"There are only two ways of telling the complete truth—anonymously and posthumously."Thomas Sowell

Monday, November 07, 2005

Enter Bonhoeffer: The Letters and Papers from Prison

Many TRC readers know that I'm powering my way through a massive pile of books in preparation for my doctoral prelims. The next book on the list is Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison. My only previous encounter with this book had to do with my sister's wedding. She asked that I do a reading, so I consulted the very knowledgeable Ralph Wood (religion and literature) scholar at Baylor. He recommended the wedding sermon from a prison cell, which was perfect:

As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of marriage above the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love. It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.

Not a popular sentiment today, but a true one, I think.

In any case, I am going to find out just what the soon-to-be hanged 39 year old Lutheran thought he was doing when he resisted Hitler in Germany's churches and then joined a plot to assassinate him. I do know that he met his finish believing it was just the beginning.

I'd love to see comments or insights from anyone who has read the Rev. Bonhoeffer.


Daniel said...

I've heard or read a fascinating statement attributed to Bohhoeffer (though it may be apocryphal). When asked how he justified the murder of Hitler with his Christian morality, he said, "I knew it was a sin...and yet I knew I had to do it."

I think the most important thing to hold in mind about Bonhoeffer as you read him is that his theology is a partial one. Those who attempted to complete his theological project, such as the "secular theologians" like Altizer, Robinson, and Cox, ended up far afield of anything that can be considered orthodox Christianity.

BTW, the letter he wrote to his godchild on his christening in Letters and Papers is also a fascinating microcosm of Bonhoeffer's thought.

Hunter Baker said...

Daniel, you're back! Glad to hear from you on this issue. I've also heard that Bonhoeffer quoted Luther's bit about "sinning boldly" and praying for God's forgiveness in a situation like the one he faced with Hitler. I'll report back more as I read.

I once listened to a debate in which Altizer was participating and thought he was absolutely full of it. Give me an honest atheist any day over that crap.

Amy & Jordan said...

Hunter, I'll send you my master's thesis from 2004 on Bonhoeffer if you like. It focuses on his "middle period," from 1931-1938 in dialogue with the Barth-Brunner debate.

Hunter Baker said...

Do it, Jordan. My email is in my blogger profile.

Amy & Jordan said...

Done. I should not that although I'm not all that familiar with LPP, it seems apparent that there is a strong coherence and consistency in Bonhoeffer's thought, so that it is not valid (or at least problematic) to read something out of the later occasional and unfinished works that cannot find any real basis in his other earlier works. The cache of Bonhoeffer's name, and the danger of using only the popular LPP as a basis for understanding his theology, is found in such radical interpretations of him. I actually found an article that referred to Bonhoeffer as "the patron saint of lesbian theology."

You might also be interested to know that Augsburg Fortress, in association with the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Society, is translating into English the entire corpus of the German Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke. These are new translations and excellent critical editions. The most recent volume is a new translation and edition of his Ethics.

With respect to my thesis, there's some stuff in there that I would change, obviously, since it was written over a year ago. I have made modifications to a few of the chapters and have two articles forthcoming (next year) on Bonhoeffer based on the text of the thesis.