Bonhoeffer’s Last Words, Before He Was Hanged (74 Years Ago Today)

 

Source: German Federal Archive
Source: German Federal Archive

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged in the Nazi concentration camp of Flossenbürg on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the U.S. military came to liberate it.

John W. de Gruchy describes the lead-up to that day in his Editor’s Introduction to Letters and Papers from Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, volume 8):

On October 8 [of 1944], Bonhoeffer was taken to the cellar of the Gestapo prison on Prinz-Albrecht-Straße, where he stayed until February 7, 1945. From then on, all correspondence came to an end, and contact between Bonhoeffer and the family and [Eberhard] Bethge was broken. From there Bonhoeffer was taken first to Buchenwald and then, via the village of Schönberg in Bavaria, to the Flossenbürg concentration camp, where he arrived on April 8. That evening he was tried by a hastily rigged court and condemned to death. Early the next morning Bonhoeffer was executed along with several other coconspirators.

He was hanged April 9. His family would not learn about it for several months.

The July before he had written to his trusted friend (and later biographer) Eberhard Bethge, one day after the failed assassination attempt on Hitler’s life. He wrote:

How should one become arrogant over successes or shaken by one’s failures when one shares in God’s suffering in the life of this world? You understand what I mean even when I put it so briefly. I am grateful that I have been allowed this insight, and I know that it is only on the path that I have finally taken that I was able to learn this. So I am thinking gratefully and with peace of mind about past as well as present things. …

May God lead us kindly through these times, but above all, may God lead us to himself.

His final recorded words before his hanging are especially appropriate in these days that lead up to Easter Sunday:

This is the end–for me the beginning of life.

 


 

This post is adapted from a post I wrote around this time five years ago, as part of the “Tuesdays in Lent with Bonhoeffer” I was doing. See other gathered posts here.

New Bonhoeffer Title: Engaging Bonhoeffer

Engaging Bonhoeffer

 

I learned today of a new Bonhoeffer studies title releasing (in days!) from Fortress Press. It’s called Engaging Bonhoeffer: The Impact and Influence of Bonhoeffer’s Life and Thought. Here’s the blurb:

Engaging Bonhoeffer documents the extraordinary impact of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and writing on later thought. Despite his lasting legacy, little substantial scholarship has been conducted in this area. In this magisterial collection, leading international scholars fill this striking gap and critically demonstrate the ways in which Bonhoeffer has been one of the most original, inspirational, and provocative writers of the twentieth century.

Bonhoeffer’s work has proved foundational for a wide variety of thinkers and movements across such areas as ecclesiology, Christology, spirituality, ethics, hermeneutics, phenomenology, epistemology, and systematic theology more generally. Whether one considers his writings to have been faithfully interpreted, critically adopted or justifiably rejected, Engaging Bonhoeffer describes those who have engaged with Bonhoeffer’s work, been inspired by his actions, and found a way to express and explain their own ideas through interacting with his life and thought. In addition to shedding light on the different theological trajectories that Bonhoeffer’s work may forge, this challenging volume offers a critical window through which to view and appreciate the ideas of many leading voices of modern theology.

There are 15 essays in all, the titles of which are all here. The ones I’m particularly interested in are:

1. A Tale of Two Bonhoeffers?—Keith W. Clements
2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Death of God Theologians—Eleanor McLaughlin
7. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Liberation Theologies—Geffrey B. Kelly and Matthew D. Kirkpatrick
14. On the Phenomenology of CreationJohn Panteleimon Manoussakis
15. “Let your light so shine”Medi Ann Volpe and Jennifer Moberly

Kudos to Fortress Press for keeping the Bonhoeffer goodness coming! Last fall they published reader’s editions of four classic Bonhoeffer titles. Kudos also to Fortress for publishing a Bonhoeffer book with a fresh photo of the man! Looks like a young Bonhoeffer, probably when he was a teenager getting ready to fire off a couple of dissertations.

If/as I learn more about Engaging Bonhoeffer, I’ll post again here. In the meantime, the publisher’s book page is here. It’s on Amazon here.

Bonhoeffer’s Last Words, Before He Was Hanged (71 Years Ago Today)

 

Source: German Federal Archive
Source: German Federal Archive

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged in the Nazi concentration camp of Flossenbürg on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the U.S. military came to liberate it.

