Dietrich Bonhoeffer (4 February 1906 – 9 April 1945) was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, participant in the German resistance movement against Nazism and founding member of the Confessing Church.
- Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.
- Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. On back cover. Page number needed. (Try Finding It Yourself!)
- Time is the most precious gift in our possession, for it is the most irrevocable. This is what makes it so disturbing to look back upon the time which we have lost. Time lost is time when we have not lived a full human life, time unenriched by experience, creative endeavor, enjoyment, and suffering. Time lost is time not filled, time left empty.
- As quoted in LIFE magazine (22 April 1957), p. 152; also in Letters and Papers from Prison (1967), p. 47
- How wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know.
- Letters and papers from Prison (1997), p. 311
- Quotes from English translations of Nachfolge (1937), also translated as The Cost of Discipleship (1949)
- Should the church be trying to erect a spiritual reign of terror over people by threatening earthly and eternal punishment on its own authority and commanding everything a person must believe and do to be saved? Should the church's word bring new tyranny and violent abuse to human souls? It may be that some people yearn for such servitude. But could the church ever serve such a longing?
When holy scripture speaks of following Jesus, it proclaims that people are free from all human rules, from everything which presumes, burdens, or causes worry and torment of conscience. In following Jesus, people are released from the hard yoke of their own laws to be under the gentle yoke of Jesus Christ. ... Jesus' commandment never wishes to destroy life, but rather to preserve, strengthen, and heal life.
- "Preface", as translated by Barbara Green and Reihhard Krauss (2001)
Discipleship and the Cross
- As translated by Barbara Green and Reihhard Krauss (2001)
- Jesus Christ has to suffer and be rejected. … Suffering and being rejected are not the same. Even in his suffering Jesus could have been the celebrated Christ. Indeed, the entire compassion and admiration of the world could focus on the suffering. Looked upon as something tragic, the suffering could in itself convey its own value, its own honor and dignity. But Jesus is the Christ who was rejected in his suffering. Rejection removed all dignity and honor from his suffering. It had to be dishonorable suffering. Suffering and rejection express in summary form the cross of Jesus. Death on the cross means to suffer and to die as one rejected and cast out. It was by divine necessity that Jesus had to suffer and be rejected. Any attempt to hinder what is necessary is satanic. Even, or especially, if such an attempt comes from the circle of disciples, because it intends to prevent Christ from being Christ. The fact that it is Peter, the rock of the church, who makes himself guilty doing this just after he has confessed Jesus to be the Christ and has been commissioned by Christ, shows that from its very beginning the church has taken offense at the suffering of Christ. It does not want that kind of Lord, and as Christ's church it does not want to be forced to accept the law of suffering from its Lord.
- p. 84
- "If any want to become my followers," Jesus says. Following him is not something that is self-evident, even among the disciples. No one can be forced, no one can be expected to follow him. ... "If any want to follow me, they must deny themselves … and take up their cross."
- p. 85
- The cross is not random suffering, but necessary suffering. The cross is not suffering that stems from natural existence; it is the suffering that comes from being Christian. ... A Christianity that no longer took discipleship seriously remade the gospel into only the solace of cheap grace. Moreover, it drew no line between natural and Christian existence. Such a Christianity had to understand the cross as one's daily misfortune, as the predicament and anxiety of our daily life. Here it has been forgotten that the cross also means being rejected, that the cross includes the shame of suffering. Being shunned, despised, and deserted by people, as in the psalmists unending lament, is an essential feature of the suffering of the cross, which cannot be comprehended by a Christianity that is unable to differentiate between a citizen's ordinary existence and a Christian existence. The cross is suffering with Christ.
- p. 86
- God honors some with great suffering and grants them the grace of martyrdom, while other are not tempted beyond their strength. But in every case it is one cross.
It is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering that everyone has to experience is the call which summons us away from our attachments to this world. It is the death of the old self in the encounter with Jesus Christ. Those who enter into discipleship enter into Jesus' death.
