Otto Dibelius

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Otto Dibelius (left) and Konrad Adenauer , 1957

Friedrich Karl Otto Dibelius (born May 15, 1880 in Berlin ; † January 31, 1967 there ) was a German Protestant theologian . He had been General Superintendent of the Kurmark in the Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union from 1925 , before resigning in August 1933 as a result of conflicts with the National Socialists . Until 1945 he was actively involved in the Confessing Church . In 1945 he accepted the title of bishop and headed the Evangelical Church Berlin-Brandenburg until 1961/1966 . From 1949 to 1961 he was also the council chairman of the Evangelical Church in Germany .


Otto Dibelius grew up as the son of the secret government councilor Otto Andreas Dibelius from Prenzlau and his wife Laura Erdmute Margarete kauffer in Berlin's Luisenstadt , from 1890 he attended the Luisenstädtische grammar school . In 1892 the family moved to Groß-Lichterfelde, where Dibelius graduated from the newly founded Lichterfelder Realgymnasium in 1899 . Until 1904 he studied Protestant theology at the Friedrich Wilhelms University in Berlin with Adolf Harnack . There he joined the VDSt Berlin . After a study exchange, he was in 1902 in casting for Dr. phil. doctorate with the dissertation : notions of prayer and the Lord's Prayer in Greek writers of the first centuries after Christ. Gießen 1903. After the first theological examination, he attended the seminary in Wittenberg from 1904 to 1906 . After his return and continued studying theology in Berlin, he was awarded a Lic. Theol in 1906 . PhD followed by the second theological exam. After a subsequent year of study in Scotland with a grant of Schleiermacher's Foundation at the University of Berlin, he was in the Nikolai Church (Berlin) ordained .

Promotion to the church leadership until 1933

Dibelius made a rapid career in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In 1906 he began as an assistant preacher in Guben and in 1907 became archdeacon in Crossen (Oder) . From 1910 he was second pastor at St. Petri and Pauli in Danzig and in 1911 senior pastor in Lauenburg i. Pom. At the beginning of the First World War he was one of the numerous clergymen who, filled with excessive nationalism, saw the imperial army soldiers as fighters for “the victory signs of Christ”. In 1915 he became a pastor at the Heilsbronnen Church in Berlin. After the war was lost for the empire, like other right-wing conservative and anti-republic forces, he represented the “ stab in the back legend ” and saw the cause in “ruthless materialism of socialist demagogy”. This conservative, anti-socialist positioning, as it was typical of the national Protestantism that ruled the evangelical pastorate, made his steep rise in the church hierarchy possible. In 1921 he became a part-time member of the Old Prussian Evangelical Upper Church Council (EOK) in Berlin-Charlottenburg and in 1925 General Superintendent of the Kurmark in the Brandenburg consistory in Berlin . In the same year he joined the DNVP . In 1926 he published his noted, programmatic book The Century of the Church .

Now he worked in the ecumenical movement . He took part in the World Conference on Practical Christianity in Stockholm in 1925 and in the World Conference on Faith and Order in Lausanne in 1927 and was elected to the continuation committee.

Dibelius caused a sensation in 1930 with his book Peace on Earth? Contrary to the usual evangelical interpretation of war as “willed by God”, Dibelius took the view that war was the work of man and should be prevented as such: “No. War should not be because God does not want war ”. At the same time, he criticized the resolute pacifism of Leo Tolstoy and demanded that Christians should also demonstrate their willingness to make sacrifices as soldiers. Because the nation is "the most sacred and the greatest" earthly good. “When the hour comes, we must be ready to wage war with arms for our fatherland!” In addition, Dibelius urged the church to stand up for conscientious objectors out of a Christian conscience, even if they do not approve of their position. Faith establishes a higher right than state orders and laws.

Attitude in National Socialism

From March to December 1933

Dibelius welcomed Adolf Hitler's rise to power . On March 21, 1933, in his capacity as the responsible general superintendent, he gave a sermon to the Protestant members of the Reichstag on the " Day of Potsdam " in the Nikolaikirche . In it, he praised the new rulers for the measures taken after the Reichstag fire , with which opponents of the regime had been arrested and civil rights largely suspended, but also warned of the dangers of a dictatorship.

"Through north and south, through east and west, there is a new will to the German state, a longing no longer, to speak to Treitschke, to do without one of the most sublime feelings in a man's life, namely the enthusiastic look to one's own state."