John W. de Gruchy describes the lead-up to that day in his Editor’s Introduction to Letters and Papers from Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, volume 8):

On October 8 [of 1944], Bonhoeffer was taken to the cellar of the Gestapo prison on Prinz-Albrecht-Straße, where he stayed until February 7, 1945. From then on, all correspondence came to an end, and contact between Bonhoeffer and the family and [Eberhard] Bethge was broken. From there Bonhoeffer was taken first to Buchenwald and then, via the village of Schönberg in Bavaria, to the Flossenbürg concentration camp, where he arrived on April 8. That evening he was tried by a hastily rigged court and condemned to death. Early the next morning Bonhoeffer was executed along with several other coconspirators.

He was hanged April 9. His family would not learn about it for several months.

The July before he had written to his trusted friend (and later biographer) Eberhard Bethge, one day after the failed assassination attempt on Hitler’s life. He wrote:

How should one become arrogant over successes or shaken by one’s failures when one shares in God’s suffering in the life of this world? You understand what I mean even when I put it so briefly. I am grateful that I have been allowed this insight, and I know that it is only on the path that I have finally taken that I was able to learn this. So I am thinking gratefully and with peace of mind about past as well as present things. …

May God lead us kindly through these times, but above all, may God lead us to himself.

His final recorded words before his hanging are especially appropriate in these days that follow Easter Sunday:

This is the end–for me the beginning of life.

 


 

This post is adapted from a post I wrote around this time two years ago, as part of the “Tuesdays in Lent with Bonhoeffer” I was doing. See other gathered posts here.

Bonhoeffer Reader’s Editions: Now Published, and a Look Inside

Bonhoeffer Reader's Editions
They’re here!

 

The Bonhoeffer Reader’s Editions are now available for public edification. Check out the details here.

The set covers four classics: Discipleship, Life Together, Ethics, and Letters and Papers from Prison.

Here is the full publisher’s description:

Using the acclaimed Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works English translation and adapted to a more accessible format, these new editions of Discipleship, Ethics, Letters and Papers from Prison, and Life Together feature the latest translations of Bonhoeffer’s works, supplemental material from Victoria J. Barnett, and insightful introductions by Geffrey B. Kelly, Clifford J. Green, and John W. de Gruchy.

Originally published in 1937, Discipleship soon became a classic exposition of what it means to follow Christ in a modern world beset by a dangerous and criminal government.

Life Together gathers Bonhoeffer’s 1938 reflections on the character of Christian community, based on the common life experienced at the Finkenwalde Seminary and in the “Brother’s House” there.

Ethics embodies the culmination of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theological and personal odyssey and is one of the most important works of Christian ethics of the last century.

Letters and Papers from Prison presents the full array of Bonhoeffer’s 1943–1945 prison letters and theological writings, introducing his novel ideas of religionless Christianity, his theological appraisal of Christian doctrines, and his sturdy faith in the face of uncertainty and doubt.

This four-volume set of Bonhoeffer’s classic works allows all readers to appreciate the cogency and relevance of his vision.

If you’re new to Bonhoeffer, I’ve got a collection of posts gathered here. The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works is already a well-done series; the idea of an even more accessible, annotated Bonhoeffer is also appealing.

Check out more here, and when you click on the individual book images on the right side of the page, you can read samples from each of the volumes.

And Now… Bonhoeffer *Reader’s Editions*

Bonhoeffer Reader's Editions
Super-sweet image via Fortress Press (click to enlarge)

 

Big news for Bonhoeffer aficionados/as: Fortress Press, publishers of the 17-volume Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (English edition), has just announced the Fall 2015 publication of Reader’s Edition volumes of DiscipleshipLife TogetherEthics, and Letters and Papers from Prison.

I haven’t seen a ton of information yet, but here’s the publisher’s description:

Featuring the acclaimed DBWE translation and adapted for a more accessible format, the new Reader’s Edition volumes include supplemental material from DBWE general editor, Victoria J. Barnett, as well as insightful introductions by Bonhoeffer scholars which clarify the theological meaning and importance of his work.

New to Bonhoeffer? I collected some reflections on his writings after spending much of one Lent reading him. All my Bonhoeffer posts are gathered here. I reviewed the amazing Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible (DBWE 5) here.

It’s hard to imagine how the editors of the DBWE set could offer anything to improve upon those exceptional volumes, but I do like the idea of a more accessible, annotated Bonhoeffer. Check it all out here.

Bonhoeffer’s Last Words, Before He Was Hanged (70 Years Ago Today)

Source: German Federal Archive
Source: German Federal Archive

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged in the Nazi concentration camp of Flossenbürg on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the U.S. military came to liberate it.

