The Frankfort School: Brief Introduction to Critical Theory

During the past week, one weekly reader made a suggestion, a suggestion I want to begin responding to in this week’s blog. His suggestion had to do with Critical Theory, which many thoughtful people wish they knew a bit about. Not more than a few weeks earlier, another friend related a very tense small group meeting in which the subject came up. He did not know what to say because he had no background. This week, I hope to provide that background for readers. [1]

These blogs attempt to give a sympathetic reading of even those writers about whom I have significant doubts. Readers will have to decide for themselves how successful or unsuccessful I have been. I was and am saving some of the more controversial blogs for later; however, as I have warned readers in recent months, as we come closer and closer to today, that becomes harder and harder to delay. One day in 2022, it will become no longer possible. Nevertheless, the goal of this blog series remains exploration and understanding.

Most readers have heard the term, “Critical Theory.” As late as five years ago, however, few ordinary church members had heard of the term “Critical Theory” and almost no one outside of academia of the term “Frankfort School.” I barely knew what the term, “Critical Theory” meant. Today, things are different. Interestingly, the Frankfort School and Critical theory are not new. In fact, scholars such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would have at least known something of the existence of such a school, and the story of its emergence perhaps helps understand a bit of the cultural situation in which Bonhoeffer lived and died, for critical theory has its roots in Germany after the First World War when he was reaching maturity and preparing for a career in theology.

History of the Frankfurt School

The “Frankfurt School” of social theory, known as “Critical Theory,” is a philosophical and sociological movement that originated in Germany after World War I. Since. World War II, the movement has become influential among intellectuals throughout the world and perhaps especially in the United States. It is called the “Frankfurt School” because it was founded as the Institute for Social Research (Institut für Sozialforschung), at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany in 1923 by the son of a prosperous Jewish family. The objective of the founder was to develop Marxist studies in Germany.

After the Russian Revolution of 1918, it was the hope of Marxists all over the world that the day of the proletarian revolution foreseen by Marx had come. Germany was devasted by its loss of the war and faith in its essential institutions destroyed. In November 1918, as a consequence of the German defeat there was a naval mutiny. Within a few days, disturbances spread throughout the German Empire. The situation developed into a mass protest against the monarchical system as the working classes joined forces with the troops to create a new order in Germany. Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils were formed and assumed political and military powers, similar to what occurred in Russia. Various social democratic parties unified their efforts and became the key political players in the November revolution. [2]

For a time, it looked as if a Russian-style communist revolution was in the making. However, this was not to be. The various factions that had united to overthrow the Kaisers’ regime eventually fell apart due to political infighting. The military, which had supported the revolutionaries became disenchanted, and fell away from their support. Perhaps most importantly, the German working class did not, as expected, join in supporting revolutionary change. This was devastating to conventional Marxist thinking.

An election for the National Assembly on 19 January 1919 resulted in formation of a parliamentary democracy. Although the following months saw bitter confrontations with the radical left, including local uprisings and wildcat strikes, a Soviet style revolution was not to be. On February 6, 1919, the National Assembly was constituted and elected the first President of the Reich.

Unfortunately, the victors in the First World War did nothing to assist the fragile new democracy in Germany. The terms of the Treaty of Versailles, required financial restitution by Germany to the victors of 132 billion gold marks (about $270 billion today). There was no way Germany could repay such a huge sum, and it was plunged into poverty. The average German felt humiliated by the actions of the victorious allies, resented their treatment, and desired a government that would restore the grandeur of the German state as it had been before the War, when Germany was the principal nation of Europe. This was the root cause of Hitler’s ability to gain power.

It was in this social milieu that the Frankfort School was formed. As Germany and the West entered into the Great Depression, there was continuing division in German society and growing anger at the humiliation of the nation. It was in that context that National Socialism, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party emerged. Hitler was violently anti-communist as well as being anti-Jewish. At the time, the leadership of the Frankfurt School was primarily Jewish and in personal danger in Germany. After 1933, when the Nazi party gained complete power, the Nazis forced closure of the Frankfurt Institute. The institute and many of its leadership moved to the United States where it found hospitality at Columbia University in New York City.

Fundamental Tenants of the School

As mentioned above, the roots of the Frankfort School and Critical Theory are found in its interpretation of Marxist thought. It is fundamentally a reaction to the perceived failures of capitalism and the economic injustice that was observed by thinkers, Christian, non-Christian, Marxist and otherwise. What troubled those inclined towards Marxism in the early 20th Century was the failure of the prophesies of Marx to be fulfilled. There was no definite crisis of free market capitalism as predicted. The working class in Western Europe did not join the revolution as expected. Capitalism seemed to many to be providing a gradually (and sometimes rapidly) increase in the standard of living of most people.

Multi-Disciplinary Approach

Originally, the Frankfort School was interested in responding to Marxist thought in the context of German society and the failure of Marxist ideology to succeed in transforming German society. Its original leader was a Marxist thinker. However, as years proceeded, under its second leader Max Horkheimer, this approach was supplemented by an interest in the economic and political implications of the psychoanalytic theory of Freud under the influence of Eric Fromm (1900-1980), who tried to unify Freudian analysis and Marxist thinking.

Critical Theory evolved as a multi-disciplinary interpretation of society and culture grounded in a Marxist philosophy with regards to some of its central economic and political ideas.’ [3] On a broader scale, Critical Theory makes a multifaceted critique of Post-Enlightenment modernity, liberal democracy, and thought emanating from the Enlightenment. As to modern capitalist society it seeks ways to free Western culture from its perceived bondage to what it perceives as inhuman and alienating social structures.


Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969) was one of the most important philosophers and social critics in Germany after World War II, though he was educated in pre-World War II Germany and taught there until he left because of the persecution of Nazi regime. He left at the same time that Paul Tillich, who had been one of his academic advisors, left Germany. Adorno, with Horkheimer, wrote one of the earliest critiques of Enlightenment thinking.

In his view, the Enlightenment had attempted to liberate human beings from oppressive regimes but ended up trapping them in a kind of thought that made fascism possible. [4] Fundamental to this way of thinking is the idea that all of Western and traditional thought has been corrupted, Greek, Roman, Hebrew, Muslim, Jewish, Eastern and Western. A complete revolution is needed in thinking to overcome the repression of culture. It is easy to see how this notion has influenced the attempts in modern academia to remove the Western Canon from study, to denigrate the institutions of Western democracy, to reject all religious influences (not just Christian), and to seek revolutionary changes in social roles of all kinds.

