The Monasticism of Dietrich Bonhoeffer – an Excerpt from The Story of Monasticism

The following is an excerpt from The Story of Monasticism by Greg Peters.


Bonhoeffer’s most mature thoughts on the monastic life are found in the pages of Life Together (published in 1939), a work that grew out of his oversight of a seminary set up at Finkenwalde to train pastors for the Confessing Church. Bonhoeffer believed that the divinity schools of the 1930s were inadequate to train pastors, who needed to be in “church-monastic schools” in order to learn pure doctrine, be trained in prayer, and become Sermon on the Mount–kind of disciples.

Cover ArtWithin the seminary Bonhoeffer created a subgroup of students known as the House of Brethren. One of the former members of this group later referred to it as a monastery with four goals: to make members better preachers; to further the discipleship of its members; to renounce personal prerogative for the purpose of serving others; and to create a spiritual refuge for pastors who needed to regain strength through retreat.

Though the seminary and the House of Brethren were closed by the Gestapo in 1937, the experiment gave Bonhoeffer the ideas that would be included in Life Together, distilled in five chapters: Community, The Day with Others, The Day Alone, Ministry and Confession, and Communion. For Bonhoeffer this community would not be a life dedicated to contemplation but would be characterized by love of God and service to others.

Christian community was natural, so a life together only strengthened the Christian in her life of discipleship. True community is a spiritual community, characterized by common worship, common praying, common hearing of the Word of God, and common meal-taking. The full day of work, educational endeavors, and pastoral ministries were also set up so as not to hinder one’s prayer life. Members of the community were expected to find time to practice silence and solitude, out of which grows meditation, prayer, and intercession.

By the end of Life Together it is obvious that Bonhoeffer has laid out a rule of life similar to the RB. There is a lot of overlap in Bonhoeffer’s and Benedict’s visions of communal living: Without a doubt, Bonhoeffer’s vision of life together for Christians was monastic in its inspiration and in its structure. Though Bonhoeffer’s life was cut short by the Nazis, it is likely that he desired to set up a proper monastic community based on the principles in Life Together.

©2015 by Greg Peters . Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.


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