John W. de Gruchy describes the lead-up to that day in his Editor’s Introduction to Letters and Papers from Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, volume 8):

On October 8 [of 1944], Bonhoeffer was taken to the cellar of the Gestapo prison on Prinz-Albrecht-Straße, where he stayed until February 7, 1945. From then on, all correspondence came to an end, and contact between Bonhoeffer and the family and [Eberhard] Bethge was broken. From there Bonhoeffer was taken first to Buchenwald and then, via the village of Schönberg in Bavaria, to the Flossenbürg concentration camp, where he arrived on April 8. That evening he was tried by a hastily rigged court and condemned to death. Early the next morning Bonhoeffer was executed along with several other coconspirators.

He was hanged April 9. His family would not learn about it for several months.

The July before he had written to his trusted friend (and later biographer) Eberhard Bethge, one day after the failed assassination attempt on Hitler’s life. He wrote:

How should one become arrogant over successes or shaken by one’s failures when one shares in God’s suffering in the life of this world? You understand what I mean even when I put it so briefly. I am grateful that I have been allowed this insight, and I know that it is only on the path that I have finally taken that I was able to learn this. So I am thinking gratefully and with peace of mind about past as well as present things. …

May God lead us kindly through these times, but above all, may God lead us to himself.

His final recorded words before his hanging are especially appropriate in these days that follow Easter Sunday:

This is the end–for me the beginning of life.

 


 

This post is adapted from a post I wrote around this time last year, as part of the “Tuesdays in Lent with Bonhoeffer” I was doing. See other gathered posts here.

Geffrey B. Kelly’s Reading Bonhoeffer

I’m a sucker for biblical and theological studies with an unapologetically doxological posture. So it was with excitement that I read John W. Matthews’s concluding sentence in his foreword to Geffrey B. Kelly’s Reading Bonhoeffer: A Guide to His Spiritual Classics and Selected Writings on Peace. Matthews writes:

I believe both the author and the subject [Bonhoeffer] would be disappointed if this book did not somehow draw you, the readers, closer to Jesus Christ and to your neighbor.

Kelly’s short yet substantive book does very much that. His first encounter with Bonhoeffer is intertwined with a beautiful story of his own re-awakening to Jesus. He says in the Preface:

Through Bonhoeffer’s inspirational words Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount seemed to be addressed to me personally for the first time. I was hooked.

Reading Bonhoeffer has four major sections:

  1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biographical Sketch
  2. On Reading Bonhoeffer’s Spiritual Classic, Discipleship
  3. Life Together: Bonhoeffer on Christian Community
  4. Selected Writings on Peace: An Ecumenical Conference and Two Sermons

The Preface, after describing Kelly’s transformative first read of Discipleship, offers some helpful background information and resources for Bonhoeffer studies. Kelly mentions, for example, his involvement with the International Bonhoeffer Society, English Language Section. He writes about the International Bonhoeffer Congress. And he discusses the genesis of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works series (English translation), published by Fortress Press.

1. A Riveting Biographical Sketch

Kelly’s “Biographical Sketch” is longer than Renate Bethge’s short work, and (obviously) a much quicker read than Eberhard Bethge’s monumental biography. 28 pages follow Bonhoeffer through his life, writings, and ministry.

Reading BonhoefferThere are a few things that stand out about Kelly’s short biography. For one, though it’s scant on details of Bonhoeffer’s early life (to be expected, given its length), the overview is thorough and really orients the reader well to Bonhoeffer. Kelly has a knack for succinctly summarizing Bonhoeffer’s writings in understandable language–even Bonhoeffer’s challenging Sanctorum Communio!

Second, Kelly’s biography is itself a gripping narrative. There is real movement as he progress through the various pastoral and academic positions Bonhoeffer held, from Berlin to London, from the seminary at Finkenwalde to the church struggle, Bonhoeffer’s arrest, and his imprisonment. I found myself wanting more dates in places (e.g., “Once back in Berlin…”–when?), but perhaps this omission was deliberate to keep the narrative moving. I was not able to put the book down until I had finished the page-turner of a biography.

Third, Kelly describes many of Bonhoeffer’s key terms and concepts, both in this first section and throughout Reading Bonhoeffer. Even a reader with little or no Bonhoeffer background will walk away from the biographical sketch with confidence to read any of Bonhoeffer’s writing.

