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Letters and Papers from Prison Paperback – July 1, 1997
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Letters and Papers from Prison is a collection of notes and correspondence covering the period from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's arrest in 1943 to his execution by the Gestapo in 1945. The book is probably most famous, and most important, for its idea of "religionless Christianity"--an idea Bonhoeffer did not live long enough fully to develop, but whose timeliness only increases as the lines between secular and ecclesial life blur. Bonhoeffer's first mention of "religionless Christianity" came in a letter in 1944:
What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today. The time when people could be told everything by means of words, whether theological or pious, is over, and so is the time of inwardness and conscience--and that means the time of religion in general. We are moving towards a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious any more. Even those who honestly describe themselves as "religious" do not in the least act up to it, and so they presumably mean something quite different by "religious."The pleasures of Letters and Papers from Prison, however are not all so profound. Occasionally, Bonhoeffer's letters burst into song--sometimes with actual musical notations, other times with unforgettable phrases. Looking forward to seeing his best friend, Bonhoeffer writes, "To meet again is a God." --Michael Joseph Gross
'With regard to composition there is hardly blemish of any kind: the grammar, the rhymes, the lucidity of expression, the consistency of style, the adaptation to various metres, the use of repition are all well-nigh prefectly formed...Very good valuer indeed!' Methodist Recorder, February 2007 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Folly and Bonhoeffer were on a collision course.
During his long imprisonment by the Nazi regime, Bonhoeffer corresponded with members of his family. Many of these letters were collected, and later published, by Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer's niece's husband. The letters between Bonhoeffer and Bethge, his intellectual and spiritual confidant, are the most insightful in terms of revealing the intellectual Bonhoeffer. Although his life hangs in the balance, Bonhoeffer only occasionally speaks of his own welfare, and then apologetically and only in passing. With Bethge, and to a lesser extent with his father and others, he prefers directing his thoughts to a great breadth of interests -- art, history, music, philosophy, physics, psychology, sociology, theology. With all correspondents, Bonhoeffer expresses constant concern for their welfare, as well as for the welfare of his fellow prisoners and even his Nazi guards. We continually have statements like this one:
"I wish you much joy and don't want you to be disturbed by any thoughts about me. I have every reason to be so infinitely grateful about everything. ... the prisoners and guards here keep saying how they are 'amazed' (?!) at my tranquillity and cheerfulness. I myself am always amazed about remarks of this kind. But isn't it rather nice?"
To 'flesh-out' the context for Bonhoeffer's letters, Bethge has included much of the letter writing of his correspondents, and you may choose not to read all of this material. The reader should quickly notice that the language of the letters is, in some passages, less than frank, as in Bonhoeffer's seemingly exaggerated statements of patriotism. One must remember his position, and that of his family. Bonhoeffer speaks of a desire to be able to speak freely one day, to converse face to face. To serve as a pastor, to counsel others, to be a husband to his fiancee, to support and care for his family, to study and write.
The Nazis, sadly, had a different agenda.
You will also trace his wrestling with his prison life, and where it might lead. HOWEVER, I highly recommend that before you read LPP that you read Chapter 13 of Bethge's Biography of Bonhoeffer. Unless you do you will get the impression that he thinks his case will be resolved quickly. His letters to his family members often sound optomistic and up-beat, which is far from the truth. His family knew full well his case would probably end up with his execution, but Bonhoeffer wrote to them in a code that they would understand which gave them a much darker expectation. For instance, he often mentions the health of "Uncle Rudy." "Uncle Rudy" is the code for the war raging throughout Germany. There are many such codes in his letters to family which are given so they will pass the Nazi censors. These codes are well explained in Chapter 13 of Bethge's Biography. Many of the letters to Bethge (he was a seminary student years earlier taught by Bonhoeffer) were smuggled out of the prison and bypassed the censors, that's why their content is so much bleaker.
If you want to understand Bonhoeffer at all you must at least read "Letters and Papers from Prison" and then surely read "The Cost of Discipleship."