Mornings With Bonhoeffer

During the “German Church Struggle” Bonhoeffer and some of the dissenting pastors decided to set up a new seminary in Finkenwalde in order to train pastors for the Confessing Church. These Pastors met, not only to receive academic training, but to receive spiritual nourishment as well (this was quite absent in most German pastoral training at the time since training was primarily an academic exercise). These pastors gathered for prayer, study, meditation upon the word, and of course the study of theology. As Bonhoeffer led these pastors (and soon to be pastors) he developed a way of life centered around discipline, prayer, and scripture. At times it seemed as though this new way of life was overly monastic, students were bored with how rigid the routines were even to the point where some dropped out of the seminary, but at other times it was exactly what the students desired, it was a burst of fresh air for students who were used to the deadened spirituality of German universities.

Bonhoeffer sitting with some younger students.

In Charles Marsh’s gargantuan biography of Bonhoeffer titled Strange Glory he outlines what life at this modern day monastery at Finkenwalde looked like…

Each day would begin and end in quiet meditation. The bretheren would rise and proceed in silence to the dining room for prayers; there, in the early morning light, they would sit until God had spoken some word for the day into their hearts – or until a half hour had passed. Then morning praises were sung. After hymns, the men read antiphonally from the Psalter. There followed a reading from the New Testament, and prayers, sometimes from the prayer book, otherwise extemporized. Morning worship concluded with another hymn…the men would return to their bunk room in silence to make their beds and “put their things in order.”

After breakfast, devotional exercises began, with two or three men sharing a room… for the first half of this period they were to meditate on scripture. Bonhoeffer instructed them to center their thoughts for an entire week on a single passage, not for some purpose of exegesis – as would have been expected in the universities – or even for homiletic inspiration, but “to discover what the verses had to say” in the quiet of the morning.” (Strange Glory 232)

(Note: Look for my review of Strange Glory on this blog in about a week or so.)


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

2 thoughts on “Mornings With Bonhoeffer

  1. Wow… almost a monastic order but with a purpose beyond just the separation… a monastic order with the intent that the members would be “sent”…

    1. That definitely was the purpose! Bonhoeffer was very clear on the fact that right action is birthed only by spending time in the presence of God.

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