Profiles in Goodness Dietrich Bonhoeffer

By: Cole Williamson

The life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer exhibited ethics in decision making based on his morals and faith. He wrestled with ethical predicaments during a crucial time in the history of his country.

"The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children"

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in 1906 in Breslau, Germany into an aristocratic family. As a boy, he was very musically talented. His family assumed he would grow up to be a musician. This is why they were surprised when he told them at the age of 14 he would train to become a priest.

After graduating from college, he traveled to America and also to Spain to expand his views and interest in oppression and outreach.

Upon his return to Germany, Bonhoeffer publicly spoke out against the newly elected leader Adolf Hitler. His comments of opposition over the radio did not coincide with the majority of the country's opinion of Hitler.

Bonhoeffer did not allow his peers to determine his opinion. He formed his opinion of Hitler by using his morals.

Bonhoeffer saw the potential of Hitler's Nazi party to infiltrate and control the church in Germany.

In 1933, he started the "Confessing Church". This church sought to speak and act against the Nazis. They opposed the new German Christian Movement, which was supported by the Nazi Party.

Discouraged by the lack of motivation in the confessing church to stand up against the Nazi Party, Bonhoeffer decided to take a position at a Protestant Church in London.

Bonhoeffer wrestled with this want to return to Germany, despite the hardships the country were experiencing because of Hitler's rule. Even though there was little hope, he returned to Berlin after two years in London.

Because of his comments of opposition to the state, Bonhoeffer had his rights to teach revoked.

Shortly after, the Confessing Church was shut down. Motivated to spread his ideas, Bonhoeffer traveled and taught all around Eastern Germany. He traveled in much danger, and taught ideas opposing the state which could result in his death. He also wrote frequently during his travels about his faith in God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was so worried that he would be forced to pledge allegiance to Adolf Hitler. He moved to the United States in 1939 but only stayed for two years. He felt guilty in the US for leaving Germany and avoiding hardship. His morals tugged at him for leaving his homeland. He felt encouraged to look past the struggles to come and to move back to Germany.

“I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. … Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.”

During all of this, Bonhoeffer joined the Abwehr, which was the German military intelligence agency. His experiences in this agency cause Bonhoeffer to question his moral belief of pacifism. He began to accept that violence was needed to destroy the Nazi Party. His morals changed in this situation.

"I pray for the defeat of my nation."

Bonhoeffer made contact with American and British forces regarding the overthrow of the state his nation was in. He had to make the decision to oppose the land he called home, because he believed it was the morally right thing to do.

The government uncovered Bonhoeffer's involvement in helping German Jews, in the midst of their nation wide persecution, escape to Switzerland. He was arrested in April 1943 and taken to several prisons and eventually concentration camps in Germany. He continued to write about his beliefs on ethics.

Flossenburg Concentration Camp

In the concentration camps, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's faith was apparent. He stuck to his morals and encouraged those around him, even though everyone there had a bleak outlook on life. One prisoner had the following quote about Bonhoeffer.

“Bonhoeffer was different, just quite calm and normal, seemingly perfectly at his ease… his soul really shone in the dark desperation of our prison. He was one of the very few men I have ever met to whom God was real and ever close to him.”

Bonhoeffer was hung on April 8, 1945 at the Flossenburg Concentration Camp. Camp doctors who witnessed his hanging obviously saw his peace even knowing death was near. I think he had peace because for most of his life, his morals caused him to feel a social responsibility to make dangerous and profound decisions.

"Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to act. Not to act is to act" -Dietrich Bonhoeffer


Created By
Cole Williamson

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