- p. 87
- The Cross is not the terrible end of a pious happy life. Instead, it stands at the beginning of community with Jesus Christ. Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death.
- p. 87
- This quote ends with an oft quoted aphorism: Jeder Ruf Christi fährt in den Tod.
- Variant translations:
- Every call of Christ leads into death.
- When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.
- Jesus' call to bear the cross places all who follow him in the community of the forgiveness of sins. Forgiving sins is the Christ-suffering required of his disciples. It is required of all Christians.
- p. 88
- As translated by R. H. Fuller, with some revision by Irmgard Booth (1959)
- Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting to-day for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?
- Costly Grace, p 43
- Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian "conception" of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. The church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part of that grace. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.
Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before.
- Costly Grace, p 43
- Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all he has. It is the pearl of great price to by which the merchant will sell all his goods.
- p. 45
- Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.
- p. 45
- God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.
Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs. It is therefore the living word, the Word of God, which he speaks as it pleases him. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."
- p. 49
- As translated by R. H. Fuller, with some revision by Irmgard Booth (1959)
- The right way to requite evil, according to Jesus, is not to resist it. This saying of Christ removes the Church from the sphere of politics and law. The Church is not to be a national community like the old Israel, but a community of believers without political or national ties. The old Israel had been both — the chosen people of God and a national community, and it was therefore his will that they should meet force with force. But with the Church it is different: it has abandoned political and national status, and therefore it must patiently endure aggression. Otherwise evil will be heaped upon evil. Only thus can fellowship be established and maintained.
At this point it becomes evident that when a Christian meets with injustice, he no longer clings to his rights and defends them at all costs. He is absolutely free from possessions and bound to Christ alone. Again, his witness to this exclusive adherence to Jesus creates the only workable basis for fellowship, and leaves the aggressor for him to deal with.
The only way to overcome evil is to let it run itself to a stand-still because it does not find the resistance it is looking for. Resistance merely creates further evil and adds fuel to the flames. But when evil meets no opposition and encounters no obstacle but only patient endurance, its sting is drawn, and at last it meets an opponent which is more than its match. Of course this can only happen when the last ounce of resistance is abandoned, and the renunciation of revenge is complete. Then evil cannot find its mark, it can breed no further evil, and is left barren.
- p. 141
- By willing endurance we cause suffering to pass. Evil becomes a spent force when we put up no resistance. By refusing to pay back the enemy with his own coin, and preferring to suffer without resistance, the Christian exhibits the sinfulness of contumely and insult. Violence stands condemned by its failure to evoke counter-violence.
- p. 142
- By his willingly renouncing self-defence, the Christian affirms his absolute adherence to Jesus, and his freedom from the tyranny of his own ego. The exclusiveness of this adherence is the only power which can overcome evil.
- p. 142
- Jesus bluntly calls the evil person evil. If I am assailed, I am not to condone or justify aggression. Patient endurance of evil does not mean a recognition of its rights. That is sheer sentimentality, and Jesus will have nothing to do with it. The shameful assault, the deed of violence and the act of exploitation are still evil. … The very fact that the evil which assaults him is unjustifiable makes it imperative that he should not resist it, but play it out and overcome it by patiently enduring the evil person. Suffering willingly endured is stronger than evil, it spells death to evil.
- p. 142
- Jesus is no draughtsman of political blueprints, he is the one who vanquished evil through suffering. It looked as though evil had triumphed on the cross, but the real victory belonged to Jesus. And the cross is the only justification for the precept of non-violence, for it alone can kindle a faith in the victory over evil which will enable men to obey that precept. And only such obedience is blessed with the promise that we shall be partakers of Christ's victory as well as his sufferings.
- p. 142
- The passion of Christ is the victory of divine love over the powers of evil, and therefore it is the only supportable basis for Christian obedience. Once again, Jesus calls those who follow him to share his passion. How can we convince the world by our preaching of the passion when we shrink from that passion in our own lives? On the cross Jesus fulfilled the law he himself established and thus graciously keeps his disciples in the fellowship of his suffering.