Despite their critique of the Enlightenment, Adorno and most of the critical theorists do not finally reject the Enlightenment. They do not seek either a retreat into pre-Enlightenment society nor a kind modified Enlightenment that recognizes the importance of traditional religion, morality and values. What they seek is an “Enlightenment of the Enlightenment.” This strand of Critical Theory seeks ways to expose ideological and destructive tendencies within modern secularization, but without denying that the Enlightenment involved human progress. It might be best to say that Adorno and Horkheimer sought a new stage in human society that involves true post-Enlightenment in which human beings create a new society free of the barriers that caused prior attempts to humanize Western culture to fail.

Marcuse and Critical Theory

One of the best known of the members of the Frankfurt school is Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979). Marcuse represents the romantic component of Critical Theory. For Marcuse, Western civilization has been shaped by the political, economic, moral and scientific theories grounded in an exaltation of a particular form of human reason. Beginning with Plato and Aristotle’s (and even before) Western thinkers sought knowledge via a continual progressive rationalization of reality. In such a culture, feelings are repressed and sensual gratification considered an evil to be overcome.

According to Marcuse, the conflict between reason and sensuality expressed in the works of Plato and Aristotle greatly contributed to the development of repressive morality and hierarchical social organization. Such repression also justifies a capitalist mode of economic organization. As a Marxist, Marcuse was dedicated to a social and economic revolution undergirded by Marxist ideas. In his view, a key aspect of overturning capitalism involves the elimination of repressive sexual morality.

Marcuse was opposed to the Viet Nam Ear and became a kind of philosophical guru to the American radical left during the protests against that war. His work became extremely popular on American college campuses during that period. I can remember reading his work in the early 1970’s. His thought has fallen into some disfavor in Europe, but remains an important influence on Critical Theory in the American context.

Paul Tillich and Critical Theory

As mentioned, Theodore Adorno studied under the philosopher and theologian, Paul Tillich (1886-1965). After the First World War, Tillich embraced socialism and taught at Frankfurt, where he was involved with the founders of the Frankfurt School. He published a study of Marxism, The Socialist Decision in 1933. [5] The book was later both banned and burned during Nazi demonstration in the streets of Frankfurt. Tillich’s thought analyzed the dialectics of Marxism and the doctrines of Christianity with a view towards finding a common ground and a religious basis for Marxist thought. In The Socialist Decision, Tillich concluded that the mutual hostility between religion and Marxism flows from a misunderstanding of science and the kind of knowledge science produces. Tillich writes:

The attitude of socialism toward religion could never have been as negative as it has become, if socialism had not thought that it had a substitute for religion as its disposal, namely, science.[6] 

The problem is, therefore, two sided: (i) secular socialists substituted science for religion and (ii) religious people became hostile toward Marxism because of Marx’s tendency to make science and religion inevitable enemies.

Tillich undertook to find ways to undo what he viewed as the false opposition of science to religion and religion to science in hopes of finding a way to undo the mutual hostility and open up Christians to Marxist and Socialist ideals. Tillich’s solution was to see in science an explanation of material reality and in religion as the confrontation of the human subject with the ultimate (what he called “Ultimate Concern.” [7]

Habermas and Critical Theory

Jürgen Habermas, (born June 18, 1929) is considered the most important German philosopher of the second half of the 20th century. Habermas studied under Adorno and eventually took Horkheimer’s chair at the Frankfurt Institute. Born just before Hitler took over the German government, Habermas’ childhood was spent in Nazi Germany. He was a member of the Hitler Youth in his childhood. At age 15, during the last months of the war he was sent to the Western Front. After Germany’s defeat in May 1945, he completed his education. He studied under Adorno, and was deeply influenced by his work.

This is perhaps a good place to introduce the term, “skeptical generation.” After World War II, as the German intelligentsia came to grips with the evil of Naziism, many became permanently suspicious of the history and tradition of German culture that led to Hitler’s rise to power. Habermas was one of these, as was Adorno. Part of their critique of the Enlightenment had to do with the impact of the German Enlightenment and its inexplicable  powerlessness to criticize and prevent the Nazi rise of power.

Habermas has been critical of thinkers who cooperated with the Nazi regime (Heidegger), supportive of nuclear and other disarmament initiatives, critical of the sometimes-fascist tendencies of the political left, supportive of Israel, and sympathetic with the emergence of the European Union. In all this, we see a consistent attempt to reject the nationalistic, anti-Semitic, and power dominated ideas with which he was bombarded in his early years.


Critical theory was, in its origin another outgrowth of the social upheaval created by the Industrial Revolution. Intellectuals saw the brutality and injustice of much of the emerging capitalistic economic system and the societies most influenced by its emergence—those of Western Europe. Critical Theory evolved as a response to the failure of the Russian Revolution of 1918 to take root in Western Europe and the failure of the “proletariat” to support, the revolution. Its evolution has been as a critique of Western culture in total, and especially since World War II of the primary Western democracy, the United States, where it has gained many adherents.

Critical Theory is clearly Marxist in its inspiration. While it is broader than the work of Karl Marx, it has its roots in Marx’s approach and his critique of capitalism. Nevertheless, Critical Theory recognizes the failures of some of Marx’s predictions and the inadequacy of some of his ideas. Most critical theorists modify Marx to some degree, returning to a reading of Kant and Hegel and what might be called an “idealist application” of Marxist materialism. Over time, the movement has engaged with anthropology, Freudian psychology, sociology, philosophy, political theory, and a variety of sources in its critique of Western and traditional cultures.

At the center of its analysis lies the notion that only by exposing the regimes of oppression that undergird capitalist and traditional societies can the revolution that Marx anticipated finally become real. For this to happen, the supports of traditional societies that impede social progress (in their view), familial, social, economic, moral, philosophical, religious, and political need to be overthrown so that a more human world can be created. Unfortunately, its analysis sits under much of the social tensions of our day, violence, and the misplaced moralities of some contemporary revolutionary movements.

