Saturday, October 27, 2012

Bonhoeffer and theology

We are not observing a Year of Faith this year to celebrate "faith." After all, one does not have faith in faith. The occasion and focus of this particular Year of Faith is the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, an amazing event in the life of the Church. So, the purpose of this year is to focus on the Council, to study, discuss, and seek to more fully and faithfully incorporate the documents of the Council in the life of the Church. Generically, of course, every year is a year of faith.

For some reason, the combination of the Year of Faith and Synod on the New Evangelization have put me in a very ecumenical state-of-mind, as my posts about the interventions of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican bishop of Sheffield, England indicates. Today I received in the mail my copy of Dr. Ferdinand Schlingensiepen's Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance. In the preface to his book Dr. Schingensiepen wrote something about Bonhoeffer that put me very much in mind of Good Pope John's rationale for calling Vatican II (the thought crossed my mind that it would've been most wonderful had Bonhoeffer lived long enough to participate in the Council as an ecumenical observer):

To be able to live, to act, and to die as Bonhoeffer did requires traits that even he did not inherit, but rather acquired in youth, in his parents' home and during his time at university: intellectual curiosity, an incorruptible sense of right and wrong, and the courage to make uncomfortable decisions with potentially dangerous consequences. In these ways Bonhoeffer is an example for others, and of interest even to people who no longer expect anything from the Church. However, they must be prepared - with intellectual curiosity of their own- to become engaged with what, for Bonhoeffer theology was. Bonhoeffer wanted to expose theology to the fresh air of modern thinking. He insisted that the message of the Church must always apply concretely to the reality of the world. Timeless truths he considered useless, for "what is always true is precisely what is not true today"
Of course, that last phrase requires a lot of unpacking, perhaps even a close reading of his Ethics. I think it also has something to do with the question about how something timeless can remain anything but an abstraction. In Christ, after all, eternity entered into time, thus bringing God not just near, but right in our midst ("and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" John 1:14a- which literally means "tents among us").



It strikes me that it was fresh air Bonhoeffer, and to a greater extent, Karl Barth, who engaged in the same struggle, brought to Protestant Christians through their critique of the stale style of dogmatics formulated by Bonhoeffer's professor Adolf von Harnack and others, which, it seems to me, was a factor in them acting courageously.

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