An Abridged Edition
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Edited by Eberhard Bethge
SCM Press Ltd.
58 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1
For Further Reading
Letters, 14 April - 14 May 1943
A Wedding Sermon from a Prison Cell
Letters, 4 June - 21 November 1943
Prayers for Fellow Prisoners
Letters, 26 November 1943 - 2 April 1944
Report on Prison Life after One Year in Tegel
Letters, 11 April - 18 May 1944
Thoughts on the Day of the Baptism of Dietrich Wilhelm Rudiger Bethge
Letters, 20 May - 5 June 1944
Letters, 6 June - 21 June 1944
Sorrow and Joy
Letters, 27 June - 8 July 1944
Who Am I ?
Christians and Pagans
Letters, 16 July - 18 July 1944
Stations on the Road to Freedom
Letters, 25 July - 28 July 1944
Letter, 3 August 1944
Outline for a Book
Letters, 10 August - 21 August 1944
Letter, 28 December 1944
Powers of Good
On any showing, the book is a great Christian classic. Reading it is, in itself, a religious experience. In all the vast literature of our time about persecution, conspiracy, imprisonment and death, it stands out by virtue of its utter sincerity; of the nobility of the sufferer and the totality of the sacrifice. I like it the better because the stance of heroism is one that Bonhoeffer eyes with suspicion; he is in all things human, and for that very reason, in the end sublime.
- Malcolm Muggeridge
If you are coming to this classic of twentieth century religion for the first time, you will need a little background information. But not much; these remarkable writings virtually speak for themselves.
On 5 April 1943, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an exceptionally gifted theologian and pastor, who had been director of a seminary in the anti-Hitler Confessing Church, was arrested on suspicion of comparatively minor offences. Through his family, however, he had been involved with the Abwehr, the German security organization, which contained a focal point for opposition to Hitler and was even connected with attempts on his life. Bonhoeffer was taken to Tegel Prison, in Berlin, where he spent the next eighteen months while investigations were made; on 8 October 1944 he was transferred to the Gestapo prison in Prinz.Albrecht Strasse, after the discovery of documents proving his involvement, along with that of other senior figures, in conspiracy. Evacuated from Berlin after heavy bombing of this prison, he was finally hanged in Flossenburg Prison camp on 9 April 1945. One of his brothers and the husbands of two sisters were also executed.
Of the letters included here, all but the last, to his mother, were written from Tegel Prison. Those to his parents had to pass through the prison censorship, and were also seen by the man investigating his case, so there were certain things, quite obvious to those to whom the letters are addressed, were written for the censors; the other letters, to Bonhoeffer's closest friend Eberhard Bethge, were smuggled out by friendly guards at the prison. The correspondence continued after the last letter here, but had to be destroyed for security reasons, not least because Bethge himself was later arrested. During the time Bonhoeffer was in prison, Eberhard Bethge married his niece Renate Schleicher, so the papers written in Tegel include a wedding sermon for them, and 'thoughts' on the baptism of their son Dietrich, named after Bonhoeffer. There are also many references to Maria von Wedemeyer, Bonhoeffer's young fiancée, to whom he had become engaged only shortly before his arrest.
No explanatory notes have been included in this edition; those wanting more detailed information will find it either in the full edition of Letters and Papers from Prison or in the other books mentioned for further reading.
POWERS OF GOOD
With every power for good to stay and guide me,
comforted and inspired beyond all fear,
I'll live these days with you in thought beside me,
and pass, with you, into the coming year.
The old year still torments our hearts, unhastening;
the long days of our sorrow still endure;
Father, grant to the souls thou hast been chastening
that thou has promised, the healing and the cure.
Should it be ours to drain the cup of grieving
even to the dregs of pain, at thy command,
we will not falter, thankfully receiving
all that is given by thy loving hand.
But should it be thy will once more to release us
to life's enjoyment and its good sunshine,
that which we've learned from sorrow shall increase us,
and all our life be dedicate as thine.
Today, let candles shed their radiant greeting;
lo, on our darkness are they not thy light
leading us haply, to our longed-for meeting? -
Thou canst illumine even our darkest night.
When now the silence deepens for our hearkening,
grant we may hear thy children's voices raise
from all the unseen world around us darkening
their universal paean, in thy peace.
While all the powers of good aid and attend us,
boldly we'll face the future, come what may.
At even and at morn God will befriend us,
and oh, most surely on each newborn day!
For Further Reading
Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologian, Christian, Contemporary, Collins 1970; Fount Books 1977.
The definitive, full-length biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Eberhard Bethge, An Illustrated Introduction. Fount Books 1979
A much shorter text, with a great many contemporary illustrations.
Mary Bousanquet, Bonhoeffer, True Patriot, Mowbray 1978.
Perhaps the most attractive biography for English readers, first published by Hodder and Stoughton under the title The Life and Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in 1968.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, SCM Press 1954
Communal Christian life according to Bonhoeffer's ideals, dating from his time as director of the Finkenwald seminary.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, SCM Press 1955
His last, unfinished book, written just before his arrest.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison. The Enlarged Edition, SCM Press 1971.
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