With Treitschke, Dibelius appealed to one of the violent anti-Judaists of the 19th century. Also in the Nikolaikirche Dibelius said:

"We got from Dr. Martin Luther learned that the church must not fall into the arms of legitimate state power if it does what it is called to do. Not even if she shifts hard and ruthlessly. We know the terrible words with which Luther called on the authorities in the Peasants' War to proceed ruthlessly so that order could be restored in Germany. But we also know that Luther called the Christian authorities with the same seriousness not to falsify their divine office through vengefulness and conceit, that he demanded justice and mercy as soon as order was restored. "

When the SA's " Jewish boycott " against Jewish businesses took place on April 1, 1933 , he stood behind the Hitler state and declared:

“After all, the government felt compelled to organize the boycott of Jewish businesses - with the correct realization that the international connections of Judaism will most likely stop the agitation against foreign countries when it becomes economically dangerous to German Jewry . The result of all these events will no doubt be a dampening of Jewish influence in public life in Germany. Nobody can seriously object to that. "

In a radio address broadcast in the USA on the boycott on April 4, 1933, Dibelius claimed that it was going "in peace and order".

In April 1933, Dibelius also announced in a confidential Easter letter to his fellow officials throughout the ecclesiastical province:

“ We will all not only have understanding but also full sympathy for the last motives from which the völkisch movement emerged. Despite the evil sound that the word has adopted many times, I have always known myself as an anti-Semite . One cannot fail to recognize that Judaism plays a leading role in all the corrosive phenomena of modern civilization ... "

At the Kurmärkischer Kirchentag , which took place on Sunday Exaudi , May 28, 1933, in Potsdam under the direction of Dibelius, the General Superintendent of the Kurmark demanded that the “... Church clearly and unambiguously the free proclamation of the Gospel without regard to people and human powers make it their main task (must). "

In May 1933 the Reich government created state commissioners to directly influence the Protestant regional churches . As general superintendent, Dibelius protested against this arbitrary state act. On June 23, 1933, the Ministerialdirektor August Jäger was appointed as State Commissioner for Prussia. He was the head of the church department of the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs and official administrator for Protestant church affairs in the Reich leadership of the NSDAP . In one of his first official acts, he deposed General Superintendent Dibelius on June 26, 1933 because of his protest against the government.

In July 1933, the Reich Government, in consultation with the National Socialist " German Christians " (DC), issued a new Reich Church Constitution, which resulted in a church election scheduled for July 23, 1933 at short notice . In return, at the instigation of Reich President Paul von Hindenburg, Hitler had withdrawn the state commissioners and reversed their measures. Dibelius was allowed to return to office on July 19, 1933. After the DC won the church election in triumph, Dibelius asked for a leave of absence. With reference to the DC attacks, he wrote in a letter to the Evangelical High Church Council on July 26, 1933 :

"As a German student, I became a member of the Association of German Students and even during my studies I stood in the fight against Judaism and social democracy ."

Hitler installed the " Reichsbishop " Ludwig Müller . So the church administrations were slowly transformed into an " imperial church ". In September 1933 the German Christians abolished the office of general superintendent. Like Dibelius, the owners were retired. On the other hand, an internal church opposition arose, in whose church struggle Dibelius did not take part from the beginning. On December 1, 1933, he went to Sanremo, Italy, as an electoral preacher .

From July 1934 to May 1945

Dibelius returned to Germany on July 1, 1934 and then joined the work of the Brandenburg Brotherhood of the Confessing Church , where he defended the existing structures of the Protestant Church. In November 1934 Dibelius filed a private lawsuit against a Protestant pastor and leader of the German Christians (DC) in Neuruppin for public defamation. With this lawsuit and the subsequent process, he wanted to defend himself against the charge of "treason". This allegation was triggered by a. Passages in his book Peace on Earth? , in which he campaigned for the church to have a pastoral responsibility also towards conscientious objectors. The lawsuit was accepted and resulted in a (mild) fine. Dibelius was able to prove that the DC pastor had actually expressed the allegation of treason (1) publicly and (2) wrongly.

In the period that followed, Dibelius repeatedly stood up for religious freedom and was imprisoned several times. He was forbidden to preach. He belonged to the “Freiburg Council” . He had contact with the resistance fighters of July 20, 1944 , but did not take part in resistance activities himself. According to a representation by the Shoah Resource Center (archive of the Yad Vashem Memorial ), Dibelius knew about the mass murder of Jews in Poland , but remained silent. He preferred not to exceed the usual framework for church action in the case of mass murder.

Bishop of Berlin and Chairman of the EKD Council after 1945

Berlin memorial plaque on the house at Brüderstraße 5 in Berlin-Lichterfelde
Honorary grave in the park cemetery Lichterfelde

After the end of the war, Dibelius quickly gained a leadership position in the Protestant Church. The advisory board, the provisional Old Prussian church leadership, which Dibelius himself had initiated, confirmed him as General Superintendent of the Kurmark , temporarily assigned him the vacant General Superintendent positions in Berlin (1945-1946) and Neumark-Niederlausitz (1945-1946), and appointed him President of the Old Prussian Evangelical Upper Church Council (1945–1951) and head of the Old Prussian Church Province of Mark Brandenburg, which became independent as the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg. Dibelius now called himself "Bishop" and "Regional Bishop" (1945–1966). He argued that the title “General Superintendent” was not understandable for the Allies. Martin Niemöller (together with Karl Barth ) criticized Dibelius' choice of title.