Copyright 2022, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] For more than three years, I have written a weekly blog on political philosophy and theology. For most of that time, the blog has proceeded chronologically beginning with the early Greeks. The idea has been to follow the development of political philosophy from its beginning until today. Originally, I intended to finish by January 2023. That goal will not be reached. I hope to be substantially done by May 30 of next year. It is then my hope to write the weekly blog for at least most of the remainder of 2023 reflecting on what has been learned over the years of this series.

[2] Historical Exhibition Presented by the German Bundestag, “November1918-19 Revolution” found at (Downloaded October 17, 2022).

[3] See, “The Frankfort School of Critical Theory” in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy October 17, 2022).

[4] See, “Theodore Odorno” in the Stanford Internet Encyclopedia at (downloaded October 17, 2022). One factor that must always be kept in mind in understanding critical theory and some of its current pronouncements is that many of its founders and early proponents had been deeply traumatized by the fact that Germany, the most “enlightened nation in Europe, produced the Nazi Party and its inhumanity.

[5] See, Paul Tillich, The Socialist Decision (Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock, 2012). This book was originally published in 1933.)

[6] The Socialist Decision , 81.

[7] It is impossible to adequately or fairly describe any of the thinkers covered by this blog. There will be other blogs on each of these thinkers. In particular, the thought of Tillich on political matters needs a broader treatment in the future. As a Christian, he cannot be ignored by Christian thinkers.

Bonhoeffer 6: From Arrest to Martyrdom

Last week, the blog focused on the period between the closure of Finkenwalde and the initial participation of Bonhoeffer in the German resistance against Hitler. He became an agent of the Abwehr with the cover that he was going to use his ecumenical and other religious contacts to benefit the German foreign policy and German intelligence activities. In fact, he was used as a courier by the German opposition plotting to get rid of Hitler and the Nazi regime. He and his contacts were used to transmit messages to the allied governments in hopes that they would cooperate with any attempt to overthrow the regime, or at least not act in ways that would cause harm with public consequences for the German people. None of his diplomatic efforts were terribly successful, though Bishop Bell in England tried very hard to get the British government to take seriously the efforts being made in Germany to end the war.

Arrest and Charges

In March of 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested and four specific charges were brought against him:

  1. He facilitated the escape of German Jews to Switzerland, against current German law in the so-called “Operation Z.” (true).
  2. He avoided the military draft by means of a specious position with the Abwehr (true, but probably irrelevant, if he were in fact a German agent in his foreign travels).
  3. He assisted others in the Confessing Church Movement in avoiding military service (true, but explainable).
  4. His long stays in Berlin (contrary to an order against him) and travels abroad to Sweden and Switzerland had no military or diplomatic significance but were motivated by antagonism to the regime (true, but explainable).

Interestingly, the plot against Hitler, for which he was later executed, was not among the initial charges, nor did such charges emerge until after the failed assassination and coup attempt of July 1944, at which time he had been behind bars for over a year.

During the months following his arrest in March of 1943 and his death in early 1945, Bonhoeffer was engaged in a cat and mouse game with the authorities regarding his activities. Since he and others arrested (particularly Dohnanyi) had knowledge of more incriminating matters, matters which if brought to light would certainly result in execution, it was important to keep the focus of the investigations on the charges made in 1943. This was possible until mid-1944. After July 1944, and especially after the discovery of incriminating papers revealing details of the Abwehr plot against Hitler, it became impossible.

Theologically, Bonhoeffer continued to believe that the situation in Germany under Hitler required a different approach than that many of his colleagues adopted, and certainly different than the traditional Lutheran “Two Kingdoms” doctrine, which could be interpreted to grant the state autonomy in its sphere of influence. He even ceased to talk about his prior views of an “Order of Preservation,” though I do not think he failed to see the duty of governments to be the preservation. Bonhoeffer, who knew of the war crimes, corruption, and mistreatment of the Jews through his brother-in-law, Dohnanyi, understood that the situation in Germany had gone beyond what that kind of thinking and acting permitted. The question was not conforming the Nazi regime to Christian principles, but removing a regime that had become demonic.

Letters and Papers from Prison

While held prisoner by the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a series of letters published after his death as “Letters and Papers from Prison.” [1] In these writings, Bonhoeffer spoke of “Humanity Come of Age” and the need for a “Religionless Christianity.” [2]

Humanity Come of Age. The “Humanity Come of Age” of which Bonhoeffer writes is the fruition of the Western Enlightenment and the end of the Modern World. In the Middle Ages, the church was a kind of “parent” or “tutor” of European society. The church spoke into the lives of people from a position of power and authority. Beginning with the Renaissance and increasing during the Enlightenment and the emergence of the Modern World, humanity entered a period of disengagement from religious authority. Science, technology, and contemporary social and economic ideas provided a non-religious foundation for the life of many people.

So far as Bonhoeffer could see writing from prison in the mid-1940s, the Enlightenment Project had succeeded and the changes in human society it created were irreversible. [3] Humanity had indeed come of age, and Christians needed to learn to live and witness in Western society as if there were no God, because the societies in which Christians live largely function as if there were no God. In particular, the church would have to learn to exist without the kind of secular power it wielded in the Middle Ages. [4]

In this view, for a long time, the perceived success of the modern world pushed God out of the consciousness of people. [5] This feeling was expressed by the mathematician Laplace when, speaking of God’s relationship with the universe, he said, “I have no need of that hypothesis.” This cultural attitude is more pronounced today than when Bonhoeffer wrote. Contemporary people feel no need to seek or have a relationship with God, much less consider God in making day-to-day decisions, including political decisions.

On the other hand, thinking today people are much less certain about the successes of the modern world. The societies most impacted by the Enlightenment are nearly all experiencing rapid cultural and institutional decay. It seems as if Western culture is in an irreparable moral, intellectual, aesthetic, political, and cultural decline. Modernity does not appear to have intellectual or practical answers to the decline our culture is experiencing. Remedies that previously seemed likely to succeed, such as social engineering, extensive bureaucracies, technological innovation, corporate power, increased affluence, and the like increasingly seem part of the problem, not part of the solution. The violence and alienation of many in Western societies indicate that the Modern World was perhaps not “Humanity Come of Age,” but instead, “Humanity in its Adolescence.” [6]

While no serious thinker recommends a retreat to the pre-modern world (nor did Bonhoeffer), there is ample evidence that the modern world needs to rediscover and reincorporate the pre-modern world’s wisdom into its worldview and cultural reality. Analytical thinking, scientific understanding, technological progress, and material affluence have proven inadequate to meet the human soul’s deepest needs, and there is little likelihood unaided human reason can halt the cultural decline we are experiencing. This is true in the political as well as in other areas of life.

