba people of West Africa and the Spanish Catholics who brought them to the Americas as slaves. As a faith of the marginalized and persecuted, it gave oppressed men and women strength and the will to survive. With the exile of thousands of Cubans in the wake of Castro’s revolution in 1959, Santeria came to the United States, where it is gradually coming to be recognized as a legitimate faith tradition.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 3 October 2011




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