Bonhoeffer’s death remembered 75 years on

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Dietrich BonhoefferThe 75th anniversary of the death of German Lutheran Pastor and noted theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, described by some as a “role model of true humanity in the spirit of Jesus Christ”, was remembered on 9 April.

Bonhoeffer is remembered for his staunch resistance to Nazi dictatorship which led to his execution a few weeks before the Second World War ended.

The Revd John Proctor, General Secretary for the United Reformed Church, reflects on his life:

Bonhoeffer was one of the bravest Christians of the twentieth century. Born in Germany in 1906, he was set for a respectable career as university professor in theology. Then the Nazis came to power, and he saw it as his Christian duty to speak against, stand up to and subvert their influence.

He challenged what was happening to Jewish people. He led an “underground” college for training new ministers, out of sight of the authorities. He used his contacts abroad to help him resist the regime at home. Even in wartime he worked against the government.

Eventually the Nazis caught up with Bonhoeffer. He was implicated in a plot to murder Hitler, condemned to death, and hanged in a concentration camp just a month before the war ended.

Bonhoeffer’s legacy has been immense. He wrote extensively – letters, sermons, hymns, big books. Much of it still feels very current. Life Together is a vision for Christian community. The Cost of Discipleship reflects on the standards and demands of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

The song ‘By Gracious Powers’ is included in Rejoice and Sing. His example inspired Christians to stand up to bad government in South Africa. Many churches carry his name, one of them in London, where he was pastor for two years in the 1930s.

A camp doctor who saw Bonhoeffer die later wrote: "I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer … kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer.

At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost 50 years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God."


Image: A still of Dietrich Bonhoeffer from The Worldliness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Wipf and Stock Publishers/Vimeo
Published: 16 April 2020

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