In this situation, it is important to rediscover the kind of values and transcendental concerns that modernity denigrated or ignored. Philosopher of science Michael Polanyi describes the situation in the West as one on which analytical thinking has burned through the intellectual, spiritual, and moral capital of Christian civilization, ending in a kind of intellectual, spiritual, and moral nihilism. [7] The only way out of the situation is to rebuild the intellectual, moral, and spiritual foundations of society. In this effort, Christians need to be active participants. In my view, Bohoeffer anticipates this situation as he reflected on the destructive Will to Power of the Nazi regime. His critique was equally true of the Communist regimes of his era, a fact he well-understood.

Religionless Christianity. The concept of “Religionless Christianity” is even more challenging to understand than is the notion of “Humanity Come of Age.” It is certain that Bonhoeffer did not mean there was no God, that Christ was not the Son of God, that the Spirit of God was absent from the world, or that there would be no Church. Instead, Bonhoeffer tried to get others to see that our civilization is in a kind of intellectual and cultural “Dark Night of the Soul” as God purifies the world, Christians, and the church from false notions of God, of discipleship, and of the nature and role of the church. In other words, God is not absent, but cultural realities make it seem as if God is absent. Bonhoeffer puts it this way:

The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God, we live without God. God lets himself be pushed out of the world onto the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way he is with us and helps us. Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering. [8]

Bonhoeffer ends by noting that the God of the Bible, who rules the creative universe, rules in weakness. In other words, Bonhoeffer continued to believe that there is a God of transcendent wisdom and self-giving love, that Christ is the revelation of that God, and that the Spirit is still at work in the world with the power of cruciform love. However, under modernity conditions with its fascination with human intelligence and power, most people cannot see these realities. In a world in which power is everything, the wisdom and love revealed on the Cross seems to many to be foolish or a mere illusion.


These and his other reflections contained in his last writings confirm the view that Bonhoeffer was struggling at the end of his life to find ways of communicating Christian faith in word and deed to a secular world in which such views are “foolishness to the Greeks” (I Corinthians 1:23). Modern people, and particularly those in power, feel they have “come of age” and can handle the problems of our society with no reference to faith of any kind. This phenomena results in the need for “Religionless Christianity” that can speak into the lives of secular people in words and ways they understand. [9]

There is a facile application of Bonhoeffer’s ideas that was taken up in the 1970’s by the death of God movement. His best friend and biographer, Eberhard Bethge spent a good deal of time countering these interpretations. Bonhoeffer continued to be a Christian. He continued to worship, pray, give pastoral care to his fellow prisoners, and worship where possible. He continued to work intermittently on his final theological works. What he saw was that this alone was not enough. The forms of religion without the reality of the love of God speaking into the lives of ordinary people was not a sufficient form of Christianity to combat the darkness of Western culture, symbolized by the Nazi regime.

This final insight is no less important today in our culture than it was when Bonhoeffer wrote of a “World Come of Age” and “Religionless Christianity.” A clue to his most important legacy is given by his death. Those with him near the end were not impressed by his knowledge, by his academic credentials, or by his eloquence. They were impressed by his growing saintliness and the calm with which he faced the end.

Copyright 2022, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] See Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison E. Bethge, ed. Second Printing (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1973).

[2] This section of the blog is reliant upon the views of Bonhoeffer expressed G. Christopher Scruggs, Crisis of Discipleship: Renewing the Art of Relational Disciple-Making (College Station, TX: Virtual Bookworm, 2022), 116-118.

[3] In a letter dated 16 July 1944, Bonhoeffer traces the emergence of the modern world from the 13th century forward from Herbert of Canterbury through Montaigne, Machiavelli, Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Fitch, and Hegel as they directed their attention to the autonomy of man and the world. He concludes that “God as a working hypothesis in morals, politics, or science has been surmounted and abolished; and the same thing has happened in philosophy and religion….” Id, at 360

[4] Bonhoeffer’s notion of a “religionless Christianity” is his attempt to articulate a way in which Christian can continue to minister to a society and people who are ideologically unable to respond to traditional Christian ideas as they were articulated prior to the Modern Era.

[5] See, Letters and Papers from Prison, at 341

[6] In many respects, the modern world was adolescent. The fascination with sex, power, strength, technique, disinterest in inherited wisdom, and the contemporary world’s environmental wastefulness all seem immature. In this analysis, what Western society is currently experiencing as “postmodernity” is a bit like “one last drunken hangover of modernity” before growing up

[7] Michael Polanyi, Science Faith and Society (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1946).

[8] Letters and Papers from Prison at 361

[9] A significant difference between Bonhoeffer’s day and our own is that we can see that the Enlightenment project has reached a dead end. It cannot provide an absolute position from which one could find Truth. It cannot provide a common morality based on reason alone. It cannot provide for the stability of social institutions. It cannot bring peace or social order or agreement upon faith or morals. While its technological achievements are impressive, its moral and spiritual accomplishments are not. At a later date, when dealing with Rawls’ writings, I will seek to deal with how Christians can speak on social issues from the perspective of a “religionless world” and still remain Christian.

Bonhoeffer 5: Political Resistance 1939-1943

By 1937, the National Socialist government of Germany had come close to completely neutralizing the Confessing Church movement, which was divided and in disarray. The means by which this result was achieved was a combination of a “divide and conquer strategy” and the use of financial and bureaucratic restrictions in such a way as to make it almost impossible for the Confessing Church to operate without violating the law. Nevertheless, the fault at least partially lay in the nature of the Confessing Church movement and divisions between its Lutheran and Reformed members, as well as between those who tried to cooperate as much as possible with the regime and those who, like Bonhoeffer, saw such a course of action as unfaithful to the gospel and doomed to failure and disgrace.