Fourth, Kelly is clearly in awe of his subject, and rightly so. This, in turn, allows the reader to be inspired by Bonhoeffer. Kelly includes a treasure trove of Bonhoeffer quotations, some familiar, and some more off-the-beaten path. To wit:

I was quite pleased with myself. Then the Bible, and in particular the Sermon on the Mount, freed me from that. Since then everything has changed…. It was a great liberation. It became clear to me that the life of a servant of Jesus Christ must belong to the church, and step by step it became plainer to me how far that must go.

2. Kelly on Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship

Kelly served as co-editor, with John D. Godsey, of Discipleship, volume 4 in the (English) Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works series (DBWE). This second section of Reading Bonhoeffer offers more than 60 pages of commentary on that well-loved Bonhoeffer book, known also as The Cost of Discipleship.

After a brief “history of the text” Kelly proceeds section-by-section through Discipleship. In short, according to Kelly,

Discipleship is a book in which Bonhoeffer uses Jesus’ own words as recorded in the gospels and the exhortations of the apostle Paul to confront readers with the uncushioned challenges to all their inaccurate ideas, falsified by Nazi propaganda, of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

DBWE DiscipleshipReaders of Discipleship will of course already know that much of the book exposits Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, but Kelly’s unique contribution as a commentator here is in highlighting the historical context that makes Bonhoeffer’s writing even more remarkable. Not only does Kelly note a particular Nazi evil to which Bonhoeffer may have been alluding, he also points ahead in Bonhoeffer’s life to instances where he would live out the call of his own writings.

As Kelly was co-editor of the DBWE volume, to read his chapter-by-chapter commentary on Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship is to have a guided tour by a leading expert, complete with summary statements and key quotes from that book. It’s well-footnoted with reference to the page numbers in the DBWE edition, so following up in Bonhoeffer’s text is easy. It’s an essential companion.

3. Kelly on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together

The first Bonhoeffer book to be published in the DBWE series was Life Together, which appears as volume 5, bound together with Prayerbook of the Bible. Kelly served as editor of that volume, which includes an introduction and critical apparatus (i.e., lots of informative and orienting footnotes).

DBWE Life TogetherAs with the previous section of Reading Bonhoeffer, Kelly’s commentary on Life Together, although significantly briefer in its section-by-section analysis, serves as a really useful reader’s guide. Its introductory section in this book is thorough, drawing on Kelly’s introduction in the DBWE edition. This sets up the reader well to better understand Bonhoeffer’s important work on community life in the Church.

Kelly, for example, points to “Bonhoeffer’s distinction between being with and being for the others in community.” He traces Bonhoeffer’s interest in building a community, going back even to socio-theological themes in Sanctorum Communio, Bonhoeffer’s first doctoral dissertation. Kelly summarizes and comments on each of the five sections of Life Together in turn: Community, The Day Together, The Day Alone, Service, and Confession and the Lord’s Supper.

4. Peace Writings

Kelly notes the tension that many students and readers of Bonhoeffer experience when they realize a conspirator against Hitler was a peace activist. After tracing the development of Bonhoeffer’s concern for peace, via an overview of his friendship with pacificst Jean Lasserre, Kelly looks at “three texts in which Bonhoeffer reveals himself as an uncompromising advocate for peace on the troubled earth where Nazism ruled with tactics of fear, violence, and the promise of a return to German military glory.” These include a 1932 conference lecture in Switzerland (with excerpts), a 1932 sermon (also with excerpts), and Bonhoeffer’s address to the Ecumenical Council of Christian Churches at Fanø, Denmark in 1934.

Together these orations display Bonhoeffer’s boldness and even impatience at times with inaction around him. In the address in Denmark, for instance, Bonhoeffer says,

Why do we fear the fury of the world powers? Why don’t we take the power from them and give it back to Christ? We can still do it today. The Ecumenical Council is in session; it can send out to all believers this radical call to peace.

Kelly helps Bonhoeffer’s call to peace come alive for the reader many decades later.

Concluding Remarks

There is little to critique in Kelly’s book. However, I was distracted by a number of sentences that were long (multiple modifying prepositional phrases) and comma-less. For example:

[Bonhoeffer] recognizes the danger posted by abandonment of Christ’s vision for the world and the manner in which even basically good people can succumb to the temptations to fall into the compromises in morality for which worldly attitudes are particularly prone, business and government plaudits given to acts of avarice and violence serving as prime examples of why it is necessary to be single-minded in following Christ.

