A common thread through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life, work, and thought is the intersection between faith and reality. Bonhoeffer was not a theoretician but an engaged activist. He was not simply a critic of the Nazi state and its ideology but actively subverted and resisted both. One way he did this was by organizing and leading the Confessing Church seminary at Finkenwalde, near Stetin, on the Oder River. The seminary at Finkenwalde was a place of learning, worship, deep relationships, shared ministry, and spiritual community. It was out of this experience that Bonhoeffer wrote his best-known work, Cost of Discipleship.
The Finkenwalde house’s daily rhythms of morning and evening prayer, study, singing, silence, and confession became the structure for his other multi-generational bestseller, Life Together. And it was there that Pastor Dietrich delivered the lectures that became Spiritual Care, examining the role of ministers as shepherds of souls, pastors who are present at the great moments of their flocks’ lives – weddings, baptisms, crises, funerals. The lessons here mark a shift in Bonhoeffer’s thinking from an austere theology to a more practical, realistic, community-oriented pastoral formation.
Spiritual Care demonstrates many sides of Bonhoeffer as an extraordinary figure in church history. He was at once a towering intellectual and a down-to-earth parson, an international ecumenical leader and provincial community organizer, and a strategic political actor and churchman at his core. All these elements informed and animated Bonhoeffer’s concept of what it meant to be one who cares for souls.