The change was precipitated by the minister for church affairs, who came out in public declaring that the German evangelical church had failed and that the true church in Germany was embodied in the national socialist movement led by Adolf Hitler. Even Superintendent’s Zoellner, chairman of the National Church Committee, saw that there was an irrevocable break between the church and the Nazi party that could not be healed. He resigned. Bonhoeffer, with his adamant resistance to Hitler and the national socialist propaganda has turned out to be correct: any attempt to conciliate with the regime was a foolish attempt to placate evil. Zoellner and those who tried to implement a policy of cooperation as a bid for independence were proven foolish.

These events precipitated the appointment of Dr. Frederick Werner and Dr. Muhs, who adopted a policy of suppressing the evangelical church in Germany. Of course, the Confessing Church was the first target of their opposition. The policy adapted involved both bureaucratic and financial oppression and the arrest and detention of pastors and other church leaders who refused to support and follow the dictates of the Nazi regime.

End of Finkenwalde

In July 1937, Martin Niemöller was arrested by the Nazi party. Bonhoeffer was at the house just a short time later when the Gestapo showed up to make an investigation. He, his companions, and Mrs. Niemöller were held for several hours. This was most distressing to the Bonhoeffer family, knowing as they did that Dietrich was already on the list of persons hostile to the Nazi regime. This event further intensified the oppression of the Confessing Church by the regime.

At Finkenwalde, Bonhoeffer attempted to carry on as usual, but the end of the seminary was at hand. Several members of the community were arrested and detained. In September 1937, the seminary was closed by the Gestapo and its doors sealed. By Christmas of that year, more than twenty-five of the members of the community had been arrested, some spending Christmas in prison. [1]

The closure of Finkenwalde and the other Confessing Church seminaries did not suddenly end the role of Bonhoeffer as head of theological education for the Confessing Church. Faced with the inability to have formal institutions, the Confessing Church resorted to another strategy. Instead of a formal seminary, the confessing church movement began a series of collectives which were designed to provide informal theological education to their members. In Germany, they had a longer practice of sending a theological student as an apprentice curate to a minister in a parish. This was normal. In order to circumvent the band, the Confessing Church used this device to continue training students for the ministry and supporting those students which had given so much in order to remain faithful to the gospel.

Bonhoeffer did not change his strategy when implementing this new form of theological education. The students still lived by a kind of rule of life which involved daily times of worship, prayer, meditation, and theological training. There were also abundant opportunities for fellowship among the members of the collective. Nevertheless, this stage could not continue for long, for the government was now in full control of the situation and determined to destroy all opposition.

Entrance into Political Resistance

This interlude resulted in Bonhoeffer becoming more familiar with the political resistance to Hitler. Crucial to this development was his brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi and his unique position in the German government. Dohnanyi worked for the Abwehr in direct contact with Admiral Canaras, head of the Abwehr, the government counterespionage department and his second and some command Major General Hans Oster. In this position he was intimately familiar both with the plans of the regime, which he discussed with Bonhoeffer and with the opposition to Hitler within the military and intelligence apparatus, which was partially led by Admiral Canaris. Dohnanyi was himself a Christian, married to Bonhoeffer’s sister, and a critic of the regime, as were all members of the Bonhoeffer household.

Bonhoeffer was forced to consider his calling to resist the evil of the Nazi regime, even if it meant stepping away from his traditional commitment to pacifism and non-violence. When challenged by a student in one of his final lectures, Bonhoeffer let the student know that he understood the moral demands that were becoming daily more evident in Nazi Germany. [2] He was also aware that the admonition, “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword applied to himself and others who opposed Hitler just as much as did Hitler and his Nazi cohorts. [3] This comment is important to understanding Bonhoeffer’s theological and moral rationale for his activities. He understood that, in some deep way, his decisions and activities were morally and theologically ambiguous, though he felt he was acting properly. He was aware that any involvement with the Abwehr and the resistance to the regime was fraught with moral problems and conflict.

American Interlude and Return to Germany

In March 1939, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia after a complex series of negotiations involving British Prime Minister Chamberlain, whose attempts to appease Hitler and avoid war led to the rise of Winston Churchill as Prime Minister. Bonhoeffer recognized that war was now inevitable, and that he would face a serious moral quandary concerning whether he should serve in the German army or otherwise support the regime. At the same time, his opposition to Hitler had placed him in a dangerous situation. His implicit pacifism and reluctance to serve in the German army, which required an oath of loyalty to Hitler, would certainly result in his prosecution if he failed to serve when called up, a situation then in process.

Eventually, his friends in Germany, the United States, and Great Britain, including Reinhold Niebuhr, were concerned for his life. Everyone thought it would be a shame if such a talented person where to end up dying in a German concentration camp. As a result, it was arranged for Bonhoeffer to come to the United States, where he might teach theology, and give lectures, and work with German refugees during any war in Europe. [4]

In June 1939, Bonhoeffer left Germany for a lecture tour in the United States. Both on the trip over and once he arrived, Bonhoeffer could not attain peace about his situation. He missed Germany, his family, and his colleagues in ministry in the Confessing Church. The arrangements made by his friends were either temporary or of a kind that would definitely prevent him from returning to Germany under the current regime.

After a period of vacillation and discernment, Bonhoeffer decided to return home and share the suffering of the German people during the war he now foresaw. His friends in the United States, which felt that they had “gone out on a limb” in seeking positions and safety for him in the United States were understandably disturbed by the decision. He attempted to explain his decision to Reinhold Niebuhr as follows:

“I have made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.” [5]

Several things about the note to Niebuhr and his other explanations of his decision to return are important.

  1. First, he took personal responsibility for the decision. He had made a mistake in coming. His friends had not made any mistake in seeking his safety from Hitler and the war that was coming. Bonhoeffer consistently took personal responsibility for what he had done.
  2. Second, his mistake had been in attempting to avoid the suffering of the German people instead of accepting the cross of war and living responsibly through it.
  3. Finally, he had a goal: In order to help in reconstructing Christian life in Germany after the war (and what I believe he understood was the inevitable defeat of Germany), he needed to share the trials of the German people.

He was thinking both of his family and his colleagues in the Confessing Church movement, people like Martin Niemöller, who was in a Nazi prison. He returned not to escape America but to share the suffering of the German people, which meant carrying a cross for the German people, a cross of the very kind he had described to his students at Finkenwalde.