- p. 142
Letters and Papers from Prison (1967; 1997)
Who Stands Fast?
- The great masquerade of evil has played havoc with all our ethical concepts. For evil to appear disguised as light, charity, historical necessity or social justice is quite bewildering to anyone brought up on out traditional ethical concepts, while for the Christian who bases his life on the Bible, it merely confirms the fundamental wickedness of evil. The "reasonable" people's failure is obvious. With the best intentions and a naive lack of realism, they think that with a little reason they can bend back into position the framework that has got out of joint. In their lack of vision they want to do justice to all sides, and so the conflicting forces wear them down with nothing achieved. Disappointed by the world's unreasonableness, they see themselves condemned to ineffectiveness; they step aside in resignation or collapse before the stronger party.
Still more pathetic is the total collapse of moral fanaticism. Fanatics think that their single-minded principles qualify them to do battle with the powers of evil; but like a bull they rush at the red cloak instead of the person who is holding it; he exhausts himself and is beaten. He gets entangled in non-essentials and falls into the trap set by cleverer people.
- p. 4
- Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God — the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God. Where are these responsible people?
- p. 5
- What lies behind the complaint about the dearth of civil courage? In recent years we have seen a great deal of bravery and self-sacrifice, but civil courage hardly anywhere, even among ourselves. To attribute this simply to personal cowardice would be too facile a psychology; its background is quite different. In a long history, we Germans have had to learn the need for and the strength of obedience. In the subordination of all personal wishes and ideas to the tasks to which we have been called, we have seen the meaning and greatness of our lives. We have looked upwards, not in servile fear, but in free trust, seeing in our tasks a call, and in our call a vocation. This readiness to follow a command from "above" rather than our own private opinions and wishes was a sign of legitimate self-distrust. Who would deny that in obedience, in their task and calling, the Germans have again and again shown the utmost bravery and self-sacrifice? But the German has kept his freedom — and what nation has talked more passionately of freedom than the Germans, from Luther to the idealist philosophers? — by seeking deliverance from self-will through service to the community. Calling and freedom were to him two sides of the same thing. But in this he misjudged the world; he did not realize that his submissiveness and self-sacrifice could be exploited for evil ends. When that happened, the exercise of the calling itself became questionable, and all the moral principles of the German were bound to totter. The fact could not be escaped that the Germans still lacked something fundamental: he could not see the need for free and responsible action, even in opposition to the task and his calling; in its place there appeared on the one hand an irresponsible lack of scruple, and on the other a self-tormenting punctiliousness that never led to action. Civil courage, in fact, can grow only out of the free responsibility of free men. Only now are the Germans beginning to discover the meaning of free responsibility. It depends on a God who demands responsible action in a bold venture of faith, and who promises forgiveness and consolation to the man who becomes a sinner in that venture.
- p. 5
Are we still of any use?
- A letter sent out to his closest friends for New Year's Day 1943, also published as After Ten Years : A Reckoning made at the New Year 1943
- We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remoreseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?
- p. 16
The view from below
- There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated — in short, from the perspective of those who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. Christians are called to compassion and to action.
- p. 17
- Der Freund, published in Widerstand und Ergebung, Briefe und Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft (1952), p. 269
- Nicht aus dem schweren Boden
wo Blut und Geschlecht und Schwur
mächtig und heilig sind,
wo die Erde selbst
gegen Wahnsinn und
die geweihten heilgen uralten Ordnungen
hütet und schützt und rächt, —
nicht aus dem schweren Boden der Erde,
sondern aus freiem Gefallen
und freiem Verlangen des Geistes,
der nicht des Eides und des Gesetzes bedarf,
wird der Freund dem Freunde geschenkt.
- Not from the heavy soil
where blood and sex and oath
rule in their hallowed might,
where the earth itself,
guarding the primal consecrated order,
avenges wantonness and madness —
not from the heavy soil of the earth,
but from the spirit's choice and free desire, needing no oath of legal bond,
is friend bestowed on friend.