A re-read of every such sentence showed that it was generally clear enough. But additional punctuation or shorter sentences would have helped. If there are future printings of this fine book, perhaps this and a few other minor editorial oversights could be re-visited.

Woven throughout Reading Bonhoeffer are “the twin aspects of Bonhoeffer’s spiritual legacy: scholarly expertise and pastoral care.” Kelly himself writes as one in the academy whose own pastoral sensitivity and concern is fully on display. I can only imagine how engaging and inspiring a Bonhoeffer course with him must be.

Reading Bonhoeffer would be a stimulating read for pastors, theologians, seminary students, and Christians who are intent to more faithfully follow Jesus in both individual and community contexts. The discussion questions at the end of each section will facilitate this book’s use in a small group, Sunday school, or classroom setting.

Kelly writes about Bonhoeffer, yes, but Bonhoeffer points so often and so clearly to Jesus, that a good commentary on Bonhoeffer (which this book is) will do the same. I am grateful for this short, hearty work that Kelly has written, and hope that more DBWE volumes receive similar treatment in the future.

By the way–I’m also grateful to Wipf and Stock Publishers for the review copy. They’ve provided a 40% off coupon code to readers of this blog, good toward the purchase of Reading Bonhoeffer or anything else on Wipf and Stock’s site. Simply use the code LETTERS at checkout. It’s good through the end of May.

A Personal Reflection on Dietrich Bonhoeffer: What I’ve Found This Lent

 

Bonhoeffer with Confirmands, 1932
Bonhoeffer with Confirmands, 1932

I knew when I was preaching through the Sermon on the Mount recently that I would make good use of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship. I had no idea that a single question I asked would lead me–in my quest for an “answer”–so far into the life and writings of Bonhoeffer.

Of War and Peace: Which Bonhoeffer? (Revisited)

Russia invaded Ukraine in early March, just days after the Revised Common Lectionary reading was Matthew 5:38-48, which reads in part:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

I wondered: does “turn the other cheek” apply just on an interpersonal level, or at a state level? I turned to Bonhoeffer, who rejected a privatized read of Jesus’ words. In 1937’s Discipleship he wrote:

The overcoming of others now occurs by allowing their evil to run its course. The evil does not find what it is seeking, namely, resistance and, therewith, new evil which will inflame it even more. Evil will become powerless when it finds no opposing object, no resistance, but, instead, is willingly borne and suffered….

Should Ukrainians (or other oppressed peoples) just let themselves be invaded (or oppressed)? I struggled with Bonhoeffer’s words:

There is no thinkable deed in which evil is so large and strong that it would require a different response from a Christian. The more terrible the evil, the more willing the disciple should be to suffer. Evil persons must be delivered to the hands of Jesus. Not I but Jesus must deal with them.

And yet in 1945 he was hanged for his involvement in a conspiracy to kill Hitler. This was not the “no opposing object” and “no resistance” that Bonhoeffer had talked about in Discipleship.

But maybe Bonhoeffer differentiated between evil done to him and evil done to others? Should the Christian be willing “to suffer” in the former instance but willing to act and resist on behalf of another in the latter instance?

As I asked these questions a month and a half ago, I found my own response to Matthew 5 and “turn the other cheek” to be more tension-filled than I would have liked.

Is There a Resolution to the Tension in Bonhoeffer? 

I had been hoping that further study of Bonhoeffer would help me to find some writing where he would essentially repudiate his non-violence stance in Discipleship, saying instead something like, “But when others are oppressed, take up force to eliminate evil, if necessary.”

Bonhoeffer never said any such thing. In fact, on July 21, 1944, the day after a bomb intended for Hitler failed to kill him, Bonhoeffer wrote from prison (about that 1937 book) to his good friend and biographer-to-be Eberhard Bethge:

Today I clearly see the dangers of that book, though I still stand by it.

He still stood by it. Did he mean he also stood by the line from that book, “Not I but Jesus must deal with them”? Was not his involvement in an effort to bomb Hitler a way of trying to deal with him? (Note: I’m not sure I fault Bonhoeffer either way.)

After a Lenten discipline of reading Bonhoeffer (and sections of his biographies) slowly and meditatively, I’m no closer to a resolution of such tensions than I was when I first discovered them. If anything, I’ve been encouraged to see other readers of Bonhoeffer wrestling with the same sorts of questions. This question of whether a ready-to-use-violence Bonhoeffer is consistent with the turn-the-other-cheek Bonhoeffer is, in fact, a fruitful question in Bonhoeffer studies.