An Embodied Faith

Bonhoeffer was now in a situation where he would not be serving the German Confessing Church but instead engaged in a secular occupation of some kind. Bonhoeffer was a reader of Kierkegaard, and knew of his commentary on the life of Abraham in Fear and Trembling. [6] I think that, in the end, the “movement of faith” that Kierkegaard explicates in Fear and Trembling sits behind Bonhoeffer’s decision that his Christian faith and love for his fellow human beings required an action that would be morally dubious in ordinary times, but necessary under the conditions of Germany under Hitler.

Bonhoeffer understood what was needed was an “embodied faith” freed of “religiosity” but a faith that was still faith in the Christ who he served until his untimely death. He never attempted to defend what he did but rather did what he thought necessary and lived with the consequences. In any case, from his return to Germany to his death, he was no longer only a theologian and teacher serving the Confessing Church; he was primarily an actor in the destruction of the Nazi state and political prisoner.

Service with Military Intelligence

As mentioned earlier, Bonhoeffer was of an age that it was almost certainly that he would be called up for military service, and in so doing would be required to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler, something he did not want to do. His brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi, was able to secure for him an appointment with the Abwehr as a liaison with ecumenical groups. His cover was that he was building relationships for German Military Intelligence as well as acting as a courier for Military Intelligence. In fact, Bonhoeffer’s key role was contacting the Western allies through his friends concerning the reaction of the Allies to an attempt to overthrow the Nazi regime. He made trips to Switzerland and Sweden conveying information to those who were in a position to see that the British government was aware of the plot and solicit their aid, which was never forthcoming.

In his capacity as a courier and agent for the Abwehr, he was aware of the various plots against Hitler’s life and participated in meetings in which the conspiracy was discussed. He conveyed information to the Abwehr after his meetings abroad. He also participated in attempts to secure freedom for Jews, by assisting in transporting them to Switzerland.

Dohnanyi in particular relied upon Bonhoeffer’s  listening ear and good counsel, which he valued. By this time, Dohnanyi was at the very center of the opposition to the regime within the Abwehr and the primary actor in coordinating the plots against Hitler on behalf of his superiors.

Conclusion: The Emergence of the Martyr

Next week, I will continue this series on Bonhoeffer looking at this imprisonment and death, as well as his final musing on theology as they pertain to his evolving political theology. It is fair to say that, up to his return from America and employment with the Abwehr, Bonhoeffer was involved theologically in opposing Nazi ideology and Hitler’s attempts to control the German Evangelical Church. His activities were primarily theological and were based upon his confessional Lutheran Faith, especially as it was expressed and clarified by the Barmen Declaration and his theological work with the Ecumenical Movement.

After his return, his activities were less involved with the Ecumenical Movement and the Confessing Church and more directly concerned with his role with Military Intelligence. This aspect of his activities required that he live a double life and distance himself from his former associations, which would have been seriously threatened by the regime if his activities for the Abwehr were discovered, which eventually they were. From his return to Germany until his death, he was set on the course of action that would ultimately result in his imprisonment and death.

Copyright 2022, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] See Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography Rev. Ed. (Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 582. I am reliant upon Bethge for the narrative of the last days of Finkenwalde, as well as the narrative of events contained herein.

[2] Mary Bosaquet, The Life and Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1968), 199-200.

[3] Id, at 205.

[4] Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography Rev. Ed. (Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 2000), hereinafter “Bethge.” The story of this American interlude is told in Bethge’s biography pp.648-662.

[5] This letter is often quoted. I am using the quote as recorded by Learn Religious, “Biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Theologian and Martyr” at (downloaded August 25, 2022). Bethge gives a much more complete look at Bonhoeffer’s correspondence and conversations leading to his return to Germany.

[6] Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling tr. Alister Hanny (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 19850.

Bonhoeffer 4: Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision (Part 2)

Nearly everyone accepts that the current structure of seminary education is not fully adequate to train pastors to build Christian communities in our contemporary society. [1] As a result, there have been many attempts to think about what form preparation for ministry should take. This article focuses on the formation of the Confessing Church seminary in Finkenwalde, Germany from 1934 until 1939, just after Dietrich Bonhoeffer returned from his second visit the United States, returning to join the sufferings of the German people under Hitler and becoming a part of the resistance to the regime.

The issue of responsible discipleship was of central importance for Bonhoeffer, practically and theologically. It was central to his critique of the church of his own day as he pondered the diminution of faith in mid-20th Century Germany and the totalitarian dictatorships that had formed in Germany, Italy, and Russia. It was also critical to his notion of what constitutes the church as the body of Christ in the world. His emphasis on discipleship led Bonhoeffer to create a unique seminary to train pastors for the Confessing Church. [2]

The End of Christendom

By 1934, Bonhoeffer was deeply concerned about the future of Christianity in Germany and Europe, seeking answers to the question, “What can be done to revitalize faith in Europe?” Writing to his brother Karl Friedrich, he expressed his fears as follows: “…I am becoming more convinced each day that Christianity is approaching its end in the West—at least in its previous form and previous interpretation….” [3] Writing to Mahatma Gandhi he said, “The great need of Europe and of Germany in particular is not the economic and political confusion, but it is a deep spiritual need.” [4] In other words, the fundamental problem in Europe during the pre-war period was not economic or political, but spiritual. The same could be said of our society today.

As one can see, Bonhoeffer’s critique of European Christianity later found in Letters and Papers from Prison was already forming in his mind. [5] After the formation of the Confessing Church, Bonhoeffer was tasked with creating a seminary, since the Confessing Churches could not use existing institutions controlled by the Nazi’s. Fortunately, he was already thinking through what was needed to face not just the challenges of being a Christian in Hitler’s Germany, but the challenges of being a Christian Western culture generally. Furthermore, the context of Bonhoeffer’s letters indicates that his concern was not merely intellectual and theological, but spiritual and practical, In his view, neither in America nor in Europe did there exist the kind of spiritual formation needed to address the problems of Western society. If this was true in Bonhoeffer’s day, it is even more true in ours.