- Variant translation:
- A friend is a gift to a friend
not from the heavy soil where blood and
race and oaths are mighty and holy,
where the earth itself watches over the sacred
hallowed and ancient ordinances
and defends and avenges them,
not from the heavy soil of the earth,
but from free choice and the free desire
of the heart, which are not in need of
an oath or a law.
- As translated in A New Critique of Theoretical Thought (1953) by Herman Dooyeweerd, Vol. 3, p. 179
- Not from the heavy soil
- Beside the staff of life,
taken and fashioned from the heavy earth,
beside our marriage, work, and war
the free man, too, will live and grow towards the sun.
Not the ripe fruit alone —
blossom is lovely, too.
Does blossom only serve the fruit,
or does fruit only serve the blossom —
But both are given to us.
- When the spirit touches
man's heart and brow
with thoughts that are lofty, bold, serene,
so that with clear eyes he will face the world
as a free man may;
when the spirit gives birth to action
by which alone we stand or fall;
when from the sane and resolute action
rises the workd that gives a a man's life
content and meaning — then would that many,
lonely and actively working,
know of the spirit that grasps and befriends him...
- Sickened by vermin
that feed, in the shade of the good,
on envy, greed, and suspicion,
by the snake-like hissing
of venomous tongues
that fear hate and revile
the mystery of free thought
and upright heart
The spirit would cast aside all deceit,
open his heart to the spirit he trusts,
and unite with him freely as one.
- Man seeks, in his manhood,
not orders, not laws and peremptory dogmas,
but counsel from one who is earnest in goodness
and faithful in friendship,
making man free.
- Distant or near,
in joy or in sorrow,
each in the other
sees his true helper
to brotherly freedom.
Meditations on the Cross (1996)
- Das Außerordentliche wird Ereignis : Kreuz und Auferstehung (1996), as edited by Manfred Weber, and translated by Douglas W. Scott (1998)
Encountering the Extraordinary
- (first written 1934, revised up to 1937)
- What is the "extraordinary"? It is the love of Jesus Christ himself, love that goes to the cross in suffering obedience. It is the cross. The peculiar feature of Christian life is precisely this cross, a cross enabling Christians to go beyond the world, as it were, thereby granting them victory over the world. Suffering encountered in the love of the one who is crucified — that is the "extraordinary" in Christian existence.
The Extraordinary is without doubt that visible element over which the Father in heaven is praised. It cannot remain hidden; people must see it.
- p. 1
- The activity will prove to be "peculiar" by leading the active person into Christ's own passion. This activity itself is perpetual suffering and enduring. In it, Christ is suffered by his disciple. If this is not the case, it is not the activity Jesus intended. In this way, the "extraordinary" is the fulfilling of the law, the keeping of the commandments.
- p. 1
Back to the Cross
- (written in 1936)
- Before Jesus leads His disciples into suffering, humiliation, disgrace, and disdain, He summons them and shows Himself to them as the Lord in God's glory. Before the disciples must descend with Jesus into the abyss of human guilt, malice, and hatred, Jesus leads them to a high mountain from which they are to receive help. Before Jesus' face is beaten and spat upon, before his cloak is torn and splattered with blood, the disciples are to see Him in his divine glory. His face shines like the face of God and light is the garment he wears.
- p. 3
- We want Jesus as the visibly resurrected one, as the splendid, transfigured Jesus. We want his visible power and glory, and we no longer want to return to the cross, to believing against all appearances, to suffering in faith ... it is good here... let us make dwellings. …
The disciples are not allowed to do this. God's glory comes quite near in the radiant cloud of God's presence, and the Father's voice says: "This is my beloved son; listen to him!" … There is no abiding in and enjoying his visible glory here. Whoever recognizes the transfigured Jesus, whoever recognizes Jesus as God, must also immediately recognize Him as the crucified human being, and should hear him, obey him. Luther's vision of Christ: "the crucified Lord!" ... Now the disciples are overcome by fear. Now they comprehend what is going on. They were, after all, still in the world, unable to bear such glory. They sinned against God's glory.
