Today, the 9th April, the Church remembers Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran Pastor, Martyr and Father of New Monasticism. From a Nazi prison cell, in a letter to his brother in 1935 he said this:
‘the restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ. I think it is time to gather people together to do this..’
‘The expansion of Christianity and the increasing secularisation of church caused the awareness of costly grace to be gradually lost … But the Roman church did keep a remnant of that original awareness. It was decisive that monasticism did not separate from the church and that the church had good sense to tolerate monasticism. Here, on the boundary of the church, was the place where the awareness that grace is costly and that grace includes discipleship was preserved… Monastic life thus became a living protest against the secularisation of Christianity, against the cheapening of grace’ (Cost of Discipleship P46)
He was born in 1906 into an academic family, Ordained in the Lutheran Church, his theology was influenced by Karl Barth and he became a lecturer: in Spain, the USA and in 1931, back in Berlin. Opposed to the philosophy of Nazism, he was one of the leaders of the Confessing Church, movement which broke away form the Nazi-dominated Lutherans of 1934. Banned from teaching, and harassed by Hitler’s regime, he bravely returned to Germany at the outbreak of war in 1939, despite being on a lecture tour in the USA at the time. His defiant opposition to the Nazis led him to set up a number of new monastic communities defined by generosity to the Jews, Gay people and Roma peoples with a radical rule of life defined by political resistance. He was arrested for this in 1943. His experiences led him to propose a more radical theology in his later works, which have been influential among post-war theologians. He was excited by the Nazi police in Flossenburg concentration camp on this day in 1945.
We remember his life and witness to the faith of Jesus Christ in the most difficult of circumstances.