Family Environment and Academic Career

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the sixth of eight children, was born on February 4, 1906 in Breslau. His father Karl Bonhoeffer was a psychiatrist and his mother Paula, née von Hase, a teacher. This family of scholars imbued by Christianity for generations was a source of kind, liberal identity and intellectual honesty for the children during their lifetimes.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer recorded ample evidence of his close family ties, which provided him not only with emotional support but also an extensive network of relationships. In the resistance, he was able to fall back on both.

As of 1912, the family lived in Berlin where his father worked at as a respected professor at “Charité” University Hospital. The death of his second eldest brother Walter as a soldier in the First World War influenced Dietrich Bonhoeffer early on. He decided to study theology when he was fourteen.

After graduating from Grunewald High School, a modern progressive school in Berlin, he began pursuing his degree in Tübingen in 1923, continued in Berlin and earned his doctorate there when he was twenty-one with his dissertation “Sanctorum Communio” under Reinhold Seeberg. His most influential teacher in Berlin was the liberal theologian Adolf von Harnack. Karl Barth’s dialectical theology also fascinated Bonhoeffer early on.

He passed his First Theological Exam in 1928, then served as a vicar of the German congregation in Barcelona and completed his degree with his Second Theological Exam in 1928. His Habilitation degree making him an adjunct professor followed in 1930 with his post-doctoral dissertation “Akt und Sein” (Act and Being). Bonhoeffer was twenty-four at the time and already able to look back on a meteoric academic career.

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