Background to the Idea of a Seminary like Finkenwalde

In January 1935, Bonhoeffer wrote his brother that “The restoration of the church must surely come from a new kind of monasticism, which will surely have only one thing in common with the old, a life lived without compromise according to the Sermon on the Mount in following Jesus. I believe that the time has come to gather people together for this.” [6]  His ideas concerning the way forward to restore Christianity was to take a more concrete form as he created a seminary for the Confessing Church.

By the late 1930’s, Bonhoeffer had long wanted to go to India and study under Gandhi in order to study his notion of community as well as various methods of training. [7] Not long after his letter to Gandhi was written and an invitation received, Bonhoeffer faced the choice as to whether or not to go to India to study under Gandhi or return to Germany to serve the Confessing Church. Writing to a friend, he further revealed his ideas about what was required for theological education to sustain itself against the Nazi Regime, and even the ideology of modernism:

I am hopelessly torn between staying here, going to India and returning to Germany to take charge of a preacher seminary shortly to be open there I no longer believe in the university; and never really have believed in it – to your irritation. The entire education of the younger generation of theologians belongs to the church in cloister-like schools, in which pure doctrine, the Sermon on the Mount and worship are taken seriously…. [8]

Bonhoeffer chose to go back to Germany. Before leaving England, however, Bonhoeffer took the opportunity to visit several monastic communities in the Anglican tradition located in England. George Bell, the Bishop of Chichester, introduced him to various communities in England, and he was able to visit most of them before his return home. His specific interest was the way in which these communities spiritually formed their members and lived in community; characteristics important for the new kind of seminary he had in mind. [9]

As Bonhoeffer prepared to leave England and undertake the theological training of pastors for the Confessing Church, he continued to study the Sermon on the Mount, a study reflected in his lectures at Finkenwalde, which became his book the Cost of Discipleship. [10] In addition, Bonhoeffer was already thinking about the kind of community necessary to form pastors able to build Christian communities in a hostile environment. This thinking ended up with the form of communal life he nurtured at Finkenwalde and is reflected by his book, Life Together, written after the seminary was closed. [11] It is fair to say that Bonhoeffer felt that authentic discipleship required authentic community, and the skills to form an authentic Christian community, the “Body of Christ in the World” were necessary in the Christian formation of pastors for the church. His insight is as true today as it was in the last century.

Bonhoeffer’s Seminary for the Confessing Church [12]

In Germany in Bonhoeffer’s day, there existed “Preachers Seminaries” of approximately one year of specific training after formal theological training at a university. German universities were government schools designed to give intellectual training, similar to the function many seminaries perform today. Some German churches felt additional training was needed to ensure that pastors had specific skills needed to be successful in day-to-day ministry. This led to the formation of what were called “Preachers Seminaries.” When the Confessing Church was faced with the need to provide education for theological students who opposed the Nazi regime, the device of Preachers Seminaries was used to provide theological education leading to ministry. [13]

Structure of Daily Life

The structure of various Confessing Church seminaries differed from what Bonhoeffer created. The seminary at Finkenwalde was unique and created a lot of comment at the time. At Finkenwalde, the days were punctuated by worship services in the morning and evening, not unlike the Anglican practice of morning and evening prayer. In the morning, the service was followed by half-hour of meditation. The services normally took place around the dinner table. The order of worship was something like the following:

  1. A choral psalm and him selected for the day.
  2. A lesson from the Old Testament.
  3. Another set verse from a hymn, sung daily for several weeks,
  4. A New Testament lesson,
  5. A period of its temporary prayer and recital of the Lord’s prayer.
  6. A concluding hymn. [14]

During the day, there were classes at which Bonhoeffer and others would teach the theological content of the course of study. During meals, Bonhoeffer attempted to have readings, similar to the practice in Benedictine monasteries. This provoked opposition, but was sometimes included in the daily routine. There were also times of freedom, exercise, and especially for the making of music, at which Bonhoeffer excelled. One evening each week was devoted to the discussion of current issues, the politics of the day, and other matters. Bonhoeffer was committed to the notion that the seminary students should understand the society in which they were living and the political and other pressures they would face. In all these activities, Bonhoeffer was building the kind of community he hoped to see his students create in the congregations and other organizations they served.

As word of the innovations at Finkenwalde spread, many opposed or made fun of his ideas. Bonhoeffer was accused of introducing Catholic practices into the Protestant Church. In fact, he had a deeper goal: Bonhoeffer wanted to form the character of young theologians to the point where they would be able to form and maintain Christian communities under great opposition and pressure. He knew that his graduates would face opposition and persecution for their faith and wanted them to be able to both resist and to form communities that could endure within a hostile culture. In much of the world, local pastors face a similar situation today.

The Syllabus of Study

On the surface, Bonhoeffer’s seminary outline of study was not extraordinary. As one might expect, the center of the curriculum was the Word of God, Christ revealed in Scripture which students were to preach in the churches and live in their day-to-day lives. The students were trained in the art of preaching, liturgy and orders of worship, the catechisms of the church, pastoral care, and lectures on church, ministry and community, similar to those in other seminaries. [15]The idea was that the preaching and other activities of the pastors he trained would create vital parts of the body of Christ in the world.

The uniqueness of Bonhoeffer’s seminary was found in its emphasis on discipleship and in the lectures Bonhoeffer gave on the subject, lectures that ultimately became his book, Cost of Discipleship. Although there were students who did not like the structure or content of the Finkenwalde experience, most students recognized that Bonhoeffer was preparing them for the life of discipleship in a hostile environment—a life of taking up their crosses and following Christ into the reality of Nazi Germany. As the years went by, many of them realized that their time with Bonhoeffer had been transformational, including some who had been initially hostile.

The Brotherhood of Pastors

During 1935, as Bonhoeffer wrote the beginning chapters of Cost of Discipleship, he had the the opportunity to create as part of the seminary community, a “House of Brethren.” Once again, Bonhoeffer had contemplated communal life for many years and was captivated by the idea of creating a committed community of Christian disciples within the seminary community. He hoped to create a brotherhood of pastors especially trained and equipped for leadership in the church. In order to accomplish this, Bonhoeffer created what is called, “The House of Brethren.” It is best to think of this House of Brethren as a special feature of the training pastors received at Finkenwalde. In fact, the House of Brethren followed the order of life and seminary routine as closely as possible to prevent confusion. [16] The basic outline of the order of life Bonhoeffer created can be summarized as involving:

  1. Daily Meditative Bible reading
  2. Daily Prayer and Meditation
  3. Regular Worship
  4. Confession
  5. Holy Communion
  6. Christian Action [17]

By August 1935, Bonhoeffer was absolutely convinced that pastoral training to disciple people in the Christian life could not be given abstractly but only in a concrete community in which there was a common life and awareness of Christ and of the meaning of Christian discipleship. In addition, in such a community it would be possible to serve the greater community in a more transformational way, which in the case of Finkenwalde included serving the Confessing Church and the surrounding area of Pomerania as well as engaging in wider, ecumenical activities. [18] IN the end, Bonhoeffer’s House of Brethren did engage in pastoral service to the local area and even to the greater German Confessing Church.

