Global church marks Bonhoeffer's 100th
February - March 2006
March 1, 2006

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), the German Evangelical pastor and theologian who was imprisoned and hanged for his opposition to the Nazis, is being remembered around the world on Feb. 4, the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Bonhoeffer openly challenged the church to stand with the Jews, and eventually joined in a family plot to kill Adolf Hitler. His books are now considered classics in the study of religion, philosophy and ethics.

"The service of the church," Bonhoeffer once said, "has to be given to those who suffer violence and injustice."

Commemorating his birth, PBS will air the award-winning documentary "Bonhoeffer," directed by Martin Doblmeier, on Monday, Feb. 6 at 10 p.m. (ET). The UCC's Wisconsin Conference contributed financially to the making of the film.

"Bonhoeffer's distinction between 'cheap grace' and 'costly grace' remains of critical importance as the church attempts to make its way into the future," says the Rev. Fred Trost, retired Wisconsin Conference Minister and a member of the UCC's Confessing Christ movement. "Cheap grace is, for Bonhoeffer, faith without discipleship, confession without substance, where everything can remain as it was before, where the world can go on in the same old way."

Biorelatable: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Born: February 4, 1906, in Breslau, Germany, along with his twin sister, Sabine.

Educated: University of Berlin (doctorate, 1927); United Theological Seminary in New York City (post-graduate, 1930-31).

Ordained: St. Matthias Church in Berlin (1931)

Ministry: Lecturer in theology, University of Berlin; pastor, German Evangelical Church in Sydenham, Germany, and the Reformed Church of St. Paul in London. He returned to Germany in 1935 to head the seminary of Germany's anti-Nazi "Confessing Church."

Close friend: Paul Lehmann, son of Timothy Lehmann, then-president of UCC-related Elmhurst College. Both tried to persuade Bonhoeffer to teach at Elmhurst rather than return to Nazi Germany, after he completed a post-graduate year at Union Theological Seminary in 1931.

Favorite passage of scripture: "Open your mouth for the voiceless." (Proverbs 31)

Famous quote: "The ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live." (1942)

Famous question: "Who is Jesus Christ for us today?"

The Bonhoeffer Library: "Christ as Culture," from his fi al lecture course at University of Berlin (1933); "Act and Being," "Christ the Center," "The Communion of Saints," "The Cost of Discipleship," "Ethics," "Letters & Papers from Prison," "Life Together."

Challenged: Germany's Nazi party; anti-Semitism, status-quo Christology.

Arrested: Spring 1943, for helping Jews escape to Switzerland.

Hanged: April 9, 1945, at the concentration camp at Flossenbúrg; one of four members of his immediate family to die for participation in the anti-Nazi resistance.

His love: Maria von Wedermeyer, his fiancée, to whom he wrote from prison. His letters were subsequently published as "Love Letters from Cell 92."

Remembered: A courageous pastor, brilliant theologian and prolific writer of the 1930s who comprehensively grasped both German- and English-language theology; a leader - along with Martin Niemueller and Karl Barth - in Germany's Confessing Church movement.  

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Rev. J. Bennett Guess
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