What I’ve Found Instead

Tension in Bonhoeffer notwithstanding (and I’m actually coming to appreciate it), I’ve been deeply moved at nearly every turn as I’ve delved more deeply into the life and writings of an activist pastor.

I’ve found:

  • An inspired and passionate preacher, not afraid to tell the truth about life and about Jesus
  • A brilliant writer, already evident at age 19 and age 21
  • An eloquent catechist and Christian educator
  • A brave and gutsy man, who valued the life of others more than his own
  • A gifted poet with incisive awareness of the human condition

His preaching has encouraged mine. His deliberateness in pastoral care and visiting congregants has inspired me. I used one of his catechisms for our church membership class (his writing in that context was met with appreciation by all of us). His courage has bolstered mine, even if I don’t face the sort of trials that he did.

And, best of all, he has pointed away from himself and to the cross of Christ, so that my appreciation for Bonhoeffer doesn’t finally center on Bonhoeffer himself. Rather, through the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer–no doubt inhabited again by the Holy Spirit–I have come to see and know and love Jesus more deeply.

As Bonhoeffer says of the early disciples, listening to Jesus on the mountainside:

They have only him. Yes, and with him they have nothing in the world, nothing at all, but everything, everything with God.

A Short Review of R. Bethge’s Bonhoeffer: A Brief Life

Bonhoeffer_A Brief Life

Renate Bethge’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Brief Life, is about as short a Bonhoeffer biography as there is. Renate’s husband was the late Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer’s dear friend and biographer. Renate is also Bonhoeffer’s niece.

Whereas Eberhard’s bio is well over 900 pages, Renate’s Brief Life is under 90. It’s laid out nicely, with lots of photographs, wide margins, and quotations from Bonhoeffer’s writing and correspondence. Given how little text is actually on a page, it’s a quick read.

The book offers a succinct overview of Bonhoeffer’s life, yet it does not lack substance in its brevity. Highlights for me were the overview of his parents (and their character, and its effect on Bonhoeffer), a chapter called “Contacts with Jews,” and the personal touch of including some of Bonhoeffer’s correspondence. His beautiful poem “Who Am I?” is re-printed here in its entirety.

There are brief mentions of his writings: Life TogetherEthics, and Letters and Papers from Prison (but not, surprisingly, Discipleship). Page 87 offers a nice one-page summary chronology of Bonhoeffer’s life.

If you want to look at a couple sample pages from the book, Logos Bible Software has put some up here and here. (This book will soon be offered in Logos as part of its forthcoming Bonhoeffer Studies Collection.)

Someone looking for biographical detail will want to look elsewhere, but this only claims to be a “brief” biography, which has value especially for folks like me who are coming seriously to Bonhoeffer for the first time. As I continue to read through Eberhard Bethge’s biography, it was nice to put it aside for a bit to get a quick overview of all of Bonhoeffer’s life.

The above book was an unexpected  but welcomed gift from somebody (not a review copy from the publisher). It’s on Amazon here. See my other Bonhoeffer posts here.

In Memoriam: Bonhoeffer’s “Who Am I?”

Bonhoeffer in Prison

In July 1944, less than a year before Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s death (69 years ago today), Bonhoeffer wrote a poignant and self-probing poem called, “Who Am I?” It is found in his Letters and Papers from Prison. Here it is, in its entirety:

Who Am I?

Who am I? They often tell me
I step out from my cell
calm and cheerful and poised,
like a squire from his manor.

Who am I? They often tell me
I speak with my guards
freely, friendly and clear,
as though I were the one in charge.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bear days of calamity
serenely, smiling and proud,
like one accustomed to victory.

Am I really what others say of me?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
Restless, yearning, sick, like a caged bird,
struggling for life breath, as if I were being strangled,
starving for colors, for flowers, for birdsong,
thirsting for kind words, human closeness,
shaking with rage at power lust and pettiest insult,
tossed about, waiting for great things to happen,
helplessly fearing for friends so far away,
too tired and empty to pray, to think, to work,
weary and ready to take my leave of it all?

Who am I? This one or the other?
Am I this one today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? Before others a hypocrite
and in my own eyes a pitiful, whimpering weakling?
Or is what remains in me like a defeated army,
Fleeing in disarray from victory already won?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, thou knowest me; O God, I am thine!

See my other Bonhoeffer posts here.