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Letters and Papers from Prison Paperback – July 1, 1997

4.7 out of 5 stars 80 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; Updated edition (July 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684838273
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684838274
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Robert H. Nunnally Jr. on January 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison show the reader the thoughts of a man who wrote with immense insight under circumstances fraught with the deepest despair. Prior to the war, Bonhoeffer had established himself as a visionary, if somewhat moderate, young Christian theologian. His imprisonment by the Nazis in the wake of the failure of the conspiracy to assasinate Hitler gave rise to this series of letters, ranging from the trivial to the most profound, reflecting the thoughts and ideas of a man whose ideas continued to evolve, even as hope dwindled. It is tempting to see Bonhoeffer as a sort of modern Christian saint "set-piece" of a man, or a Spielberg movie waiting to be made. Such an interpretation of the man would trivialize the flesh and blood reality of his life, as these letters demonstrate. Collections of letters typically suffer from one of two defects--either they are inanely trivial and gossippy, or they spend far too much time on being "literary" for posterity, and not enough time giving real insight into the writer. Bonhoeffer's letters avoid both of these traps. Although the letters collection is not overly burdened by the confessional, letters to his parents and fiance help us understand in very human terms the horror of imprisonment by the Nazis, notwithstanding their careful phrasing to avoid the censor's pen. The letters do contain some of the intentionally "literary"--Bonhoeffer writes poetry which is reasonably spare and connective and sometimes writes for the hypothetical future reader. But the real tour de force is Bonhoeffer's analysis of the evolution of his theological thought in light of the changes wrought by modernity and made apparent to him through his experiences.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
From April 1943 to April 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a prisoner of the Gestapo. Suspected of participating in a plot against Hitler, he was eventually executed in the closing days of World War II. This book is a collection of letters he wrote from prison to his family, his fiancee Maria, and his dearest friend Eberhard.
Bonhoeffer was in his late 30s when he was arrested. He was a Lutheran theologian, who had publicly questioned the rise of fascism and anti-Semitism in Germany and was systematically silenced by Hitler's government, unable finally to publish any of his writings or to preach in any pulpit. Along with other members of his family, Bonhoeffer secretly participated in an effort led by officers of Army Intelligence to undermine the war effort. Attempting to build a case against him, the Gestapo kept him a prisoner, awaiting trial. Incriminating evidence did not emerge until after the July 1944 attempt on Hitler's life. And at this point the letters stop, as Bonhoeffer was transported to another prison and eventually to a series of concentration camps.
The letters in this volume describe in detail the routines of prison life. And they offer a glimpse of life lived by ordinary civilians during months of aerial bombardments, as the fabric of daily life slowly crumbles. They also reveal the thoughts and emotions of a man whose faith in God and trust in survival are put to the severest test. While he is remembered by those who knew him in his last months as a fiercely brave, courageous, and selfless man, we see in the letters his inner turmoil, his fear, loneliness, and sense of isolation in a world his theology never imagined.
Included in the collection are polite and cheerful love letters to the young Maria von Wedemeyer, to whom he has proposed marriage.
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Format: Paperback
If nothing else, you just have to admire Dietrich Bonhoeffer for the stand he made for the truth. Whether or not you agree with his role in the murder plot of Hitler, you have to salute the German theologian for his honesty in this book, which is comprised of letters sent mainly to Eberhard Bethge and his parents. An appendix includes letters that he penned to his fiance Maria. If you want to read this book for pure theology sake, then I would probably turn to The Cost of Discipleship first (which, he mentions in one letter, he wrote partly out a false hope to acquire faith by trying to live a holy life, a very honest admission). But if you want to better understand the man and what he was truly made of in the time of his last two years of life, then this book is very insightful. I don't think anyone can do better to get into the head of this great theologian than to read Letters and Papers From Prison.
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In late 1942, theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "... the power of some needs the folly of others. It is not that [intellectual capacities] become stunted or destroyed, but rather that the upsurge of power makes such an overwhelming impression that men are deprived of their independent judgment, and -- more or less unconsciously -- give up trying to assess the new state of affairs for themselves. The fact that the fool is often stubborn must not mislead us into thinking that he is independent. One feels in fact, when talking to him, that one is dealing, not with the man himself, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like, which have taken hold of him. ... folly can be overcome, not by instruction, but only by an act of liberation... a person's inward liberation to live a responsible life before God is the only real cure for folly."
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.
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