In the same year Dibelius joined the CDU .

As a member of the Provisional Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany ( EKD ), he wrote the Stuttgart Confession of Guilt of October 1945 together with Theophil Wurm and Martin Niemöller . This text was addressed to the representatives of the Ecumenical Council of Churches and contained the key sentences:

"With great pain we say: Through us, infinite suffering has been brought to many countries and peoples [...] We accuse ourselves that we did not confess more courageously, pray more faithfully, believe more joyfully and love more ardently [...]"

In December 1946, Dibelius traveled to England and held services for prisoners of war there. In the Sheffield Cathedral for example, were more present than 1,000 prisoners on 24 December. In August 1948, the World Council of Churches was founded in Amsterdam and Dibelius was elected to the central committee. With the new church order for the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg , the old Prussian church province of Mark Brandenburg also became de jure an independent regional church in 1948, the head of which is called bishop. On September 7, 1949, he gave the sermon for the opening of the German Bundestag in Bonn.

In January 1949, the first regular synod of the new Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) took place in Bielefeld-Bethel . The council, the council chairman and his deputy had to be appointed by the synod. Dibelius was elected chairman and the Hanoverian regional bishop Hanns Lilje was elected deputy. Six years later, at the Synod of Espelkamp near Lübbecke ( Westphalia ), Dibelius was asked to accept another election for six years. Lilje remained his deputy. From 1954 to 1961 he served as one of six Presidents of the World Council of Churches .

After the resolution to build up the Bundeswehr (" rearmament "), he signed the military chaplaincy contract with the federal government in 1956 for the EKD (then still all-German) . The GDR therefore called Dibelius "NATO Bishop". In his relationship to the GDR (thematized in his "Authoritative Document"), curious remarks have been passed down from him: In a birthday letter to his friend Hanns Lilje, for example, he stated that obedience to atheist regimes ends with traffic regulations. Erica Küppers described in an article for the “Voice of the Congregation”, a magazine of the Confessing Church, her “astonishment when one took further note of what was said about the observance of the traffic signs that demand a speed limit from motorists. In the Federal Republic of Germany I have to observe them or, as a Christian, I would have a guilty conscience in the event of a violation. In the GDR, such a ban has no binding force for me because I cannot consider it legitimate. ” In his memoirs, Hans Ruh mentions that Dibelius also mentioned the lack of legitimation of the state leadership, including traffic regulations, in a sermon.

The construction of the wall on August 13, 1961 made work in the divided regional church even more difficult. The rulers in the GDR denied him access to East Berlin and Brandenburg . As a result, his work was limited to West Berlin . Thereupon the church leadership transferred the episcopal powers for the other areas of the regional church to the East Berlin President Kurt Scharf , who was immediately expelled to West Berlin. In 1966 - at the age of 85 - Dibelius gave up the office of bishop, which was in fact limited to West Berlin, to President Scharf, after he had succeeded the EKD as Chairman of the Council in 1961.

Dibelius gradually found it difficult to explain his attitude towards Jews during the National Socialist era . In 1964 he announced that he had always avoided Jews, namely: "not in a hostile disposition, but in such a way that one sensed the alien in their being."

Dibelius died on January 31, 1967 in Berlin. He was honored as one of the most important personalities of the Evangelical Church in the 20th century. He was buried in the Lichterfelde park cemetery , Thuner Platz. His grave is dedicated to the city of Berlin as an honorary grave .



  • The royal seminary in Wittenberg from 1817–1917 , Berlin 1917
  • The Century of the Church , Berlin 1926
  • Peace on Earth? , Berlin 1930
  • Homecoming to the Word - A devotional book from the Confessing Church , Göttingen 1935
  • The state church is here! , (with Martin Niemöller), Wuppertal-Barmen 1936
  • We call Germany to God , (with Martin Niemöller), Berlin 1937
  • State borders , Tübingen: Furche-Verlag Dr. Katzmann, 1949
  • From the legacy of the fathers , Kreuz Verlag , Stuttgart 1950
  • Authority? , 1959
  • Speeches to a divided city , Berlin 1961
  • A Christian is always on duty , Stuttgart 1961
  • Christ and the Christians - an answer to a lecture by Rudolf Augstein , Berlin 1965
  • Speeches - letters. 1933–1967 , Erlenbach-Zurich and Stuttgart 1970
  • That's how I experienced it - testimonials , Berlin 1980