- p. 3
Quotes about Bonhoeffer
- For Bonhoeffer, the foundation of ethical behaviour lay in how the reality of the world and the reality of God were reconciled in the reality of Christ. Both in his thinking and in his life, ethics were centered on the demand for action by responsible men and women in the face of evil. He was sharply critical of ethical theory and of academic concerns with ethical systems precisely because of their failure to confront evil directly. Evil, he asserted, was concrete and specific, and it could be combated only by the specific actions of responsible people in the world. The uncompromising position Bonhoeffer took in his seminal work Ethics, was directly reflected in his stance against Nazism.
- An unsystematic theologian in the tradition of Søren Kierkegaard who has spoken to successive generations of religiously questing young people is the Nazi-martyred Dietrich Bonhoeffer. At the age of thirty-nine he was executed for his implication in the abortive March 13, 1943 assassination plot on Adolf Hitler. His fragmentary writings have had an astonishing circulation and ready acceptance in many parts of the world. ... Bonhoeffer questioned whether the modern church had so obscured the gospel by adding dogmas, burdensome rules, and irrelevant demands that to make a genuine decision for Christ has become extremely difficult, if not impossible ... Discipleship, argued Bonhoeffer, means joy, and is not limited to the spiritual elite but is for everyone.
- William P. Anderson, in A Journey through Christian Theology (2000), p. 181
- Bonhoeffer was disinterested in another world, opposed to setting apart so-called religious activities, such as prayer and church-going, from the everyday activities of earning a living or engaging in politics. ... Religion if it is to be vital, must lead to the amelioration of social problems.
- William P. Anderson, in A Journey through Christian Theology (2000), p. 185
- When Bonhoeffer comprehended the implications of Nazi policy towards citizens of Jewish origin, he became a convinced advocate of the need to have Hitler removed from office because he was a grotesque caricature of what a German head of state should be. Indeed, for Bohhoeffer Hitler was the agent of the Antichrist. Clearly, his principles for ultimately endorsing tyrannicide were strictly circumscribed and, as such, very different from any of the past English, American, or French revolutionaries in their situation.
- John Anthony Moses, in The Reluctant Revolutionary : Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Collision with Prusso-German History (2009), Introcuction, p. xi
- Bonhoeffer was highly critical of the lack of intellectual rigor in Western thought … but becomes through his constructive criticism, and ardent advocate of ecumenism as an instrument that could be employed to advocate peace among nations.
- John Anthony Moses, in The Reluctant Revolutionary : Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Collision with Prusso-German History (2009), Introcuction, p. xix
- Bonhoffer offers an insight into friendship. He notes that it is not easy to classify this relationship sociologically, unlike the relationships which derive from, what he refers to as, the divine mandates, namely marriage, work, the state and the church. Because it cannot be classified or defined as such, friendship cannot be protected by the courts or society in general. Rather, friendship develops in freedom, or as Bonhoffer says, friendship appeals to the necessitas of liberty. Friendship is defined by "the binding content between two people." ... The Christian's service of God entails service of one's neighbor. The community united in worship is a manifestation of God's presence. In worship we "rehearse" or "act out" what we are to become as God's people, namely "One." Moreover, in a sense we "worship one another," in that we are aware that each member of the community is an image of the living God.
- Thomas J. Scirghi, in An Examination of the Problems of Inclusive Language in the Trinitarian Formula of Baptism (2000), p. 127
- Cross and resurrection, suffering and the overcoming of death were central themes in Dietrich Bonhoeffer's exegetical and theological work. Again and again during his lifetime ... he focused on these themes, trying to disclose their relevance for human life and actions, and to answer the question regarding just what Christian life really is.
- Manfred Weber, in the Foreword to Meditations on the Cross (1996), p. vii
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer English home page.
- Profile at The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer Online Exhibition — United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
- Bonhoeffer Reading Room, Tyndale Seminary
- International Dietrich Bonhoeffer Society
- Bonhoeffer Bibliography by Joel Lawrence
- After Ten Years
- Bonhoeffer (PBS documentary)