Need your help: Theologians who wrote from prison?

I am working on a writing project and I want your help trying to find theologians (including Biblical scholars) who wrote while they were in prison/jail. Obviously we have Bonhoeffer and I thought of Kasemann as well. Who else? Doesn’t need to be Germans! It could be anywhere, anytime, but if you can point me to both person and the text, that would help!

NB: I am already aware that Paul wrote from prison!

15 thoughts on “Need your help: Theologians who wrote from prison?

  1. Not sure if John Bunyan counts, but there’s one. Watchman Nee was not allowed paper and ink but legend says he very slowly carved something in stone with his fingernails.

    I’d also be interested to know who wrote as a working man. That is, as in Einstein’s first two papers, written after hours from his job at the Patent office. Most famous theologians were either full time academics, or held positions of authority to set their own schedule.

    It’s not that Paul wrote while in prison, that should amaze us. It’s the other way around…

  2. I think of Ignatius of Antioch (all his letters on the way to Rome), perhaps John on Patmos (the evidence that he was imprisoned or exiled there is a bit slim), Martin Luther King Jr. (letter from a Birmingham jail), Henri De Lubac wrote while on the run from Nazis. Watchman Nee?

    Does house arrest count? I would imagine there would be quite a few before Constantine . . .

  3. John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress in Bedford Gaol. Thomas More wrote a number of works while imprisoned. Madame Guyon might be another example. Here is one of her hymns:

    A little bird I am,
    Shut from the fields of air;
    And in my cage I sit and sing
    To Him who place me there;
    Well pleased a prisoner to be,
    Because, my God, it pleases Thee.

    My cage confines me round;
    Abroad I cannot fly;
    But though my wing is closely bound,
    My heart’s at liberty.
    My prison walls can not control
    The flight, the freedom of my soul.

    Oh, it is good to soar
    These bolts and bars above,
    To Him whose purpose I adore,
    Whose providence I love:
    And in thy mighty will to find
    The joy, the freedom of the mind.

  4. Depends on how serious you are about them being a “scholar” – you could add Martin Luther King, Jr. (Letter from a Birmingham Jail)

  5. You could include John of the Cross and his “Spiritual Canticle”. Of course he is a theologian of the Catholic tradition, but a theologian nonetheless.

  6. I add a vote for John of the Cross.

    Nijay, Michael Halcomb introduced us at SBL last year. I was then working with Ben Witherington. Now, I’m at St. Andrews working with Tom Wright. From glory to glory right? 🙂 Best to you.


  7. Thanks for all of your comments! This is really helpful and I will chase many of these up in the coming months! Its surprising that more do not come easily to mind, but we certainly have some that have become great inspirations.

  8. Long time listener, first time caller. I’m just so excited to be leaving a comment on this blog.

    Anyway… I was just thumbing through a book that listed Vaclav Havel’s “Letters to Olga” along with Bonhoeffer’s “Letters and Papers from Prison” and Boethius’s “Consolation of Philosophy” as “the three classic prison letters of the West.” Perhaps Havel isn’t normally listed as a ‘theologian’ but the grouping itself was striking to me.

    The book, for what it’s worth, was Os Guinness “The Call” (p. 17 in the 1998 Word Publishing edition).

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