End of Finkenwalde and the Collective Pastorates

In September 1937, the Gestapo closed the Finkenwalde seminary and boarded its doors. While attempts were made to overturn this decision, they were of no avail. In addition, the other Confessing Church seminaries were closed as well. This resulted in the creation of yet another system of theological education for the Confessing Church. This involved the use of “collective pastorates” where students were working in small congregations under the supervision of ordained pastors prior to ordination, a practice that predated the Confessing Church. [19] By 1939, the Confessing Church, oppressed from without and lacking internal unity was helpless, and the time had come for a new approach. Nevertheless, from the closure of Finkenwalde to his second trip to America, Bonhoeffer continued to implement his ideas in a somewhat different format.


By the end of his time at Finkenwalde, Bonhoeffer was prepared for the final phase of his life and ministry. Bonhoeffer saw the grim reality that the modern world embraces a worldview and values that exclude God from the day-to-day reality of politics, government, business, social structures, and everyday life. The kind of Christianity, and the kind of church that developed from the time of Constantine through the Reformation to the present decline of the modern world, was (and is) inadequate for the the culture of the West, increasingly a world-wide culture corroding traditional values and societies wherever it spreads. In response to this new reality, God was and is radically purifying the church so that the church can meet the challenges of contemporary life. The church will for some time not be an honored institution at the core of society, visibly powerful and influential. Instead, the influence of the people of God will be seen in quiet, sometimes unseen prayer and action for the good of others. [20]

Bonhoeffer not only intellectually recognized the need of the church for a different sort of pastoral formation, but also created a model showing what the formation of pastors might look like in response to the cultural changes he saw evident in the West and especially in Germany. Fundamentally, this model flowed from his conviction that the Word of God was present in Scripture and in the Church, as the body of Christ present in the world—a view he already held when he wrote this thesis, Sanctorum Communio. [21]

In the context of World War II Germany, the form of that church Bonhoeffer envisioned was the Confessing Church, which Bonhoeffer believed to be the true form of the church in Germany, free of the heretical elements of the German Christian movement. In our own day, we perhaps see the church wherever “two or more are gathered” in the name of Christ bound together by the love of God (Matthew 18:20; John 13:35). It is for contemporary Christians to build upon what Bonhoeffer achieved as we attempt to adapt to the challenges we face in our own day and time.

Almost certainly, the key element for the growth of discipleship in the church today is the formation of little communities in which Christ is present in the world through word, prayer, witness, and action. Formation of these kind of communities requires a specific kind of apostolic leader, which requires a specific kind of formation for both ordained and lay leadership in the church. Bonhoeffer’s example does not answer all of our questions, but his model is certainly one every Christian leader should study and internalize.

Copyright 2022, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] In 2021, I published a blog based upon a book, Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision by Paul House, in his book Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision: A Case for Costly Discipleship and Life Together (Wheaton, IL: Crossways, 2015), hereinafter “BSV”. See, G. Christopher Scruggs, “Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision” (published August 13, 2021).

[2] This is not to underestimate other factors which resulted in the seminaries of the confessing church, of which Bonhoeffer’s work at Finkenwalde was only one.

[3] See Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography Rev. Ed. (Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 2000), hereinafter “Bethge,” at 406.

[4] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Letter to Mahatma Gandhi” dated October 17, 1934, (downloaded September 27, 2022)

[5] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison: New Greatly Enlarged Edition E. Bethge, ed. Second Printing (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1973).

[6] Letter from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Klaus Friedrich Bonhoeffer, January 1935, quoted in Mary Bosaquet, The Life and Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 150.

[7] George Bell, Letter to Ghandi October 22, 1934, found in Dietrich Bonhoeffer, No Rusty Swords: Letters, Lectures and Notes from the Collected Works (Cleveland, OH: Fount Books, 1958), 291.

[8] Letter to Edwin Sutz, September 11, 1934, found in Bethge, at 411.

[9] Id, at 412.

[10] Dietrich Bonhoeffer , The Cost of Discipleship Rev. Ed. (New York, NY: Collier Books, 1963).

[11] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together tr. John Doberstein, (New York, NY: Harper One, 1954).

[12] In this section (as well as in the past) I will be referring to “Finkenwalde combining it with the earlier experience at Zinsk on the Baltic Sea, where it was briefly located and his later experience in training pastors after the closure of Finkenwalde

[13] Bethge, at 419-421.

[14] Bethge, at 428.

[15] Id, at 241.

[16] Bethge at 460, 468.

[17] Id, at 466. All of these ideas are found in his little book, Life Together.

[18] Id, at 466-467. The way in which Bonhoeffer created the House of Brethren is reminiscent of the way in which early monasteries were formed and served the communities near them. I cannot describe these wider activities in this paper, but he took students on tours, engaged in ecumenical activities, supported the Confessing Church, and in other aspects of ministry, all of which are outlined in Bethge’s biography. Id, at 468-585.

[19] Id, at 587-596.

[20] This is a near direct quote reprinted from G. Christopher Scruggs, Crisis of Discipleship: Renewing the Art of Relational Disciple-Making(College Station, TX: Virtual Bookworm, 2022), 119. As the proceeding makes plain, well by the time of Letters and Papers from Prison Bonhoeffer was deeply struggling with the nature of modern society, the absence of a felt need for God, and the secularization of intellectual and practical society. Nevertheless, it should be evident from this and prior blogs that have recently been published that this realization by Bonhoeffer had been underway for some time, and his conclusions in his prison letters do not involve a radical break from ideas he had long held.

[21] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998), 280.