“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
These words from his classic work The Cost of Discipleship form both the birthright and the epitaph for the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As one of the founders of the Confessing Church of Germany, he opposed Hitler at every turn and challenged fellow believers to answer the call to authentic Christianity.
His passionate views (published at 31 in The Cost of Discipleship) of the church as suffering and sacrificial and unyielding to evil, would be the very heartbeat that would lead him to the gallows of Flossenburg. True to the message of his book and the call of discipleship upon his life, he was prepared to lay down his life to save the lives of others. At dawn on April 9, 1945, two days before American forces liberated the camp, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged for political high-treason.
His life cast a shadow of the cross over Germany as he stood a signal spiritual figure in the darkest hours of the 20th century. At 39, he spoke his final words: “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life.”
The medical doctor who witnessed Bonhoeffer’s execution wrote, “I was deeply moved by the way this 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 steps to the gallows, brave and composed…. In the almost fifty years I have worked as a doctor I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”
Three weeks later Hitler would commit suicide, and on May 7, 1945, the war in Europe would be over.
1906 – 1945
“… suffering and God are not a contradiction but rather a unity, for the idea that God himself is suffering is one that has always been one of the most convincing teachings of Christianity. I think God is nearer to suffering than to happiness…”
At age 14 -- announced that he wanted nothing more than to be a minister theologian
At age 17 – began studies in theology at Tubingen
At age 21 – wrote first doctoral dissertation, The Communion of Saints, hailed as a “theological miracle”
At age 24 – wrote second doctoral dissertation, Act and Being
At age 26 – attempted to alert church to danger of Nazi anti-Semitism
At age 28 – directed a clandestine seminary for 2 years until closed by Gestapo.
At age 31 – wrote Cost of Discipleship
At age 37 – arrested
At age 39 – hanged at Flossenburg
“Will the … Church ever learn that majority decision in matters of conscience kills the spirit?”
The Cost of Discipleship:
Discipleship in Nazi Germany carried a huge price for the Bonhoeffer family. Bonhoeffer’s parents, Carl and Paula, lost two sons and two sons-in-law when all four were executed in April of 1945 because of their stand against Hitler and the churches that gave him credence.
January 2001 - The Journey