Web links

Commons : Otto Dibelius  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Werner Bienwald: A Dibelius family line. In: The Herald. Quarterly magazine for heraldry, genealogy and allied sciences. Volume 6, January-June 1967, issue 5/6, p. 411 f.
  2. Louis Lange (Ed.): Kyffhäuser Association of German Student Associations. Address book 1931. Berlin 1931, p. 42.
  3. Information on Otto Dibelius in the database of the Bibliothèque nationale de France .
  4. ^ Günter Wirth : A cleric in the upheavals of the 20th century. On the 30th anniversary of the death of Bishop Dibelius . In: Berlin monthly magazine ( Luisenstädtischer Bildungsverein ) . Issue 1, 1997, ISSN  0944-5560 , p. 25-29 ( ).
  5. ^ O. Dibelius . In: Personal Lexicon on German Protestantism 1919–1949 .
  6. God with us! Greetings from the home of Pastor Dibelius in Lauenburg . Printed on behalf of the parish church council 1914, p. 6.
  7. ^ Otto Dibelius: National survey . Berlin 1919, p. 55.
  8. ^ Ernst Klee : The dictionary of persons on the Third Reich. Who was what before and after 1945 . Second updated edition, Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2005, p. 107.
  9. Peace on earth? Question, considerations, answer. Furche-Verlag, Berlin 1930.
  10. quote. In: Theological Real Encyclopedia . Volume 20: Crusades - Leo XIII. de Gruyter, Berlin 1990, Krieg , p. 44.
  11. ^ Friedrich Gollert: Dibelius in front of the court. Beck, Munich 1959, pp. 26, 29.
  12. Quoted from Wolfgang Gerlach: When the witnesses were silent. Confessing Church and the Jews (=  Studies on Church and Israel , Volume 10). 2nd Edition. Institute Church and Judaism, Berlin 1993, ISBN 3-923095-69-4 , p. 41f.
  13. Quote from Saul Friedländer : The Third Reich and the Jews. Volume 1: The Years of Persecution 1933–1939 . 2nd Edition. Beck, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-406-43506-8 , p. 55 f.
  14. cit. after Saul Friedländer: The Third Reich and the Jews. Volume 1. The Years of Persecution 1933–1939 . 2nd Edition. Beck, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-406-43506-8 , p. 55 f.
  15. Berliner Morgenpost newspaper , May 30, 1933, p. 3
  16. For the removal and retirement from office see Robert Stupperich : Otto Dibelius. An evangelical bishop in the upheaval of times . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1989, ISBN 3-525-55414-1 , pp. 202-219.
  17. ^ Friedrich Gollert: Dibelius in front of the court , Beck, Munich 1959.
  18. (PDF; 26 kB)
  19. ^ Karl Herbert: Church between awakening and tradition - years of decision after 1945. Radius-Verlag, Stuttgart 1989, ISBN 3-87173-779-8 , p. 19 (as “legitimation” to the occupying power), as well as a letter from Niemöller to Hans Asmussen from January 21, 1946 (ZEKHN 36/41) and Wipkinger lecture by Karl Barth, October 14, 1945 (ZEKHN preliminary no. 214/46 - on the attitudes of the two newly introduced title of bishop).
  20. ^ Voice of the congregation on inner church life, on politics, economy and culture, issue 22/1959, p. 706
  21. Hans Ruh : I got involved. Versus Verlag, 2017, ISBN 978-3-909066-10-0 , p. 41.
  22. Wolfgang Gerlach: Between the cross and the star of David. Confessing Church in its position on Judaism in the Third Reich. Hamburg 1972, p. 24.
predecessor Office successor
Karl Theodor Georg Axenfeld General Superintendent of the Kurmark
Provost Fritz Loerzer
( for the general superintendent, renamed Propstei )
( after returning from S. Remo back in office for the BK , ignoring the suspension, confirmed by the advisory board in 1945 )
General Superintendent of the Kurmark
Walter Braun
Emil Karow
( until 1934 as Provincial Bishop for Berlin )
General superintendent for Berlin
( provisionally appointed by the advisory board )
(1) Gerhard Jacobi ( for Berlin I, i.e. West ) and
(2) Friedrich-Wilhelm Krummacher ( for Berlin II, i.e. East )
Propst Otto Eckert
( until 1935 for the general superintendent, renamed Propstei )
General superintendent of
Neumark and Niederlausitz

( provisionally appointed by the advisory board )
Günter Jacob
(1) Emil Karow ( until 1934 as Provincial Bishop for Berlin ) and
(2) Joachim Hossenfelder ( until 1933 as Provincial Bishop for Brandenburg )
Bishop of the ecclesiastical province of Mark Brandenburg
( provisionally appointed by the advisory board )
( as the elected bishop of the ecclesiastical province that became an Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg )
( as appointed bishop of the ecclesiastical province of Mark Brandenburg )
Bishop of the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg
Kurt Scharf